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Diana Butler Bass @dianabutlerbass
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Anyone who has studied, understood, or been victimized by the politics of the Southern Baptist Convention is not surprised by what Rev Mark Harris' campaign is accused of doing. In Harris' world, anything is permissible if it achieves the end of winning for "Jesus."
For more than 30 years, politics in the SBC has been that the end justifies the means.
I put "Jesus" in quotes. Because the end they seek is a patriarchal, white supremacist, authoritarian form of American folk religion. Jesus wouldn't recognize the piety or theology proclaimed by most of these men.
And for those same 30+ years, SBC leadership organized a take-over and then rigid control system of America's largest Protestant denomination. In the process, they've ruined thousands of careers, destroyed hundreds of congregations, and crushed the Christian faith of millions.
Of course, they've been involved in secular politics all that time. But usually from the sidelines, as funders, advisors, and organizers. But Harris represents a new political move -- to have their powerful pastors become politicians.
I have no doubt that they want to take over Congress the same way they took over the denomination.
You say that sounds crazy?

Well, that's what observers said way back in the early 1980s when they began their quest to take over the SBC, a denomination that seemed uniquely resistant to being controlled by authoritarians.
Because, once upon a time, the SBC was decentralized, democratic, and deeply committed to both religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

And the denomination had a strong liberal wing, with thoughtful leaders pushing for Civil Rights and full inclusion of women.
So, if you were looking at the SBC in, say, 1976, you'd see Jimmy Carter.
There always have been characters like Falwell -- and more sophisticated ones like "city" conservative pastors -- but they weren't considered the heart or the future of the denomination.
The SBC was moving into the position of being a sort of "New South mainline" church, beginning the process of questioning the failures of the past and making steps toward cultural openness.

(By the way, they don't like the word "denomination.")
But conservatives hated that. And they figured out ways to use the few political levers in the convention to organize a decade-long takeover of committees, seminaries, key pulpits, boards, and mission structure.
Dozens of first-rate American historians have documented how this happened -- and much of it occurred in underhanded ways when good people thought their structure was resistant to manipulation and fraud.
But, in the quest to purify the SBC and "return" it to the past -- read patriarchal white slave-holder religion -- anything that accomplished the goal was fine. More than fine. Lying, manipulation, hard-knuckled politics -- all were seen as Jesus' work. (I hate even typing that.)
Basically, Lee Atwater and Roger Stone are patron saints.

All this goes a long way to help understand why so many SBC types support Trump. The end justifies the means. This is just the way Jesus gets stuff done. How the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished.
Functionally, they don't really act as if they believe in a future heaven and hell. They're very busy creating their visions of heaven and hell here and now in American church life and politics. They are the agents of blessing and vengeance.
Please don't be shocked about a news story when a SBC pastor seems to be involved in a fraud scheme to win a seat in Congress. This is par for the course. What is new is moving the strategy from the denomination to the Congress.
(And do also know that there are many, many good SBC laypeople and some lovely pastors who have survived the purge. This thread is not intended to impugn them. There is diversity in every church, even when the leaders have tried to crush dissent.)
But if you don't know the history of the Southern Baptist Convention from the 1980s, you can't possibly understand the Mark Harris story -- nor can you understand evangelicals and Trump politics.
This is how you learn from history -- look at what actually happened in the past, see the ways that the patterns, practices are playing out in specific arenas now, and consider potential outcomes based on informed speculation.
People keep asking about bibliography. The list at the bottom of this page is pretty good, esp Leonard, Shurden, Ammermann, Cothen.…
A good article on his religious views from Charlotte Observer (one of the keenest papers in the US on religion-politics coverage). Read the WHOLE thing, a kind of weird break in the middle, but the best is toward the end:…
"Bill Leonard, former dean of WFU School of Divinity, says Harris represents “the very conservative element” that came to dominate the SBC 30 yrs ago. “They call it a ‘course correction,’ the it a takeover...Harris was part of that rightward contingent..."
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