One of the most cherished rights we Americans have is the right to voice our opinions on any topic without fear of gov't reprisal. That doesn't happen most anywhere else. Even in England, there are Soapbox Sundays where you can say whatever you want in the public parks --- except anything against the Queen. (Not sure if that is the correct terminology but that is what the guide told us in 2005 when we were in London.)
In America, we can even say our President is a low-down, lying, good-for-nothing, coward --- & then claim those are his good traits. No fear of gov't coming down on us.
Baptists have always been the same way. We treasured dissent & valued the debate because it made us into what we are now. Baptists have evolved greatly in the last 400 years & we are, what we are, because of the dissent of years gone by. We changed. We adjusted. We amended. We evolved.
This is not to say that we changed overnight. Nor is it to say the dissent & the evolution wasn't painful. It was. We fight a lot. Always have. But we agree to put our discussions in the public view because it means a transparency & an opportunity for everyone to come to their own conclusions. You know, priesthood of the believer. We Baptists don't decide our doctrinal distinctives in a back room meeting with a few elites. We don't come to a vote on what we believe & then demand everyone agree with it or leave. Instead, we reach a consensus & invite even those who disagree to continue to cooperate on matters of missions & education.
I'm deeply concerned that what we are seeing today is an entrenchment of the "You're either with us or you're against us." The kind that says, "You're not a Christian nor a patriot if you disagree with us."
And what bothers me the most is that it is on a national & a denominational scale.
When I was college, I had several professors make a rather bold statement. They said the US was more in danger of becoming Fascist than Communistic. They claimed that Fascism uses faith & patriotism to consolidate power. I was young & told them they had lost their mind.
Now, I look around & realize how right they were.
The national scene is almost to the same level of the Red Scare. Don't question any gov't policy because it is "un-American." Disagreement is not patriotic.
On the Baptist level, any dissent is decried as "hurting our evangelism efforts" or "causing trouble in the fellowship." Some honest disagreements on non-essentials have resulted in brothers & sisters being labeled "un-Christian." Even worse, some political disagreements are causing some believers to be called "heretics" if they don't tow the official line of the Baptist leaders.
I now see why we Baptists placed a priority on the idea of soul freedom. It is a foundational principle. I also understand why our Founding Fathers placed such a premium on the ability to dissent, so much so that it is enshrined in the 1st Amendment.
Dissent is a treasure. It is what makes us examine ourselves & our beliefs. It forces us to pour over the Scripture to make sure we can account for the totality of the text. And it is the Word that changes us. Without dissent, we may never have to examine ourselves.
We may disagree. We may fight. We may begin new churches or new denominations. But what we may never do is stifle anyone's right to speak, question or disagree. Once we create rules, laws or policies that effectively tell people to be quite, we are indeed taking that 1st step of Fascism.
When we meld faith & politics, both become unbearable.