My old campus ministry colleagues have long recalled and embellished stories from a national gathering of Baptist campus ministers at Ouachita University in Arkansas in the early ’80s. The two-day trips out and back for our Georgia group were particularly memorable.
At a Holiday Inn in Tupelo, Miss., about a dozen of us had just settled into the poolside hot tub when a rather assertive, female sales rep approached with the subtle request: “Move your buns over!”
Soon after entering the warm water, she began questioning us about where we were from and what we did. Our early evasive answers like: “We work with college students in Georgia” didn’t satisfy. So finally we confessed to being Baptist campus ministers.
“BAPTIST?” she responded, as if it tasted foul in her mouth. “Are you all like Jimmy Falwell?”
On behalf of our well-soaked and somewhat startled group I replied: “It’s Jerry Falwell, and no.”
Soon most of my bold colleagues and I moved on to the larger, cooler pool on that sticky summer night leaving our ever-reflective and gentle friend Bobby Evans to carry on the conversation from there.
Years later we still jokingly listed him as an expert on “whirlpool evangelism” whenever possible.
Falwell’s “Moral Majority” was on the rise back then. The perception that all evangelical Christians shared the same political perspectives was growing.
Those of us, especially Baptists, who did not view faith and politics in that manner had a lot of explaining to do.
The year 2007 sure is different. Falwell and D. James Kennedy, two of the more significant shapers of the Religious Right, went on to glory this year.
The remaining leaders are now facing a presidential primary with looks of confusion on their faces about whether to support a Mormon with whom they agree on social issues, a war hero who has said less than nice things about them in the past, an anti-terrorist Roman Catholic who marched in Gay Pride parades or a Southern Baptist preacher they had written off until recently.
My, how times change.