Trump’s Guidance on Prayer in Schools Was “hardly worth the excitement”

See you at the pole

“See You at the Pole”: Perfectly legal

Here is Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty:

(RNS) — When President Donald Trump leaked, at a rally for evangelical supporters in Florida on Jan. 3, that his administration would issue guidance about prayer in public schools, he started a mini-firestorm, and not just among the fired-up crowd.

When the guidance was released on Thursday (Jan. 16), however, it turned out to be hardly worth the excitement. According to long-settled legal and constitutional protections for religious expression in the public schools, public school students are free to pray, wear religious clothing and accessories and talk about their beliefs. Religious groups can meet on school grounds, and teachers can teach about religion as an academic subject. Religious liberty, in short, is already a treasured value in our nation’s public schools.

So why are the president and White House staffers making inflammatory and misleading statements, claiming our constitutional rights are under attack?

It could be that the administration simply wanted to remind public schools of their constitutional duties.

Tyler is being polite.  She knows why Trump felt the need to affirm an already existing Supreme Court decision that allows students to pray in school. He wanted to use the spiritual discipline of prayer to score political points with his conservative evangelical base.  Trump is not savvy enough to think of this on his own.  One of his so-called evangelical advisers probably told him to do this.

So let’s get the facts on the proverbial table:

  1. The Supreme Court made mandatory prayer in schools unconstitutional in the 1962 Engle v. Vitale case.  Mandatory prayer is still unconstitutional.  Nothing Trump did on Thursday changed this.  I have now heard from several Trump voters who think that Trump somehow overturned Engle v. Vitale with his remarks.  He did not.  Not even the Trump Administration is saying this.  But I am sure that Trump wouldn’t mind it if some uneducated evangelicals believed that he restored mandatory school prayer.
  2. In 2000, the Supreme Court affirmed in Sante Fe ISD v. Doe that “The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment prevent the government from making any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  By no means do these commands impose a prohibition of all religious activity in our public schools.  See, e. g., Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., 508 U. S. 384, 395 (1993); Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226 (1990); Wallace, 472 U. S., at 59. Indeed, the common purpose of the Religion Clauses “is to secure religious liberty.” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421, 430 (1962). Thus, nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.”
  3. In other words, Trump’s so-called “guidance” merely affirmed what was already in place.
  4. Have there been cases when school districts, acting in bad faith, have failed to uphold this constitutional right to pray in schools?  Of course.  But as Binghamton University historian Adam Laats pointed out yesterday, these cases are the exception rather than the rule.
  5. In my chapter on evangelical fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I wrote, “Donald Trump himself, during his 2016 campaign, [claimed] that crime was rising when it was actually falling.  He attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chances that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year.  One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch on fire.  Yet Trump managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.”  I would love to get an idea of how many violations of Sante Fe ISD v. Doe occur each year and compare that number to the number of voluntary public school prayer groups that function everyday in full accordance with Sante Fe ISD v. Doe.

Here is Tyler again:

…some comments officials made before and in their announcement of the guidance vastly overstated the supposed problem and echoed the claims of Christian nationalism, a dangerous movement that harms both Christianity and the United States by implying that to be a good American, one must be Christian.

Christian nationalists often point to two Supreme Court cases from the 1960s, Engel v. Vitale and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, to claim that the government “banned school prayer” or “took God out of the schools.” These are harmful misrepresentations. These cases didn’t ban the free exercise of Christian worship. They banned mandatory Bible readings and prayers written by the government. It should not be controversial to oppose government-dictated religious practice.

Instead of enforcing government-mandated religion, these Supreme Court cases ensured that public school students are free to exercise their constitutionally protected religious beliefs and affirmed the proper way to handle religion in public schools.

And it’s worked: For decades, public schools across the nation have modeled how religiously diverse populations can build relationships of trust and care, respecting the unique role that religion plays in people’s lives. Like our neighbors of all faiths, we are empowered by the First Amendment to live our beliefs in the public square, which includes the public school.

Read the rest here.

The Endorsers of “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” Speak Out

Christian nation

Many of you are familiar with “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.” I signed the statement and wrote about it here and here.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz calls our attention to a podcast in which some of the endorsers of the statement talk about their opposition to Christian nationalism.  Here is a taste of Chris’s post:

But if any readers are skeptical about the statement, I’d encourage them first to read signer John Fea’s response to such concerns — and then to check out a new series of podcasts on Christian nationalism from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

In the first episode, BJC director and statement organizer Amanda Tyler alludes to “some troubling signs that Christian nationalism may be stuck at high tide.” While she’s bothered by violent attacks on individuals and houses of worship, she warns that “Christian nationalism also reveals itself in less dramatic ways” — e.g., as bills in state legislatures that would require biblical literacy courses in public schools and post the statement “In God we trust” in such public spaces. The Christians Against Christian Nationalism initiative, she explains, “is not in response to any one of these incidents, but rather as a way to counter what we view and perceive as a growing threat.”

In the remainder of that first episode, listeners hear from five of the initial twenty endorsers of the statement. It struck me that most of them not only talked about current events, but appealed to religious history. In different ways, all drew on their particular Christian movements’ historical experiences as religious minorities who learned that “[c]onflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.”

Read the entire post here.

The State of Philadelphia’s Early American Baptist Bones

Baptist Bones 2.jpg

Back in October 2017 I wrote a post about the skeletons found on the site of the First Baptist Church burial ground.  In the last couple of years this story has been a staple of my tour of colonial-era Philadelphia. A luxury residential building now sits on the old Baptist graveyard, but the examination of the bones found by the workers continues.

