Pastor Billy Bob Torquemada

By now you've probably heard about this story:

WAYNESVILLE, N.C. — Nine members of a local church had their membership revoked and 40 others left in protest after tension over political views recently came to a head, church members say.

About 20 members of the 400-member East Waynesville Baptist Church voted the nine members out at a recent deacon meeting, which turned into an impromptu business meeting, according to congregants.

Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville Baptist, had been exhorting his congregation since October to support his political views or leave, said Selma Morris, a 30-year member of the church.

“He preached a sermon on abortion and homosexuality, then said if anyone there was planning on voting for John Kerry, they should leave,” she said.

Cursor links us to this AP followup on the story, about which Cursor says:

The North Carolina pastor who reportedly excommunicated nine people for their political beliefs now says it was all a "great misunderstanding," as a member of his congregation calls him "a wonderful, good old country boy."

The Rev. Chandler didn't actually "excommunicate" anybody, of course. Baptist pastors don't have that kind of power, and even if they did, we Baptists, by definition, would be immune to it. Chandler is a wanna-be theocrat and a horse's ass, but to really appreciate how much of a horse's ass, you have to appreciate how unthinkably un-Baptist his foolish attempt at congregational excommunication was.

Below the jump is a FAQ of sorts on Baptists and excommunication.

Q: What's the official policy of the Baptist Church on excommunication?

A: There is no official policy of the Baptist Church because there is no "Baptist Church," only Baptist churches. No hierarchy, no bishops, no creed. We can speak generally of Baptist polity, but that's still almost an oxymoron — like the "official" symbol for anarchy. Baptist polity derives from soul liberty, which is the central and essential Baptist distinctive.

Q: OK, then, what does Baptist polity say about excommunication?

A: Baptists can't be excommunicated because they were never "communicated" to begin with. Excommunication is primarily about the denial of the sacraments of the church, and therefore the denial of access to divine grace. Baptists don't have sacraments, so it is impossible to withhold them. And as for access to divine grace, that's between you and God.

Q: But don't Baptists take the sacrament of communion?

A: Baptists celebrate the Lord's Supper, but this is an "ordinance," not a sacrament. (The distinction here has to do with how God's grace is mediated to humanity.)

Q: OK, so couldn't Baptists exordinate, er, disordinance-ify … withhold the ordinance as a form of excommunication?

A: For Baptists, communion is an open table — a remembrance of the Lord's Supper open to all believers. Whether or not this includes you is, again, between you and God. Anybody who is not God doesn't have the prerogative of denying your soul liberty by making that decision for you. So if a congregation were to begin denying the ordinance of communion to particular believers because it didn't like what they believed it would, at that point, no longer really be a Baptist congregation.

Q: So do Baptists believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation?

A: Neither. We tend to believe in small plastic cups of Welch's Concord grape juice once a month. Mystery and majestic reverence aren't really our strong suits.

Q: You keep talking about this "soul liberty" as the essence of what it means to be a Baptist. But isn't the essence of the Baptist tradition, you know, baptism?

A: What sets Baptists apart is not that they are baptized — all Christians practice baptism in one form or another. Nor is it the form of baptism (we prefer old-school, take-me-to-the-river-style immersion, but it's not an article of faith). The distinct thing is that Baptists choose baptism, and thus are only baptized when they're old enough to make that choice on their own. The significance of this is that it means that membership in the church is a matter of individual choice — soul liberty again. This also has political significance as an expression of individual freedom and the separation of church and state. This political aspect was a rather big deal a few centuries back. The separation of church and state is the one and only contribution Baptists have made to Christian political thought — but it's a pretty good contribution.

Q: So if "soul liberty" means that I can't tell you what you should or shouldn't believe, does that mean Baptists can never disagree?

A: No. It means that Baptists can always disagree. And we usually do.

Q: So you seem to be saying that Baptists are dogmatically anti-dogma, that you can tolerate anything except intolerance — isn't that a contradiction?

A: Can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?

Q: That's a stupid question. Is that supposed to be clever? It's not even a real question, just a false-paradox, a sophomoric piece of deliberately misleading semantic nonsense.

A: Right.

Q: If "soul liberty" is the essence of what it means to be Baptist, then how do you explain the Southern Baptist Convention?

