Thursday, July 25, 2019

Still Fed Up with Fundamentalism's View of Religious Freedom

This article is based on the sixth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007), which I am currently updating (and slightly revising) for re-publication by the end of the year. Matters related to religious freedom were not prominent during the first decades of fundamentalist Christianity, but such matters became a major concern in the 1980s and the following decades.  
Current Emphases
From the first years of the resurgence of fundamentalism, conservative evangelical Christians have made ongoing efforts to get prayer back into public schools, to procure sanctions for public displays of the Ten Commandments, and to protect the use of “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance and “in God we trust” on USAmerican currency.
Those emphases were accompanied by strong condemnation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which conservative evangelicals saw/see mainly as an anti-Christian organization. To combat the activities of the ACLU, in 1990 Pat Robertson founded a new legal action organization, naming it the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
The headquarters of ACLJ is, as they proudly state, “just steps away from the Supreme Court and Congress.” Since 1992, Jay Sekulow has been the chief counsel of ACLJ. Many of you, though, know his name in another context: in 2017 Sekulow (b. 1956) also became one of DJT’s lawyers.
The ACLJ has been a major force of the Religious Right seeking religious freedom as they understand it. But the freedom they seek is mainly the freedom for Judeo-Christian religion to have predominance in the public square.
Current Ties to the Republican Party
It is evident that the ACLJ and most other Religious Right organizations are closely aligned with the Republican Party. That link is clearly seen with Sekulow being both the chief counsel of the ACLJ and a prominent member of the President’s legal team.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition is another prominent organization of the Christian Right. Incorporated in 2009, founder Ralph Reed (b. 1961) has described it as “a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition.”
Even though it is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, there is no question of it working
“hand in glove” with the Republican Party.
Since 2010, they have held conferences in Washington, D.C. My 6/5/11 blog article was about the 2011 conference, which I attended as a researcher. Nearly all the Republican 2012 presidential hopefuls spoke, as did DJT, who decided not to run for President that year.
The ties of the Faith and Freedom Coalition as a conservative evangelical Christian organization and the Republican Party could not have been more evident. This link as well as much that was said about the emphases mentioned above, also made evident a very questionable understanding of the principle of the separation of church and state.
Current Rejection of the Separation of Church and State
Although I am still very much a baptist (with a small “b”), Fed Up with Fundamentalism was written when I was still a Baptist, and the sixth chapter is clearly the most Baptistic chapter of the book.
Earlier and more consistently than any other Christian denomination, beginning with Roger Williams, who in 1638 started the first Baptist church in what is now the United States, up until about forty years ago Baptists have been outspoken proponents of the principle of the separation of church and state.
(Click here to read my 2/5/11 article titled “In Praise of Roger Williams.”)
But with the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, that historic position has been largely lost. Consequently, I am fed up with fundamentalism’s view of religious freedom, for it does not endorse that precious freedom for all people equally.


  1. Here are comments from Bob Leeper, a fairly new Thinking Friend and a local businessman who is older than I.

    "Thanks. I am shallow and not very well-studied on this topic, but I have long believed (walking away 1955 after only one year at the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University) that most folks who spout Religious Freedom are thinking of YOUR FREEDOM TO AGREE WITH ME; versus freedom of all souls to believe (or not) according to their heart.

    "I think freedom OF RELIGION must also include freedom FROM RELIGION. I appreciate your scholarly work on this topic, and agree totally that we must do all possible to keep the conservative agenda in the headlights for election 2020."

    1. "Yes, Bob, I agree with you. Even though I have spent much of my life trying to convince people of the importance of religious faith (and of Christianity), as an advocate of religious liberty I also believe that people have the right to choose not to affirm a religious faith as well as the right to choose what religious faith to affirm."

  2. From the opposite viewpoint, here are comments from a Thinking Friend who perhaps would prefer not to be identified here:

    "Why be upset with trying to enable GOD to be the main religion when He Himself said that He was the ONLY way?"

    1. A partial response to this viewpoint is expressed by Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

      "You put your finger on the real problem, Leroy—the fundamentalist view that freedom of religion means my freedom to impose my religion on everybody else."

    2. Many Christians, and rightfully so, complain about the lack of religious freedom in countries where the majority religion is other than Christianity. This is most pronounced, of course, in Muslim countries.