Here is a taste of Laurel Geggel’s piece at LiveScience:

Thousands of people were buried at the First Baptist Church’s burial ground from about 1702 until 1860, when the cemetery was allegedly relocated. However, when the church moved its cemetery because it was turning into a local garbage dump, the Philadelphia Board of Health gave it only three months that year — from Jan. 1 to April 1 — to move the graves.

This was a tremendous undertaking, and although some of the graves were relocated, the majority were not, Moran said. The fact that the church left behind so many bodies wasn’t publicized, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the extent of the burials was realized, she said.

In all, the remains of at least 3,000 people were still buried there, according to historical records. Moran and her colleagues have since found about 500 of them where the luxury condominium now sits, at 218 Arch Street.

After visiting the site with Anna Dhody, a forensic anthropologist at the Mütter Museum of Philadelphia, Moran was given a box holding 113 bones, mostly long bones from people’s arms and legs. Dhody and Moran offered to help excavate or oversee the project, but they were politely brushed aside, Moran said.

But six weeks later, in February 2017, the developer, PMC Property Group, had a change of heart. Construction workers continued to find bones, and they didn’t know what to do with them. “We came back to the site, and we found very obvious voids in the soil that had wood sticking out of them,” Moran said. “It was obvious that this was a coffin that had been disturbed by the heavy machinery. And someone’s legs were sticking out.”

So, Moran, Dhody and Ani Hatza, a forensic anthropologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, struck a deal with the developer. The scientists would supervise the backhoe work, and if they saw any bones, the backhoe would stop so the scientists could excavate the spot. “It was pretty rough and ready,” Moran said. “They didn’t let us do a meticulous job or anything.”

Read the entire piece here.

*Christianity Today* Weighs-In on the Independent Baptist Sex Abuse Scandal

First Baptist Church

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut covers recent independent Baptist sex-abuse scandal as reported on Sunday by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.  I tried to offer some historical context on this movement here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and I am happy to learn Shellnut found it useful for her piece.  Here is a taste:

Around 2.5 percent of Americans identify as independent Baptists, according to the Pew Research Center—more than belong to the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, or Episcopal and Anglican churches. Yet independent Baptists, by design, are less familiar to outsiders than other Christian traditions.

For one, they lack a unified presence since individual churches largely operate on their own. The label can be used by a range of autonomous, Bible-believing Baptists (“fundamental” being a reference to the core doctrines of the Christian faith). Independent fundamental Baptist churches include those loosely affiliated in fellowships—more common in the North—as well as those whose pastors may share particular networks—more common in the South— Central Baptist Theological Seminary professor Kevin Bauder told Quick to Listen.

Additionally, many independent Baptist fundamentalists practice “second-degree separatism,” distancing themselves not only from “the world” but also from fellow Christians who do not share their fundamentalist beliefs, noted Messiah College historian John Fea, who researched 20th-century Protestant fundamentalism in America.

During the movement’s formation in the 1940s, and its growth in the decades following, voices such as Jack Hyles and Bob Jones contrasted with “neo-evangelicals” (think Billy Graham) as they remained committed to fundamentalism and separatism, Fea wrote.

These leaders and their institutions—Hyles-Anderson College and Bob Jones University—have come to represent a loose subset of independent Baptists sometimes referred to with capitals or an acronym: Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB).

Read the entire piece here.

Hundreds of Sex Abuse Allegations Found in Fundamentalist Baptist Churches

First Baptist Church

The independent fundamentalist Baptist movement emerged sometime in the 1940s as an attempt to continue the legacy of the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s.  It upheld what it believed to be the true spirit of fundamentalism amid changes in the conservative Protestant landscape.

Much of this movement was a response to the so-called “neo-evangelical” movement. When in the 1940s and 1950s former fundamentalists such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga and others sought to separate themselves from the label “fundamentalist” and seek out a more irenic, culturally-engaged version of conservative Protestantism, some descendants of the original fundamentalist movement of the 1920s were not very happy about it.  They believed that the neo-evangelical emphasis on cultural engagement with the world, and especially liberal or mainline Protestants, was a mark of unhealthy compromise that would eventually undermine true biblical faith in America.

Pastors of large churches and leaders of fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones, John R. Rice, and Jack Hyles still identified with the label “fundamentalist.” (Carl McIntire was also part of this movement, although he was a Presbyterian).  This movement was characterized by a staunch commitment to biblical orthodoxy filtered through the King James Bible, an adherence to “second-degree separation” or that idea that Christians must separate themselves from both unbelievers (“the world”) and fellow conservative Protestants who did not separate sufficiently enough from unbelievers (Billy Graham and the rest of the neo-evangelicals fell into this second category), and a propensity for strong white preachers who ran independent congregations that were not accountable to denominations.

I wrote a bit about this group back in the 1990s.

The conservative fundamentalist movement probably reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. (Although more research is needed).  While neo-evangelicals read periodicals like Christianity Today, fundamentalist Baptists read John R. Rice’s The Sword of the Lord.  While neo-evangelicals sent their kids to Wheaton College or Fuller Theological Seminary, fundamentalist Baptist kids went to Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College.  Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty University, came out of this tradition, but he was quickly disowned by his fellow separatist Baptists when he decided to get involved in politics.  During the 1970s and 1980s, Falwell seemed to operate in a space somewhere between the independent Baptist world of his upbringing and the neo-evangelicalism of Billy Graham and Christianity Today.

One of the flagship churches of the separatist, independent, Billy Graham-hating Baptist fundamentalist movement was First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.  Jack Hyles served as pastor of the church from 1959-2001.  He claimed that First Baptist had the highest Sunday school attendance in the world. Hyles gained fame for his fleet of over 200 buses that his congregation used to pick up kids for Sunday school at the church.  At one point the church had a weekly attendance of 20,000 and ran several schools, including Hyles-Anderson College. In 2001, Christianity Today reported that Hyles-Anderson College was growing.

