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The Rise of Baptist Republicanism

Oran Smith

Publication Year: 1997

A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

By championing the ideals of independence, evangelism, and conservism, the Southern Baptist Covention (SBC) has grown into the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The Convention's mass democratic form of church government, its influential annual meetings, and its sheer size have made it a barometer for Southern political and cultural shift. Its most recent shift has been starboard-toward fundamentalism and Republicanism.

While the Convention once ofered a happy home to Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and church-state separationists, in the past two decades the SBC has become an uncomfortable institution for Democrats, progressive theologians, and other moderate voices. Current SBC member-heroes include Senators Trent Lott and Jesse Helms. Despite this seeming marginalization, Southern Baptist politicians have grown from political obscurity to occupying the four highest positions in the constitutional order of succesion to the presidency. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Senate President pro-tempore Strom Thurmond, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich are all Southern Baptists.

In its emerging Republicanism, the SBC has taken on characteristics of its more active fellow travelers in the Christian Right, forging alliances with former enemies (African Americans amd Roman Catholics), playing presidential politics, establishing a Washington lobbying presence, working the political grassroots, and declaring war on Walt Disney. Each of these missions has been accomplished with calculating political precision.

The Rise of Baptist Republicanism traces the Republicanization of the SBC's Republicanism in the context of the rise of the Fundamentalist Right and the emergence of a Republican majority in the South. Describing the SBC's political roots, Oran P. Smith contrasts Baptist Republicans with the rest of the Christian Right while revealing the theological, cultural, and historical factors which have made Southern Baptists receptive to Republican/Fundamentalist Right influences. The book is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the intersection of religion and politics in America today.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

Though no one besides me is responsible for any factual or epistemological errors that may occur in this book, the better parts of this work would not have been possible without the suggestions and encouragement of a host of political scientists. These include Hal Birch, Earl Black, Robert Botsch, Glen Broach, Lois Duke, Charles Dunn, Betty ...

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1. Introduction: Baptist Republicanism’s Cultural Antecedents

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pp. 1-27

The story is told of a little boy selling puppies by the road in the rural South. An elderly gentleman passing by in a wagon, unsure of his failing eyesight, asks the lad what kind of puppies he has. “Methodist puppies,” the boy quickly replies. The driver, amused by the boy’s apparent religious sensitivity, grins ...

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2. Backlash: Baptist Republicanism as Fundamentalist Reaction

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pp. 28-67

About 150 years ago the Mormons began moving West. They traveled by horse and wagon in parties of 30 to 40 families, leaving at intervals of two or three weeks. The first party left in early spring. At the end of every day they stopped to make camp. But before they rested, some of the men unhitched their horses from the wagons, re-hitched them to plows, and began plowing together in the ...

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3. Culture War: Baptist Republicanism as Cultural Defense

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pp. 68-97

As shown in the last chapter, both theological and political aspects contribute to Southern Baptist political change. These changes have come to the denomination through internal political struggles between organized factions of the middle and the right. But internal squabbling aside, what about factors external to the Convention? Is the rise of Baptist Republicanism not also due to external pressures as well? Do these ...

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4. Fundamental Differences: Baptist Republicanism’s Political Partners

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pp. 98-112

The building blocks of any party system are issues and structures, or more formally, the platform of the political party and the people who organize around it under the party label. In some European countries, the meaning of party, as defined by the core agenda and voter groups associated with it, has changed little in the space of one hundred years. ...

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5. Bible Belt: Baptist Republicanism in the Palmetto State

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pp. 113-152

“Tip” O’Neill once explained that “all politics is local.” He was right. But had the Speaker been a member of the fundamentalist right (quite a stretch), he might have further explained that “all religious politics is local too, but not monolithic.” At least that is what South Carolina governor Carroll Campbell told me. In the three branches of the fundamentalist right we gain a unique...

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6. The Pew and the Pulpi: tBaptist Republican Mass and Elite Politics

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pp. 153-178

The SBC schism, though possessing its own unique characteristics, is a part of a general split within American Christendom. Reacting to changes in the culture, the Convention and the country, a conservative faction has arisen within the SBC bent on controlling the affairs of the fifteen-million-member organization, aligning its elites informally with the fundamentalist right political agenda and working Christian ...

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7. United We Survive: Baptist Republican Alliances

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pp. 179-190

In the last six chapters, we have traced the unique formation of an attraction between Southern Baptists and the Republican party through that attraction’s many antecedents. Along the way, we have found that Southern Baptists embody American Religion. It is in theUnited States that Baptists have grown so phenomenally. Their church government is historically so democratic that they have earned the label...

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8. Conclusion: Baptist Republicanism, Southern Conservatism, and American Politics

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pp. 191-212

Is there a link between Bapticity and Republicanism in American politics? That is not a simple question to answer, but there are a number of religious forces at work in Southern politics that have national ramifications, and Southern religion is inevitably Baptist influenced. As table 8.1 shows, the first Clinton-Gore ticket was unpopular among white Southerners in general. Given the percentage the Democratic ...

Appendices

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pp. 213-236

Notes

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pp. 237-280

Bibliography

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pp. 281-312

Index

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pp. 313-320


E-ISBN-13: 9780814739761
E-ISBN-10: 0814739768
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814780732
Print-ISBN-10: 0814780733

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 1997

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Subject Headings

  • Christianity and politics -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Conservatism -- Religious aspects -- Southern Baptist Convention -- History -- 20th century.
  • Conservatism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Christianity and politics -- Southern Baptist Convention -- History -- 20th century.
  • Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- ).
  • United States -- Church history -- 20th century.
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