A: The Southern Baptist Convention is none of the above. For the past 20 years or so it has been evolving from a convention into a denomination. They have, in function if not in name, bishops and archbishops. They have inquisitors. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, they will have their own pope. They regard the separation of church and state as a "myth." They don't allow disagreement. They strictly enforce adherence to creed-ish "statements of faith." In short, they're about as Baptist as Cotton Mather.

Q: So if the pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church didn't "excommunicate" the congregation's nine Democrats, what actually happened there?

A: In addition to the church invisible, the gathering of the saints there in East Waynesville, there is also the church material. There is a legal entity incorporated under the name "East Waynesville Baptist Church." This entity owns the building, pays the utility bills and makes sure the lawn gets mowed. As a tax-deductible nonprofit, this entity also has bylaws, which Pastor Billy Bob Torquemada has almost certainly violated by trying to kick out members based on how they vote in civil elections. That's why the supposedly ousted church members now have a lawyer representing their case. That's also why the pastor is now backtracking and saying it was all just a misunderstanding.

  • mds

    The Southern Baptist Convention is none of the above…They have, in function if not in name, bishops and archbishops. They have inquisitors. Eventually, and sooner rather than later, they will have their own pope. They regard the separation of church and state as a “myth.”
    The problems started at the 1988 Convention, when the “priesthood of all believers” took a hit, but have exploded only very recently, as Al Mohler’s efforts have borne fruit. Mohler was instrumental in undermining the “priesthood of all believers” in 1998, and became president of the Louisville seminary in 1993.
    I mean, look at the 2000 Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was damaged by Mohler and his minions, but still contained the following:
    Church and state should be separate.
    The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.
    The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion.
    Yet now we have an authoritarian radical Calvinist, a buddy of Dominionist D. James Kennedy, running the Southern Baptist seminary and conducting purges of most of the defining theology of Southern Baptists throughout the twentieth century. Oh, and helping with “Justice Sunday,” which violates the existing precepts of the SBC.
    As in other areas of society, I keep hoping for a backlash. This Mohler fellow wants to impose a strict hierarchy on Southern Baptists? Put two Southern Baptists together in a room, and in an hour you’ll have three different churches. Yet so far, he gets away with it. Back in 2000, there was a fair amount of grumbling from Texas Southern Baptists about five-point Calvinism, faculty purges, questionable allocation of funds, and the like, but I don’t know what ever came of it. Probably nothing, as usual. And the corruption of the Church proceeds.

  • Andrew Cory

    Just as a side note:
    Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?
    I once had a (Lutheran) friend answer this question with “god can create such a rock. And god as expressed as all three parts of the Trinity could lift such a rock”. Which was such a clever answer I should have stopped speaking to him…

  • randomliberal

    Actually, IIRC, the Baptist General Convention of Texas is quite opposed to the Southern Baptist Convention. It now aligns itself more with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is the moderate reaction to the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, I’m not sure just how much the Baptist churches in Texas like the BGCT’s stance, and I know for sure that Southwestern Seminary is very much aligned with the SBC, but the BGCT is standing firm.

  • Scorpio
  • none

    “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?” is essentially asking “Can God place limits on his own omnipotence?” which, according to traditional Nicean understanding of the Trinity is precisely what God did in the Incarnation. Jesus was the Word without whom no rocks were created. Yet was fully human and thus there were plenty of rocks in Palestine too heavy for him to lift.

  • none

    “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?” is essentially asking “Can God place limits on his own omnipotence?” which, according to traditional Nicean understanding of the Trinity is precisely what God did in the Incarnation. Jesus was the Word without whom no rocks were created. Yet was fully human and thus there were plenty of rocks in Palestine too heavy for him to lift.

  • straight

    “Can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?” is essentially asking “Can God place limits on his own omnipotence?” which, according to traditional Nicean understanding of the Trinity, is precisely what God did in the Incarnation. Jesus was the Word without whom no rocks were created. Yet he was fully human and thus there were plenty of rocks in Palestine too heavy for him to lift.

  • Eric

    Fred,
    Can you suggest any books that deal with the SBC vs. Baptist history, or a general coverage of Baptist history?
    I’m currently reading The Betrayal of Southern Baptist Missionaries by Southern Baptist Leaders, but am looking for more info.

  • the_methotaku

    Interesting commentary. It’s a good summary of what it means to be Baptist, I think. I myself am a member of the much more hierarchical United Methodist Church. We disaggree with eachother as much as you Baptists do, but we can’t just split off and go our own ways, because the centeral church owns the property. Which way is better, I don’t know.

