Former editors speak on Christian citizenship and religious liberty

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Baptist Standard editors from the past offer wisdom on religious liberty, separation of church and state, and matters of Christian citizenship.

John J. Hurt, editor 1966-1977

“Congress has no business tampering with the First Amendment to the Constitution and it needs to be told as much. Anything that has stood so well the tests of time should have proven itself in almost 200 years. The danger is in the so-called prayer amendment. It appears harmless at first glance, but it raises far more questions than it answers. … We think the proposed amendment will permit government-ordered prayers. Such eliminates voluntarism, which is basic to our understanding of prayer. Such becomes a ritual and is without meaning to God or man.”



— John J. Hurt, Aug. 25, 1971

Hurt 250John J. Hurt “We want no part of a Christian party. … Those quick to mix Christianity with the purely political are doing a disservice to the religious.”

— John J. Hurt, Aug. 4, 1976



“There are few people, maybe none, more deserving of your disgust than those who fail to vote. These indifferent citizens, if polls are correct, may be almost half the voting-age population in November. … We have not nor will we put our stamp of approval on any candidate. We believe in separation of church from state. But we also believe that good people participating in the election process will elect good people to public office.”

— John J. Hurt, Sept. 22, 1976

“Government control always follows government money. If Baptists can’t finance their college without tax funds, it will be best for government and Baptists that Baptists get out of the school business.”


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— John J. Hurt, Oct. 6, 1976

Presnall H. Wood, editor 1977-1995

“What should be the attitude of Southern Baptists toward a Southern Baptist president in the White House? Disown him? No. Disagree with him? Yes, when we must. Support him? Yes, when we can.”



— Presnall Wood, Jan. 31, 1979

“There is no place in American life for prayers formulated and regulated by the government. There is no need for legislation to return voluntary prayers to the public schools because they have never been banned.”

— Presnall Wood, Feb. 20, 1980



Wood 250Presnall Wood “There was a time when it was unthinkable for Baptists to join Catholics in asking the government for funds, directly or indirectly, to help pay church bills. It was considered liberal. And it still is. It is difficult to understand how some who appear to pride themselves as being so conservative can be so liberal at the point of wanting government money for the churches. And the irony is that in a climate where many are saying get the government out of the affairs of the church, some are asking for the government to be a part of the church affairs through tuition tax credits.”

— Presnall Wood, April 28, 1982

“For any to imply that the ills in America in the last two decades are the result of children in public schools not reciting an ecumenical prayer is a failure to understand both prayer and history. That which would put the government in the prayer-writing business must be opposed. Baptists, either because of misunderstanding, misinformation or misinterpretation, must not contribute to the undoing of the First Amendement.”

— Presnall Wood, May 19, 1982

“In contending with great conviction for separation of church and state, Southern Baptists must never leave the impression they do not love the state. While rejecting state-written and mandated prayers, Southern Baptists must stand against a type of secularism which would mute any public prayer in any public place. In opposing or supporting any president of the United States on any matter of public policy, any Southern Baptist should never hesitate to pray for any president. In criticizing aspects of the government, Southern Baptists should never hesitate to affirm the process of government which allows freedom.”

— Presnall Wood, June 29, 1983

“When Caesar comes courting the church, the church needs to beware. Christians are to be the salt of the earth, and it may be that they will need to receive the religious rhetoric (of politicians) with a grain of salt.”

— Presnall Wood, Aug. 22, 1984

“Until now, Southern Baptists have been leaders as advocates of religious liberty and separation of church and state. Now is no time for Baptists to step backward. Too much Baptist history has gone before and too much need to be written in the future to ensure that religious liberty is neither restricted nor denied to any. This has been and remains a Baptist contribution to America.”

— Presnall Wood, June 25, 1986

“The Vatican claims to be a sovereign state, but it is primarily headquarters for a church. Thus the pope is primarily head of a church coming to Texas to conduct a religious service for members of his church. Public tax dollars should not be used for religious services. …

“Religious liberty and separation of church and state, cherished doctrines of Baptists, have fallen upon hard times in recent years. President Reagan did not help matters when he worked to reverse a ban of more than 100 years’ standing on diplomatic relations with the Vatican by sending an ambassador from the U.S. to the Vatican and the Catholic Church.  But the fact that the president of the United States and the governor of Texas give the Catholic Church favored treatment does not make it right. … The bottom line is Catholics, and Catholics alone, should pick up the bill for the pope’s visit to Texas.”

— Presnall Wood, Aug. 26, 1987

“Who will Baptists vote for to be president? They will study the candidates and issues and vote their conscience. Some Baptists will vote Democrat. Some Baptists will vote Republican.

