Can You Be a Baptist and Hindu (or Buddhist)?
Now, before someone jumps to the wrong conclusion…I am NOT saying that Kamala Harris (Joe Biden’s chosen running mate) claims to be both Baptist and Hindu. However, I have heard people SAY that she is both Baptist and Hindu—as if that were possible (and some have said it as if it were good!). Kamala Harris, very possibly America’s next Vice President and possibly America’s next president, was raised by a Baptist father and a Hindu mother. As a child and youth she attended both a Baptist church and a Hindu temple. She also attended a Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
Some years ago I went to hear an African-American seminary professor of theology and author of some scholarly books speak. Among other things, he announced to the audience that he was both Baptist and Buddhist. During the Q&A he identified the kind of Buddhist as Nichiren Shoshu or Sokka Gakkai—a primarily Japanese sect of Buddhism that emphasizes chanting verses of the Lotus Sutra for happiness and personal fulfillment.
Can a person be both Baptist and Hindu? Can a person be both Baptist and Buddhist? The answer is complicated.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
As a Baptist theologian I will say “no”—one cannot be a real Baptist (theologically) and a Hindu or Buddhist. However, in one sense, all it takes to be a Baptist is to be a member of a Baptist church. Harris certainly is that. And the seminary professor who claimed to be both Baptist and Buddhist was almost certainly a member of a Baptist church and taught theology at a primarily African-American Baptist seminary.
If a Baptist church will accept you as a member while you are also, simultaneously, a member or adherent of some other religious organization or belief-system, well, technically, you are a Baptist. That is, you will be counted among the approximately twenty-five to thirty-five million Baptists in America.
But that is not my question. I am a Baptist theologian and when I ask if someone is a Baptist I mean do they adhere to Baptist beliefs and practices—even if they are not (for whatever reason) a member of a Baptist church. (There are hundreds if not thousands of churches that are baptist—with a small “b”—but not Baptist—with a capital “B.”) Perhaps the person would join a Baptist church but there are none in his or her town or city. Perhaps the person cannot find a “good Baptist church” so attends a Mennonite or Evangelical Covenant or Evangelical Free church. If the person identifies as Baptist and adheres to Baptist beliefs and practices, I would consider him or her legitimately a Baptist.
However, to my way of thinking, as a Baptist theologian, if a person attends and participates in religious ceremonies that are Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim or Mormon or…he or she cannot be truly Baptist—theologically. Being Baptist means being Christian and being Christian means believing in Jesus Christ as God and Savior, the only Savior of humankind. And being Christian means attempting, to the best of one’s ability and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus Christ in all of life. If you attend a Hindu temple to worship or a Buddhist center to gain “enlightenment” with the hope of attaining “Nirvana,” Jesus Christ will not go with you. You will have to leave him behind, outside.
So, no, you cannot be both Baptist (Christian) and Hindu or Buddhist.
Now, I have not said anything here about the eternal destiny of Hindu or Buddhist (or Mormon or any other religious believers’) souls. God is the only one who determines that. I speak only as an expert in Christianity and being Baptist. If they are compatible with anything and everything, they mean nothing.
Now, let me also say that you cannot be Baptist and worship America. Anyone who worships America or anything other than God automatically excludes himself or herself from being Christian and therefore from being Baptist. Nor can you be a Baptist and express hate toward anyone. True Christians are not allowed to hate (without repenting).
So, there are a lot of people identifying as Baptist who aren’t. They just aren’t—other than in the formal, empty sense of membership in a Baptist church.
I will dare to go further and risk the wrath of many fellow Baptists. But here I am confident I have Baptist history on my side. You cannot be a member of a secret fraternal society that promotes deism and denies the resurrection of the body and be a Baptist.
In 1999 I moved from a “northern” Baptist context to a “southern” Baptist context and was absolutely shocked down to my socks to find that many, many Baptist men in the south of the U.S. do belong to secret fraternal societies that deny the resurrection of the body and believe in some form of deism. In my northern Baptist context, other than liberal Baptists (again, an oxymoron theologically), it is virtually unheard of to be a Baptist and a member of a secret fraternal society that denies the resurrection of the body (which is why they have their own, separate grave side ceremony for their members) and teaches a form of deism. How can one be a Baptist and address anyone other than Jesus Christ as “Worshipful Master?”
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