A millstone hanged about his neck?: George W. Truett, anti-Catholicism, and Baptist conceptions of religious liberty.
The Baptist message and the Roman Catholic message are the very antipodes of each other.... The Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation is to the Baptist mind fundamentally subversive of the spiritual realities of the gospel of Christ. Likewise, the Catholic conception of the church, thrusting all its complex and cumbrous machinery between the soul and God ... is to the Baptist mind a ghastly tyranny in the realm of the soul and tends to frustrate the grace of God, to destroy freedom of conscience, and to hinder terribly the coming of Kingdom of God. (1)
So declared George W. Truett in his celebrated address on Baptists and religious liberty delivered on the east steps of the United States Capitol “Capitol Hill” redirects here. For other uses, see Capitol Hill (disambiguation).
The United States Capitol is the capitol building that serves as the seat of government for the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. on May 16, 1920. In this and other addresses, Truett utilized this juxtaposition of the Baptist and Catholic theological traditions as a useful conceptual tool for his advocacy of the Baptist tradition of religious liberty and the separation of church and state
Some recent scholarship has suggested that the anti-Catholicism of Truett and other Protestant leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was central to their understanding of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Philip Hamburger argued that there was an evolution of Americans' understanding of religious liberty during the nineteenth century that was driven in large measure by Protestant nativism nativism, in anthropology, social movement that proclaims the return to power of the natives of a colonized area and the resurgence of native culture, along with the decline of the colonizers. . According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Hamburger, the growing fears of Catholicism led Protestants to "elevate separation of church and state as an American ideal." (2) Others have charged contemporary Baptist scholars with historical revisionism Historical revisionism has both a legitimate academic use and a pejorative meaning.
Within the academic field of history, historical revisionism is the critical reexamination of historical facts, with an eye towards rewriting histories with newly discovered by seeking to "isolate Truett's defense of religious liberty from his opinions about Catholicism." Rather, they argue, Truett's understanding of religious freedom was "inextricably in·ex·tri·ca·ble
a. So intricate or entangled as to make escape impossible: an inextricable maze; an inextricable web of deceit.
b. bound up with his perception of Catholicism." (3)
How central then are Truett's views of Catholicism to his understanding of religious freedom and the separation of church and state? Is the Catholic Church merely a convenient foil or the lynchpin lynch·pin
Variant of linchpin.
same as linchpin
Noun 1. of his political theology Political theology is a branch of both political philosophy and theology that investigates the ways in which theological concepts or ways of thinking underlie political, social, economic and cultural discourses. ? To put it another way, to what extent does Truett's anti-Catholicism constitute % millstone millstone
Either of two flat, round stones used for grinding grain to make flour. The stationary bottom stone is carved with shallow grooved channels that radiate from the centre. The upper stone rotates horizontally, and has a central hole through which grain is poured. hanged about his neck?" In looking at his major addresses on religious liberty, his rhetoric reveals an anti-Catholic bias. Yet Truett's views on Catholicism can only be understood in light of the context of his life and work. This context included a pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, social and political change brought on by rapid immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. and urbanization in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , a resurgence of nativism, and World War I. In light of this milieu, Truer understood the Catholic Church to be one of the contemporary threats to both civil and religious liberty. Therefore, his characterizations of Catholicism served primarily as a useful tool to highlight the Baptist tradition. Moreover, Truer drew from a wellspring well·spring
1. The source of a stream or spring.
2. A source: a wellspring of ideas.
Noun of Baptist history and thought when formulating his views on religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Thus, his defense of the Baptist tradition, rooted as it was in the idea of a "free church in a free state," enjoyed both a historical continuity and a contemporary relevance independent from his views of Catholicism.
