By ABP and BJC Staff Reports
June 29, 2008
WASHINGTON — One of the most prominent historians of American evangelicalism called on “true Baptists” June 29 to re-assert their prophetic role “as watchmen on the wall of separation between church and state.”
Randall Balmer, a history professor at Columbia University, told more than 550 supporters of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty that many of America’s Baptists, in recent decades, have “lost their way.”
“They have been seduced by leaders of the religious right into thinking that the way to advance the gospel in this country is to abandon Baptist principles,” he said.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Southern Baptist, was among the examples he listed. Moore’s controversial decision to place a massive monument to the Protestant translation of the Ten Commandments at the center of the rotunda in the Alabama Supreme Court building ultimately cost him his job – but it also made him a folk hero among many of the nation’s conservative Christians.
Moore argued that his oath to defend the United States and Alabama constitutions required him to “acknowledge God” as “the source of the law” by creating the monument.
“Why not post the the Decalogue in public places? Because, quite simply, it trivializes the faith and makes the Ten Commandments into a fetish,” Balmer said. “What Roy Moore was peddling was idolatry, pure and simple – a conflation of the gospel with the American political order.”
Balmer also assailed Baptists who have, he argued, so aligned themselves with political movements, they have diminished their ability to call the very officials they helped elect to moral account.
Balmer argued that Baptists who oppose such entanglements between religion and government need to bring their wayward brethren back into the fold.
“Every true Baptist understands what any attempt to baptize the faith with the imprimatur of the state … ultimately diminishes the integrity of the faith,” Balmer said. “I’m asking Baptists to reaffirm their heritage. I’m asking them to rededicate themselves to the importance of liberty of conscience. Baptists were once a minority themselves, so they should know better than most the importance of protecting the rights of minorities, religious and otherwise.”
The speech came during the 17th annual meeting of the BJC’s Religious Liberty Council, held in conjunction with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly and the American Baptist Churches USA Biennial in Washington. The RLC is composed of individual supporters of the BJC.
The council re-elected its three officers to second one-year terms. RLC co-chairs are Hal Bass, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., and a member of First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia; and Cynthia Holmes, a St. Louis attorney and member of Overland baptist Church in Overland, Mo. Henry Green, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, Md., was re-elected as RLC secretary.
After Balmer’s address, BJC supporter Babs Baugh, whose family was awarded the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award at the luncheon, announced she would match every dollar given to the campaign until July 15th.View more information on previous luncheons