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Monday, September 27, 2004

First Parish, Southern Baptist?

Globe Photo - Wendy MaedaHere's a front-page Boston Globe article for my Unitarian Universalist friends in northern New England: Southern Baptists have been sending ministers and volunteers to help revive some of the old clapboard Yankee churches in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Sarah Schweitzer writes that Southern Baptist ministers have "assumed the helm" of at least a dozen mainline Protestant churches:

The Southern pastors come with missionary zeal, a willingness to work for a pittance, and a conservative philosophy notably different from the more liberal New England religious tradition. Their arrival marks the melding of cultures that have been separate since the time of the Civil War, when Southern Baptists broke with their northern brethren.

And yet Vermonters — to the surprise of the Southerners and themselves — have embraced Pittman and others, warming to their manner and message.

"It's hard for Vermonters to accept people from outside the area, much less the South," said Lucille Nelson, a parishioner at Sheffield Federated. "And he does have a very different style. But he is just awesome. He talks to us at our level. Not like he is higher than us.

"And the people in the back row," she said, "they can hear him." . . .

No one knew quite what to make of the new preacher, with his Southern sayings and casual — almost whimsical — preaching style. Pittman has since won the loyalty of the Methodist congregation, which numbers about 40. Many note the levity he brings to services and the disarmingly clear path to salvation he presents.

"Folks, I am on a program," Pittman preached on a recent Sunday. "I will read the Bible about seven times this year. I've already been through it once. It don't take but 180 minutes a day."

Pittman says he goes easy on the theme of sin in his sermons. New Englanders do not abide that as well as Southerners. Nor do they embrace the idea of missionizing, an idea contrary to New Englanders' traditional resistance to outward shows of religious belief. But Pittman says evangelism is a core tenet, and he seeks to impress its need upon his congregation.

I wonder if any of the newly Southern Baptist churches have a bit of Universalist history? I know that a few of the federated churches in rural New England incorporated Universalist congregations. Adam, what do you make of this story?

("N.E. churches take a southern direction," Sarah Schweitzer, Boston Globe 9.27.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 27 September 2004 at 9:46 PM

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Bob Smietana:

September 28, 2004 05:34 PM | Permalink for this comment


These kinds of stories, the Globe piece and the Time magazine story on an Episcopal church split in Virginia this week (,8816,1101041004-702145,00.html
MA) really highlight the problem that liberal and moderate Christian churches face. The more conservative and evangelical wings of the church have a better survival strategy--they are out making converts, going on missionary service to remote areas with little pay (even small town New England can seem like a mission placement) and offering clear answers in understandable language. Contrast that, for example, with almost anything written/preached by a protypical mainline minister, say Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church (I've been reading his work lately), often so full of nuance and ambiguity as to be undecipherable.


September 28, 2004 07:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

This reminds me of how Lubavitcher Hasidic rabbis have taken over dying synagogues which may have been Orthodox but not Hasidic.

Don Wise:

October 11, 2004 07:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

He that believeth not shall be damned

Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (King James Version)

The bible clearly states that unbelievers shall be damned and obviously the Baptism of the Spirit since it's from the Spirit must take precedence in value over water Baptism which is only of the flesh in any Christian's life?

So arenít Fundamentalists hypocrites? They make all this noise on the importance of water Baptism to be a literal important thing and ignore the fact that He that believeth and is baptized by the Spirit shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned. As a result no signs of wonders such as casting out demons, laying hands on the sick and speaking in tongues follow unbelievers because they are damned!

In my view, a fundamentalist religion is a religion, any religion, that when confronted with a conflict between love, compassion and caring, and conformity to doctrine, will almost invariably choose the latter regardless of the effect it has on its followers or on the society of which it is a part.

Fundamentalist religions make this choice because they uniformly place a high priority on doctrinal conformity, with such force that it takes higher priority than love, compassion and service.

Indeed, many fundamentalists are so caught up in doctrinal seriousness, that love, service and compassion seem scarcely to even be a part of their thinking. As one correspondent said to me regarding a certain Christian sect's converts, "Its like they go in and surgically remove any sense of love or any sense of humor."

This emphasis on doctrinal conformity seems to be the result of the belief in the requirement of absolute conformity to doctrine to achieve salvation. Yet at the same time, many will also officially claim that simple acceptance of that sect's doctrine is sufficient for salvation. This dichotomy is often seen in the same sect; some of the fundamentalist Christian sects being good examples. The contradiction seems to go unnoticed or if it is noticed, it is ignored.

It seems that another facet of fundamentalist thinking is belief in the correctness of their thinking. Invariably, they will make the claim that they are right to the exclusion of others, even all others, and that they, and they alone offer the path to salvation.

Fundamentalist religions regard their missions with great seriousness. Many claim that the salvation of the world depends on them, and some will seriously contend that the earth will end without them.

It is this overwhelming seriousness about religion that seems to be one of the hallmarks of the fundamentalist. He is concerned not only with his own conformity to doctrine, but the conformity of the rest of society to it, too. Many fundamentalists will not hesitate to intervene in the political process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the behaviors their world view requires, if not accept that world view. The belief that they are right, without any question, justifies, in their own minds, taking upon themselves the right to impose their point of view, by force if neccessary. An example is the attempt, by some Christian fundamentalist groups to shut down, by force, abortion clinics that are operating in accordance with the law. Some have gone so far as to threaten and intimidate employees, and even murder doctors working there.

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