“Torture, burning at the stake and other punishment for the faithful condemned as witches or heretics by church tribunals during the Inquisition was not as widespread as commonly believed, the Vatican said Tuesday.”

This lead paragraph in an Associated Press news article published recently in newspapers around the world should serve as a wake up call to free and faithful citizens and people of faith in light of current political and religious happenings in our nation.

During the last half of the 20th century, the term “liberal” has been made into an icon. The icon has been used by both politicians and religious leaders to bypass honest explanations, if not truth itself, to mean undesirable, the embodiment of evil itself; hence, the term “slippery slope of liberalism,” an uncontrollable downward path to perdition, as it were.

During this same period, the word “conservative” has been iconized as well. It, too, is used to bypass definition and explanation, if not truth itself, to mean desirable, the embodiment of righteousness, a return to the “good ol’ days” which, as Mark Twain once surmised never were.

Interestingly, however, is the absence of the term “slippery slope of conservatism,” as if to imply conservatism is an upward path to heaven.

Obviously, both definitions are deficient, but then labels, or icons, spare us the deliberations and sweat of sorting through cliches and generalities to specifics from which truth is ascertained. A word or a click or cliche allows us to make up our minds without the facts.

Yet, the current mood toward and emphasis on conservatism in both politics and religion, especially the blending of the two, is cause for concern, if not alarm. Given the history of mankind, a “slippery slope of conservatism” can be just as fatal as a perceived “slippery slope of liberalism.”

In the realm of politics, for example, the overwhelming majority of candidates in the recent primary election proclaimed to be conservative. In fact, being conservative was more prominent in the message of the candidates than their party affiliation. Yet, what did it mean? For some, obviously, it meant hitching their hopes to the popular civil religion stance of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore related to the Ten Commandments.

In the realm of religion, the Southern Baptist Convention has been experiencing a “conservative resurgence” since 1979. As a result, some historic Baptist principles, such as religious liberty–including separation of church and state, autonomy of the local church, priesthood of the believer and soul competency are–being replaced with ecclesiastical edicts. These original freedoms were hammered out at great cost to many early Baptists who endured public whippings, incarceration and other atrocities.

The principle of soul competency has been replaced with a creed known as the Baptist Faith and Message statement of 2000. This creed supersedes the Bible in authority, especially as it relates to the autonomy of the local church, service as a missionary or trustee of an institution, or employment with the convention.

A little less than two years ago Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., called a woman as pastor. A short time later, two members of that church were rejected as missionaries of the Southern Baptist Convention because their pastor was a woman.

And the “conservative resurgence” continues. At the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, messengers rejected an attempt to ask Baptists to pull their children out of “government” schools, but approved a resolution condemning the secularization of American society, a not-so-subtle swipe at public schools.

And in a pre-convention meeting, the pastor of Gardendale (Ala.) First Baptist Church urged those in attendance to “vote only for candidates with Christian values.”

The “slippery slope of political conservatism” has gone a bit too far when it demands that only Christians of a certain stripe and a certain political party are patriotic and God-fearing.

Likewise, the “slippery slope of religious conservatism” has gone a bit too far when a Baptist denomination can tell a local Baptist church which gender its pastor must be, or what its members must believe about Scripture to be orthodox or serve as missionaries.

A final word of caution: The word “slope,” according to most dictionaries, means “ground that forms an incline, upward or downward.” Thus, the “slippery slope” of conservatism or liberalism can be up or down, or maybe both. Beware the icons!

Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from SamfordUniversity after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist. This column appeared previously in the Anniston Star.

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