The Southern part of the United States has been known as the Bible Belt for nearly 100 years. In this region, Southern Baptist, Methodist, and evangelical are the predominant Protestant denominations. Amongst the Protestant faith has been a strong association with social conservatism. This has translated into members of faith supporting the Republican party. In a growing number of cases, pastors of the church have been elected to the House of Representatives or Senate in their home states.
“One of the grounding principles on which our nation was founded on is freedom of religion.”
This is riding a fine line between politics and religion. One of the grounding principles on which our nation was founded on is freedom of religion. To address this further, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting thereof…”
While that phrase does appear in the Constitution, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear even once. The phrase “separation of church and state” is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson which was addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote:
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
This was a response to the Danbury Baptist Association expressing concerns over the lack of explicit protections of religious liberty in the state constitution and against government establishment of religion.
However, the rooting of this phrase can be attributed to Roger Williams, founder of the First Baptist Church in America. He wrote that “(A) hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” Since the late 19th century, the Supreme Court has used Jefferson’s reference to separation of church and state to several cases that the high court has presided over.
“There are nearly 200 distinctly named Protestant denominations.”
With a poll by the Pew Research Center in 2015, it’s estimated that 71% of Americans identify as Christian, of which 46.5% are Protestant, 25.4% Catholic, 2% Mormon, and 1% other denominations. Why is this important to know? There are nearly 200 distinctly named Protestant denominations. That means that outside of Catholicism and the Mormon religions there are 200 more ways that people are teaching, leading, and guiding in the ways of Christianity. The largest of these denominations is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Let’s focus on the SBC for this article. They are an evangelical theology founded in Augusta, Georgia in May of 1845. As of 2014 there are 46,499 individual congregations with a combined 15.49 million members. The SBC has strict designation on gender roles and how the church perceives women. With that, the crystallization of SBC positions on gender roles and restrictions of women’s participation in the pastorate contributed to the decision by members, now belonging to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), to break from the SBC in 1991. This is crucial to remember.
“Whereas other Christian denominations have opposed discrimination against the LGBT community, the SBC goes on record as supporting it.”
The SBC has passed numerous resolutions on gay and lesbian people along with their supporters. The SBC opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples. It prohibits congregations from blessing same-sex unions and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. It is even opposed to the establishment of gay-straight alliances in schools and legislation that would ban discrimination in the workplace. Whereas other Christian denominations have opposed discrimination against the LGBT community, the SBC goes on record as supporting it.
The SBC has had a membership of some notable people within the history of the United States. Truett Cathy – founder of Chick-Fil-A. With Cathy being a devout member of the SBC, he carried over many of their principles to his company. Most notably of these principles is being closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. In January of 2011, Chick-Fil-A came under fire for monetary donations they gave to groups that didn’t support same-sex marriage. In June and July 2012, Chick-fil-A Chief operating officer Dan T. Cathy made several public statements about same-sex marriage, saying those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about” were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” These comments would be rescinded in a manner of sorts when Chick-Fil-A released a statement on July 31, 2012 saying, “We are a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality; our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
In September 2012, The Civil Rights Agenda announced that Chick-fil-A had “ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights.” Chick-fil-A officials did state in an internal document that “culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect –regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” Chick-Fil-A ultimately took a step back from their SBC roots, but still conform to its belief system.
In the spotlight right now is Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz. Cruz doesn’t support same-sex marriage or civil unions and believes the right to decide legality should be left up to the state. Cruz has said, “I’m Cuban, Irish, and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.” Now here is where things get a little strained. Caitlyn Jenner, perhaps the most visible transperson in our society today, had announced that she liked Ted Cruz and wanted to be a trans ambassador should he win the Presidential Nomination.
Most notably within the church itself are father and son Billy and Franklin Graham. Both have spoken out tremendously against the LGBT community and the same sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court. To even begin to list bullet items here would be exhausting.
Former Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a SBC minister and former Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue is also a member of the SBC, having served just before Nathan Deal. Remember HB757 from last month? Georgia Governor Nathan Deal ended up vetoing the bill – some attribute it to pressure from big business, but is there an underlying reason? Nathan Deal is a Baptist. Nathan Deal is a member of the First Baptist Church of Gainesville. The First Baptist Church of Gainesville left the Southern Baptist Convention and joined the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991.
“Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”
Most notably of the members of the SBC are the ones who in fact left the SBC. Three of the most mentionable are President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, and Vice-President Al Gore. Jimmy Carter left the SBC in 2000, a 3rd generation Southern Baptist, citing “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”
Despite his Baptist background, Carter has fallen away from the traditional biblical worldview to which the Christian denomination holds. He more closely reflects the political views of more liberal denominations, such as the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches, when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
And this is where I start to bring everything full circle. The discrimination laws and legislation that you see against the LGBT community, and even women, is still being forged by Southern Baptists disguised as Republicans. Mississippi’s HB1523 is a prime example of this. Of the 8 sponsors for this bill, 4 identified as Baptist, 1 as Southern Baptist, 1 as Methodist and the remaining two were preachers of the Christian faith. All 8 were Republican. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, also a Republican, identifies as a Methodist.
Now understand that not all Baptists share the views of the SBC, but the SBC has that foothold in the Republican Party and American politics. Not all Baptists are in support of these anti-LGBT laws, just as not all Christians are in support of these laws. It is necessary to take a more accepting approach like that of Episcopalians and Presbyterian Church (USA) or a more secular approach.
“In 1976, the Episcopalian church declared homosexual persons are children of God.”
In 1976, the Episcopalian church declared homosexual persons are children of God. Since then it has sought to include members of the LGBT in its order. In 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated. In 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all and in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited. In 2015, the canons of the church were changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people, regardless of gender.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted policies to allow for LGBT ministers and the celebration of same-sex marriages. In 1996, Erin Swenson became the first transgender minister to serve in the Presbyterian Church (USA), when members voted to continue her ministry following her transition from male to female.
It is necessary to put these anti-LGBT legislations aside and accept legislation from a humanitarian point of view. Discrimination of any kind should not be accepted.