First Baptist buses

Hyles was a fundamentalist Baptist power-broker.  He was also accused, multiple times, of sexually abusing the girls who attended his massive Sunday School program.  His son David Hyles was a chip off the old block.  While serving as youth pastor of the church he abused multiple young girls.


In this era of Me-Too, the media has caught-up with Jack Hyles (he died in 2001), David Hyles, and dozens of other independent Baptist clergy like them.

Investigative reporters at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have uncovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct at 187 independent fundamentalist Baptist church in the United States and Canada.  I have a hunch that this story, which dropped today and features David Hyles, is going to get some attention.

Here is a taste:

Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community. But most of their victims have not publicly come forward, on the record, until now. Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement.

From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar.

Read the rest here.

Landmark Baptists


Yesterday I gave a lecture on Protestantism to the teacher participating in the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History Princeton Seminar.  I tried to get them to see that when the Bible is translated into the vernacular and can be read by the people, the people will come up with different interpretations and thus different denominations.  I joked, “Last time I checked there were more than 100 kinds of Baptists.”

The Landmark Baptists are one of those groups.  Here is a taste of Sarah Laskow’s Atlas Obscura piece on this interesting Baptist group:

“Landmarkism” started in the 1850s, when immigrants were bringing varied ideas about Christianity to America and Baptists were raising questions about religious authority. Of all these churches, competing against each other, which was the one true path to God? James Robinson Graves, the publisher of the Tennessee Baptist newspaper, along with a handful of like-minded men, began arguing that only Baptists could claim this legitimacy. They backed up their claims with arguments about “church successionism,” tracing their beliefs and practices step-by-step, back to the beginnings of Christianity.

“Baptists had been historically a people who didn’t worry about their roots,” says Alan Lefever, director of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection. “Landmarkism came at a time that some Baptists were pointing out that we had only been around since the 1600s. To the Landmarkists, that wasn’t good enough.”

Read the entire piece here.

The History of the “Conservative Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention

UneasyI am not a scholar of religion in the American South.  Nor am I an expert on the Southern Baptists or the so-called “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s.  But ever since I started writing posts about this whole Paige Patterson mess, people (mostly non-Southern Baptists) have been asking me for good books on the history of the conservative takeover of the Convention.

What scholarly books would you recommend on this subject?  Here are a few that I have found helpful over the years:

Nancy Ammerman, Baptist Battles

Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon

Barry Hankins and Thomas Kidd, Baptists in America: A History

A Baptist Church Removes Jesus Statue Because It’s Too Catholic

Baptist JesusThe Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina is removing a statue of Jesus because it is “too Catholic in nature.”

Here is a taste of Mary Rezac’s article at Catholic News Agency:

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church,” church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

Read the rest here.

Slacktivist: “Baptist insubordination is an oxymoron”


The hits keep coming for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson.  If you are not up to speed about what is happening in Fort Worth, I encourage you to begin with these posts.  The latest hit comes from Patheos blogger Fred Clark at his blog “Slacktivist.” A taste:

That vindictiveness is reflected throughout Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article: “The women who wrote the open letter say they tried first to speak to seminary trustees, but felt they had to make their concerns public to be taken seriously, said one woman who works for a high-ranking leader in a Southern Baptist organization and spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared her participation in organizing the letter could jeopardize her job.”

The bizarro-world detail there is so subtle you might miss it on first reading. It’s the reference to “a high-ranking leader in a Southern Baptist organization.”

This is Paige Patterson’s ultimate legacy — transforming what was once a Baptist convention into a hierarchical denomination. He has replaced soul liberty — the one and basically only Baptist distinctive — with rank. Nothing could be less Baptist. This is the whole thing about Baptists — each of us chooses, for ourselves, to be baptized. And no one else — no Pope or King or bishop or magistrate or seminary president — has any say in that matter.

It ain’t the full-immersion, it’s the choosing. That’s what makes a Baptist a Baptist.

And it’s what makes “high-ranking Baptist” an oxymoron. The priesthood of all believers means exactly that: one rank, no hierarchy.

This is why Paige Patterson is just about the least Baptist person imaginable. He sought to rule, and so he could not abide the inherent unruliness of Baptist polity. And so he transformed that polity, imposing hierarchy and structure and rank. That transformation was both the mechanism for and the substance of Patterson’s “conservative resurgence.” It wasn’t simply about the nominally “conservative” theology that Patterson et. al. sought to impose as the redefinition of Southern Baptist identity, but about their claiming the authority and creating the ability to impose and redefine it.

Read the entire post here.

Why So Few Baptists in the Global South?


Christianity is booming in the so-called Global South.  Over at The Christian Century, Baylor University historian Philip Jenkins wonders why Baptists do not seem part of this great revival.

Here is a taste:

The relative global numbers are counterintuitive for Americans, who naturally re­gard Baptists as a very significant part of the Christian spectrum. Outside the United States, though, Baptists are quite a marginal presence. Africa’s 10 million Baptists are a tiny proportion of a continental Christian total ap­proaching half a billion. Out of Brazil’s 45 million Protes­tants, just 2 million are Baptists.

That continuing distribution of believers between Global North and South is ironic given Baptists’ fervent commitment to foreign missions and the achievement of so many legendary evangelists and teachers. In some areas, especially in India and South Asia, Baptist missionary advances have been very marked. And mere numbers say nothing about the nature of faith or the quality of practice. Global South Baptists have played key roles in political life, and especially in education. Even so, the fact remains: Baptists differ from virtually all other Christian traditions in that newer churches are nowhere near matching or overtaking their northern world counterparts.

