Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wearing the Insult as a Blessing

I was born and raised in Craighead County, Arkansas. The origin and naming of the county is an interesting bypath in history.

In 1858 Arkansans elected William Atkinson Jones as their Governor. Jones's later contest with Jeff Davis for a seat in the United States Senate was one of the subplots that made its way into my dissertation a few years ago, and he was a formidable force in Arkansas Democrat politics during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Among Jones's campaign promises was a pledge to create a new county out of Mississippi County in Northeast Arkansas. Jones won, and contrary to the basic rules of secular politics, went about making good on his campaign promises. The sole strident opponent to the creation of the new county was the state senator from Mississippi County, Thomas Craighead. The removal of the land to create the new county would diminish the influence and tax revenue of his Mississippi County constituency, you see.

One day, while Craighead was out on other business, Jones strolled into the Senate chamber and amended the bill to change the name of the county to Craighead County. The Senate adopted the measure in Craighead's absence, and forevermore my home county wears the name of the man most opposed to its existence. Every map, every calling of the roll, and every journey past the county-line marker was designed to be an insult—a reminder to Craighead of the political game that he lost. And now, Craighead County is the dominant county in the region, with its county seat of Jonesboro serving as the economic, cultural, educational, and political hub of that entire congressional district. What others meant as an insult to Thomas Craighead has actually preserved his name in an honored place in local and regional history.

The same thing might be said about the word Baptist. It was birthed as an insult and an instrument of opprobrium. Those who loved biblical truth clung to it in spite of its origins, and God blessed their faithfulness with such blessing that, for a while, it ceased to be employed as a by-word and epithet. Today represents, I suppose, the first time in our history in which "Baptist Identity" has become a slur hurled by people who actually, out of the other side of their mouths, claim to be Baptists themselves. But no matter the slight novelties of the present situation, I count it an honor to stand with Kiffin and Helwys, with Williams and Holmes, with Crosby and Taylor and Barber (hey, I'll have to do some genealogical research there, maybe I have "blue" blood as well!), and to wear proudly the name Baptist, even when it is intended as a matter of mockery and derision.


Dave Miller said...

Bart, as someone who has argued against the ideas of the "Baptist Identity" movement somewhat, I agree with you here.

In Iowa, Southern Baptists are viewed almost as a cult. So many have taken Baptist out of the name.

We have chosen to keep the name and just try to change people's perceptions.

Labels serve a purpose. I can call someone a calvinist, and that label gives some identification. I don't have to write a paragraph about what someone believes.

I am in no way ashamed of my Baptist identity. I am Baptist by birth, by conviction and by calling.

But what term should I use to describe the people who support the IMB policies. I think I am just as Baptist as they are, just as supportive.

So, I will join you in embracing the insult of being Baptist.

Bart Barber said...

Dave Miller,

The phrase "Baptist Identity" or "Baptist Renaissance" pertains more to the sentiments offered in this document and other places than to policy questions at one of our entities. I do not believe that the two are unrelated questions entirely, but IMB policy has never been the be-all-end-all for me. Certainly we'll have to determine whether we are Pentecostals in order to know whether we would be Baptists, and certainly IMB policy is important, but I'm much more interested in what local churches are doing than in what a missionary board is doing.

Todd Benkert said...


I am one who opposes one particular aspect of the IMB policies: the linking of believer's baptism with eternal security.

Does the ACB make the same connection? If so, on what basis?

Todd B.

volfan007 said...

I may be one of the very few who have ever been to Craighead County. It's a good place to go. But, it's entirely too flat. Needs hills.

David, a Baptist Preacher

Wade Burleson said...

Mr. Barber,

The Christian Identity movement is no more historically Christian than the current Southern Baptist Identity movement is historically Baptist in terms of freedom of dissent and soul liberty.



The Baptist Wade Burleson

Who is first of all a follower of Jesus Christ and who also loves all my Identity brothers and know them to be Christian - just messed up in a couple of really important areas. :)

Dave Miller said...

I wrote my last (first) comment in a hurry, trying to make several points. As I re-read it now, it made none of them.

So, Bart, permit me to try again.

1) I am an unashamed Baptist.

2) There is a group of people out there advocating things I disagree with. I do not agree with the IMB policies. Some of Malcolm Yarnell's statements about baptism and about cooperation with other groups have not settled well with me.

That group has often been designated "Baptist Identity." So, I have used the word to describe them. It is sort of a shorthand. Other terms I have used, "Baptist Primacy" or "Baptist Supremacy" or "Baptist Isolationist" all have a pejorative aspect to them.

Labels are tough, because none of us likes to be reduced to a label. But it is easier to say, "The BI advocates" than to say, "you know, those people who support the narrowing of parameters of fellowship by supporting the IMB policies against private prayer language, who think that baptism in a church that doesn't have solid baptist doctrine is not acceptable and who do not think cooperation with other groups is advisable." As my friend Hank Hill would say, "Dang it, that's a mouthful."

So, when I use BI as a label, it is shorthand to refer to a group of people who advocate certain ideas and is in no way intended to imply that I am ashamed of my identity as a Baptist.

Labels are troublesome, but useful.

3) I agree with you that we should embrace our identity as Baptists.

My only concern is that I am afraid there are some who are attaching implications to that name that go beyond what I believe Baptist Identity is all about.

4) If "Baptist Identity" refers to the "Fifth Century Initiative" you linked in your comment, then sign me up. I did not see a single thing in there that I disagree with.

As I said before, I wish you would offer that as a resolution!

Bart Barber said...


Would you mind demonstrating to me precisely how we differ in our doctrines of freedom of dissent and soul liberty? And then, could you show me from primary sources that your position is the historically Baptist one? And in doing so, please remember that John Gill was not the only Baptist alive during the eighteenth century.

sbcghostrecon said...

Don't you think Craighead County sounds better in the state of Arkansas then Mississippi County? :)

Quinn Hooks

Jeff said...

I know where Craighead county is, and I was born in Mississippi County.

Bart, did you pastor in Arkansas?

Anonymous said...

To change the tenor of this thread:

I have recently finished an analysis of ACP data, looking at retention of newly baptized members each year...and the news is very bad!

Please consider my post:

In my humble opinion, our problem is not Baptist Identity or other recent issues, but a systematic failure to follow ALL parts of the Great Commission...


Anonymous said...

Since the link didn't work, just go to my blog:

and look for post:

"The denominational stool has gotten a little wobbly"