As you can tell by now, I’ve decided to give November over to writing posts from a posture of gratitude, particularly for institutions for which gratitude may not be the stock and trade of what I read online.
I don’t know how many of us #NeverTrump people are writing about what we appreciate in the Moral-Majority-slash-Religious-Right, but if it is not a genre yet, I’m willing to be the one to start it up.
I’ve studied enough of our history to have an appreciation for the Religious Right. For Southern Baptists, the advent of the Religious Right was, in my opinion, a very healthy development that actually made us LESS politically partisan. Consider the following lines that I penned in 2006 in this post over on my personal blog.
Consider the officers of the SBC elected in 1901: Gov. W. J. Northen (Democrat governor from Georgia) as President, Gov. A. H. Longino (Democrat governor from Mississippi) as 1st VP, and Gov. W. W. Heard (Democrat governor from Louisiana) as 2nd VP. Gov. James P. Eagle (Democrat governor of Arkansas) served two terms as SBC President immediately after Gov. Northen. By the way, Gov. Eagle was also the President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for twenty-one consecutive years. Eagle’s church, Second Baptist Little Rock, publicly excommunicated agrarian upstart Gov. Jeff Davis during (and arguably because of) a political campaign.
I believe that the recent alignment of the Southern Baptist Convention with the GOP is one of the healthiest things that has happened to us in our history. The stranglehold that the Democratic Party held over the SBC for so long has collapsed because of Roe v. Wade. The resulting friendship with the GOP is something so startling that virtually nobody would have predicted it as recently as 1970. The SBC’s connection with the GOP is not yet any sort of blind loyalty, but is issue-oriented and genuine. It has not yet come anywhere near the kinds of improprieties that we demonstrated during our marriage with the Democratic Party. By building closer ties with the GOP, Southern Baptists have proven that neither party had better take us for granted—that we will go where our convictions take us regardless of past history with a party. I think that is an extremely healthy thing.
When we point out the flaws and failings of the Moral Majority and the Religious Right, we ought to be careful not merely to look back and compare those days with some idealized notion of an apolitical SBC; rather, we should compare it with the trajectory in which the SBC was headed while joined at the hip with the Democratic Party. Our erstwhile lockstep union with the Democrats was unhealthy. Something needed to change, and change it did.
Yes, it is true from my perspective that I would be less likely to write about some Evangelicals and Southern Baptists these days using my former words: “The SBC’s connection with the GOP is not yet any sort of blind loyalty, but is issue-oriented and genuine.” And yet, the controversies of this year related to Donald Trump have in some way proven those words still to ring with some truth. Our connection with the GOP is conditional, not doctrinaire.
For any who think that the Religious Right shackled us to a political party, please do not neglect to acknowledge that it broke our chains to another political party. If we have an opportunity to maintain a healthy and principled independence today, we owe a debt of gratitude for that opportunity in large part to our predecessors. The best tribute we pay to them may be our determination to prevent the convention from ever developing again any sort of a political allegiance that would run as contrary to our principles as our Democratic alliance had proven to be.