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the United States has not had colonial or imperial ties to Africa, which meant that Baptists could not share the successes of British-based churches like Angli­cans, Meth­­odists, or Pres­by­terians or of French or Bel­gian Cath­olics. Baptists had some Afri­can presence, and pastor John Chilembwe be­came a hero of nationalist resistance in his native Mala­wi, but numbers were never large. Because Baptists never developed a serious foothold in Africa, they were in no position to benefit from the huge demographic expansion that has been a principal driver of church growth over the past half century. Nor could they compete with the enormously successful Pentecostal churches. Baptists were left without a potential niche in the market for souls.

Read the entire piece here.


Baylor University Announces Its First Female President


Kenneth Starr was fired as president of Baylor University in May 2016 for his poor handling of a rape and sexual assault scandal on campus.  He has finally been replaced. The new president of Linda A. Livingstone.

Here is a taste of the Baylor press release:

WACO, Texas (April 18, 2017) – Baylor University has selected Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., current dean and professor of management at The George Washington University School of Business, as the institution’s 15th president. Dr. Livingstone was the unanimous choice of the Baylor Board of Regents, following the recommendation of the 12-member Presidential Search Committee.

Dr. Livingstone, who will begin as president on June 1, brings a distinguished academic career to Baylor, a private Christian university and nationally ranked research institution with more than 16,000 students. Prior to George Washington, she served as dean of Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management and associate dean and associate professor in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents, I am both proud and honored to announce Dr. Livingstone as Baylor’s next president during this important time for the University,” said Ronald D. Murff, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents. “Dr. Livingstone brings an accomplished academic career to Baylor, combined with a strong appreciation and support of Baylor’s mission. A longtime Baptist and former Baylor faculty member, she has a passion for the distinctiveness of Baylor’s Christian mission in higher education.”

Dr. Livingstone becomes the first female president in Baylor’s 172-year history. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in the state.

“I am humbled and honored to be selected as the 15th President of Baylor University,” said Dr. Livingstone. “I chose to begin my academic career at Baylor in significant part because of Baylor’s Christian mission. To return to Baylor to partner with the exceptional faculty, staff, students and administrators to fulfill the University’s vision to be a top-tier research institution, committed to excellence in all aspects of University life, while strengthening the Christian mission is an opportunity I look forward to with enthusiasm.”

Among her many academic and professional accomplishments, Dr. Livingstone previously served as chair of the board of the international Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in 2014-2015 and has deep expertise in accreditation issues. The AACSB is the professional organization for business schools and accredits 786 of the best business schools globally across 53 countries and territories. She chaired the AACSB Committee on Accreditation Policy in 2015-2016.

A scholar in organizational behavior, leadership and creativity, she has been extensively published and cited in academic and professional outlets. Moreover, Dr. Livingstone has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Capital Southwest Industrials, a public company traded under the symbol “CSWI” on the NASDAQ since 2015.

Dr. Livingstone has led The George Washington University School of Business since 2014, overseeing approximately 3,500 students in undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. programs and more than 57,000 alumni worldwide. Like Baylor, George Washington has a culture grounded in service, and Dr. Livingstone initiated a comprehensive strategic planning process for the school to capitalize on this core commitment. The effort resulted in establishing a strong financial operating base for the school and cross-university collaborations, enhanced teaching, greater research productivity and additional support through fundraising.

“Linda Livingstone has been a stellar dean and an excellent colleague,” said Steven Knapp, Ph.D., president of The George Washington University. “I am sure that our entire GW community joins me in wishing Linda all success in her important new role and that Baylor University will benefit tremendously from her leadership.”

Prior to her tenure at George Washington, Dr. Livingstone served 12 years at Pepperdine, similar to Baylor as a faith-based university, as dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management from 2002-2014. With a focus on excellence in teaching, scholarship and Christian values, she brought significant visibility and resources to the Graziadio School, including overseeing a $200 million expansion of its graduate campuses and the addition of an executive conference center. Under Dr. Livingstone’s leadership, the school also experienced significant progress in its full-time, executive and fully employed MBA programs, and in the area of entrepreneurship, as well as greater scholarship support for students.

Dr. Livingstone returns to Baylor after time on the Waco campus from 1991-2002. From 1998-2002, she served as associate dean of graduate programs for the Hankamer School of Business in which she was responsible for all graduate degree business programs. Dr. Livingstone was an associate professor in the department of management from 1997-2002 and an assistant professor in the same department from 1991-1997. She also was a member of the Faculty Athletics Council during her tenure at Baylor.

“My time at Baylor as a faculty member and associate dean was formative in my academic career and in developing my passion for academic administration,” reflected Dr. Livingstone. “Baylor’s unique culture of care and compassion – that I experienced personally from my colleagues and that I saw demonstrated among faculty, staff and students – continues to inspire and influence me as an administrator. Continuing to strengthen Baylor’s culture where faculty, staff and students are encouraged, inspired and cared for by one another is a priority.”

A native of Perkins, Oklahoma, Dr. Livingstone began her academic career at her alma mater, Oklahoma State University, where she earned her bachelor of science degree in economics and management, master of business administration, and doctorate in management and organizational behavior. A member of Oklahoma State’s Spears School of Business Hall of Fame, Dr. Livingstone was the first recipient of the Outstanding Ph.D. Alumnus Award, and she was recognized in 2015 with the OSU Distinguished Alumni Award.

