What the Southern Baptist vote means

A few days ago, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to expel some local churches that had women as pastors. They kicked Rick Warren’s huge Saddleback Church, and they also kicked out a small church where as woman has been serving as pastor for three decades. If they’re suddenly kicking out a church where there’s been a woman as pastor for three decades, that makes it clear that this is not a situation where suddenly women are becoming Southern Baptist pastors. It’s the denomination that has changed its opinion.

Rabbi Jeffery Salkin, who writes an opinion column for Religion News Service, makes this observation:

“This is a war the right wing is waging: roll back women’s rights…. If you are looking for the symptoms of incipient fascism in this country, pay attention to the signs: the growth of antisemitism, a parallel growth of misogyny and a powerful growth of anti-LGBTQ hatred.” Salkin adds that this new rise of fascism doesn’t look like 1920s Germany so much as it looks like 1950s United States of America.. That was the decade, according to Salkin, of “women who did not work outside the home … queer folks in the closet … an America where Blacks were still in the back of the bus and where Jews and other ethnic and religious outsiders faced serious restrictions.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. The fascism of Trump, DeSantis, and others should not be compared to Nazi Germany. They are not trying to impose a new type of fascism on the U.S. Instead, they want to go back to a time when conservative White men were firmly in control of U.S. society. We don’t like to think of the 1950s as a time of fascism, but it was — not Nazi Germany fascism, but a distinctly American kind of fascism. Nor was it only Blacks, LGBTQ+ people, and women who were targets of this uniquely American fascism — Joe McCarthy’s House UnAmerican Affairs Committee also targeted White men whose politics happened to be anywhere to the left of the John Birch Society, destroying their careers and sometimes sending them to jail.

And this week’s Southern Baptist vote shows just one of the ways conservative White men (and the women who submit to love them) are trying to make 1950s U.S. fascism return. Get those doggone women out of the pulpit before they mention that Phoebe, a woman, was one of the leaders of the early Christian church — i.e., get rid of the women before they reveal that 1950s U.S. fascism was not rooted in Christianity at all, but instead springs entirely from the fevered imaginations of conservative White men who want to retain their ill-gotten power.

Reading list: Hans-Georg Gadamer

I just finished re-reading Jean Grondin’s Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography (trans. Joel Weinsheimer, part of Yale Studies in Hermeneutics series, 2011). I read this biography not long after it came out, but decided to re-read it due to the rise of fascism and totalitarianism in the United States.

Gadamer lived through the Nazi Party’s rule of Germany, and after the end of the Second World War wound up in the eastern sector of Germany watching the rise of totalitarianism under the rule of the Soviet Union. He was neither a Nazi nor a Communist, and somehow managed to survive both those totalitarian regimes — though admittedly, he got out of East Germany just a few years after the war, before the border close completely.

So how did Gadamer manage to navigate two forms of totalitarianism? He did not support either regime, but did his best to work around them, in order to maintain the tradition of humanistic scholarship. Looking back from our privileged vantage point, we tend to valorize those who engaged in dramatic acts of resistance. We tend to forget that in a totalitarian regime, just living your day-to-day life puts you at risk — you don’t have to engage in dramatic resistance to be killed or imprisoned. Reading about Gadamer’s life is a salutary reminder that totalitarianism is a threat to everyone living in a totalitarian regime.

Throughout the Nazi and Soviet years, Gadamer did his best to keep the tradition of humanistic scholarship alive. That may not sound like much, but it was actually an act of major resistance — quiet resistance, but still major resistance. He wanted to keep core cultural values and traditions alive for the day when totalitarianism would at last be defeated. Again, this may not sound like much, but when you remember that totalitarianism thrives by effacing humanistic culture, then you realize that what Gadamer was doing was in fact serious resistance to totalitarianism.

As I said, I re-read this biography because I’ve been watching the rise of totalitarianism in the United States. The rapid rise in the number of books being banned, the misogynistic anti-abortion laws being passed, the Christian nationalists trying to impose their perversion of Christianity on everyone else — these are all very worrying. And maybe Gadamer’s life provides one example of one approach to the fight against totalitarianism. Some people will gladly take on the high profile resistance, the public protests, fighting fire with fire. But we also need people to keep humanistic culture alive.