The Context of Truett's Life and Thought
As a leading Southern Baptist statesman during the first half of the twentieth century, George W. Truett represented, according to Leon McBeth, the mainstream of Southern Baptist life "and in many ways was the unofficial spokesperson of the denomination." (4) Pastor of First Baptist Church First Baptist Church may refer to many churches: Canada
association - a formal organization of people or groups of people; "he joined the Modern Language Association"
Southern Baptist - a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist World Alliance The Baptist World Alliance is a worldwide alliance of Baptist churches and organizations, formed in 1905 at Exeter Hall in London during the first Baptist World Congress. as well as leadership of the Seventy-five Million Campaign to support Southern Baptist institutions and other initiatives. (5)
Truett was first and foremost a pastor. As a traditional Baptist pulpiteer, he emphasized the good news of the faith with eloquence and evangelistic zeal. The numerous collections of his sermons reveal that he conspicuously avoided politics from the pulpit. (6) He produced no significant works of theology like his contemporary E. Y. Mullins, nor did he develop a unique social or political theory. Nonetheless, in his role as denominational leader both for Southern Baptists and Baptists worldwide, Truett eloquently articulated the hallmarks of the Baptist faith including Baptist commitments to religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
The words Truett used to craft his eloquent polemic were certainly influenced by his identity as a Baptist and the religious, social, and political atmosphere in which he lived. Truett's views, for example, must also be understood in the context of a pre-Vatican II Catholicism. During the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church in Europe became increasingly defensive and reactionary due to anti-clerical and anti-ecclesiastical threats from the forces of nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and secularism sec·u·lar·ism
1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. . The Catholic response included Papal pronouncements that attacked the separation of church and state as well as the "absurd proposition" that "liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone." In 1864, Pope Plus IX issued the famous Syllabus of Errors The Syllabus of Errors (Latin: Syllabus Errorum) was a document issued by Holy See under Pope Pius IX on December 8,1864, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the same day as the Pope's encyclical Quanta Cura. in which he warned against the dangers of "progress, liberalism, and modern civilization." Equally erroneous was the idea that "the Church ought to be separated from the State," according to Pius. In general, during the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church stood against most liberalizing political movements in Europe and frequently aligned itself with more authoritarian governments. (7) These developments culminated in Vatican Council I where the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed.
Ironically, these reactionary statements came at a time when a number of noteworthy American Catholics, such as Archbishop John Ireland, celebrated the compatibility of American liberal democracy and the separation of church and state with the Catholic faith. (8) Despite these reassurances, nineteenth-century papal and conciliar con·cil·i·ar
Of, relating to, or generated by a council: a conciliar appointment made by the governor; conciliar edicts. pronouncements exemplified for Truer the spiritual autocracy AUTOCRACY. The name of a government where the monarch is unlimited by law. Such is the power of the emperor of Russia, who, following the example of his predecessors, calls himself the autocrat of all the Russias. of the Catholic Church and the potential political tyranny it possessed as well. For Truett, the doctrine of papal infallibility, in particular, boldly illustrated the important differences between Baptists and Catholics. "That was one of the astonishing a·ston·ish
tr.v. as·ton·ished, as·ton·ish·ing, as·ton·ish·es
To fill with sudden wonder or amazement. See Synonyms at surprise. events in all history," Truett declared, "when the Vatican Council, by a majority vote, decreed the dogma of papal infallibility." Relaying the dramatic events of the Vatican vote, Truer explained: "You will recall that in the midst Adv. 1. in the midst - the middle or central part or point; "in the midst of the forest"; "could he walk out in the midst of his piece?"
midmost of all the turmoil and tenseness of that excited assemblage, Cardinal Manning stood on an elevated platform, holding in his hand the paper just passed, declaring for the infallibility of the pope, and shouted these words: 'Let all the world go to bits, and we will reconstruct it on this paper.'" "Holding aloft a little book, the name of which is the New Testament," Truett continued, "the Baptist shouts this cry: 'Let all the world go to bits, and we will reconstruct it on the New Testament.'" (9)
In the early twentieth century, World War I had a profound impact on Americans' understanding of the world and what they perceived as threats to American freedoms. For Truett and others of his day, Germany and its autocratic regime "bent on world domination" represented the chief threat to freedom. In response, Truett and other Southern Baptists thoroughly embraced the patriotic fervor and idealistic goals of the War. For many Southern Baptists, it was no coincidence that the war president, Woodrow Wilson, was a Southerner, a Protestant, and a Democrat. Because Baptists were champions of democracy in both church and state, many stood with W. O. Carver in his belief that "God had commanded America to destroy Germany autocracy and to carry civil and religious democracy to the world." (10) In an article entitled "Baptist Theology and the New World Order," Mullins contended that the degraded aspects of civilization could be "corrected through the adoption of Baptist principles." Among these was a Baptist democracy that would replace the political and religious autocracy of the Old World. Moreover, "Baptists would sunder sun·der
v. sun·dered, sun·der·ing, sun·ders
To break or wrench apart; sever. See Synonyms at separate.
To break into parts.
A division or separation. the church-state ties of the Old World." (11) The destiny of Baptists was echoed by Truett as well when he stated that "democracy is the goal toward which all feet are traveling whether in state or in church." (12) The anxieties brought on by World War I encouraged Baptist statesmen such as Truett to often conflate con·flate
tr.v. con·flat·ed, con·flat·ing, con·flates
1. To bring together; meld or fuse: "The problems [with the biopic] include . . Baptist principles with American democracy. Such an uncritical embrace is certainly theologically problematic. (13) Nonetheless, the war represented for Truett a contest between the principles of freedom and autocracy, a contest the outcome of which would impact both political and religious freedom.