      But the Muslims are simply following their deeply held beliefs that Allah wants Allah to be worshipped in the Muslim way. Should they not do that?

      If we want freedom for Christians in countries where they are in the minority, shouldn't we be willing to advocate religious liberty for minority religions in this country?

    3. By the way, Thinking Friend Hinson is one of the scholars I cite in this sixth chapter.

  3. Local Thinking Friend Ken Grenz, who is a retired Methodist minister, shares these comments:

    "Thanks. I’m always puzzled re: fervent Christians wanting to blend church and state. I grew up in a very pious small town of Black Sea German Russians. The reason that, beyond Christian Christmas programs, there was nearly no bleeding religion into the classroom is that the Lutherans, the Reformed, the Baptists, the EUBs, the Church of God, Seventh Day, and especially the more recently established (gasp) Catholics all agreed that they wouldn’t be comfortable with leadership from groups other than their own propagating the civil religion of the classroom! It may reflect on an inadequate ecumenical spirit, but the church and state bit they got right!"

  4. Plato wrote "Man is a religious animal." (Timaeus) Aristotle is much more famous for claiming "Man is the rational animal." With thousands of years of empirical data, it is obvious that Plato had the better answer. Perhaps if Aristotle had said "Man is the rationalizing animal" we could give him higher marks. As it is, we can search for the truth only haltingly, and carefully. As Isaiah said, "All we like sheep have gone astray." (Isaiah 53:6) Of course, Isaiah says this in the section we call "the suffering servant" which is no minor part of our Christian faith. In verse 3 we learned he was no primping televangelist, "He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account."

    Somewhere I once read something along the lines of "Truth is born in blasphemy, and dies in platitude." Unfortunately, Google failed to help me find the source. This I believe, any faith that has been reduced to comfortable old platitudes is dead. Nothing looks more horrible than a new truth being born. Some learn to stretch and grow, whether the issue is evolution, women in power, or a multi-cultural society. Others turn their backs on change, even attack the change, because even if God is bringing the change, they do not want to know about it. We live in tumultuous times, where liberals want to turn back the clock to 2016, and conservatives to about 1816. God is moving forward, and we had all better get used to that. A lot of change is coming. Much of it will not be pretty. Some will even be evil. As Isaiah writes in 24:18-19, "Whoever flees at the sound of the terror shall fall into the pit; and whoever climbs out of the pit shall be caught in the snare. For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken." Perhaps it is time I reread Paul Tillich's "The Shaking of the Foundations." Or would we rather discuss anthropogenic global warming, over population, plastic pollution, or vulture capitalism? To think we once only feared the bomb. Now we have so many ways to do ourselves in. No wonder we do not want to think about it!

    1. Craig, I appreciate your pungent comments and basically agree with what you have written. But I guess I fail to see how what you wrote is directly related to the blog article. Have I missed some subtlety in your comments?

    2. I see your point. I think the "subtlety" is that I am BEYOND fed up with fundamentalism. In some ways I am fed up with liberalism, too. So I quoted Isaiah, "All we like sheep have gone astray." How can we get past ideological and dogmatic "fundamentals" to look for real fundamentals? How can humanity survive the shaking of the foundations?

    3. Thanks for responding to my response to you, Craig.

      I share your weariness with the fundamentalism/liberalism squabbles, and I do sincerely wish that together we could get on to working together on more important issues, such as global warming, which you often mention.

      However, I consider religious liberty for all people--and the principle of separation of church and state--to be of great importance, and as long as there are people in our nation whose religious liberty is under attack and as long as the principle of separation of church and state is being denigrated, I think it is important to speak out.

      In my August 5 blog posting, though, I do plan to write in part about a most fundamental issue, that of protecting the natural environment.

  5. This morning I received these comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for some thoughts from your revised book.

    "The long Baptist tradition of support for the separation of church and state has been hijacked, unfortunately, in the SBC. As far as I know, the American and National Baptist churches still adhere to the tradition.

    "Separation of church and state protects not only the concept of secular and unbiased government, but also religion. Trying to impose certain religious beliefs or symbols on secular institutions does a disservice to both those institutions and to religion generally by breeding cynicism. Because of their shortsighted actions, the fundamentalists (or evangelical Christians) are losing the millennials--and they should.

    "I saw a bumper sticker recently in northern Missouri on a pickup truck; it read, 'Another Christian voter for Trump.' A very odd version of Christianity."

