Before we make a mistake, we need to evaluate the evidence. And here is the bottom line: Punxsutawney Phil is not a good Baptist.

I know that to be considered important, you have to be observed on the denominational calendar. We know Lottie Moon, we know Annie Armstrong. But do we know William Whitsitt? Nope, and the reason why is simple: He isn’t on the calendar.

Now I realize that celebrations from the larger Christian tradition like Advent, Holy Week (Annie is a great historical figure, but how come she got Holy Week?) and Reformation Day aren’t on the calendar yet. I think they should be, but I am pretty confident they won’t get added anytime soon.

I do have a pressing concern, however. I am worried that Baptists will push to add Groundhog Day to our calendar.

Don’t laugh. We observe other “secular” events on our Baptist calendar. When was the last time some major Hallmark holiday wasn’t a focus of your worship?

Our ancestors used to remember Jeff Davis and other Confederate heroes in church (and some still do with those bumper stickers on the pickups in the church parking lot). We baptize Valentine’s Day with I Corinthians 13, and we empty the florist’s shelves with flowers for the youngest, oldest, newest and most fertile on Mother’s Day. We celebrate civil religion on practically every national holiday.

Why am I concerned about Groundhog Day? I am sure you remember that last summer some Southern Baptists in Pennsylvania reported that they were trying to buy Gobbler’s Knob, the actual home of the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil.

They want to build the first “clearly Southern Baptist” retreat center north of the Mason-Dixon Line. They are attempting several fundraisers, including the selling of an autographed book by Jerry Falwell.

That might be reason enough for some Baptists to add Groundhog Day (or even week) to the denominational calendar.

I’m all for the retreat center. I have good memories of Baptist camps.
I am really afraid, however, that Punxsutawney Phil will be pushed for the worship calendar— maybe even as a clip art mascot. But where will it all end? It’s a slippery slope. You either celebrate Groundhog Day all the way or you don’t give it any authority.

Before we make a mistake, we need to evaluate the evidence. And here is the bottom line: Punxsutawney Phil is not a good Baptist.

Please hear what I am saying:

In 1913, he introduced a new dance, “The Groundhog Roll,” and then performed the “Groundhog Flop” the following year. Listen up, professional musicians: Contemporary worship hasn’t seen anything until it has seen the groundhog do its thing.

In 1937, Punxsutawney Phil had an unfortunate meeting with a skunk. He didn’t like the skunk.  Baptist legend W. A. Criswell didn’t like skunks either. Moderates were the same as liberals, he insisted, or in more odoriferous terms, “A skunk by any other name still stinks.”

In 1960, Punxsutawney Phil appeared on the “Today Show” and then later was a guest on “Oprah.” Before you know it, he will be appearing on “Larry King Live.” Does it concern you that he might represent Baptists to the public?

Whenever Punxsutawney Phil comes out to look for his shadow, he usually finds it, and that results in long winters. Haven’t historic Baptist principles experienced some long winters recently?

I know that Punxsutawney Phil stuffed animals would be attractive toys for Baptist toddlers as they crawl up to the baptismal waters for their first dunking, but enough is enough.

I know that Punxsutawney Phil has a great testimony. During Prohibition, he threatened the country with 60—not six—weeks of bad winter weather if he didn’t get his beer. But five years ago, he sobered up and you can’t drink at Gobbler’s Knob. Hey, I’m a teetotaler (seriously), but a great testimony even gives him a larger platform to get political.

We simply cannot let Groundhog Day have a place on the denominational calendar.

Wait—maybe my sentiments will prevail after all. I just remembered that adding Groundhog Day might occasionally interfere with our celebration of Ash Wednesday. That is on the calendar, right?

Doug Weaver is professor of Christianity at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga.

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