“But the tragedy is some Baptists will not vote for anyone. Baptists need to vote. Baptist Christians should be involved in their government and in the politics that make up that government. Christians should be the ‘salt and light’ of our society.

“Committed Christians will be found in the varied political positions and parties. There is not nor should there be a Baptist bloc vote.

“And in the process Democrats, Republicans and others should feel welcome to worship and participate in Southern Baptist churches. Any attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to make political affiliation a test of fellowship in a Southern Baptist church should be resisted.”

—  Presnall Wood, July 22, 1992

“Southern Baptist churches primarily have been known for preaching the gospel, speaking to moral issues and not making political party affiliation a test of fellowship. Never should it come, consciously or unconsciously, that when a person fills out an application for church membership that a person must declare their political party in addition to professing their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and desiring to follow Christ in believer’s baptism. The symbol of the church must always be the cross of Jesus Christ, not a donkey or an elephant.”

— Presnall Wood, Sept. 30, 1992

“Citizens of the United States take much for granted. Heading that list could be the freedom to vote in elections. … The sad truth is many citizens of America demonstrate through not making the effort to vote in a public election that they do not consider the privilege of voting very important.

“The drums of doomsday are constantly beaten by some in America as to what is wrong with America. Sure, there is wrong, but there is also much right concerning America. The privilege of voting is one of those things very much right with America.”

— Presnall Wood, Nov. 2, 1994

“Some politicians are at it again with talk of a constitutional amendment on school prayer being a big part of the cure for what ails morality in America. … The record of government solving spiritual problems is woefully lacking. …

“No government legislation can either establish or ban real prayer of the heart. The issue is state-sponsored, mandated public prayer in public schools. And if there is to be a state-sponsored, mandated public prayer, who is to compose the prayer? …

“Big government writing prayers for little children can lead to big problems for both church and state.”

—  Presnall Wood, Dec. 7, 1994

Toby Druin, editor 1996-1998

Druin 250Toby Druin“I get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I hear The Star Spangled Banner, when I see Old Glory waving in the breeze or when it is brought into any event I am attending. … There are a lot of things wrong with our country, but there are a whole lot more things right with it than any other I have found. I’m proud to be an American.

“I’m also a Baptist Christian and am well aware that the one distinguishing contribution Baptists have made to this land I love so much and the system under which it operates is religious liberty. …

(Regarding Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a professional basketball player who refused to stand with his team during the playing of the national anthem, saying the Quran forbids nationalistic ritualism and who characterized the U.S. flag as a symbol of tyranny and oppression) “I don’t like what Abdul-Rauf did. I don’t see the U.S. flag or the national anthem as representative of tyranny or oppression. I see quite the opposite. But if it is his religious conviction based on what he believes as taught by his Muslim faith, Baptists should honor his decision and defend his right to make it.”

— Toby Druin, March 20, 1996

“More than any other group of people, Baptists have contributed to this nation its concept of religious liberty, and it takes eternal vigilance to maintain it.”

— Toby Druin, July 3, 1996

“I consider myself a strict church-state separationist. I am opposed to government-sanctioned or government-written prayer in the public schools. … I am opposed to the approval of vouchers by the state or federal government to pay for children to attend private schools, even though such legislation would greatly assist the parents of my two grandchildren. We need public schools; we also need private schools. If the government gets involved in the funding of private schools, the government eventually will get involved in the running of them—and should, if government money is involved. … 

(George W. Truett’s sermon on religious liberty, delivered from the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1920, is quoted.) “We don’t hear many Baptists leaders making those kinds of speeches these days. Too many have vested interests in their own schools or are interested in pushing political party agendas. They have traded their leadership roles for a mess of political pottage. Our God has no political party. He has his own agenda that transcends partisanship, and Christians on both sides of the aisle are serving him.”

— Toby Druin, Feb. 12, 1997

“What do we expect from a president? Surely he must have the skills to fill the office and bring together a team who can effectively manage the government. But is that all we want in the man—or woman—who leads our country? … The moral example put forth by the president is part of his duties. … People chosen to lead should set the best example, not the worst. … The American people deserve a president who considers the effect of his example on the children and youth of this land and would never do anything to set less than the best example of moral rectitude for them. His actions shouldn’t be hard to explain to an 8-year-old at the supper table.”

— Toby Druin, Feb. 11, 1998

Additional articles from this series:

Editorial: How to survive a rugged political season

Following Jesus in a contentious election season

George W. Truett on religious liberty

Mobilizing advocates for Texas schoolchildren
 


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