Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

20th C. Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics: Chapter by Chapter

Longtime readers may remember my book review of  Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, ed. Larry L. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen (Mercer University Press, 2008).  If not, read it here.   Because of my intense desire to give a different picture of the Baptist tradition (which turns 400 in 2009) than that promoted by fundamentalists and the Religious Right, I have decided to review each chapter of this edited work, separately. This will give mini-profiles of some very important Baptist thinkers and activists of recent history while also assessing the adequacy of the analyses offered in these pages, following the order of the McSwain/Allen volume.

I have already expressed disappointment at some of those left out, so I will follow this series with a series of profiles on figures I would like to see in any kind of sequel to this volume.    I hope readers will not see this as overly provincial.  I have great respect for many Christian traditions outside my own (Baptist) one:  I have taught briefly at 3 different Catholic institutions, one Presbyterian institution, and have been a Visiting Professor at a multi-denominational Evangelical seminary.  I have also been on staff of one ecumenical and one interfaith peace group.  My influences include Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim thinkers, as well as some who profess no religious faith.  My global prayer partners include a Palestinian Jesuit and a Palestinian Baptist, a Pentecostal theologian trying to revive the pacifist roots of his denomination, several Mennonites, 2 Quakers, lots of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, a Moravian couple, many non-denominational Christians, several Anglican/Episcopalian folk, people in various branches of the Stone-Campbell movement (especially, but not only, liberal Disciples), and a Greek Orthodox priest.

But I deeply value the historic strengths of my particular (Baptist) branch of the Body of Christ and I hate the distortions in the popular mind caused by right-wing, fundamentalist pseudo-Baptists.  So, blogging on this is one way that I can help correct these distortions (and keeps me from worrying that I will wake up to find that the auto industry in the U.S. has either been destroyed or that it’s “salvation” has been purchased at the cost of destroying organized Labor).  I’ll begin with the first chapter, tomorrow.

December 17, 2008 - Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, church history, ethics, tradition


  1. Excellent!

    I will be sure to highlight this series on my blog.

    Comment by Big Daddy Weave | December 17, 2008

  2. On the religious liberty front, I would love to see Baptist historians move the conversation to new names and faces beyond Smyth, Helwys, Backus, Leland, Truett, Dawson, etc. etc.

    Those individuals are obviously extremely important to the Baptist story. However, regarding Baptists in the United States, there is long list of names of non-Southern Baptists who deserve scholarly attention. Racial minorities, women, and white men from outside of the South tend to get left out of the conversation. Not to mention that there is a whole world of Baptist advocates for religious liberty outside of America.

    This past semester I wrote a paper about the religious liberty positions of Charles Evans Hughes who most remember as a former SCOTUS Chief Justice. But Hughes was also the first President of the Northern Baptist Convention and committed Baptist layman.

    Right now, I’m looking hard for that special, under-appreciated Baptist whose writings and life-work would make an excellent dissertation topic!

    Comment by Big Daddy Weave | December 17, 2008

  3. BDW, you could try for Richard Overton, the 17th C. General Baptist and leader of the Levellers; Harold Stassen; Edwin Dahlberg; U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) of Oregon who was one of only 2 Senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of “64 which got us into Vietnam. Hatfield was a Conservative Baptist (the denomination) and a liberal Republican.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | December 17, 2008

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