The term "autocracy" consistently appears in Truett's speeches and sermons during this period--particularly when discussing Germany and its quest to become "the master of the whole continent of Europe." "An obsessed ob·sess
v. ob·sessed, ob·sess·ing, ob·sess·es
To preoccupy the mind of excessively.
v.intr. autocracy," Truett declared in a tribute to Mullins, "like some powerful bandit bandit: see brigandage. holding up a peaceful and unsuspecting world, ruthlessly sought to trample into the dust the highest and holiest possessions of men's hearts and lives ... all this because a Junker militarist was intoxicated in·tox·i·cate
v. in·tox·i·cat·ed, in·tox·i·cat·ing, in·tox·i·cates
1. To stupefy or excite by the action of a chemical substance such as alcohol.
2. with a frenzy for world domination." (14) Truett frequently then transitioned from a denunciation DENUNCIATION, crim. law. This term is used by the civilians to signify the act by which au individual informs a public officer, whose duty it is to prosecute offenders, that a crime has been committed. It differs from a complaint. (q.v.) Vide 1 Bro. C. L. 447; 2 Id. 389; Ayl. Parer. of political autocracy to religious absolutism absolutism
Political doctrine and practice of unlimited, centralized authority and absolute sovereignty, especially as vested in a monarch. Its essence is that the ruling power is not subject to regular challenge or check by any judicial, legislative, religious, economic, or . "Autocracy must pass, autocracy political and autocracy religious," Truett continued, "and with it will go sacramentalism sac·ra·men·tal·ism
1. The doctrine that observance of the sacraments is necessary for salvation and that such participation can confer grace.
2. Emphasis on the efficacy of a sacramental. and sacerdotalism sac·er·do·tal·ism
The belief that priests act as mediators between God and humans.
sacer·do , the grave clothes of a moribund and decadent faith." (15)
Significant societal changes were taking place in America that no doubt colored Truett's perspective as well. Rapid immigration and urbanization had been changing the character of the nation, and by the 1920s, a clear divide emerged between rural and urban society. Catholic immigration enhanced an already healthy distrust of cities on the part of most Southern Baptists in the early twentieth century. Even the pastor of a downtown First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, exhibited a rural bias. For Baptists such as Truett the cities represented veritable dens of iniquity INIQUITY. Vice; contrary to equity; injustice.
2. Where, in a doubtful matter, the judge is required to pronounce, it is his duty to decide in such a manner as is the least against equity. where materialism, vice, and corruption flourished. As early as 1911 in a Baptist World Alliance address, Truett identified urbanization and immigration as two of the "manifold perils" that threatened America. "We are menaced," he declared, "by our vast and fast-growing cities.... The challenge for our civilization and the test of our Christianity are these same cities." (16) As one reads Truett's address, however, it becomes clear that the so-called "lawlessness," "frivolities and vanities," "craze for amusements," and "divorce mills" of urban America were in large part due to what he considered the "the alien populations of the world with their strange customs and beliefs and ideals and sentimentalisms." (17)
Truett's fears of "the alien population," namely Catholics, contributed to his longstanding support for prohibition during his career, which was the area of his most consistent social/political advocacy. He traveled throughout the country in support of the ban on liquor sales. Truett's vigorous advocacy was reflected in his characterization of alcohol as "still the great enemy of decent civil government, the Gibraltar of bad politics in America. It is political harlotry for the state to go into the business of legalizing the liquor traffic." (18) In his speeches supporting Prohibition, Truett typically focused on the deleterious effects of alcohol on family and social life without drawing direct ties to Catholicism. Nonetheless, the temperance debate "caused much irritation and ill-feeling" between Protestants and Catholics, Sydney Ahlstrom concluded, "and gradually created a nearly unified Catholic opposition to political prohibitionists." (19)
Another social/political concern addressed by Truett was the large influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe that had heightened anti-Catholic and nativist na·tiv·ism
1. A sociopolitical policy, especially in the United States in the 19th century, favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants.
2. sentiments among American Protestants. Expanding religious pluralism was one of the primary "historical realities" that hindered the Protestant quest for a "Christian America," according to Robert Handy. (20) Thus, as the non-Protestant population grew, responses by Protestant leaders often became more strident. Represented in organizations like the American Protective Association American Protective Association (APA)
Secret anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant society formed in Iowa in 1887. Its membership, consisting mainly of farmers who feared the growth and political power of immigrant-populated cities, rose to more than two million in the 1890s. , nativism often warned of Catholic subservience to a "foreign potentate POTENTATE. One who has a great power over, an extended country; a sovereign.
