By Bob Ray Sanders
Forgive me for repeating a story I’ve told before but, considering the latest blatant example of religious bigotry in the country, it is worth retelling.
Outside a Baptist church in the South several years ago, a black man was crying his eyes out.
God came along and asked, “My son, why are you weeping?”
The man, replied, “Because I’ve been coming to this church for the last three weeks and they won’t let me in because I’m black.”
“Don’t worry about it,” God said. “I’ve been coming for years, and they won’t let me in, either.”
That yarn could have applied to many churches of various denominations in the days of the segregated South, but for the moment let me stick with Baptists. I know them well because I am one.
Various wings of the Southern Baptists have had their inner battles, often fighting for control of institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention, the radio and television commission, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and, of course, Baylor University.
Many of the leaders spend a lot of time carving out turf, trying to define themselves as the most conservative or the truest in the literal interpretation of the Bible. This often leads to damning pronouncements about other faiths and cultures such as those we are witnessing today with attacks on Mormonism.
You knew it was coming, right, with two Mormons running for president and one being the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
I recall the late W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of Dallas First Baptist Church … 1976 turned against fellow Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter after he gave an interview to Playboy. After inviting President Gerald Ford, an Episcopalian (Lord, have mercy!) to church, the pastor endorsed the Republican from the pulpit.
The current pastor of First Baptist, Robert Jeffress, is making headlines for saying Republican candidate Mitt Romney is not a Christian and that his faith, Mormonism, is “a cult.” Jeffress made the remarks after introducing Gov. Rick Perry last week at the Values Voter Summit.
Unfortunately, the language of condemnation for those who are different plays well with the voter base Perry needs to win the Republican nomination.
Perry, a born-again Christian who once sold Bible reference books door to door, may find it cumbersome trying to distance himself from the likes of Jeffress, and difficult selling his faith as tolerant enough for one who wants to be leader of the free world.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.