Baptists in the American colonies defended minorities, in part, because they were a persecuted minority. “Between 1768 and 1777, at least thirty Baptist preachers in Virginia were imprisoned, whipped, or stoned.” (Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, p. 270)
It’s very hard, though – you might want to say impossible, to shut up a Baptist minister.
Samuel Harris, one such Baptist preacher, was arrested while preaching in Culpeper County and charged with disturbing the peace. In court he was called ‘a vagabond, a heretic, and a mover of sedition everywhere,’ but was told that he could be released upon his agreement not to preach in that county again for a year and a day. Harris agreed, saying that since he lived over 200 miles away it was unlikely he would be back that way in a year. (p. 271)
Things changed, however, when after Harris’s release the word of God began to burn in Harris’s heart upon hearing other Baptists preach. When the inspired preaching stopped, Harris addressed the congregation.
‘I partly promised the devil, a few days past, at the courthouse, that I would not preach in this county again for the term of a year; but the devil is a perfidious wretch, and covenants with him are not to be kept, and there I will preach.’ (p. 271)
Also in danger, and subject to heavy fines, were those who allowed Baptist preachers to proclaim the word of God on their property. Enter clever Baptists like James Ireland, “the tabletop preacher.”
Once when James Ireland was to preach at the home of a certain Mr. Manifa, who had been threatened with a fine, Ireland set a table directly across Manifa’s property line. When the authorities came, he simply retreated to the other end of the table and claimed, quite rightly, that he was not preaching on Manifa’s land. This strategy attracted a large attendance but did not prevent the arrest of Jamie Ireland.
From jail Ireland preached through the bars to throngs who assembled to hear the ‘tabletop preacher.’ The Anglican authorities were especially embarrassed by this and sought to break up the crowds of listeners. Horsemen would gallop though the crowds gathered in the street, and at times black slaves would be beaten until the preacher agreed to cease. On one occasion, the mob tried to blow up the jail and later placed ‘Indian red pepper’ near the door and set it afire so the ‘killing smoke’ would enter the tightly enclosed cell. However, Ireland put his mouth to cracks in the wall and thus drew in fresh air from outside to survive. (pp. 271-272)
Shame on Baptists for not knowing their history. Shame on Baptists for persecuting gays. Shame on Baptists for their support of Amendment One.
Like Baptists ministers who will not shut up, the GLBT community, the gay allies community and Wedgewood Baptist Church will not shut up until all people are treated equally.