History is the only class I’ve ever failed. Seriously. It was the summer of 1984 and I was enrolled in a history class that met every weekday at 8:00 a.m. I might have made it to three classes the entire session. (I remember waking up around 11:00 in the morning, having had a vivid dream that I was in class …) The ungodly start time, coupled with the fact that I found it atrociously boring at the tender age of 17, deprived me of any motivation at all to attend. I couldn’t have cared any less than I already did about history or that class.
Since those reckless days, I have grown up and learned a lot about the importance of knowing what people before me have experienced, learned, and accomplished. Knowing history allows us the luxury of not having to reinvent the proverbial wheel. If we’re smart, we look at history and learn not to repeat the same dumb mistakes. At least, that is our hope.
I grew up in a Baptist church, but I really never learned anything about Baptist history and tradition. I knew about missions, and my dream as a child was to be a missionary in Spain. (I figured we could get there quickly by boat from my home along the coast.) I participated in GA’s and I sang with my mother for revival meetings all across our northeastern North Carolina region. No one ever told me about the earliest Baptists who fought and died for the separation of church and state or taught me what that meant. As a matter of fact, where I grew up, there wasn’t much of any separation of church and state. We prayed at school the same way we prayed at church. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance at school and sang “America, the Beautiful” at church. I was a Baptist, but I had no knowledge of what that meant in a denominational sense, other than that we “get dunked.”
In light of the recent attempt in North Carolina to pass legislation that would allow our state to establish a state religion – and my attendance at a private Baptist university – I looked online for a Baptist historical perspective on the subject. One article by Bruce Gourley seemed to speak to my experience. The concept of Christian Nationalism isn’t new at all for me – and likely not for anyone who grew up in an evangelical religious culture in the rural South. For those of us who are Baptists, however, it strikes me as being extremely important to understand how certain ideas and sentiments crept into our practice of faith and how some of those ideas are entirely un-Baptist.
For those who are members of Baptist churches, here is a link to a biography of a man who shaped our denominational beliefs and established the first Baptist church in America: Roger Williams.
It’s a free lesson in Baptist history. And you don’t have to attend an 8:00 a.m. class to learn it. You’re welcome.