Richard Furman's 1822 tipping point
I plan to send a letter to the editor for publication to that magazine hoping to get a reference to my the blog here with what I consider some salient points not discussed at the the conference; and the implications they seemed to tip toe around.
I congratulate them for the conference and wish I could have attended. I hope the conversation continues in the pages of Baps Today.
Quoting from John Pierce story in December 2015 BT:
In Dec. of 1822 Richard Furman President of the SC SBC penned a public letter to the SC Governor that represented a "tipping point among white Baptists in the South, " said Gourley.
Furman's "very pro-slavery stance" in the letter affirmed that slavery is never actually condemned in the Bible, and he assured the governor of the state's Baptist support in preventing future insurrections.
"Prior to 1880, most white Baptists in the South were either opposed to slavery of ambivalent, " Said Gourley. "Richard Furman's letter changed things in the South"
Bruce Gourley is a native of South Georgia and earned his PHD at Auburn with noted Pulitzer prize nominee Proff Wayne Flynt as his advisor.
Mark Noll of Notre Dame is great on this matter, pointing out in America's God it was the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman that finally blasted away the fundamentalist juggernaut, the Biblical literalists that had propelled The United States to Civl War
So where are we now and what did the Baps Today and the conference miss, overlook.
One it is interesting to note that in 2007 Wade Burleson, then something of a renegade in the SBC Fundy ranks had over 100 comments on his blog referencing the Noll quote on Grant and Lee.
Burleson made reference to what one scholar put in focus: But perhaps the most devastating effect of these theological crises was that it took a bloody civil war to allow this country to move forward. In Mark Noll's words:
'...it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."
But beyond that too often Baps Today as noble as their endeavor is and as kind they have been to me over the last 30 years publishing ten or more of my efforts in the magazine, they miss a great opportunity to be prophetic.
Prophetic woulda been time spent--maybe they can concoct a breakout workshop at next annual meeting of CBF with folks who have done the timely homework--talking about the Thomas Powers review of Wuthnow's Rough Country with Atwater's "Nigger Memo" as a guidestone to the driving force of Pressler and his closest political allies in the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jesse Helms, Albert Lee Smith, and Adrian Roger's Ed Mcateer as unreconstructed Southerners who never could bring themselves to appreciate the legacy of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.
The Chattanooga conference woulda been much better if it coulda channeled GArry Wills recent review on Ej Dionn'es book on the GOP going to the Hard Right, bringing into the conversation Bama product Barry Howard who is now Joe Scarborough's pastor in Pensacola Florida.
A Better conference would've had a conversation with Baptist Governor of Georgia Roy Barnes who back in October on Ga NPR Two Way Street said it was Lee Atwater's Dream to have all across the South a choice between a White GOP and a Black Democratic party.
It woulda come well versed in the New Racism, New Republic article on Bama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, Elberton Ga native and his political strategy of Bleaching, a provocative attempt to weaken the political power and blacks and Hispanics in the state.
Richard Furman's letter to the Governor still has implications today as the great piece How the South Won the Civil War, recently in the New Yorker, a review of the new travelogue Deep South by Paul Theroux lays out. Scholars and laypeople in Chattanooga should've known of Joe Crespino's Strom Thurmond's America, especially Baptists in South Carolina on the eve of the upcoming Presidential primary.
Turning the focus back on Furman. I think the family namesake, the University and many of Richard's progeny themselves long ago redeemed themselves from founder Furman's 1822 letter. When Richard Furman's Great Great grandson died a few years ago, the alumni magazine reported Richard Furman III wept openly in a trustee meeting that Furman break with South Carolina Baptists. Reporting on his deep friendship with former Chaplains LD Johnson, Furman III long ago repented of his great grandfather's cultural captivity and showed it by standing with Gordon Blackwell when the school integrated in 1965. And Furman III was well aware of how political fundamentalists of Paul Pressler and Lee Atwater stripe were morphing the race card in southern politics into the religion card of Karl Rove, most pointedly the 2000 George W Bush SC Presidential Primary.
In 1978 Gordon campaigned for former Greenville mayor, Max Heller, a Jew. Working for Carroll Campbell a leading resistor to the integration of the public schools, Lee Atwater initiating his later mastery of the negative campaign, blanketed the district with the slogan Campbell, "One of Us." One of Us in the Atwater and Helms dictionary was a white man, Anglo Saxon Protestant.
Here's hoping Furman shines brightly when Ted Cruz comes through town in the coming weeks as the anointed of Pressler and Cruz pastor ED Young, who in the late 60's was a distinct alternative to the prophetic preaching of Johnson at Furman, Young in then nearby Taylors SC.
And of course there is the witness of Furman's Martin England and the grand social justice journalist Marshall Frady.
So Furman has made amends. Let's hope my friends at Baptists Today can shine the light a little brighter in their ongoing well intentioned and on the whole most worthwhile efforts on the Civil War 150 years out.