Don’t look now, but the Southern Baptist Convention is turning into a bunch of liberals. At least that is how hyper-partisans like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin would describe them. Recently, the SBC has come out in favor of environmental regulation and comprehensive immigration reform, two issues that put them at odds with conventional right-wing ideology.
“The Convention called on the government “to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis … to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up and restoration … and to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities.”
Dr. Russell Moore, the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preacher at Highview Baptist Church near Louisville, Ky., helped pass the resolution. He believes that conservatives should not, as Milton Friedman preached, have a lassez-faire view of government regulation:
“We, as Christians, believe in sin. That means if people are sinful, if all of us are sinful, then all of us have to have accountability — and that includes corporations. Simply trusting corporations to go about their business without polluting the water streams and without destroying ecosystems is really a naive and utopian view of human nature. It’s not a Christian view of human nature… Human flourishing means a healthy natural environment, and it simply isn’t good for ourselves or for our neighbors to live in a world that is completely paved over and in which every piece of green land is replaced with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond,” he says. “That’s not how God designed human beings to live.”
In addition to that resolution, leaders in the SBC are coming out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that includes both border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Richard Land, head of SBC’s Public Policy Arm, is trying to convince Conservatives that compromise makes political sense:
“I’ve had some of them appeal to me. They say, ‘Richard, you’re going to divide the conservative coalition.’ And I said, ‘Well, I may divide the old conservative coalition, but I’m not going to divide the new one.’ If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it, that’s dictated by demographics, and you don’t get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you’re engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.”
Land believes that the fight over the Hispanic vote is being won by the Democrats, which could put Republicans in a bind for years to come:
“The people who have been anti-immigration have lost every one of these arguments,” he says. “They lost it with the Irish in the 1830s and ’40s and turned them into Democrats for three generations. They lost it with the Italians in the 1890s and the early part of the 20th century and turned the Italians into Democrats for three generations. I mean, you know, do they want to do it with the Hispanics too?”
It is surprising for me to discover that I agree with the Southern Baptist Convention on two major issues. It would be a big coup if Conservatives could make the shift the SBC is advocating. I am confident, however, that Sarah Palin’s opposition to environmental regulation will win the day. I am also confident that Republicans will continue to look only at the short term on immigration, as their base gets older and older. In other words, despite their best efforts, I don’t think the SBC will be able to save the Republican Party.