    1. Thanks for once again sharing significant comments, Eric.

      Yes, it is primarily the Southern Baptist Convention (and a few small, conservative Baptist groups) who no longer support the principle of separation of church and state.

      You probably weren't in my home county, which borders Iowa due north of Kansas City, but there are many there who would most likely agree with the bumper sticker you saw. Almost all of the people of that county would identify as being Christian, and in the 2018 election 77.2% voted for DJT.

  6. Division is common across the spectrum of belief and politics. The "evangelists" for those groups go out of their way to cause trouble. I have had as many negative encounters with the liberal/progressive side of religion and politics and religion as I have had with the conservative/traditional side - maybe more. ALL of my encounters with the ACLU have been negative - they were out to create trouble. (Some will point to the good things a particular group has done. Good. But that is frequently a Hitler defense - he also did good along the way.) My standard response is to walk away - sometimes run. I did so this week with a conservative group which went overboard. I have done so with Jimmy Carter's "Gathering of Baptists"/"New Covenant Baptists" when they went on the attack of my local church (who was hosting them). Sadly, in our polarized times we must be careful. It is good to associate with others with whom we have variance - IF they are people of goodwill. But it is also good to disassociate with those seeking to cause division and trouble - regardless of where the fall on the spectrum.

    God have mercy on us and save us. Help us to truly seek You as best we can, for Your Kingdom and Glory.

    1. 1sojourner, I am sorry for the bad experiences you have had with the ACLU, and I'll admit that I have never had any direct contact with the ACLU, so all I know is what I read about them.

      According to their website, their purpose is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." All I see in the news about them indicates that that is, indeed, what they seem to be doing.

      "ACLU sues U.S. border agencies over targeting of activists, lawyers at border" is an NBC story posted on July 23. (Here is a link to that article: It seems quite likely that that wasn't trouble they were looking for; rather, they were likely contacted by someone who thought that the rights of the humanitarian activists were being violated. And, as they often do, they (the ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of those who thought, probably correctly, that their "individual rights and liberties" were being violated.

      That is the way they have been involved in the religious freedom issue: they take the side of atheists, Buddhists, or whoever thinks that their individual rights and liberties (for religious freedom) have been violated by blatant Christian displays or activities in public places.

    2. I know that the ACLU also recently took up the cause for the NRA recently, and also recently publicly reprimanded the SPLC. Just the same, I would never trust them based on my first-hand experiences which they publicly initiated. In fact, I would run the other way. As you know from your experience with "Fundamentalists", trust destroyed is not easily rebuilt - regardless of what someone may write or say. But of course I am fundamentally a cynic of religion (including "Christianity") and politics across the board. Some have certainly proven themselves for who they really are. I'm sure there are some of goodwill in each group, but I'm very wary, and from Missouri. Thank you for your response just the same.

    3. 1sojourner, the ACLU seeks to help anyone who claims that their civil rights are being violated whether they agree with such persons' beliefs or not. June turned negative toward the ACLU several years ago when they took the side of someone from Westboro Baptist Church. (She is once again more positive toward ACLU.) I'm sure that there is no one at ACLU who likes what Westboro does/says, but ACLU are willing to protect their civil rights and the First Amendment.

      I found that about a year ago the ACLU supported the NRA against Gov. Cuomo of New York. A spokesman for them said, "Our position in this case has nothing to do with our opinions on the NRA’s policies — it’s about the First Amendment rights of all organizations to engage in political advocacy without fear that the state will use its regulatory authority to penalize them for doing so." I certainly am not a supporter of the NRA, but I can't fault ACLU because of the position they took in support of the NRA's rights.

      Recently, problems/questions have surfaced regarding some internal matters with Southern Poverty Law Center--but I could find nothing about them being criticized by ACLU. All I could find was ACLU and SPLC working together--the most recent being last week, on July 17.

      I don't question that you had unpleasant experiences with people working for ACLU, but I cannot see that as being sufficient basis for discounting the whole organization. That would be a person having some unpleasant experiences with a couple of Christians and then rejecting Christianity altogether because of those experiences. The latter does, in fact, probably happen from time to time, but what a shame!

