Dr. E. Glenn Hinson. World-renowned church historian. Respected and sought-after leader in Christian Spirituality. And everyone's favorite living Baptist heretic. In late summer/early fall 2007, I interviewed Dr. Hinson for the religious satire magazine The Wittenburg Door. Contract signed and article sold, it was to appear in a spring 2008 issue; instead, the legendary Wittenburg Door vanished into the night and has not been heard from since. Here is an excerpt of the "lost" Glenn Hinson interview as it would have appeared over four years ago in The Door.
How long were you a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?
My formal tenure on SBTS faculty was from 1962-1992, but I did teach three years before that -- a full load.
When did you become a favorite target of the fundamentalists?
I became a target when I responded to Bailey Smith's comment in 1980, "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." I made five points in response to Bailey Smith: (1) Jesus was a Jew -- you may have disenfranchised Jesus' prayers; (2) You disenfranchised everybody from Abraham to Jesus; (3) The Bible teaches that God hears the prayers of unbelievers; (4) This conflicts with centuries of Baptists' respect for every person's religious belief; (5) This is the stuff from which Holocausts come. I think the last point may have ignited the tinder.
And (fundamentalists) finally pushed you away from your Baptist tradition?
The Baptist tradition has to do with the voluntary principle of religious liberty, separation of church and state, and voluntary association to carry out the mission of Christ. I thought all of these were endangered by what was happening in the Southern Baptist Convention, which had become the Catholic Church of the South -- numerically so dominant that I could no longer consider myself Baptist in that way. As I saw it, I didn't really leave the Southern Baptist Convention, the Convention left the tradition that I belonged to.
Then you're still a Baptist.
I still see myself as very much a Baptist. Although I am a Bapto-Quakero-Methedo-Presbyterio-Lutherano-Episcopo-Catholic. The Baptist tradition depends on a minority consciousness. And having become the majority, Baptists in the South could no longer think like Baptists, they thought like medieval Catholics.
What do you think of President Bush?
Well, I'd like to have better thoughts about him than I do, but seeing "W" stickers on the backs of cars just sends me into a rage. I think he has put the country in grave danger. His awareness of the world situation is just abysmal. It's very hard for me to grasp that someone who has such a limited understanding of both the United States and the world could be elected president, but it happened. Will Campbell wrote me a note just after Bush was chosen by the Supreme Court: "Bush is too dumb to be so evil." (laughs) I haven't seen much that would correct his assessment. The way I assess it is -- here is a guy who has failed in five businesses, and we have elected him to be head of the world's largest business, namely the United States government, and he has done to it what he has done to all five business (laughs). And you look at the connection with "Kenny Boy" Lay of Enron. He has depended upon people of fuzzy ethical thinking.
But at least he's open about his faith, huh?
The sad thing is he's a Methodist. He has used this perverse understanding of Christianity which is focused on the agenda of the religious right ... I have always had a little ambivalence as to what extent religion should enter into politics. In our American model, we do not want the religious views of even the majority to determine decisions that are made affecting the civil welfare. Now I don't think separation is an absolute, but there is something like a wall of separation, using Jefferson's concept. There has to be. I think Bush has done his best to break down the separation of church and state. As people reflect on his presidency, I think it will be assessed as one of the worst, if not the worst, in American history. It's just almost incalculable the damage that has been done. Of course, I wouldn't favor impeaching Bush, because then we'd have Cheney! If we begin impeaching, begin with Cheney, then go up! (laughs).
But now the Democrats are trying to "out-faith" the Republicans.
I think that authentic faith does not stand on the street corner and pray, it does not make a big noise about its charities. I'm afraid that there is so much inauthentic where it is done for the wrong reasons. Authentic faith does what it does because of God, not to get elected into public office. I guess it's inevitable, but I would feel better if we had a good atheist. It is so demeaning of religion that this is happening. We have to blame it on the Republican use of the religious right.
To be fair to Republicans, Jimmy Carter was the one who publicized that he was "born again."
I think Jimmy Carter sort of started this trend of emphasizing his faith. But I think he's very genuine, as over against Bush. ... You have to LIVE your faith, not talk about it. What I see in Carter is someone who does live his faith, yet I wish he hadn't gotten this trend started. Then you had Reagan who used a lot of it ... he was, as I would characterize it, a practical atheist, but he knew the buttons to push for the religious right. I think probably Mrs. Clinton is authentic. She'll represent a religious perspective that is close to a position represented by informed Methodism. I think there may be some genuineness about Obama -- he's United Church of Christ in Chicago. I just wish that we could focus on the issues and not in terms of whether my god is stronger than your god.
To read the entire "lost" interview with Glenn Hinson, click here.
Follow Bert Montgomery on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BertMontgomery