The Black Robe Regiment is growing in Oklahoma! When I first did a story on the group in summer 2009, there were only a few in the metro. Now, according to a story in the Oklahoman, the group has seven members. Seven. Truthfully, there are probably more, but I'm too lazy to look them up on the national database. If you've never heard of this group, it's probably because you don't attend a fundamentalist Baptist church, frequent Christian nation message boards, give a shit about Glen Beck and David Barton, or identify yourself as one of the other fringees who think every conservative is attempting to create a theocracy.
The group believes they are resurrecting a practice of speaking about politics from the pulpit as pastors did in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. The group is silly. Not Dr. Seuss silly—that shit is redemptive—but "this ought to be satire but it's real" silly. More on the Oklahoman article and the utterly awful reporting in a moment. For now, here's what Paul Blair, current candidate for state senate from Edmond, Okla., and senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, said in my article:
"...a great revival that began in the pulpits was responsible for the birth of this nation, (and) I believe that another revival is necessary for America to continue as a free country, governed by 'We the people,' where we have personal liberty and personal responsibility."
Huh? The revival led to the American Revolution and the founding of this country? See, I thought it was the thinking and writing of Locke, Paine, Jefferson, the Philosophes, and others who weren't, um, speaking from pulpits. It's the kind of revisionist history that sees God's activity behind every event, so that the actual causes of the Revolution become only proximate causes subsequent to God's will as ultimate cause. This is, of course, a Biblical position that goes all the way back to "go into the land and kill everything," but it's not terribly heartening in the context of a national political debate. It's not difficult to see how patriot pastors can read providential tea leaves to confer the imprimatur of God's will on the causes they most support. How then would we tell them God says otherwise? Who would be right? How could we know?
Speaking of patriot pastors, Carla Hinton, the "journalist" who wrote the Oklahoman piece, has always been a really bad reporter. Really bad. We go way back. We once had a discussion via email about how a lack of any cynical impulse makes her inadequate as a reporter. You can't report on anything, most especially religion and politics, if you believe everyone is telling you the truth. That seems axiomatic to the reporting job. Hinton sees herself as some sort of PR person for good religion, but in doing the job that way, she consistently misses the real story. For example, note the use of "biblical patriotism" in the lede. What the hell is biblical patriotism? Where does the concept patriotism occur in the Bible? Is the message of the gospel the promise of a moral nation on this earth, or the promise of a kingdom and city which cannot be shaken—surely metaphors for a nation of justice in "the world to come," not a Proverbial promise of shit running properly now as long as we "choose blessing and not cursing."
Alas, this isn't the worst of it. The group is responsible for the silliest ideas. First, how many preachers wore black robes in the 18th century? Wanna guess? Yeah, most. Ever see the pictures of Spurgeon in his black robe? Was he too a patriot pastor from his pulpit at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London? What of John Wesley in his black robe? Was he too a patriot pastor in the fields and mines of England, or when he worked with the Moravians? How little they knew of the real significance of their clerical garb! Clearly these pastors are so ensconced in a low church tradition that they see black robes as somehow more historically important than the minister's who actually wore them as part of an ecclesiastical tradition, irrespective of their being Tory or Whig.
Here's the silliest idea, though. They believe that they are somehow qualified to speak to these issues, and that their congregants want them to speak to these issues. They believe the first even as they listen to Glen Beck and David Barton twist history and distort the truth. They believe the second even though they've experienced the reality of losing congregants over pastoral hubris. They see this not as hubris, of course, but as the consequences of faithfulness. It's clearly hubris.
Scot McKnight asked John Fea, a real historian, to write on his blog back in September '10. I'll let you read it, but this quote, with which I'll close, stood out:
Historians concerned with the integrity of the past and the integrity of their work must also note that John Adams rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. They should mention that George Washington deliberately avoided taking communion. They must also tell the whole truth about the so-called “Black Regiment.” Most of these clergymen were blatantly anti-Catholic. Others blurred Biblical teachings on freedom (from sin) with political teachings on freedom (from George III). These Christian America pundits tell just one side of the story because the so-called “rest of the story” does not suit their political needs in the present.