Va. Baptists Defend Church-State Separation

We’re glad to see that many Virginia Baptists remain committed to their denomination’s traditional defense of separation of church and state. Associated Baptist Press reports that messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) last week “adopted a resolution decrying versions of American history that minimize or deny the role of church-state separation.” From the ABP article:

Virginia Baptists should “regard it as a threat to the flourishing of religious liberty when any version of our nation’s history minimizes or denies the historical basis” of church-state separation, the resolution says. It also says Virginia Baptists should “be diligent in resisting and correcting any such mistaken version of our history.”

Supporters of the resolution expressed concerns about how Texas State Board of Education‘s religious-right bloc rewrote history and other social studies curriculum standards earlier this year. Rob James, a retired religion professor at the University of Richmond who chairs the BGAV’s religious-liberty committee, had this to say:

“One of the things that frightened us [the committee] was that the next 10 years of social-studies textbooks would raise questions about the founding of this country and to what extent, if at all, the idea of separation of church and state is part of our national commitment. It appeared to us that what was going on amounted to a change of our historical memory. If we as individuals are robbed of our memory we can no longer be the same person and can’t be faithful to the same principles. The same is true of a collective body. Its memory can be tampered with.”


According to the ABP story, the original resolution specifically cited Texan David Barton — who wants our government and laws to be based on a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the Bible — and other “Reconstructionist authors” for engaging in “systematic efforts” to revise the nation’s history. Supporters agreed to remove those names before the convention passed the final resolution.

4 thoughts on “Va. Baptists Defend Church-State Separation

  1. I think it was nice that they took the initiative to do this. More state and national religious organizations of all kinds should. With that said and the Virginia Baptist resolution publicly presented, the next sound you will hear off-stage and in the news media is something like this from noted Religious Right fruitcakes:

    “An apostate liberal Baptist convention in Virginia has thrown sand in the eyes of the Lord by supporting the awful myth that a separation of church and state (or religion and state) was the intent of our founding fathers. They must all be Christians in Name Only (CINO). What will the enemies of God do next?”

    Well, personally speaking, I think the greater religious community in the United States needs stand up to the Christian fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals, and Christian Neo-Fundamentalists in unison and say:

    “As far as we are concerned, you are entitled to believe and practice whatever religious beliefs you hold dear. However, if you feel that your belief system is the one true way and all others are false—and that turns off so many people that no one wants to have anything to do with your belief system —so you feel that what you believe is like a fetus about to be aborted, then we have to tell you that we are not going to allow you to save yourselves by taking over the government and forcing us to believe exactly as you believe. We are not going to let you do that. If you want what you believe to live on, you are going to have to make it like your ancestors in the log cabins did (just like the rest of us do now) and compete for men’s hearts on a level playing field.”

  2. Baptists, being the ones most often sent to prison (especially in Virginia) for their heterodox religious beliefs during the Colonial period, should by rights be the absolute last group to advocate union of Church & State.

    (Except perhaps for the Quakers; being a Quaker in some parts of Massachusetts for a while in the 1600s attracted the penalty of death by hanging).

  3. FYI: my reply to the Virginia Baptists:

    The word in the Constitution is “religion,” and distorting it to “church” leads to the simple and irrefutable assertion, from people like the witch from Delaware and Glenn Beck, that the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. They win the public debate, but they misstate what the Constitution actually says and commands.

    Baptists have been arguing the separation principle in America ever since they arrived. However, I never persuade anyone with the words “church and state.” Organizations like Americans United, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and even Michael Newdow, are still losing the debate in the public square, as well as too often in court. Since I started using the words of the Constitution, I have never lost the argument or the debate. If you want to win the constitutional debate, then start using the words which are in the Constitution to explain the constitutional principle. The word “religion” cannot be denied as not being in the Constitution, and the word “religion” is exactly the word the Constitution uses, not “church.” It is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established, not just a “church,” which is why President Obama’s Faith-based Office is unconstitutional, not because it is not a “church,” but because it is “religion.” Hello?

    Have you not read Professor Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant?

    The words “church and state” are not in the Constitution, but they have been misused so often over the years, millions of misguided Americans believe the Constitution is talking only about a “state church.” Which is why separationists keep losing the debate in court and in the public square.

    The Founding Fathers and the First Congress got the wording correct from the beginning and did not use the word “church.” It is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law or Congress, and it is a “religious” test which shall not be required, not just a “church” test.

    As my speech professors at Baylor taught, if you want to win a debate then properly frame your argument. No one can say the word “religion” is not in the Constitution, not even Glenn Beck. What is it going to take to get the BJCPA and Virginia Baptists to accept the words of the Constitution, more ridicule? Okay, then show me the words, “church and state” in the Constitution. They cannot, therefore, they lose this debate, because the word “church” is not in the Constitution and the more you continue to use words which are not in the Constitution, the more our opponents, including judges, continue to make fools out of us.

    So, I want you, Virginia Baptists, to show me the words “church and state.” If you cannot, then I win this debate with you, just as I have with everyone who has ever challenged me about understanding the constitutional principle of separation and its application to every level of government. When you start using the word that is actually in the Constitution, no one can deny the principle or the wording of the Constitution, not even Glenn Beck.

    As Dr. Bill Pinson used to say in ethics classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “God gave us brains to use, not to sit on.”

    It is time Baptists and separationists everywhere start using the logic of the Constitution’s actual words, not words which are not in the Constitution. There is not one intelligent person in the USA who does not understand the difference between religion and church.

    By the way, Thomas Jefferson is not a Founding Father, see Webster’s, and he had absolutely nothing to do with wording the Constitution or the First Amendment. He was in France from 1784 to 1789 and did not report for duty in Washington until March 1790. I majored in religion and history.

    It is way past time to teach America what the Constitution actually says, like the word “thereof” in the Free Exercise clause, which gets its entire meaning from that to which it refers (grammar 101). “Thereof” can only mean “religion.” It cannot mean “church.” So, if you want the American people and the Courts to understand exactly what the Constitution actually says, then use Madison’s words–he personally helped write both the Constitution and the First Amendment: “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” James Madison, W&MQ 3:555. The word in the Constitution is “religion,” not church. It is the whole subject of religion about which the Constitution commands “no law” and “no test” which is why I wrote my newest book. You need to simply read its simply stated documentation of the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government: .

    Gene Garman, M.Div.
    Pittsburg, KS