Calvinism and the Religious Right

By Reverend Don Wilkey Jr., Member Americans United Greater Houston Chapter.      In the early seventies, when I entered seminary, I had not heard much of the doctrine of 5- point Calvinism.  I was remotely familiar with fatalism, but found the idea of people not having a choice as to whether or not to believe in God was absurd.  In 5-point Calvinism the concept is taught that the sovereign nature of God means He allows some to receive him and programs the rest to not respond to His call to salvation.   I found in my large school that this doctrine was almost universally rejected with a scant couple of adherents to an old view some Baptists had clung to. The recent exploding of the numbers and per cent of young Baptist ministers who now adhere to this is remarkable.  I am not sure as to whether or not this view contributed to the growth of the Religious Right or vice versa.  Needless to say, there are legions of new recruits to the viewpoint.  The majority of the speakers at the most recent Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference promoted this concept.


The idea that God chose some from birth and rejected others by creation has always appeared in contradiction to the Gospel.  General Baptists severed with Particular Baptists over this dogma.  The General brand won the day and had the greatest influence on the foundation of Baptists in the South.  Depending on which version of history you listen to, the Particular folks claim their persuasion prevailed.  Particulars site the oldest Southern Baptist seminary as proof of their stake to history.  Conflicts have erupted in the history of the formation of Baptists and rebirth of the movement has granted influence to  a once small group.  This helps to explain why religious liberty Baptists are different than those who believe freedom is a myth.

The first Baptist church in Texas was founded by a Daniel Parker. Parker’s publication of Two Seeds in the Spirit, divided the human race into two groups.  Those predestined to be the children of God and those predestined to be the children of the devil. Parker and East Texas sentiments among churches who practiced Calvinism gave way to the concept of missions and outreach expounded by other Baptists in the South.  Parker and later on Primitive Baptists found mission work repulsive. If God wanted to reach people in Africa He would do so according to these groups.  This doctrine of “seeds” has a subliminal link to the modern Christian Identity movement which is based on race.  The Covenant of God is passed on by genetics in Christian Identity. The unpardonable sin to Identity followers, much like David Duke wrote of, is mixed marriages. The special blessing flows through the DNA of the offspring.

Spencer Darwinism was spawned by the concept of evolution to mean that in society, like nature, there is a survival of the fittest.  It was thus the law of nature that demanded that the unfit be done away with before they passed their inferior traits to the culture.  This was the   philosophy that gave birth to the Third Reich many historians claim.

Race and genetics has always been a part of Southern culture.  From the Bell Curve to Civil Rights the fondness of predestined species has been a part of the argument.  R.J. Rushdoony and followers promote 5-point Calvinism as a test of faith.  Rushdoony provided the theology that inspired people like Jerry Falwell to take church bodies and seek to make them into political cells. R. J.’s friends published magazines claiming the Civil War was a war waged by a Christian South versus a Unitarian North.   R. J. has often written that slavery is not such a bad idea.  Bob Jones University’s doctrine of the Curse of Ham taught Blacks were born to be servants to Whites according to scripture.

Moderate Baptist professor Roger Olson has just published a book refuting Calvinism.  He states that according to this doctrine “God is morally ambiguous if not a moral monster.”  “Calvinism makes it difficult to recognize the difference between God and the devil except that the devil wants every one to go to hell and God wants many to go to hell.”

Rushdoony’s followers like Howard Phillips and son’s Vision Forum are a case in point.  They adhere to the laissez-faire economic system.  Government intervention into economy is like government intervention in society.  It is like mission work that is futile since people and systems are providentially designed by God to be the way they are.  One of Ron Paul’s political workers recently died because he did not hold any health insurance.  Tea Party likes and Ron Paul saw this as freedom to let the market work out its own way.  This view, expressed in a recent GOP debate gained a round of applause from the conservative crowd.

Daniel Parker’s Seeds theory fell on fertile ground in the South.   The doctrines of Calvinism and racism are not that many clicks apart in theory.  As Christian Identity folks like to say, the Covenant comes to whom it will and who can argue with God.  Many Southern conservatives like to quote Jesus in saying ”the poor we have with us always.”  Foreign policy and social programs are often viewed through these lenses.

Author Charles Kimball reminds us of the link between Jon Calvin and the Religious Right.  Calvin’s Geneva was viewed by many on the right as a utopia.  Religious Right historians claim Jon Calvin was the founding father of the United States.  They do not mention that people accused of adultery could be executed.  Neither do they mention  the case of Michael Servetus who dared to disagree with Calvin and was burned at the stake.  The term “Reformed” seminaries or churches is often an indication that these groups are 5-point Calvinism followers. Many of them are also R. J. Rushdoony adherents.

There is an old Particular Baptist hymn to conclude with.  It was used as a song of praise in worship services and published in the hymnals.  One verse sung stated,

We are the Lord’s elected few.

Let all the rest be damned;

There is room enough in hell for you.

We don’t have heaven crammed!