2. By the naturalization laws, an alien is required, before he can be naturalized, to renounce all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereign whatever. " and "popish plots." (21)
These related threats of Catholicism, immigration, and urbanization presented a dilemma for solid-South Democratic statesmen such as Truett when Catholic Al Smith won the Democratic nomination for president in 1928. According to James Thompson, "this long-standing antiurbanism, combined with an even older antipathy toward Roman Catholicism, formed the background for the election of 1928." (22) Beyond Smith's urban and Catholic background, Baptists were loathe to support a candidate who opposed Prohibition. When a report emerged identifying Truett as a supporter of Smith, the Dallas pastor, typically uncomfortable discussing political candidates, felt compelled to make the following public statement: "While I uniformly voted with one party, I could not, in the present condition of our country, vote for the candidates of any party, of whatever name, who [are] avowed a·vow
tr.v. a·vowed, a·vow·ing, a·vows
1. To acknowledge openly, boldly, and unashamedly; confess: avow guilt. See Synonyms at acknowledge.
2. To state positively. enemies of our prohibition laws, and who stand for the nullification nullification, in U.S. history, a doctrine expounded by the advocates of extreme states' rights. It held that states have the right to declare null and void any federal law that they deem unconstitutional. of the Eighteenth Amendment The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
to our national constitution." (23) While not identifying Smith by name or engaging in some of the more zenophobic rhetoric of other Protestant leaders, it is clear that Truett shared the unease of other Protestants at the prospect of an anti-Prohibitionist and Roman Catholic entering the White House.
In his public pronouncements, Truett avoided some of the acidic barbs barbs
the primary, delicate filaments that are given off the shaft of a bird's contour feather. They project from the rachis and bear the barbules. leveled by more extreme nativists of his time. J. W. Hunt, president of McMurry College in Abilene, Texas, warned of a "Catholic shrine in the White House" if Smith were elected. According to Hunt, it was the "chicken stealing, crap-shooting, bootlegging bootlegging, in the United States, the illegal distribution or production of liquor and other highly taxed goods. First practiced when liquor taxes were high, bootlegging was instrumental in defeating early attempts to regulate the liquor business by taxation. negro crowd" that supported the "dirty, drunken, bum," Al Smith. (24) J. Frank Norris John Franklyn (J. Frank) Norris, (born September 18, 1877, Dadeville, Alabama, died August 20, 1952, Jacksonville, Florida, USA) was a firebrand fundamentalist preacher and popular Baptist leader. engaged in even more vitriolic nativist rhetoric. He once warned that if Catholics gained political control in the United States, they would "behead be·head
tr.v. be·head·ed, be·head·ing, be·heads
To separate the head from; decapitate.
[Middle English biheden, from Old English beh every Protestant preacher and disembowel dis·em·bow·el
tr.v. dis·em·bow·eled or dis·em·bow·elled, dis·em·bow·el·ing or dis·em·bow·el·ling, dis·em·bow·els
1. To remove the entrails from.
2. To deprive of meaning or substance. every Protestant mother. They would burn to ashes every Protestant Church and dynamite every Protestant school. They would destroy the public schools and annihilate an·ni·hi·late
v. an·ni·hi·lat·ed, an·ni·hi·lat·ing, an·ni·hi·lates
a. To destroy completely: The naval force was annihilated during the attack. every one of our institutions." (25)
Truett and Religious Liberty
In responding to his context, Truett drew upon a long Baptist theological tradition of support for religious liberty and the separation of church and state. For Truett, the Baptist commitment to religious liberty and the separation of church and state was rooted in the belief in the absolute Lordship of Christ, the centrality of scripture as the rule of faith and practice, the "direct individual approach to God," believers baptism, and a "free church in a free state." Ultimately, Truett contended, Baptists champion religious liberty as a "fundamental and indefeasible That which cannot be defeated, revoked, or made void. This term is usually applied to an estate or right that cannot be defeated.
indefeasible adj. cannot be altered or voided, usually in reference to an interest in real property. right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience." Truett, like Baptists before him, argued that freedom was more than toleration TOLERATION. In some. countries, where religion is established by law, certain sects who do not agree with the established religion are nevertheless permitted to exist, and this permission is called toleration. . "Toleration is a concession," he declared, "while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from man, while liberty is a gift from God." Since religion should be voluntary and uncoerced, Truett concluded that no power, "whether civil or ecclesiastical," should ever force someone to "conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not belong and in whose creed they do not believe." (26)
Historically, Truett believed that religious liberty had suffered at the "incomparable apostasy apostasy, in religion: see heresy.
See also Sacrilege.
Aholah and Aholibah
symbolize Samaria’s and Jerusalem’s abandonment to idols. [O.T. " of church-state unions. According to Truett, the Roman Emperor Constantine's official recognition of the Christian faith "began the most baneful bane·ful
Causing harm, ruin, or death; harmful. See Usage Note at baleful.