While at Oklahoma State, Dr. Livingstone was a four-year letter winner on the women’s basketball team from 1978-1982 and was named a “Big 8 Scholar-Athlete” in 1982. Her husband, Brad, also played basketball at Oklahoma State (1978-1982), and their daughter, Shelby, recently completed her junior season as a volleyball student-athlete at Rice University. Brad Livingstone currently serves as the Dean of Students and teaches history at the Trinity Christian School, in Fairfax, Virginia, where Dr. Livingstone has served as a member of the Board of Trustees since 2015.

Baylor’s Presidential Search Committee compiled feedback from more than 700 online input forms and listening sessions with more than 350 faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members and others as part of the search process. Heidrick & Struggles, a worldwide executive search firm, was engaged in October 2016 to work alongside the committee. Chaired by Bob Brewton, B.B.A. ’74, the Presidential Search Committee reviewed more than 400 candidate backgrounds, contacted 150 individuals for screening conversations and held first-round interviews with 61 candidates.

“The Presidential Search Committee had a very strong candidate pool coming from the traditional academic fields as well as nontraditional candidates from government, military and corporate life,” Brewton said. “In the end, Dr. Livingstone’s experience uniquely fit the profile of the dynamic faith and transformational leader which Baylor needs at this point in time in our history.”

“We had strong interest in the position from accomplished candidates both inside and outside of academia,” Murff added. “Candidates admired Baylor’s significant growth over the past decade and saw tremendous potential in elevating the University’s academic profile even further while staying true to our Christian mission.”

“I was honored to serve on the Presidential Search Committee. We began with Baylor’s mission in mind and based our search on the Christian values that Baylor stands for. That set the criteria for the type of individual we were looking for,” said Drayton McLane Jr., Baylor Regent Emeritus and search committee member. “Dr. Livingstone met all our requirements. She, her husband and their family are outstanding, committed Christians. Dr. Livingstone has taught at Baylor and understands the Christian heritage which is so important to the University. I am very pleased with the outcome of our search and the strong leadership Dr. Livingstone will provide Baylor University.”

Dr. Livingstone will succeed Dr. David Garland, who has served as the Interim President during the last year.

“Police Calm Baptist Riot”–August 30, 1930


R.C.  Austin (third from left) was tricked out of his right to run in the election

Over at the Black Quotidian blog, proprietor and Arizona State history professor Matthew Delmont calls our attention to a headline in the August 30, 1930 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American:

While much of the bitterness, exposes, and even bloodshed expected to culminate at the Golden Jubilee of the National Baptist Convention was sidetracked, near casualties developed a the election of officers when followers of the Rev. J.C. Austin sought to establish the fact that he had been tricked out of his right to run in the election.  A battle, in which chairs and fists were used, and knives brandished, and women fought with pocketbooks, ended when six policemen, answering a riot call, rushed to the scene.  In twenty minutes order was restored.

I am sure some of my  readers will have a field day interpreting this.

The Author’s Corner with Joshua Guthman

Joshua Guthman is Julian-Van Dusen Chair in American History at Berea College. This interview is based on his new book Strangers Below: Primitive Baptists and American Culture (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Strangers Below?

JG: The Primitive Baptists’; music, their singing. See, I heard the Primitives before I knew a thing about them. I heard a keening voice begging God for deliverance, a voice answered in long sonorous swells by others, all of them unspooling a modal melody, and the hymn itself sung so slowly as to melt its text into an incantatory strain that sounded to me like people calling up spirits. It struck me dead. I had never heard anything like it. It was beautiful. Those sounds possessed me and puzzled me and would not let me go.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Strangers Below?

JG: I argue that the Primitive Baptists, a contrary sect of antimissionary and antirevivalistic evangelicals, shaped two seminal moments in American history’ the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century and the post-World War II folk music revival while mounting what they saw as a defense of Calvinism, the nation’s oldest Protestant creed, from the forces of evangelical greed and enthusiasm. I tell that story through the often turbulent lives of black and white Primitive Baptists, lives that reveal the fractious origins of the southern Bible Belt and allow us to trace a key strain of Calvinist experience across the nineteenth century, where it was reshaped by newly emancipated African American believers, and into the twentieth, where, unmoored from its original theological underpinnings, it emerged in southern roots music as an enigmatic lonesome sound that appealed to popular audiences searching for meaning in the drift of postwar American life and the shaky days after September 11, 2001.

JF: Why do we need to read Strangers Below?

JG: Because you need—absolutely positively need—to readjust your ideas about the birth of the Bible Belt and the complex fate of American Calvinism.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JG: I never had that one decisive moment. There were, however, early sparks. Here are two: as a nineteen-year-old, when I took seminar on technology and American culture with Carl Smith, who taught me a new way of thinking about the past, and a moment in a bookstore in Encino, California nearly twenty years ago when I stumbled upon Robert Cantwell’s When We Were Good: The Folk Revival, a book that was both revelation and confirmation. I found a kinship with Carl and Bob because each had deep imaginative connection to the past. Neither of them is what you would call a down-the-line historian, but each conjured the past in ways that seemed magical to me.

JF: What is your next project?

JG: I want to tell a story about the worlds seething beneath what we still glibly call the Second Great Awakening. That’s what I’m working on. I guess you could call it a narrative history, but that’s a pallid term. Writing historical stories—true stories that entertain and enlighten—is the most exciting challenge for me right now. And this Jew from Los Angeles has found a happy home in the religious hothouse of the early nineteenth century, so that’s where these stories will unfold.

JF: Thanks, Joshua!

Warren Harding: Baptist

Warren Harding was the first Baptist to serve as President of the United States.  Over at First Things, Timothy George, the Dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, examines the man who many consider to be one of our worst presidents.