  • OG

    He resigned and took some of the younger members of East Waynesville with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new church appeared in Waynesville within the coming weeks.

  • OG

    He resigned and took some of the younger members of East Waynesville with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new church appeared in Waynesville within the coming weeks.

  • timeno

    Eric, try
    McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Broadman & Holman, 1987: ISBN 0805465693)
    for a good overview of Baptist history written by a Southern Baptist before the Big Takeover was complete. There is also a companion book (A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage) with pertinent documents from the 1600′s through the 1980′s.

  • Carrie

    Just to clarify a small point, Quakers are Christians that don’t perform baptism. They believe that no rituals are needed to be in touch with God (hence no ministers either), and that continued spiritual growth and commitment is all that is necessary to be “baptized”, instead of a single act of baptism. There is no written list of beliefs, as people should follow their own “inner light”. They do believe in Christ, and that his life demonstrates the full Truth of God, but they don’t believe the Bible is their only guide. Sorry to hijack the comments, but I think it is an interesting group.

  • Chad

    I prefer Homer Simpson’s version of the question:
    “Can Jesus make a borritto so hot even He cannot eat it?”

  • Dahne

    Do not implore him for compassion. Do not beg him for forgiveness. Do not ask him for mercy.
    Let’s face it – you can’t Torquemada anything!
    Sorry. Couldn’t help it.

  • Mabus

    There’s something peculiar about this. Namely, I belong to the churches of Christ, which don’t have even the nod to hierarchy that the Baptists do–no convention. Yet we “withdraw fellowship” from people fairly often. (A few years ago, some woman who I believe had cheated on her husband sued a congregation over it, and we were briefly on the news in the same way.)
    So, are we equally inconsistent, or do you know of some distinction that makes it different for us?

  • http://www.vaughnthompson.com/ichthus/archives/2005/05/the_purpose_dri_6.php ICTHUS

    The Purpose Driven BookGarden

    If I may put a plug in for Eric’s new bookgarden, this is really a cool site to track book blogging. I’ve submitted all of my Purpose Driven Life posts, and now, if you think that ICTHUS is crap and you only care about my PDL comments, well Eric has se…

  • Arturus

    We tend to believe in small plastic cups of Welch’s Concord grape juice once a month. Mystery and majestic reverence aren’t really our strong suits.
    As a member of an American Baptist Church, this line makes me grin like an idiot.

  • http://hownow.brownpau.com/archives/2005/05/links_for_20050512 How Now, Brownpau?

    links for 2005-05-12

    Slacktivist on Pastor Billy Bob Torquemada. FAQ on Baptists, excommunication, and soul liberty. (tags: faith news) Peasant’s Quest. Amazing classic-Sierra-style adventure game based on…

  • http://ilx.wh3rd.net/thread.php?showall=true&msgid=5770835#5786483 I Love Everything

    we don’t want no steeeeeeeeenking Democrats in our church …

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2005/05/pastor_billy_bo.html#more
    Q: So if the pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church didn’t “excommunicate” the congregation’s nine Democrats, what actually happened there?
    A: In addition to the church i…

  • Allen

    Some Baptist churches use the term “excommunication” in their constitution for the expulsion of members from the church. Also, as to mystic and majestic reverence, another church in my home town once ran out of unleaven bread wafers and used Cheeze-it’s.

  • Allen

    Some Baptist churches use the term “excommunication” in their constitution for the expulsion of members from the church. Also, as to mystic and majestic reverence, another church in my home town once ran out of unleaven bread wafers and used Cheeze-it’s.

  • Emma Goldman

    Cheez-its??!!? Okay, that’s my laugh for the day. I guess christ really is everywhere after all.
    I, too, am fond of what I know of the Quakers; we’re hijacking aspects of their marriage ceremony for our coming wedding. What’s fascinating to me is how simple they’ve managed to keep things, despite their long history; it seems a stark contrast to, oh, say, the Roman Catholic church, but also to many of the Protestant denominations, especially those that have built super-churches.

  • Fred

    Dear Typepad:
    Whatever it is that you have done to your login page that causes my browser to not-so-unexpectedly “unexpectedly quit,” could you please undo it so that I can resume posting?
    Thanks.

  • Jesurgislac

    I was brought up a Quaker, and we don’t even do the Lord’s Supper. It is possible for a Meeting to invite a member to leave, but I can’t imagine what a member would have to do to get their Meeting to that point.
    By the way, I found this list of questions via Making Light: So you want to be a Quaker?