Adj. 1. misalliance misalliance
see mismating; called also mésalliance.
[Fr.] see mismating. that ever fettered fet·ter
1. A chain or shackle for the ankles or feet.
2. Something that serves to restrict; a restraint.
tr.v. fet·tered, fet·ter·ing, fet·ters
1. To put fetters on; shackle. and cursed the suffering world." For Truett, the consequence of this church-state union was the continued antagonism of two ideas--absolutism and individualism. For much of western history, autocracy "has found worldwide impression in the realms both civil and ecclesiastical." (27)
The early colonial American struggles for religious liberty likewise presented for Truett a context for the "most epochal ep·och·al
1. Of or characteristic of an epoch.
a. Highly significant or important; momentous: epochal decisions made by Roosevelt and Churchill.
b. battles that earth ever knew for the triumph of religious and civil liberty." He recounted the experiences of early Baptist advocates of religious freedom such as Roger Williams, Obadiah Holmes, and others that "pleaded and suffered," until, "thank God, mighty statesmen were won to their contention." Truer affirmed a special destiny of Baptists "as being the chief instrumentality Instrumentality
Notes issued by a federal agency whose obligations are guaranteed by the full-faith-and-credit of the government, even though the agency's responsibilities are not necessarily those of the US government. in God's hands in winning the battle in America for religious liberty." (28)
Truett and Anti-Catholicism
When immigration converged with perceived threats to Baptist principles, Truett applied his considerable rhetorical skills to defending the Baptist tradition. In doing so, he was following a longstanding tradition of anti-Catholic polemics po·lem·ics
n. (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
1. The art or practice of argumentation or controversy.
2. The practice of theological controversy to refute errors of doctrine. found in Protestant literature dating back to the Reformation. Baptists historically had utilized protest theology all the more fiercely because of their persecuted status. Thus, one can find the Catholic Church attacked as the antithesis of true faith and often equated with the "Beast" of the Book of Revelation. John Smyth's The Character of the Beast (1609), for example, was characteristic of the invective aimed at both the Catholic Church and the Church of England Church of England: see England, Church of. by Protestant dissenters dissenters: see nonconformists. . Throughout the piece, Smyth identified the Church of Rome as the "false church" and criticizes the Church of England for practicing infant baptism and thus not truly separating themselves from the "Papists." (29)
In explicating the Baptist tradition of soul liberty, Truett condemned Catholic views of baptism and transubstantiation transubstantiation: see Eucharist.
In Christianity, the change by which the bread and wine of the Eucharist become in substance the body and blood of Jesus, though their appearance is not altered. as "subversive to the spiritual realities of the gospel of Christ." The practice of infant baptism, in any religious tradition, frequently received the scorn of Truett. Describing infant baptism as "unthinkable from every viewpoint," Truett further declared that it "carries within it the germ of persecution, and lays the predicate In programming, a statement that evaluates an expression and provides a true or false answer based on the condition of the data. for the union of church and state, and that it is a Romish tradition and a corner-stone for the whole system of popery pop·er·y
The doctrines, practices, and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church.
Offensive Roman Catholicism
throughout the world." Truett further opined that infant baptism was all that kept Protestants from joining in Christian unity. "If all the Protestant denominations would once and for all put away infant baptism," Truett concluded, "the unity of all non-Catholic Christians in the world would be consummated and that there would not be left one Roman Catholic Church Roman Catholic Church, Christian church headed by the pope, the bishop of Rome (see papacy and Peter, Saint). Its commonest title in official use is Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. on the face of the earth at the expiration of the comparatively short period of another century." (30)
Equally subversive to true faith was the spiritual tyranny Truett believed the Catholic Church practiced by imposing itself between the believer and God. For Truett, Christ was the only mediator between the believer and God, "and for any person or institution to dare to come between the soul and God is a blasphemous blas·phe·mous
[Middle English blasfemous, from Late Latin blasph impertinence Impertinence
Impetuousness (See RASHNESS.)
cartoon character who is impertinent toward everyone. [Comics: Horn, 140]
dummy who is impertinent toward master, Edgar Bergen. ." This "tyranny," the Dallas pastor declared, "may make men hypocrites, but it will not make them Christians." In particular, papal infallibility drew his ire. "Peter evidently did not know that he was a Pope," declared Truett, "nor did his fellow apostles know it.... He was a fallible fal·li·ble