Here is a taste:

Harding was reputed to be a womanizer, a facet of his character long denied by some of his defenders for lack of evidence. That defense can no longer be made. His siring of an illegitimate daughter by one of his paramours, Nan Britton, has recently been confirmed by DNA testing. Harding is said to have had trysts with Britton in the Senate Office Building before he became president and then in the White House itself—Hillary and Jackie had nothing on First Lady Florence, the dour and long-suffering wife of Harding whom he called, not so endearingly, “Duchess.”

More salacious still is the correspondence recently released by the Library of Congress between Harding and his mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, an off-and-on dalliance which lasted some fifteen years. Harding was forced to pay hush money to Phillips following his election to the presidency. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood makes a movie about Harding’s affair with Carrie. “I love you more than all the world and have no hope of reward on earth or hereafter,” he wrote to her in 1910, “so precious as that in your dear arms, in your thrilling lips, in your matchless breasts, in your incomparable embrace.” It gets better . . . or worse.

And this:

At a time when “modernism” was becoming fashionable among Baptists and other Protestants in the North, Harding resisted any form of Christianity that was too dogmatic. Francis Russell summarized Harding’s spiritual development this way: “After his first college encounter with the doctrine of evolution, he imagined himself a free thinker, even an atheist, although he would soon relapse into a mild Baptist conformity untouched by his mother’s zeal.”

Harding certainly knew the language of Zion and could declare it with fervor. “I pledge fidelity to our country and to God,” he told the Republicans who nominated him for the presidency. At his inauguration he declared his belief in the “God-given destiny of our Republic” and took the solemn oath of office with his hand on the Old Testament text: “What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Mic. 6:8). Woodrow Wilson, Harding’s pious predecessor, had grown up in a Presbyterian manse, where traditional Calvinist theology was respected. Harding’s Christianity, on the other hand, was less catechetical, less intellectual, and less demanding. Instead of a world “made safe for democracy,” he offered the country “a return to normalcy” (Harding’s own phrase), and this meant a spirituality less intense, less straight-laced. The decade of the twenties has been called “a dance between two flames.” Harding was the first president to welcome jazz musicians in the White House and the first to entertain Hollywood stars there.

Call for Papers: *American Baptist Quarterly*

“Baptists and Conscience in Public: Legacy and Future Implications”

Baptists have long been noted as people of conscience. From the days of Roger Williams to the work of E.Y. Mullins to the witness to Martin Luther King, Jr., conscience is one of the hallmarks of Baptist thought, witness, and work. But historical explorations of Baptists and conscience have focused on two primary themes: individual freedom of conscience, and dissent from authority.

This focus has largely neglected the relationship between the Christian conscience and public debates. What contributions have Baptists made with regards to how to approach public issues of religious liberty and ethics? And in what ways have Baptists accounts of conscience offered something distinctive? In an age when issues of religious liberty, the common good, protection of minority interests, and surveillance, recovering what Baptists have to offer with regards to conscience is of prime importance.

This issue of the American Baptist Quarterly explicitly solicits articles on this issue: investigating the nature, role, and legacy of Baptist thought on conscience. Articles should be historical explorations of seminal figures, events, and movements in which Baptist appeals to conscience have shaped Baptist life and thought. Possible historical explorations include, but are not limited to:

  • Conscience and objection to war
  • Religious liberty in the 20th century
  • The relationship between Baptist polity and civic law
  • Liturgical freedom and legal forms of liberty
  • Gender, conscience, and public reason
  • Conscience and the limits of religious liberty 
  • The relationship between individual, ecclesial, and civic conscience
  • Baptists and the prophetic national conscience
  • Church, state, and conscience in the 19th and 20th century 
  • Conscience, equality, and the public square
  • Global Christianity, Baptists, and unity
  • Western Christianity and Baptist advocacy
  • Baptists and the conscience of marginalized groups

Abstracts for essays (500 words) should be submitted no later than December 31st, 2015 to Myles Werntz (Palm Beach Atlantic University)

The Author’s Corner With Richard Traylor

Richard C. Traylor is Professor of History at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.  This interview is based on his new book Born of Water and Spirit: The Baptist Impulse in Kentucky, 1776-1860 (University of Tennessee, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Born of Water and Spirit?

RT: A few different influences led me toward this project as it began in my doctoral work.  First, long ago when I read Nathan O. Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity, I was skeptical about how his arguments applied to all the religious groups he analyzed.  But from my previous research on Baptists, I thought his overall argument worked best for that group in the early national period.  Even so, the broad, interpretive nature of that work made it difficult to pointedly examine how Baptist expansion might have been due to their democratic commitments.  Though several good works on Baptists on the nineteenth century existed, none seemed to capture how the free and fluid institutional structure and the democratic spirit of the Baptist movement propelled their growth and success in the early nineteenth century.  Second, another classic work from the 1990s, The Churching of America, 1776-1990 by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, helped me think about how of all the “winning” traditional religious groups in the Second Great Awakening, the Baptists were the one which continued to “win” throughout the twentieth century.  Thus, there needed to be a focused work exploring just how the Second Awakening was worked out on the ground among the Baptists and what characteristics strengthened and weakened their growth in the period.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Born of Water and Spirit?

RT: The fluid structure and democratic ethic of the Baptist movement which derive from an emphasis on believer’s baptism, an individualistic ethic, a privileging of the local church, and an egalitarian view of the clergy—all of which I collectively label “the Baptist impulse”—have proven to be the movement’s greatest strength and the source of its most terrible struggles.  Kentucky offers an excellent, representative site for understanding who the colonial Baptists had been, who they were becoming in the early national period, and who they would become after the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read Born of Water and Spirit?

