Pastor Bart Barber, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), criticized the idea of religious control of the government and had some interesting things to say about church-state separation during an Oct. 9 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 were interpreted as criticism of Christian nationalism, but Americans United noted that the denomination has ties to that theocratic movement.
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.
But 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 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 LGBTQ rights. In recent years, it has embraced the 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.
Barber in 2016 called Donald Trump “a demonstrably evil man.” But Barber told Cooper that he changed his mind and voted for Trump in 2020. However, he said he doesn’t believe that the election was stolen. Asked by Cooper if he believes President Joe Biden was legitimately elected, Barber replied, “I do – absolutely. I pray for him consistently as the president of the United States. I believe he was legitimately elected.”