1. Capable of making an error: Humans are only fallible.
2. Tending or likely to be erroneous: fallible hypotheses. , married man.... One is our pontiff, and his name is Jesus." (31)
Fundamentally, Baptists and Catholics held different views of the individual, the church, and the state. As Truett stated:
The Roman Catholic message is sacerdotal, sacramentarian, and ecclesiastical. In its scheme of salvation it magnifies the church, the priest, and the sacraments. The Baptist message is non sacerdotal, non-sacramentarian, and non-ecclesiastical.... Baptists are in conscience compelled to reject and oppose sacerdotalism that puts a priest between a soul and Christ; and sacramentarianism that makes external ordinances in themselves, vehicles of grace; and ecclesiasticism that puts a church between a sinner and salvation. (32)
The Catholic Church's tendency toward church-state establishments received Truett's clear denunciation as well. Declaring that "every state church on earth is a spiritual tyranny," Truett traced the declining spiritual power of the church after its becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. "Christ's religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source," emphasized Truett, "and to the degree that it is thus supported is a millstone hanged about its neck." (33)
Anti-Catholicism and Religious Liberty
Despite his clear concerns about Catholicism, Truett's commitment to the separation of church and state cannot be understood as primarily a manifestation of anti-Catholicism. He did not engage in as acerbic anti-Catholic rhetoric as some of his more nativist counterparts, and he unfailingly argued that the Baptist commitment to the separation of church and state protected the rights of all believers, including Catholics. When criticizing the opening of diplomatic relations to the Vatican, Truett added: "We call God to witness that we do not wish to be petty and inconsistent and unchristian in our frank reference to this matter. But we do wish to be consistent and faithful to priceless principles, profoundly believing that these principles are of indispensable value, alike to Baptists, to Protestants of every name, to Catholics, to Jews, to Quakers, to everybody in our land." (34) In his famous address on religious liberty, Truett affirmed the freedom of all people as a hallmark of religious liberty: "A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbor, and for his Jewish neighbor, and for everybody else." (35) Such assurances may not have provided consolation to Catholics hearing Truett's addresses, but they do suggest a commitment to religious liberty that existed in Baptist thought long before the rise of Know-Nothingism and the American Protective Association.
Philip Hamburger has argued that the commitment to a "separation of church and state" was the product of late nineteenth-century nativism and anti-Catholicism. Prior to this time, Baptists and other dissenters merely objected to laws that provided for established churches, but "separation was not something desired by most dissenters or guaranteed by the First Amendment." (36) According to Hamburger, the threat posed by a growing Catholic population in the late nineteenth century led to a coalition of nativists, theological liberals, and secularists that sought passage of a constitutional amendment that would ban aid to parochial schools. By implication, Truett's opposition to public funding of parochial schools would be a principle rooted not in a long theological tradition, but a relatively recent position formed in the context of anti-Catholicism. (37)
To be sure, the Protestant-Catholic divide in American life manifested itself in several church-state conflicts. Education proved to be a central point of contention as Catholics challenged the Protestant ethos and practices of the public schools and Protestants challenged public funding for Catholic schools. Catholic parochial schools had been proliferating consistently with the rapid increase of the Catholic population in the nineteenth century. Proponents of parochial education, in a number of states, began agitating ag·i·tate
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.
2. for public tax support for their schools based on the arguments that they serve the public interest by educating young Americans, that parochial schools save taxpayers money by providing education to students without respect to background or faith, that parents of parochial school students pay a "double tax" by having to pay taxes to support public schools while also paying tuition to parochial schools, and that the religion clauses do not prohibit funds to be dispersed to religious institutions as long as they are distributed on an impartial basis. (38) Truett characterized attempts at the state level to provide aid to parochial schools as one of the "subtle, but real encroachments upon liberty in America." Truett warned his Baptist brethren, "Bills are proposed, in various states, again and again, for taxes to be appropriated for sectarian schools. If haply hap·ly
By chance or accident.
Adv. 1. haply - by accident; "betrayed by a word haply overheard"
by luck, by chance any of our Baptist people have, in an hour of weakness, been in any way enthralled en·thrall
tr.v. en·thralled, en·thrall·ing, en·thralls
1. To hold spellbound; captivate: The magic show enthralled the audience.
2. To enslave. by this encroachment let them speedily repent of such inconsistent course, and go and sin no more!" (39) Aid to parochial schools, for Truett, violated the principles of voluntary support of religion that was concomitant with religious liberty and separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment.
