When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist, there was a joke other Christians would tell about a newly deceased person being given a tour of heaven by St. Peter. The new angel was shown where certain prophets lived and was shown the road to the celestial throne, and so on. The pair then happened upon an area surrounded by a high wall. “Who’s in there?” the new resident of the hereafter asked. “Oh, that’s the Southern Baptists,” replied St. Peter. “They want to believe they’re the only people here.”
I thought of this old saw when I read that ordained Southern Baptist minister and right-wing congressman Doug Collins had ejected ordained Progressive National Baptist Convention minister and Senate candidate Raphael Warnock from the ranks of Christianity for being pro-choice, as Newsweek reported over the weekend:
During a campaign event for incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler at a gun range, Collins told the crowd: “There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor. What you have is a lie from the bed of Hell. It is time to send it back to Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
Ebenezer, of course, is the historic Atlanta church once pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (a founder of the Progressive National Baptist Convention), who had a lot of beliefs rejected by the white Southern Baptists of his day — you know, like the equality of all God’s children. But Collins did not hesitate to cast Ebenezer and its pastor into the outer darkness thanks to his infallible understanding of Christian theology, which he shared with his former primary opponent, Loeffler, in the sanctified venue of that gun range:
I’m not sure, Kelly, what a pro-choice pastor looks like. I know what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like what my Bible tells me when it says ‘I made you and I knitted you in your mother’s womb,’” Collins added.
The reaction of Loeffler, a Roman Catholic, to this exegesis (based on one of the few, vague references to fetal life in the Hebrew scriptures, alongside a few thousand clear injunctions to the social-justice concerns ministers like Warnock tend to emphasize) was not recorded. Not that long ago, Southern Baptists were still identifying the Catholic Church with the “Whore of Babylon” of the Book of Revelation. But that was before white conservative evangelical Protestants created a political alliance with traditionalist Catholics to enforce 1950s norms on issues like abortion and same-sex relationships.
Doug Collins is not a stupid man, so he presumably understands that there are many millions of Christians in this country — a majority of mainline Protestants and a majority of Catholics, alongside a substantial minority of white evangelicals — who go to church and pray regularly and read the same Bible on which Collins considers himself an expert, yet nonetheless believe abortion should remain legal. So in denying the authenticity of Warnock’s vocation, this self-proclaimed Pope Doug is in essence waging a holy war of mass excommunication on fellow Christians.
It was hardly the first or even the most outrageous attack on Warnock’s faith as insufficiently in tune with secular reactionary thinking. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign has been regularly cutting and pasting snippets of old sermons from the pulpit at Ebenezer to depict Warnock as a radical who despises his country and its military (mostly because he follows Moses and Jesus Christ in warning against turning anything in this life into an idol commanding obedience). Like Dr. King, Warnock is under attack for taking the Gospel a little too seriously, as the Reverend William Barber II quickly pointed out:
Collins and Loeffler and all their supporters are within their rights in disagreeing with Warnock’s prescriptions for the country and promoting their own favored policies. What they are not entitled to do is mock his faith and the conventionally Christian teachings he has proclaimed from the pulpit of a hallowed church. The claim that the Republican Party and its heathen leader (a veritable golden calf for both Collins and Loeffler) are in exclusive possession of supernatural truth is laughable at best and sacrilege at worst.