RT: The early nineteenth century was a vibrant and exciting time of change in American life from so many different angles, not just in religious life.  I appreciate any book which can remind readers of this fact.  This work captures the contribution Baptists made to that optimistic era.  I hope scholars and students of early American history will appreciate the way this book seeks to help flesh out who the Baptists were from their own words and stories.  Part of this work also reveals how the Baptists in this period transitioned from a grassroots, upstart movement toward a more refined and institutionalized group.  I think readers, even modern Baptists, might learn something about how turbulent that process was and the costs that came with such a change.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RT: As a kid, when the American bicentennial happened, I think I was infected with a fascination for the American past.  But coming to history as a profession was a slow process in my 20s as I increasingly realized I could make a career at something I enjoyed.

JF: What is your next project?

RT: I’m torn between two projects right now.  I’ve long believed I would dig deeper into the lives of one of the Baptist ministers in Kentucky that I mention in Born of Water and Spirit.  I’ve done a little bit of research along those lines and I think it would be a great follow up project.  But recently, I’ve become enthralled with a project connected to where I find myself these days: West Texas.  Perhaps I can do both eventually. 

JT:  Thanks Richard!

Russell Moore on Religious Liberty and the 2016 Presidential Election

John Leland

What if religious liberty became a campaign issue in the upcoming presidential campaign?  Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks that it should be.  I can’t argue him.

I also can’t argue with his piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which he explains religious freedom and calls presidential candidates to defend it in 2016.  It is excellent.

Perhaps the Baptists, the historic defenders of the separation of church and state and religious liberty, who are best positioned to speak to this issue in American life.

Moore’s op-ed is behind the Wall Street Journal paywall, but here is a taste:

Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t make it as a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church. We don’t tend to recruit those who would cut apart a Bible to get rid of miracles and resurrections—for us the best parts—to instruct our children. Yet the same Baptists and other evangelicals who wouldn’t have let Jefferson near their baptismal pools were willing to check his name for president of the United States because he was willing to stand up for religious freedom.

That’s why the most important test of 2016 may be the Thomas Jefferson Primary —the race to see which candidates offer a clear, coherent vision of religious liberty when the very idea is contested in American politics.

Jefferson won over the Baptists and evangelicals without pretending to be one of them. After all, he was derided as an infidel by his critics. Jefferson and the Baptists came to religious liberty from two very different starting points. He based it on an Enlightenment understanding of natural rights. They based it on a gospel in which consciences must be free if they are to stand in judgment on the Last Day. The Founding-era evangelicals, such as fiery Virginia Baptist revivalist John Leland, didn’t care about motives, but about who would work to secure freedom. That’s a good model for the next election.

In recent years candidates have assumed that they can win over evangelicals by learning Christian slogans, by masking political rallies as prayer meetings, and by basically producing a long-form new birth certificate to prove they’ve been born again. This sort of identity politics is a luxury of a past era when evangelicals were part of a silent majority in the U.S., with our First Amendment freedoms assumed and guaranteed. That is not the present situation.

In the past several elections, religious liberty has hardly been mentioned. There was chatter about the sermons of the pastors of candidates Barack Obama and Sarah Palin in 2008, and about whether evangelicals would vote for a Mormon in 2012—they did, without much trouble. But candidates didn’t have to answer how they would protect the legacy of religious freedom, fought so hard for by Jefferson and his Baptist allies.

Yes, the Supreme Court handed religious-liberty advocates a victory in the Hobby Lobby case—ruling in 2014 that certain private companies can be exempt from aspects of the Affordable Care Act for religions reasons. But who would have predicted a few years ago that a decision about whether the government could force employers to pay for abortion-causing drugs would rest on one swing vote on the court?

Even more troubling was the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor decision. Again, religious freedom won the day in a ruling maintaining a church’s right to hire ministers apart from government interference. But that court victory was against a White House arguing a point that no previous administration ever would have pursued.

In 2016, it doesn’t matter whether a candidate knows the words to hymns. What will matter to evangelicals is how the candidate, if elected president, will articulate and defend religious-liberty rights. This is about more than whether the candidate will repeat clichés about appointing Supreme Court justices who will “interpret the law, not make the law.” We want to know how this potential president will rein in an administrative apparatus that has plunged the country into ongoing culture wars over, for instance, compelling virgin nuns to pay for birth control.

This also will mean a vision of religious liberty that is about more than pandering to an interest group. Some of today’s most pressing religious-liberty questions concern groups who, unlike evangelicals, have no large voting blocs. That is why evangelicals care about whether Muslim prisoners are forced to shave their beards without a compelling government interest, at issue in a Supreme Court decision last month that a man jailed in Arkansas could not be forced to shave.

If religious liberty doesn’t apply to small or unpopular minorities, then it isn’t liberty at all but becomes another government handout to a special-interest group. We want a candidate who will argue consistently for soul freedom for everyone, even those we would argue with about everything else.

My First Visit to a Southern Baptist Church

At North Oaks Baptist Church

Until last Saturday morning I had never set foot in a Southern Baptist Church.  I know some of my friends who live in the South may find this hard to believe, but it is true. There is a Southern Baptist Church in Mechanicsburg, PA, but I have never visited it. 

As part of my recent trip to Houston I was invited to give a presentation on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: Historical Introduction at the North Oaks Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.  When I told the congregation that this was my first experience with a Southern Baptist congregation, some of them looked at me like I was from another planet.  After all, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. (I responded to their sense of shock with a few New Jersey jokes.  That seemed to work).