In opposing aid to parochial schools, Truett drew upon a no-aid principle that has a long pedigree in Baptist thought as well as American constitutional practice. Baptists such as John Leland and Isaac Backus shared Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's view that compulsory tax support for religion violated the individual conscience. (40) In challenging the Congregational establishment in Massachusetts, Backus denied the authority of a civil legislature to impose religious taxes. (41) James Madison, when opposing the famous "general assessment" bill in Virginia, declared, "Who does not see ... that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?" (42) Moreover, it is important to note that Baptist views on religious liberty and the separation of church and state in America were shaped by their battles not with Catholicism, but rather with New England Congregationalists and the Anglican Church in Virginia during the colonial and Revolutionary eras. In fighting to disestablish dis·es·tab·lish
tr.v. dis·es·tab·lished, dis·es·tab·lish·ing, dis·es·tab·lish·es
1. To alter the status of (something established by authority or general acceptance).
2. the Anglican Church in Virginia, the Baptist General Committee of Virginia declared: "If truth is great, and will prevail if left to itself ... we wish it may be so left, which is the only way to convince the gazing world, that Disciples do not follow Christ for Loaves, and that Preachers to not preach for Benefices." (43)
William Hutchison argued that it is more likely that separation "provided the rationale or excuse for anti-Catholicism" rather than nativism strengthening "popular convictions about separation." (44) Likewise, Steven Green contended that the "high water mark" of the separation of church and state in the late nineteenth-century has a more complex history than mere anti-Catholicism. While anti-Catholicism surely motivated much of the support for prohibiting aid to parochial schools, Green argued that the no-aid tradition predated the cultural changes brought on by Catholic immigration, organized nativism, and the growth of parochial schools. Green, in the end, concluded that "the fact that nativist groups hijacked that no-funding principle for their bigoted big·ot·ed
Being or characteristic of a bigot: a bigoted person; an outrageously bigoted viewpoint.
big aims does not invalidate the concept or mean that all advocates of the no-funding principle supported nativist goals." (45)
For Baptists studying religious liberty and the separation of church and state, George W. Truett's fame is tied to his address on religious liberty delivered on the steps of the United States capitol in 1920. While there is much to celebrate about his eloquent exposition of the Baptist commitment to religious liberty, history is not well served if we ignore or gloss over his anti-Catholic rhetoric. At the same time, history is not well served if we were to distill dis·till
1. To subject a substance to distillation.
2. To separate a distillate by distillation.
3. To increase the concentration of, separate, or purify a substance by distillation. Truett's understanding of religious liberty into nothing more than anti-Catholicism. In the end, Truett articulated a longstanding theological tradition with an approach that can only be understood in light of his historical context.
Truett's arguments remain powerful and relevant in light of the threats to religious liberty and the separation of church and state today. One can rightly criticize Truett for an altogether uncritical embrace of American democracy. His utilization of the Catholic Church to draw a clear contrast with Baptist thought was at times uncharitable. Yet Truett's defense of religious liberty and the separation of church and state remain central to the self-understanding of Baptists. As Edwin Gaustad suggested, Truett's emphasis on "the right to private judgement" in spiritual matters "sounds to me like the clearest of trumpet tunes, and I even question whether one needs any foil or foe to make those notes any more powerful or penetrating." (46)
(1.) George W. Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," reprinted in Baptist History and Heritage, 33, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 69.
(2.) Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. It was established on January 13, 1913. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. , 2002), 201-02.
(3.) Christopher L. Canipe, "A Captive Church in the Land of the Free: E. Y. Mullins, Walter Rauschenbusch, George Truett, and the Rise of Baptist Democracy, 1900-1925" (Ph.D. Diss., Baylor University, 2004), 239, footnote 66; see also Lee Canipe, "The Echoes of Baptist Democracy: George Truett's Sermon at the U.S. Capitol as Patriotic Apology," American Baptist Quarterly 21 (December 2002): 415-31.
(4.) H. Leon McBeth, "George W. Truett: Baptist Statesman," Baptist History and Heritage 32, no.2 (April 1997): 9.
(5.) Ibid. See also Powhatan W. James, George W. Truett: A Biography (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1939).
(6.) See, for example, Powhatan W. James, ed., The Inspiration of Ideals (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950); Powhatan W. James, ed., Sermons from Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947); and Powhatan W. James, ed., Some Vital Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946).
(7.) R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World: Since 1815 (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), 598-601; Marc D. Stern, "Blaine Amendments, Anti-Catholicism, and Catholic Dogma," First Amendment Law Review 2 (Winter 2003): 172-74.
(8.) James Ireland, "Catholicism and Americanism," in Church and State in American History: Key Documents, Decisions, and Commentary from the Past Three Centuries, ed. by John F. Wilson and Donald L. Drakeman (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003), 141-42.
(9.) George W. Truett, "The Baptist Message and Mission for the World Today," Presidential Address to the Sixth Baptist World Congress in Atlanta Georgia (Nashville, TN: The Sunday School Board, 1939), 5-6.
(10.) James J. Thompson, Jr. Tried As By Fire: Southern Baptists and Religious Controversies of the 1920s (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press Mercer University Press, established in 1979, is a publisher that is part of Mercer University. External link
(11.) Ibid., 12.
(12.) Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," 84.
