The admonition of Baptist seminary professor John A. Broadus to “watch the beginnings of things” is sage advice. A person should take pains to examine the background and history of any institution before becoming affiliated with it. This is especially true with respect to church member-ship, since it happens that nearly every religious sect or denomination has some shady doings in its history that it should not be especially proud to own.
No doubt Roman Catholics must cringe when the atrocities of the Inquisition and the ungodly sins of the Papacy are recalled. And the Church of Luther cannot be proud of the fact that it was born in a period when its founder was preaching antisemitism and countenancing the wholesale slaughter of Anabaptists. Similarly, Episcopalians have to cope with the fact that their Church got started because a lustful English monarch was determined to legalize his multiple marriages, and was perpetuated as a state church that drove flocks of religious pilgrims to other shores.
Presbyterians must be shamed by the burning at the stake of Michael Servetus by John Calvin and the suppression of English freedom when they were in control of the Puritan Commonwealth’s Parliament. Likewise, Congregationalists have to deal with their early mistreatment of Baptists and Quakers in America and their misguided involvement in the Salem witchcraft trials.
By far the most culpable sects of all, however, are the so-called “Christian” cults, all of which have dark beginnings. The Mormon Church was involved in violent acts such as the massacre of an entire wagon-train of pioneers at Mountain Meadows, Utah. Also, these self-proclaimed “saints” must be quite uneasy over the plagiarisms of “Prophet” Joseph Smith and the shenanigans in Brigham Young’s harem as revealed in the speeches and writings of his twenty-seventh wife, Ann Eliza Webb Young. Seventh Day Adventists should be embarrassed by their “Millerite” origin, when they fell for William Miller’s attempts to set dates for the end of the world and his final admission of error. Also, they must surely see through the dishonesty of their “prophetess,” Ellen White, who had convenient “visions” whenever she needed to defend her leadership and who plagiarized much of what she wrote. Jehovah’s Witnesses would probably like to cover up their multiple predictions of doomsday and the scandalous divorce trial implicating their founder C. T. Russell in adultery and perjury. Christian Scientists must surely wish that Mary Baker Glover Pat-
terson Eddy had been a stricter monogamist. And Freemasons must be chagrined when they have to explain their occult origins and their flirtation with atheism in the eighteenth century. As for the present-day religious movements, it seems the rule for the leaders of these cults to live in luxury at the expense of their worshipful devotees and thereby make a mockery of the holiness that they profess.
By comparison, Baptists have a pretty clean record. Their strong stand for liberty of conscience has largely saved them from taking part in the oppression of fellow human beings. By receiving rather than causing affliction, Baptists have set a fine example of Christian conduct throughout their history.
Still, despite such a fine heritage, American Baptists in the Southern states must admit to one big blot on their past, the unavoidable fact that their founders were on the wrong side of the slavery issue. Now, Baptists are not alone in this unfortunate condition. Most major denominations were sundered at the beginning of the Civil War. But they are alone in the perpetuation of this estrangement, since all other Protestant groups who suffered the same split have successfully healed their wounds and reunited into national groups. And Southern Baptists, but for their excessive pride, could have accomplished the same thing.
As a consequence, outside the South the Baptist reputation is still sullied by an image of provincial bigotry. They are the Ku Klux Klan without sheets to many Americans. And frankly speaking, it should be obvious that the very name “Southern” is a label of arrogant exclusiveness. It recalls the attitude of righteous southern Jews toward the northerner, Jesus: “Can anything good come from Nazareth - or, as one might say today, New England?”
So, Southerners should get rid of that old dusty skeleton hanging in their closets. They should actively seek to bring about a fresh and vital union of baptized believers in Christ. Baptist schisms have been healed before. Prior to 1801, Baptists in America were known as either Regular or Separate (General or Particular in England), but after that date they were all together as “United Baptists.”
Movement toward union would bear out the basic assumption of the Faith that the final answer to world peace is Jesus: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” As things stand, however, the Christian community must face the reality of Irish Christians killing each other and of Baptists of the North and South not being on speaking terms after a hundred year old squabble.