Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren's Hero, W.A. Criswell, Was Fierce Foe of Desegregation in the 1950s

By MARC McDONALD

Rick Warren is a big fan of the late Southern Baptist pastor, W.A. Criswell (1909–2002). Warren once wrote, "In fact, I believe W.A. Criswell was the greatest American pastor of the 20th Century."

And just who is this pastor, who Warren believes is worth of such praise?

Criswell, like Warren, was a pastor and author. He was a president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And he was regarded by many as a major figure behind the right-wing fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in the 1960s.

Oh, and early in his career, Criswell was a racist bigot. In fact, like Warren, Criswell used his twisted interpretation of the Bible to try to defend his bigotry.

In 1956, Criswell railed against the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Integration, Criswell argued, was "foolishness" and "idiocy."

Criswell saved some of his harshest words for the NAAACP. In one crude remark, he made a clumsy attempt at humor that wouldn't have been out of place at a KKK rally:

"Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much," he said, "that they dare not pronounce the word 'chigger' any longer. It has to be 'cheegro.'(sic)"

All white Southerners wanted, Criswell argued, was to be simply left alone:

"Don't force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision ... to cross over in those intimate things where I don't want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family"

Indeed, reading quotes like this makes it clear that Criswell believed that Southern whites were the victims and that they were the ones whose rights were somehow being infringed.

It's language like this that eerily echoes Warren's own twisted logic that the suppression of bigotry somehow leads to persecution of Christians.

An example of this is when Warren recently claimed he supported Proposition 8 because of free-speech, of all things. He claimed that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech ... if he shared his views that homosexuality wasn't the most natural way for relationships."

Criswell later distanced himself from his 1950s statements on race and desegregation. But the fact is, in the 1950s, he was most definitely fiercely opposed to integration and used twisted interpretations of Bible to defend his racist bigotry.

It's clear that Warren is following in Criswell's footsteps when he uses Scripture to try to justify his own bigoted views.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, my, yes. And don't forget Criswell's megalomania. I well remember some ad he ran back when he was still pastor of First Baptist in Dallas -- "And this is W.A. Criswell HIMSELF telling you..." these are some of the guys that give Christians a bad name...

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight. You are complaining about Rick Warren because he seems to respect someone who overcame bigotry and renounced his own faulty beliefs? It seems that should be applauded. You seem to cling to Criswells past while he, like most white Americans, especially in the South, made, according to what you have written, significant idealogical changes during and after the 60's racial revolution. What is wrong with that? This kind of change is healthy and good.
Oh, and who the hell is Rick Warren anyway? Fortunately your other commentor said who Criswell is.

Marc McDonald said...

In response to the previous poster's comment:

"(Criswell) overcame bigotry and renounced his own faulty beliefs..."

I think the jury is out on that. If you read "The Journal of Southern Religion" article I linked to, you'll see these passage:

"As late as 1984 Criswell admitted that he was still not enthusiastic about desegregation. He said, "I’ve had to accommodate my spirit to it, but I still am against some of it, like busing. The associations you make, you and your family, it has to come out of your heart." He learned how to adapt to the culture, but did his "heart" change? Perhaps this question can best be answered in his own candid yet ambiguous words: "My soul and attitude may not have changed, but my public statements did."

Also, you claim that I'm "complaining" about Rick Warren.
Actually, all I'm doing is pointing out that (A) Criswell was a fierce foe of desegregation in the 1950s and (B) Warren called Criswell "the greatest American pastor of the 20th Century" and (C) there are eerie similarities between Warren and Criswell in that they've both used the Bible to try to justify their bigotry.

Anonymous said...

I am still trying to figure out why you even wrote this post. Are you trying to point out that great Christian leaders have weaknesses? That is not exactly news. In the Bible, David sent a man to his death because he wanted to have sex with the man's wife. But he is one of the most celebrated heroes in the bible both before and after that event. Moses dashed the Ten Commandments, the only words ever actually written by God (and since they were rewritten by Moses, the entire Bible was written by men, not God) , to the ground, and then he whacked that staff on a rock to bring water. His issues with anger and self agrandizement (sp?) cost him entrance to the Promised Land, but he is still a hallowed figure in the Jewish and Christian faiths. Abraham, the father of the Jews and the faith ancestor of Christians, considered infanticide, and he fathered a bastard child that scholars say gave rise to the Muslim faith that still requires all of its faithful to kill and destroy all infidels (in Muslim-speak, that's you.)

Or maybe that is not it at all. Maybe you hate Christianity as much as the next Progressive, and you feel Warren has hijacked the movement by injecting faith into it. It is eerily similar to the liberal black movement that wants desperatly to have black members in political office, but only if they are liberal politically. If you are a black politician who actually believes in abiding by the Constitution and the rule of law, you are just an Uncle Tom.

Since you cannot really say that without appearing as religiously bigotted as Criswell may have been racially, this confusing, rambling piece was posted instead.

I say hang it. If you fear or hate Christianity so badly, just say it.

One other point. The Bible condemns homosexuality. It is not something you have to pray about to understand. It is not some gossamer theory that has been plucked by conservatives from selected scriptures that can be read "to say anything you want." It is very clear. If a pastor says homosexuality is sinful, he or she or a transgender combination of the two is correct, and it is inarguably scripturally correct. If you disagree, then you must reject the Bible. But a minister who believes in the Bible and bases his faith on scripture cannot selectively remove that very clear fact. Even if he is gay, he must accept the fact the act is sinful and that it displeases God.

Personally, I think there are a lot worse sins, and if it was up to me, I would say go ahead and do what you want. In fact, I do, but I also say if you choose incorrectly, you may have a price to pay. That is between you and God.

Hutchbilly said...

I have no qualms with a man who changed his behavior, even if it is taking a while for his heart to catch up to it. We all have stuff in us that causes these reactions. But did he ever renounce segregation and say the races needed to be free to integrate, and that because government supported segregation, it had to participate in desegregation? Otherwise, he's just another racist who can preach. That's makes you the worse pastor of the past century, not the best.

Chris said...

I am overall, disappointed with the appointments of the Obama administration seeing that with the possible exception of the new Labor Secretary, we have a bunch of conservatives in power. McCain's campaign leader said that McCain himself was surprised - these are the sort of appointments that he was considering. Still, I am certain that it is much better that Obama rather than McCain was elected even with his choice of Warren and his other decisions.

As for pastors that are hypocrites or bigots, well, sadly there's no shortage of those in America. More remarkable is the fact that so many believe the messages that they send out.

The Cunning Runt said...

I'm trying not to let the Rick Warren Atta-Boy get to me, but I'm failing miserably.

It seems to me that associating publicly with Warren without calling him on his point of view is an implicit endorsement, or at least a dismissal of the concerns many of us have with him.

Chris said...

Considering that gay rights activists worked very hard to get Obama into power, they view this as an insult and a betrayal to all that they stand for. I'm sure that there are other civil liberties groups that have similar feelings right now.

Anonymous does not seem to even know what he is talking about. I am afraid that he appears so blinded by his ideology that nothing you say will convince him to embrace a more objective perspective.

Jack Jodell said...

Birds (and pastors) of a feather DO tend to cling together, don't they?

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>>Maybe you hate Christianity as
>>>much as the next Progressive

No I don't. In fact Jesus himself was clearly a Progressive, with his strong views against greed and wealth and his demand that we help poor people (a detail that always gets overlooked by Republican "Christians").

I don't hate Christianity. I hate small-minded bigots who use a twisted interpretation of the Bible to promote their intolerance and bigotry.

By the way, we progressives acknowledge that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But only a fool would make such an argument---because the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, has extremely harsh condemnations of just about everything under the sun.

For example, Exodus 21:17 says that anyone who curses his mother and father should be executed. How come you bigoted "Christians" don't push for that to become the Law of the Land and start lining up children for lethal injection?

The Bible, in fact, is full of a lot of cruelty, vague passages, contradictory advice and downright bullshit. Those of us who've actually sat down and read the Bible are aware of this.

Meanwhile, small-minded bigots, such as yourself, only seem to know a handful of verses---those that have been carefully selected to advance your bigotry and ignorance.

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>>I am overall, disappointed with
>>>the appointments of the Obama
>>>administration

Thanks for your comment, Chris. I think Obama is trying to reach out to the GOP side of the aisle. He doesn't seem to be aware that they'll simply bite his arm off, leaving a bloody stump. You can't reach out to these extremists---it's like trying reason with someone like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this site accidentally while doing research. I am a student in a Southern Baptist Seminary (please read on before you judge).
Outside of pages like this one where we post commentary on those operating in the real world, there is an environmental influence that we all have to deal with when we are forming in our younger years who we will be in our later. Most of my time is spent with 20- 35 year old men we would say never had a chance from the start. They think backwards in relative terms; they never had a father to teach them a work ethic, nor how to shoulder the responsibility of a family. I could go on for pages about the disadvantages these young men start out facing in life, but I believe those reading this post will empathetically understand. We also could post in unison that it is approaching miracle status when an individual makes radical changes from these influences. The same grace I extend to my friends in these harsh circumstances I also extend to men like Criswell. M.L.K. jr. understood this way of thinking and gave his life in response. Possibly, some of the authors of these post should consider a less hatred filled approach to being heard, it comes across as being more thought out than emotional judgment. In fact, outside of attacking me for my affiliation can you disagree with what I have said? I will check back here to see if there is any opportunity for prosperous dialog. To be clear, I do believe knowing Jesus our Creator, Savior, and King is the answer to overcoming our differences and I disagree with the negative comments posted here about the Bible.

Shannon/backwoods mississippi