(13.) See Canipe, "A Captive Church in the Land of the Free," 258-78.
(14.) George W. Truett, "A Quarter Century of World History," Review and Expositor 22 (January 1925): 54.
(15.) Ibid., 58.
(16.) George W. Truett, "The Coming of the Kingdom in America," Baptist Standard (October 5, 1911): 2.
(17.) Ibid., 3.
(18.) "Dr. Truett Makes Vigorous Appeal to American People to Retain 18th Amendment" (October 22, 1933), untitled newspaper dipping, George W. Truett Collection, A. Webb Roberts Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, is a private, non-profit institution of higher education, associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, whose stated mission is "to provide theological education for individuals engaging in Christian , file 275.
(19.) Sydney E. Ahlstrom Sydney Eckman Ahlstrom, 16 December 1919 to July 3, 1984, was a Yale University professor and a specialist in the religious history of the United States.
Ahlstrom was born in Cokato, Minnesota, the son of Joseph T. and Selma Eckman Ahlstrom. , A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 831.
(20.) See Robert T. Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).
(21.) Ahlstrom, A Religious History, 854.
(22.) Thompson, Tried as by Fire, 168.
(23.) "Southern Baptist President Denies Being For Al Smith," untitled newspaper clipping, George W. Truett Collection, file 166.
(24.) Quoted in Kenneth K. Bailey, Southern White Protestantism in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 105.
(25.) J. Frank Norris, "Roman Catholicism versus Protestantism," Searchlight (14 July 1922): 1; quoted in Barry Hankins, God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky The University Press of Kentucky (UPK) is the scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and was organized in 1969 as successor to the University of Kentucky Press. The university had sponsored scholarly publication since 1943. , 1996), 51-52.
(26.) Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," 67.
(27.) Ibid., 74-75.
(28.) Ibid., 76-77.
(29.) John Smyth, "The Character of the Beast," in H. Leon McBeth, ed. A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990), 19-20.
(30.) Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," 70-71.
(31.) Truett, "The Baptist Message and Mission for the World Today," 5.
(33.) Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," 72.
(34.) Truett, "The Baptist Message and Mission," 10-11.
(35.) Truett, "Baptists and Religious Liberty," 5.
(36.) Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, 10.
(37.) Ibid.; see especially pp. 193-251.
(38.) Anson Phelps Stokes For other men with the same name, see Anson Phelps Stokes (disambiguation)
Anson Phelps Stokes (1838-1913) was a merchant, banker, publicist, and multimillionaire , Church and State in the United States: Volume II (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1950), 649.
(39.) Truett, "The Baptist Message and Mission," 10.
(40.) Some scholars have identified distinctions between Leland's Jeffersonian separationism and Backus's view that church and state, while having distinct roles, should enjoy a "sweet harmony" that would foster a "Christian commonwealth." Nevertheless, while Backus may not have shared Leland's opposition to religious laws that encouraged religious devotion, his opposition to religious taxation remained steadfast. See William G. McLoughlin New England Dissent (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971); Stanley J. Grenz, "Isaac Backus: Eighteenth Century Light on the School Prayer Issue," in Perspectives in Churchmanship church·man
1. A man who is a cleric.
2. A man who is a member of a church.
churchman·ly adj. : Essays in Honor of Robert E. Torbet, ed. by David M. Scholer (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986), 35-46; and Albert W. Wardin, Jr., "Contrasting Views of Church and State: A Study of John Leland and Isaac Backus," Baptist History and Heritage 33, no. 1 (Winter 1998), 12-30.
(41.) See Isaac Backus, "An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty," in Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents, ed. by Joseph Early, Jr. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 47-54.
(42.) James Madison, "Memorial and Remonstrance REMONSTRANCE. A petition to a court, or deliberative or legislative body, in which those who have signed it request that something which it is in contemplation to perform shall not be done. ," in Church and State in American History, 54.
(43.) Quoted in Edwin S. Gaustad, "Baptists and the Making of a New Nation," in Baptists and the American Experience, ed. by James E. Wood, Jr. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1976), 46.
(44.) William R. Hutchison, "Book Review: Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State," Law and History Review 23 (Spring 2005): 201.
(45.) Steven K. Green, "'Blaming Blaine': Understanding the Blaine Amendment and the 'No-Funding' Principle," First Amendment Law Review 2 (Winter 2003): 113.
(46.) Edwin Scott Gaustad, The Baptist Tradition of Religious Liberty in America (Waco, TX: J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, 1995), 23.
J. David Holcomb is associate professor of history and political science at the University of Mary The university is the largest degree granting institution in Bismarck. It also operates accelerated degree programs at satellite locations in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, and Missouri. History
The University of Mary was founded in 1955 by the Sisters of St. Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas.