Baptist scholars urge more education on Baptist history to combat allure of Christian nationalism

by | Jul 15, 2022

As longtime readers and followers of the work of BJC know all too well, the rise of Christian nationalism in America has become a grave threat to religious freedom and our democracy. It is especially important for Christians, BJC has emphasized, to be vocal in the fight against this dangerous ideology. For Baptists, a tool in that effort might be right in front of us.

Writing for Baptist News Global, Emily Cousins reports on the need expressed by church historians for more awareness of Baptist history in our congregations. True Baptist heritage, they explain, rejects everything the ideology of Christian nationalism stands for. Here is an excerpt:

In Baptist churches today, the history of the movement is rarely mentioned or taught any more, and this has caused a disconnect on what makes a Baptist a Baptist, said Bill Leonard, emeritus dean of Wake Forest School of Divinity and longtime professor of Baptist studies and church history.

Without knowing this history, modern Baptists have been told a different story, especially about the meaning of religious liberty, a Baptist hallmark, Leonard explained. “Southern Baptists, and what we call independent Baptists, the Jerry Falwell crowd, have moved away from this sense of radical religious liberty based on the freedom of conscience toward Christian nationalism.”

Baptists were some of the earliest advocates for religious liberty, Leonard said. “Not simply for different Christians groups, but for the atheist and the heretic, meaning they said, ‘God alone is judge of conscience, and neither an established church, an official church or a state can dictate to conscience in terms of forcing people to be baptized.’”

The piece also quotes Dr. Andrew Gardner, a former BJC board member (and a former BJC intern!).

It is important for Baptists to understand our distinctive and defining heritage, which is more than just a history lesson. The commitment to soul freedom — that idea that, as BJC has said, religion must be voluntary in order to be vital — is central to Baptist heritage. Entangling religion with the mechanisms of the state undermines soul freedom and the integrity of the personal confession of faith. Without that cornerstone, Dr. Leonard and Dr. Gardner warn, Baptists are more susceptible to the easy allure of Christian nationalism.

To make your voice heard on this critical issue, join the tens of thousands of Christians who have signed on to the Christians Against Christian Nationalism statement and access resources there. You will find information you can share on social media and curriculum you can use for small group discussions to help root out this ideology in your community and yourself.