Frankly, I did not know what to expect.  John Wilsey, the current interim pastor of the church, told me that his congregation was largely made of up theological and political conservatives, many of whom championed a “God and Country” approach to religion and politics. The motto of the church is “We Preach from the Bible and Sing from the Hymnal.”  I quickly learned that the Baptists at North Oaks prefer the King James Bible (I have never been in a church with a KJV pew Bible) to other translations and reject the more contemporary praise music that dominates worship at so many mega-churches throughout the country.

My visit was part of a larger Saturday morning event called the “In God We Trust” revival.  The website advertising the event proclaimed: “A priority of all Christians should be to stand up for Christianity and to keep our national motto of ‘In God We Trust’ alive.”  Had anyone (besides Wilsey) read my book before inviting me?  Nevertheless, I was happy to get a chance to talk about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? in the heart of David Barton country.  The people of North Oaks are the kind of people I want to reach with my book, so I was glad to be there.

John Wilsey shares many of my ideas about the relationship between church and state and the place of Christianity in the American founding.  I highly recommend his One Nation Under God?: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America.  He is a conservative evangelical who is wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.  He wants his congregation to think deeply about the relationship between American Christianity and American patriotism, and his insider status as the interim pastor has allowed him to win the trust of his congregation on these matters.

The “revival” began with some good old fashioned hymn-singing.  Doug Wood, the minister of music at North Oaks, scared me to half to death when he announced that all visiting speakers were required to sing a solo on a verse of their choice from any of the hymns being sung that day.  This brought uproarious laughter from the congregation and it went a long way toward easing whatever anxiety I may have felt about my talk.  I was really glad to sing some of the old hymns. These hymns have the kind of theological depth to them that most contemporary praise songs do not.

Wilsey began the “revival” with a sermon entitled “Christian Freedom and Responsibility.”  He is a good Baptist in the sense that he is skeptical of the Christian church’s propensity to mix religion and politics.  His message challenged the congregation to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.”  He debunked the idea that America was exceptional, a “chosen people,” or a “new Israel.”  It was a great sermon.

I was up next.  I was a bit worried that my public lecture would not be suitable for a “revival” meeting, but Wilsey calmed my fears.  After presenting my standard lecture on Christianity and the American founding I fielded questions that came from a variety of theopolitical

perspectives.  This was a thoughtful congregation.  They wanted to be faithful witnesses in the world and use history responsibility.  (I even got a few “amens”).  They expressed concerns about the lack of religion in American history textbooks.  They grappled with the meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state.”  It was a privilege to help them think through these issues.

I was expecting the North Oaks Baptists to hit me with talking points from David Barton, but they did not.  I don’t know what they really thought of what I had to say, but they were generally curious.  They also bought a lot of books.  Most of the preconceptions I had of this congregation were unfounded

The North Oaks Baptist Church visit was the final event in what was a great few days in the Houston area.  I wrote about my experience at the Darrington prison here.  I posted on my BBQ dinner with some American religious historians from the area.  But I also want to thank John Wilsey and his wonderful family, the administration of the Houston extension of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the people of North Oaks for their hospitality during the weekend.  I hope one day I can return.

David Barton and Louisiana College

Joe Aguillard

It looks as if there are a few colleges out there who are still supporting the historical work of David Barton.   Louisiana College appears to be one of them.

Some of you may recall that this college made news a couple of weeks ago when the president dismissed several faculty members for apparently teaching Calvinism.  (Louisiana College is a Baptist college, but apparently they believe that Baptist faith and Calvinism are not compatible.  I am sure Roger Williams, who many have described as the first Baptist in America, is turning over in his grave).

The Calvinism controversy at Louisiana has led to other criticisms of current president Joe Aguillard.

In a recent post at a blog called Faith on View, Louisiana College alumnus and former faculty member (and Teacher of the Year) Scott Culpepper describes an encounter with Aguillard over Barton’s interpretation of American history.

Here is a taste:

My first direct encounter with Aguillard’s style of managing subordinates came in the spring of 2009 when I voiced concern, first through a series of e-mail messages and then through a letter sent to leading administrators as well as select faculty members, about comments made by David Barton at the spring commencement.  Mr. Barton made several comments at the ceremony that were erroneous.  Not only students but faculty members seemed to be taking his false assertions as fact.  I had already communicated to the administration before the event Barton’s well known reputation for distorting facts and his nearly universal repudiation by Christian academics.  I requested that Aguillard allow us to present the other side of the argument for students and faculty who might be aware of Barton’s factual distortions.  The response was bizarre.  Dr. Chuck Quarles had also written a letter in which he echoed some of my concerns about Barton’s presentation.  Aguillard requested that his personal assistant, Joseph Cole, vet my letter and Dr. Quarles’ for factual accuracy because we probably “misunderstood Bro. Barton.”  Cole was a music major with no background in history who had not even completed his undergraduate degree.  Aguillard finally called me in for a rather strange conversation in which I tried to convince him with historical evidence that Barton was incorrect, and he responded by continually asserting that I would believe otherwise if I felt the spiritual vibe at Barton’s headquarters in Aledo, TX.  The meeting ended with Aguillard saying that he forgave me for my letter.  When I tried to diplomatically say that I stood by the letter and was not apologizing for its content, Aguillard said it would be best for my long term future at Louisiana College to forget about Barton.  I am still convinced that if Dr. Quarles had not been involved as well and I had not just been selected as Professor of the Year by the student body that spring that my treatment at  this time might have mirrored the ordeal that Rondall Reynoso endured two years later.

Culpepper, I might add, resigned his post last year, claiming that he “could no longer serve under Joe Aguillard in good conscience because his leadership contradicts the very core of the scripture he claims to defend.” He is now teaching history at Dordt College.

ADDENDUM:  After I scheduled this post I ran across Tommy Kidd’s post on the topic at The Anxious Bench.  Check it out here.