Thursday, May 16, 2013

Appleby Baptist Church and American Fundamentalism

John R. Rice
Back in the early 1990s I wrote an M.A. thesis on separatist fundamentalism.  My work concentrated on a few of the more prominent mid-twentieth-century religious figures who opposed "neo-evangelicalism," a movement of conservative Protestants who were ready to abandon the  "fundamentalist" label and engage more fully with the larger culture. (For a treatment of this neo-evangelical movement see Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism and George Marsden's Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism). 

My thesis, which was written under the direction of John D. Woodbridge and Darryl G. Hart, focused on self-professed "fundamentalists" like Carl McIntire, John R. Rice, Ralph Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr.  Of this group, my "favorite" fundamentalist has always been McIntire.  Someday I will follow-through on my promise to write a biography of this very entertaining and important mid-twentieth century fundamentalist.

I thought about some of my early work on American fundamentalism this morning after reading Charity Carney's most recent post at Religion in American History.  She introduces us to Appleby Baptist Church, a fundamentalist congregation in Texas that opposes "interracial marriage, Obama, cowboy churches, other Independent Baptists, the NIV, tattoos, Southern Baptists, Beth Moore, flashy clothing, John Calvin, oh, and interracial marriage."  I ran into a lot of this stuff as I wrote my thesis.  Ah, the memories!

Here is a taste of Carney's post:

Beyond incendiary rhetoric, what may be more distressing to many Christians is that Appleby is not an anomaly within the larger history of evangelicalism in the South. In fact, its core beliefs are very similar to those held in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth (some gender inequalities are obviously still being debated and negotiated within larger denominations). The Southern Poverty Law Center rightly picked up on the church’s open devotion to the Curse of Ham and their loud protests against interracial marriage. The church proclaims that “God is a separator, not a mixer” and Anderson lays out the antiquated justification for slavery and segregation based on a very specific interpretation of the curse placed on Canaan in Genesis. This kind of racist doctrine was used in the antebellum South to promote slavery and in the Jim Crow South to support racial discrimination/segregation. Stephen Haynes’s work—including his article in a 2000 issue of the Journal of Southern Religion and monograph Noah’s Curse (Oxford UP, 2002)—has rightly situated the myth within southern honor culture. Sylvester Johnsons’ The Myth of Ham presents the ways that Hamitic identity affected black Christians. In many places throughout the South, the Curse of Ham is still taught but the churches simply aren’t publishing articles on the Internet promoting the myth. 

But in addition to its racist doctrines, Appleby also promotes outmoded (but not unheard of) spiritual sexism. In a scathing review of Beth Moore’s leadership at First Baptist in Houston (a megachurch about two hours away), Anderson calls Moore a “spiritual whore” for preaching that God can call women into ministry, using the NIV Bible (the King James is the only acceptable version at Appleby, being “pro-Christ” rather than “pro-Roman Catholic”), and drinking too much coffee from Starbucks, indicating her worldliness and affluence. (There is an interesting intersection of gender, class, and religion here that needs further dissection.) Moore “has trouble with authority” and “is not happy with being a woman, wife, mother, and homemaker.” Women who follow her have husbands who are “HOUSEBROKE” and “HENPECKED.” Anderson urges them: “Stand up and be a man! Take charge of your home, and get your family under some real Bible preaching that the gates of Hell cannot shake. God told you to take command of your house by the Word of God. Quit being a SISSY and STAND UP and be a man for God.” The gender politics at Appleby is fascinating and the masculine rhetoric is overpowering. But it is not wildly distinct from the positions taken by other, mainstream denominations in the South. Appleby sits squarely within the long history of gender inequality in Christianity and debates over women’s religious leadership. Elizabeth Flowers’s excellent new book, Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power since World War II (UNC, 2012), details the struggles over female ordination in the SBC. Baptists, Methodists, Mormons—all have experienced recent discourse over the subject of women’s role in the church. Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism (edited by Margaret Bendroth and Virginia Brereton; Illinois, 2002) offers insight into this discourse in many Protestant groups. Evangelicalism has wrestled with this conflict/crisis for a long time, in other words, and Appleby is simply contributing to that narrative.