Oppose Christian Nationalism?
Pastor Bart Barber, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), had some interesting things to say about church-state separation during a recent interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes.”
Cooper asked Barber to respond to June comments by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) who said while speaking at a church, “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.” Boebert added that she is “tired of this separation of church and state junk.”
Barber criticized Boebert’s comments, telling Cooper, “It stands contrary to 400 years of Baptist history and everything I believe about religious liberty. I’m opposed to the idea of Christian dominion, churchly dominion over the operations of government.”
Barber added, “I object to it because Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world. I object to it because every time it’s been adopted it wound up persecuting people like me. It doesn’t stop at persecuting people who are not Christians. It eventually winds up persecuting people who are Christians for whom the flavor of their Christianity is different from that of the government.”
Barber’s comments are being interpreted as criticism of Christian nationalism. But if that’s true, he’ll have his hands full – his entire denomination is full of Christian nationalists.
Southern Baptists helped found Americans United 75 years ago. At the time, the SBC stood for a high and firm wall of separation between church and state, calling it a traditional Baptist principle.
Unfortunately, the denomination fell under the control of fundamentalists in the late 1970s and into the ’80s. Under their rule, the SBC changed sides on most church-state issues, moving from separation to entanglement.
The SBC, which supported Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1973 that codified legal abortion until it was overturned in June, is now solidly anti-abortion – so much so that Barber told Cooper he wouldn’t support an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim.
The SBC once worked alongside Americans United to oppose mandatory, coercive programs of prayer and worship in public schools. It now backs school prayer amendments.
The SBC used to stand against private school vouchers and other forms of taxpayer aid to religious schools. Its public policy arm now advocates for these misguided programs in Congress and state legislatures.
Today, the SBC is known for taking the most extreme positions possible on social issues, such as opposing LGBTQ rights. It embraces the toxic idea that religious freedom can be used as a device to discriminate against others and take away their rights. Since the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination, the SBC has filed dozens of legal briefs undermining church-state separation before the Supreme Court.
If Pastor Barber is really interested in standing up to Christian nationalism, we welcome him to that fight. He has a lot of work to do – starting in his own back yard.