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Baptists traced their democratic heritage all the way back to New Testament times when Peter said "we ought to obey God rather than man," and thereby asserted the "doctrine of soul liberty." BS, September 1, 1892, p. 4. They claimed that "each church that was organized during the apostolic times was a pure democracy. All questions that were decided by the churches were taken before the entire membership, and, after explanation and discussion, the entire membership acted upon them." BS, April 9, 1914, p. 19. They believed, in fact, that Christianity had given democracy to the world through the pure line that Baptists had transmitted. They asserted, without evidence, that Thomas Jefferson studied Baptist polity when he was writing the Constitution, and Baptist principles were "everywhere in the warp and woof of that immortal document." BS, July 16, 1914, p. 19.

The flowering of liberal democracy and left-wing Protestantism at the same time did mix the ideals and practices of the two; Baptists partook of secular humanistic principles just as inheritors of the Enlightenment erected a "heavenly city." An original theological focus on the power of God was countered by secular philosophies and shifted to the possibilities of the individual. Bound by a historical perspective they could not transcend, Baptists felt no compromise when they "crossed the bridge from religious non-conformity to liberal democracy," Harrison, p. 25. from John Calvin to John Locke.

Despite their efforts to dispense with ecclesiastical authority in favor of the rights and responsibilities of each individual, Texas Baptists also retained vestiges of traditional organicism into the twentieth century. The bulwark of their traditionalism was the family. The Bible was written in a patriarchal culture; the family life depicted therein reflected that pattern and upheld it as an ideal.

Many Texans had migrated from the South, where family affiliation and duties were also glorified. "Knowing one's place" was a lesson well-learned in that society. Frontier conditions and the Civil War ameliorated the elaborate social rituals that distinguished the sexes and carefully marked their spheres, but images of dependent women in need of protector males for direction and support persisted. Baptists were enjoined to maintain hierarchical family arrangements lest natural law, as well as God's, be transgressed and society destroyed. Not only the authority of males and husbands, but also that of parents was accepted and idealized. Word pictures of "life's golden hours . . . around the family hearthstone with father and mother," who always knew best, BS, October 31, 1895, p. 8. connoted a longing for affiliation and domination.

Within the church the source of authority and cohesion was the Bible rather than ranking church officials, but this source provided a rallying point for fellowship and unity. The church, which, as the body of Christ, has traditionally served as an organic idea, was greatly reduced in power from the medieval giant it had been; but church membership and attendance, one's identity as a Baptist among other Baptists, was still a strong social force among the committed. An irony of Southern Protestantism is that the individualistic emphasis of the religion is both an enforcer of conformity and a source of identification. John Lee Eighmy, Churches in Cultural Captivity: A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1972), p. 201.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Patricia martin's phd thesis. OpenStax CNX. Dec 12, 2012 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11462/1.1
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