For the record, Alabama Baptists were calling for tax reform before Bob Riley was elected governor. At their annual meeting in November 2000, messengers to the convention approved Resolution No. 5, “On Resources for the Poor.”
At their annual meeting in November 2000, messengers to the convention approved Resolution No. 5, “On Resources for the Poor.” After citing both Old and New Testament mandates to care for the poor, the resolution noted, and justifiably so, that Alabama Baptists take seriously these mandates and provide services of incalculable value through programs that provide food, clothing, shelter, transportation, job training, education and others.
“We affirm the biblical model of approaching poverty from both the physical and spiritual causes, because our focus in on changed hearts as well as changed physical condition,” the resolution stated. To validate the claim, the resolution noted that more than 10,000 professions of faith recorded during 1999 were directly related to hunger ministries of the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, of which Alabama Baptists were the second largest contributor.
While urging continued support of hunger funds and care for the needs of the poor, especially women and children, the resolution, in possibly unprecedented language, targeted the causes for such conditions and urged a political solution.
“WHEREAS, there is considerable, credible evidence that Alabama’s tax structure places a disproportionate burden on the poorest of our citizens…BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that Alabama Baptists call upon the Governor and the State Legislature to develop and implement appropriate tax reform which will bring relief and justice to the poor who are our neighbors,” the resolution concluded.
Well, the governor and state legislature have done that, and if Alabama Baptists will support it in a referendum next month, the measure should pass by a sizeable majority. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there is no Baptist bloc vote.
In all likelihood, the overwhelming majority of Baptists in Alabama are not even aware that such a resolution was proffered or approved. While there are more than a million Baptist church members in the state, less than 2,000, primarily clergy, attend the annual convention. Thus, only a fraction of 1 percent of all Baptists vote on such actions.
The reason is obviously not apathy, as Baptists are noted for their humanitarian generosity. It is instead Baptist polity and beliefs, which place responsibility and accountability on individuals rather than a corporate body. As a result, any actions of Alabama Baptists in statewide gatherings, and even local associations, are non-binding as they represent the views only of the messengers in attendance.
Secondly, a Baptist belief holds every individual believer accountable for his or her own actions. There is no priest/pastor intermediary, nor ecclesiastical body to order, authorize or mandate action. Every Baptist and every Baptist congregation is autonomous.
While I am thankful that the Alabama Baptist State Convention is on record in support of tax reform, and while I strongly support it myself and urge all Baptists to do likewise, this legislation is too important to the future of this state to be determined by a bloc vote, Baptist or otherwise.
The future of our state, most especially our children and grandchildren, is what is at stake. Not a political party, nor a religious faith. Not even waste in government, although improvements need to be and will be made as a result of the legislation. Nor is it an issue of the rich versus the poor, although both will be affected.
This is an issue of the soul, of common decency and fairness. Of correcting a 100-year-old corrupt system, regardless of the cost. It is an issue of justice. It is an issue of all that is decent and honorable. An issue of such import should and must cross all boundaries: religious, political, social, economic and racial.
Gov. Riley and most legislators have put their political careers on the line on behalf of this measure. The leaders of several denominations and faiths have publicly urged its passage at the risk of criticism for their constituencies.
Despite a noticeable silence from many Baptist pulpits and the leadership of the state convention concerning this specific legislation, messengers to the 2000 Baptist state convention are to be commended for having the courage to move from words to a call for action on behalf of Alabama’s poorest and neediest.
Will Baptists support their own initiative? They have a biblical basis and, as such, a moral obligation. Possibly a reminder of what Jesus had to say to His disciples is in order: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from Samford University after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist.
This column appeared originally in the Anniston Star. It is used with permission.