Someone had done or said something and I said “I hate” whoever it was that had done or said something. Now I have no memory who it was that said or did something that caused me to say “I hate.” What I cannot forget is my baptist grandmother bending down to say to me, “Eddie, we don’t hate anyone. We may not like what they do or say, but we do not hate anyone.”
In Saturday’s News-Sentinel, Thomas H. Kevil used a rather broad brush to ask a rather troubling question of Baptists. The question he asked: “Do Baptists condone this type of hatred being preached from the pulpit?” The “hatred” he referred to came from the pulpits of two Baptist churches, one in Arizona and one in California. The pastors in both of those churches have expressed their dislike for the sitting president of the United States to the extreme of praying for his death.
What Mr. Kevil obviously does not understand is that there is a great deal of diversity among Baptists. Furthermore, he seems to be unaware of the fact that not all Baptists are connected in a formal organization. While there are groups of Baptist churches — for instance the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — some Baptist churches are independent, belonging to no group at all. Even if a Baptist church belongs to a convention, it still maintains its autonomy, which is to say that there is no outside authority or hierarchy that can tell a congregation of Baptists what to do. The truth of the matter is that anyone with a place to meet, a sheet of plywood, a couple of signposts, a bucket of paint, and a handful of people can start his or her own Baptist church. There are neither forms to fill out nor any central office from which to seek permission.
The peculiarities of Baptist doings are often lost on the uninitiated. Mr. Kevil is not to be faulted for being uninformed with regard to the different ways that Baptists think about and practice their faith. That being said, his question is a fair question, given the behavior of some who wear the label. Do Baptists condone hatred? While feeling the need to answer such a question borders on the surreal, let me boldly and confidently say that most,if not all, Baptists do not condone hatred. The great irony of the question is that the first Baptists were the hated ones. They were persecuted for being different. Their lives were threatened because they did not conform to accepted norms regarding the practice of religion. In England and in colonial America, early Baptists were jailed, flogged, and scorned because they sought to practice their faith according to the dictates of their consciences, rather than by the creeds of majority opinion and legislated religion. They did not seek to impose their beliefs on others, only asking for the freedom to worship God as they were led by the Holy Spirit and their understanding of scripture. Modern day haters who unscrupulously lay claim to the Baptist name bear a much greater resemblance to those who bullied and harassed early Baptists rather than the men and women who refused to conform to the religious expectations of their neighbors. The very name Baptist was a term of derision used to express the scorn that those in the religious establishment felt for early Baptists.
The answer to the question is no, Baptists do not condone hatred. That the question even needs to be asked is a travesty and a shame. That someone could assume the name of Baptist and behave in such a way that the question is even prompted, dishonors the lives and sacrifices of those first Baptists. To be a Baptist is to be a follower of Christ, the One who took on flesh, that the world might know the depth of God’s love.
An experience with that love leads most Christians and Baptists to condone love and not hate, life and not death. While we all possess a soul competent to relate to God and to learn the ways of God, we do not all arrive at the same conclusions nor convictions. My understandings may be similar to those of others, yet not identical. The degree to which my understanding of God impacts the choices I make in my day-to-day living varies from those others. So I do not presume to speak for other Baptists when I say Baptists do not condone hatred. Other Baptists are fully capable of answering for themselves. In the same way, I do not presume to speak for others when I say that I do condone both the love and the life that God invites us to share with one another.
I pray for health and well-being of our president, and that God would grant him wisdom for the task before him. I am convinced that my Papaw Ledford, deacon and charter member of Ozone Missionary Baptist Church and a man who voted for Nixon twice, would not have it any other way. It is the Christian thing to do and it is the Baptist thing to do. Hating other people is not a teaching of Jesus.