By John Pierce

One could not grow up in the Chattanooga area in the 1960s and ’70s as I did without an awareness of Independent Baptist Fundamentalism. Highland Park Baptist Church and its related schools, Tennessee Temple, stood out.

The church’s aggressive outreach and the students’ overt evangelistic efforts were unavoidable. Intentionally outdated fashion and pockets of tracts marked Temple students much like white shirts and bicycles identify Mormon missionaries.

Even very conservative Southern Baptists, like myself at the time, stood in contrast by our style of dress, shaggy heads and Good News for Modern Man Bibles. While in church at least twice every week, we did see the inside of movie theaters when we could afford the tickets and went on dates without chaperones.

While my youthful faith was lived in contrasting ways — and sometimes in judgment from — these “other Baptists,” I find no joy in reading about the church and school’s decline in this Chattanooga Times-Free Press article.

But change happens. As the article suggests, some insiders place the blame on leadership shifts, unfortunate incidents at the school or a loosening the strict rules that once defined Temple students to those of us living in the area but off of the Highland Park campus where fundamentalism and legalism brewed.

But none of those answers really satisfies. Perhaps this is the result of growing religious pluralism. Maybe expanding media access over the past couple of decades revealed other ways of being “distinctively Christian” that many young people preferred?

Maybe Jerry Falwell’s Liberty provided a more-compelling option. Or maybe just liberty, in general, was more attractive.

Whatever the factors, success was easier back when Southern Baptists were considered the wayward ones rather than those who might possibly save the dwindling school.

There seem to be more questions than easy answers here. But for some reason I find it intriguing — and, oddly, a little sad. Of course, for me, Temple was also something of an oddity.

Share This