  • Brian C.B.

    “Cheez-its??!!? Okay, that’s my laugh for the day. I guess christ really is everywhere after all.”
    Totally Bibilical. Haven’t you ever hear of the “Cheez-its of Nazareth”?
    In any case, I think the Baptist method is closer to “shunning.” Most Baptists (and I speak as a recovering one) have an individual, emotional tie to Jesus, which is part of the denomination’s doctrine. But, this tie is at the mercy of another temporal link to the supportive community of believers, the physical church to which a Baptist is a member. Risking the latter may cause one to dilute the former. Welcome to the human race.
    Also, Fred, in no Baptist church to which I was privy was anything other than total immersion acceptable. Other churches (Presbyterian, Episcopal) weren’t picky about how one got washed free of one’s sins and was incorporated into the Body of Christ. But, those Baptists were. It remains one of the more bizarre prejudices that belong to the Baptists in Christendom. At this point, I think that the total immersion criteria is a grounds for prejudice to many Baptists.

  • Brian C.B.

    “Cheez-its??!!? Okay, that’s my laugh for the day. I guess christ really is everywhere after all.”
    Totally Bibilical. Haven’t you ever hear of the “Cheez-its of Nazareth”?
    In any case, I think the Baptist method is closer to “shunning.” Most Baptists (and I speak as a recovering one) have an individual, emotional tie to Jesus, which is part of the denomination’s doctrine. But, this tie is at the mercy of another temporal link to the supportive community of believers, the physical church to which a Baptist is a member. Risking the latter may cause one to dilute the former. Welcome to the human race.
    Also, Fred, in no Baptist church to which I was privy was anything other than total immersion acceptable. Other churches (Presbyterian, Episcopal) weren’t picky about how one got washed free of one’s sins and was incorporated into the Body of Christ. But, those Baptists were. It remains one of the more bizarre prejudices that belong to the Baptists in Christendom. At this point, I think that the total immersion criteria is a grounds for prejudice to many Baptists.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    Afaik, Torquemada tried to keep people trapped in a religion rather than throwing them out.
    Chan Chandler and those 20 members deserve plenty of mockery and flack, but there’s a qualitative difference in the amount of damage caused by Chandler’s policy vs. Torquemada’s. It’s this church is MINE vs. these people are MINE–I’d rather live with a brat than a monster.
    “Billy Bob Torquemada” has been making my brain itch ever since I saw it–I’m glad I figured it out.
    Now that I’m looking at the subject heading, there might be some issues of anti-Southern stereotyping. It seems a bit unfair, considerint that it’s just one church, and in that church of 400, 1 pastor and 20 members voted 9 members out, and 40 more left in protest.
    How does the voting out process work?

  • R. Sessions

    There are so many off-cue statements in the Q&A about Baptists that it’s hard to comment on them thoroughly. Just a couple thoughts: Any group of churches should have the right to define its own guidelines for mutual cooperation without being labeled as “becoming a denomination” or creating archbiships, etc.
    Also, it was said that when a Baptist church ceases to have an open table (Lord’s Supper) it ceases to be a Baptist church. But there are a great many Baptist churches where it is believed that any church WITH an open table has ceased to be a Baptist church!
    Another: Soul-liberty does not necessarily mean that membership in a church is solely a personal choice. The church has the option to accept or reject anyone on whatever basis they choose; thus it’s not just an individual choice.
    Neither can it be said that soul-liberty means we shouldn’t “tell each other what to believe.” Telling each other what to believe at some level is the essence of teaching. We are given the biblical mandate to teach, exhort (encourage) and even rebuke one another in the face of doctrinal error.
    Being a Baptist isn’t a “one belief is as good as another” club.

  • drieux just drieux

    I am SHOCKED, Just SHOCKED, i tell you, that slacktivist is continuing his Horrid and Abomnibal Persectution of Christians! And that While the NATION is in a state of More@War than Ever Before!
    Not since the Evil Leftist Liberals in the NRO, National Review Online, on the orders of their Most Satanic Overlords expelled Annie Coulter from their services has such a Brutal Assault on White Christian America ever been put forward!
    For Shame! For Shame!!! And to think of all of God’s Holy Crusaders, who at this very moment are dying in the Middle East to keep our White Christian America, White, Christian, and American!!!


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