  7. Hi Leroy:
    Thanks for another thoughtful blog. As you know, church-state relations is one of my strong interests and I have published a book and a number of articles on the subject.
    First of all, I would be insulted and hurt to do anything that would identify me with Fundamentalism. I have written and published articles on the damage Fundamentalism has done to the Southern Baptist Convention. I lived in Ft. Worth during Frank Norris' tirades toward the SBC, Baylor and Southwestern Seminary. I was at OBU when Dr. Ray Summers taught his new book, "Worthy Is the Lamb" and was vilified by many Oklahoma Baptist leaders. I was a student at Midwestern when Ralph Elliott wrote his controversial book on Genesis titled "The Message of Genesis." I was at SBC annual meetings of the convention when busloads of families were bused in to vote for the Fundamentalist candidate for convention president. I could go on with the vitriolic, unchristian behavior and manipulation of the Pressler-Patterson fanatics who stole the SBC and ruined its institution and reputation. However, when it comes to recognizing the Judeo-Christian basis for our democracy, I have strong feelings. The issue is one of equality and freedom.

    Religion can be recognized without being forced. Government and religion have cooperated for centuries but the possibility of abuse has always been present. I don't believe in alienation between church and state but neither do I believe that either one should dominate the other. My book, Church-State Cooperation Without Domination" points out the successful experience past and present of church and state working together in meeting human needs. Each has its respective venues of operation and authority and each respects the boundaries of the other. I don't know how the respective venues could be made any clearer than in the words of Jesus when he said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. (Mark 12:17) Paul urged respect for civil authorities and payment of taxes to the government. (Romans 13:1-7) He wrote similar instructions to Titus (3:1) and to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

    Completion of Church and State is a myth. I wonder if those religious folks who scream separation of church and state realize that their church property is not taxed; their housing allowance is not taxed; the government supports chaplains in the military service; prayer is offered in Congress; there is religious signage throughout government building in Washington, and the list goes on. Church kitchens must be approved by the U.S. Health Dept and churches must have architectural for new build construction or additions to present properties. Church and government do work together regardless of the naysayers misplaced idealism about church-state relations.

    Truett Baker

    Leroy: I know this is too long but I just have to get this out of my system from time to time. Thanks for reading.

    1. Truett, thanks for sharing your views about the issue of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

      Certainly, as you point out, in the past (with effects that are still seen in the present) there certainly hasn't been complete separation of church and state. The main question, though, is what should be done now as the U.S. has become more and more pluralistic (made up of a sizeable percentage of citizens who are not Christians but are rather "nones," Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)?

      As you wrote at the end of your first paragraph, it is a matter of "equality and freedom." I want to be on the side of promoting religious freedom for all people equally, and it seems to me that that is what the principle of separation of church and state seeks to do.

  8. Bro. Leroy, this chapter is worth another book by itself! I much appreciate the comments of Mr. Baker. We too easily forget how much entanglement there already exists between church and state. The two sides of this coin demands for every organization like the NRA, we need an organization like the ACLU. For every organization like the ACLU we need organizations like the NRA. We need them both until the day arrives when your concept of the "radiant center" takes control of society, and opposing thoughts can sit down and talk with civility and long range consequences in mind.

    I don't want Christian theology taught in our public schools any more than Islamic theology. For the sake of historical foundations of common law, it would be nice to see on courthouse lawns or walls, inscriptions of the Code of Hammurabi, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, and other appropriate documents. I can't say I believe the US was ever a "Christian" nation, but I don't see how anyone could say our governing documents were never influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

    There must be a separation of church and state. Our struggle will always be how to introduce a morality into the governing system without its theology tagging along.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Tom.

      The Mr. Baker you referred to is an ordained Southern Baptist minister the same as you, and I encourage you to read the response to him that I just posted above.

  9. A couple of minutes ago, Thinking Friend Bill Jones posted the following comments about this article on Facebook:

    "I love reading your 'fed up with Fundamentalism' pieces, and this one particularly resonated with me.

    "I hate to think of myself as a 'single-issue voter,' but if there’s one issue that ranks at the top with me, it’s separation of church & state, because it’s absolutely essential to ensuring religious liberty for ALL people.

    "From my first in 1972 (McGovern) through 2016 (H. Clinton), all of my presidential votes have gone to Democrats, with one exception - 1996, when I voted for Ralph Nader (Green Party), because I had heard Bill Clinton say he might be able to support a school prayer amendment to the Constitution. That was a deal-breaker for me!"