By Joseph Havey
Every major religion has been the butt of a thousand jokes, but Southern Baptists nearly monopolize the punch line industry. Catholics, Muslims and Jews all have their image, but the Southern Baptist caricature is the gossiping, pie-baking, Bible-toting crazy person dressed in seven layers who stands on a street corner proclaiming the world is doomed to fire and brimstone. Basically, the Brickyard preacher.
If you’re familiar with stereotypes, you may see a few parallels between stigmatized Southern Baptists and stigmatized Republicans. That’s no accident: Aside from being gay, the Baptist’s cardinal sin is voting for a Democrat.
From K-5 through my senior year of high school I attended a Christian school, of which the majority of students were Baptist. I religiously — yes, that adverb was intentional — attended a Southern Baptist church. My grandfather is a retired Southern Baptist preacher. Upon revealing these aspects of my childhood to our editorial staff, my editor remarked, “Wow, that’s a lot of Baptist.” No doubt.
I am still a Baptist. Though I did experience the alcohol-laden freshman year typical of goody-two-shoes church kids, this column isn’t about me abandoning my faith. In fact, next year I’ll be president of the Baptist campus ministry here on campus.
I will admit, however, that I grew up a complete snob. Despite the church’s emphasis on community mission work, it amazes me how culturally isolated Southern Baptist children grow up.
We attend church camp, have church friends and play in church bands. It’s no wonder that Southern Baptists are labeled intolerant. We spend our entire childhoods essentially being told that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong.
When I first came to N.C. State, I was clueless. In an effort to maintain some type of identity, I joined the BCM immediately. But I didn’t feel quite at home. There were the lighter things, such as the absence of fried chicken and collard greens, but there were also theological differences. For instance, the BCM was headed by a woman.
For the record — and Ashley Simons-Rudolph, director of the Women’s Center, will back me up on this — I do not view women as unequal to men. But back then, like I said, I was naïve.
Nevertheless, I stayed at the BCM. But my whole life wasn’t wrapped up in that one building, and during my first semester at N.C. State, I was quickly overwhelmed with the incredible diversity on campus. I met gay people, people of different religions, people who didn’t identify with any religion, hardcore liberals, feminists and people who didn’t think that immigrants crossing the Mexican border should be shot. I began to loosen my grip on the intolerant notions I’d once held so dear.
Today, there are things I don’t like about most — I’ll avoid making a blanket statement here — Southern Baptists, namely their intolerance, their utter resistance to change and their religious — again, that word is intentional — insistence that American law should be based on the Bible.
But there are so many elements of myself that I owe to my upbringing. I owe my strong work ethic directly to Christianity’s emphasis on always putting forth your best effort — though out of love for God and not as a way to heaven.
Also, it was through the church that I was able to develop my passion for music. To this day, one place in which I feel most at home is in front of a church congregation, watching my hands run up and down the keys of a piano. My love for family and my desire to actually make a difference in the community are other aspects.
Throughout life, I’ve created countless “describe yourself in five words” lists. The words have changed as I’ve matured, ranging from 5-year-old items such as “boy” and “alive” to the now 20-year-old words such as “realist” and “triathlete.” However, “Christian” has always been on those lists.
I say this to emphasize how central Christianity’s role has been. I would not be here today without my personal relationship with Jesus.
So that’s me: a self-righteous, goody two shoes who realized there was more to the world after I got to college. I will probably always be a Southern Baptist, but you won’t find me silently judging you after our first deep conversation.
Last election, I even voted for Obama.
— This commentary appeared previously in the March 20 edition of the Technician and is used here with permission.