Friday, June 16, 2006

Those Who Refuse to Learn History Are Destined to Repeat History's Mistakes

One of the reasons I love history is because of the inherent wisdom that comes from knowing the past. For instance, controversies within Southern Baptist life are not new. Character assassination and disparaging remarks against a fellow Southern Baptist are not of recent origin. Augustus Longstreet, called "the honest Georgian," once said he preferred "his politics and religion red hot."

Well, Southern Baptists do have a red hot history of conflict. For example, there is the Brann vs. the Southern Baptists of Texas conflict in the 1890's. Some of you may not have heard of this particular controversy, so I will summarize using the written history of Southern religious violence by Charles Wellborn, Professor of Religion at Florida State University, to familiarize you with the conflict.

Like ancient Athens as described by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, Waco, Texas could be perceived as filled with people who were “very religious” in the 1800's.
In the last decade of that century William Cowper Brann, self-styled the “Iconoclast,” indulged in a series of hot-headed assaults against Southern Baptists in Texas and their most important educational institution, Baylor University.

Born in rural Illinois, Brann spent most of his adult life as an itinerant journalist. At the age of 39 he settled in Waco, Texas, which became the headquarters for a new magazine, The Iconoclast. This journal, a monthly compendium of personal philosophy, invective, and current comment, rapidly achieved an amazing degree of national and even international popularity.

Brann first came to Waco as an editorial writer for one of the local newspapers, was incongruously known both as the “Athens of Texas” and “Six Shooter Depot.” Both slogans could to some extent be justified. The sixth largest city in Texas at that time, Waco was the home of four important educational institutions. They were Waco Female Academy (Methodist), Catholic Academy of the Sacred Heart, Paul Quinn University (African Methodist), and Baylor University (Baptist) Of these the largest and best known--indeed, the pride of Texas Baptists--was Baylor, headed since 1851 by Dr. Rufus Burleson, a Baptist minister widely respected in Southern religious circles.

Brann’s feud with the Baptists to a raging boiling point was one that shocked and intrigued all Waco. In the spring of 1895 the impending motherhood of an unmarried Baylor student from Brazil, Antonia Teixeira, became public knowledge. Antonia had come to Texas from Brazil at the age of 12, sent there by Baptist missionaries to be educated at Baylor. During her first year at Baylor she was a boarding student on the campus, but then Dr. Burleson, Baylor’s president, took her into his home where, in return for her board, room, and clothes, she assisted Mrs. Burleson with the housework.

Rooming in a house in the Burleson yard and eating his meals with the family was Steen Morris, the brother of Dr. Burleson’s son-in-law. Morris worked for his brother, who published a Baptist monthly, The Guardian. According to Antonia, Morris sexually attacked her on three occasions, after first drugging her. She further asserted that she had reported the first incident to Mrs. Burleson, but that when Morris denied the story, no one believed her. Thereafter, she remained silent.

In April, 1895, it was discovered that Antonia was pregnant. On June 16 the Waco Morning News reported the story in detail, including interviews with the Brazilian girl, Steen Morris, and Dr. Burleson. Morris was arrested on a charge of rape and released on bond, protesting his total innocence. Dr. Burleson denied that his wife had ever been told of any trouble between Antonia and Morris and labeled the idea of rape as preposterous. He declared that Antonia was “utterly untrustworthy. . .and in addition to other faults, the girl was crazy after boys.” [xii] A daughter was born to Antonia on June 18, but the baby soon died.

The situation was made to order for Brann, who saw the whole affair as a sordid scandal encompassing all the hypocrisy of the Baptists. In the July, 1895, Iconoclast he set in motion events which were to lead to the deaths of four men. “Once or twice in a decade a case arises so horrible in conception, so iniquitous in outline, so damnable in detail that it were impossible to altogether ignore it. Such a case has just come to light, involving Baylor University, that bulwark of the Baptist Church.”

Brann went on to attack Burleson for using the Brazilian girl as a “scullion maid” in the “kitchen curriculum,” instead of giving her an honest education. With regard to her pregnancy, Brann asked rhetorically: “What did the aged president of Baylor, that sanctum sanctorum of the Baptist church, do about it? Did he assist in bringing to justice the man who had dared invade the sanctity of his household. . . ? Not exactly. He rushed into print with a statement to the effect that the child was a thief and “crazy after the boys.”

Attacks on Burleson were inflammatory enough, but Brann compounded his offense in the eyes of Baptists with a general denunciation of Baylor. “I do know,” he wrote, “that Antonia is not the first young girl to be sent from Baylor in disgrace—that she is not the first to complain of assault within its sanctified walls.” And he concluded with a dramatic prediction: “I do know that as far as Baylor University is concerned the day of its destiny is over and the star of its fate hath declined; that the brutal treatment the Brazilian girl received at its hands will pass into history as the colossal crime of the age, and that generations yet to be will couple its name with curses.”

As usual, Brann wrote in hyperbole. His prediction has not come true. But in 1895 his intemperate barbs aroused the resentment of every Baylor and Baptist partisan. Dr. Burleson, after conferring with his Board of Trustees, issued a four-page pamphlet entitled “Baylor and the Brazilian Girl,” in which he defended the university’s role in the affair. The controversy continued for months, with Brann making new charges and rehearsing old ones in each succeeding issue of The Iconoclast. Morris’s rape trial was delayed until June, 1896, resulting finally in a “hung”jury, seven of the jurors voting for conviction, the other five for acquittal. In September, 1896, Antonia Teixeira executed an affidavit exonerating Morris of her charges, then quickly returned to Brazil. Brann, predictably, asserted that the girl had been paid to sign the affidavit: “When Capt. Blair (Morris’s attorney) asks the court to dismiss the case . . . let him be required to state why the drawer of the remarkable document purchased Antonia’s ticket, and who furnished the funds. Of course, her long conference with Steen Morris and his attorney on the day before her departure may have been merely a social visit. If the currency question was discussed at all, it may have been from a purely theoretical standpoint.”

In the year that followed the dismissal of the Morris indictment Brann continued to raise questions in print about Baylor and the Baptists. He ridiculed a plan, proposed in the Baptist Standard, that Waco Baptists should buy only from Baptist merchants. He attacked Waco’s Sunday “blue laws,” mocking the preoccupation of Baptists with Sabbath sales while they winked at the Reservation and the city slums. Again and again, he recalled Antonia Teixeira, whose “diploma” from Baylor was a dead illegitimate child.

A new dimension of the controversy emerged in October, 1897. Dr. Burleson was about to retire from the Baylor presidency, and a political struggle to succeed him arose between Dr. B. H. Carroll, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees , and other aspirants for the office. Brann commented: “I greatly regret that my Baptist brethren should have gotten into a spiteful and un-Christian snarl over so pitiful a thing as Baylor’s $2000 a year presidency—that they should give to the world such a flagrant imitation of a lot of cut-throat degenerates out for the long green. . . .”

Evidently these new thrusts were the final straw for some Baylorites. On October 2 Brann was forcibly abducted by a group of Baylor undergraduates and taken to the campus. Had not several Baylor professors intervened, a lynching might have occurred. After being badly beaten the editor was finally released, but the violence was not ended. Four days later Brann was attacked by a Baylor student, George Scarborough, aided by his father, a distinguished Waco attorney. Young Scarborough threatened Brann with a revolver, while his father beat the journalist with a cane. A second Baylor student joined the fray, striking Brann with a horsewhip. Brann fled for his life, escaping this time with a broken wrist, along with cuts and bruises.

The chain of violence was not fully forged. After an initial public scuffle between them had inflamed tempers, Judge George Gerald, a friend and supporter of Brann, and W. A. Harris, the editor of the Waco Times-Herald, met on a downtown Waco street. Present also was J. W. Harris, an insurance salesman and the editor’s brother. Shots were fired; both of the Harris brothers were killed, and Judge Gerald was wounded.

The final act in the mounting tragedy occurred on April 1, 1898. Brann was to leave the following day on a nation-wide lecture tour. In the late afternoon he went downtown. From the door of a real estate office an anti-Brann zealot, Tom Davis, shot at Brann. Wounded, Brann drew his own pistol, returning the fire. Within hours both men were dead. Two bystanders were slightly wounded.

Why did Davis shoot Brann? His motives were not clear. He had a daughter attending Baylor, and he had expressed his hatred of Brann on many occasions. He was also thought to have political ambitions, counting on his attack on Brann to win for him the sizable Baptist vote. Brann himself was said to consistently go for the jugular vein of his opponents. In retrospect, given the religious and social context, Brann’s violent end seems almost inevitable.

Brann was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Waco. Scarcely had the monument been erected when someone, under the cover of darkness, crept into the cemetery and fired a pistol shot at the stone memorial, shattering away a portion of the mask. The scar in the stone can still be seen.

Truth for Today that Rises from Our Awareness of Our Past

(1). There is a fine line between discussing issues and attacking one's character --- Southern Baptists all must be vigilant never to cross that line. (Ex. The accusation against President Burleson).

(2). Young leaders have a tendency to be far more volatile in confrontation than older statesmen --- something that should both be remembered by all and guarded against by some. (Ex. The Baylor students attempted lynching).

(3). The scars of conflict can be seen years after the conflict is over --- which should cause everyone pause before entering any conflict --- not to say conflict is not sometimes unavoidable, but one should do everything imaginable to avoid it if at all possible. (Ex. The scar on the headstone of Brann).

(4). Southern Baptists should resist the temptation to pick up a brother's offense, but rather, we should work hard to avoid choosing sides based upon friendships, previous loyalty, and we must determine to stand behind the truth alone. (Ex. The shooting of Harris brothers and the wounding of the judge).

(5). All in all, Southern Baptists have progressed a great deal from the old days of the late 1800's, as evidenced by this past Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC where brothers were able to disagree, but when all was said and done, we determined to leave, locking our arms in cooperation for the purpose of evangelism and missions.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Bob Cleveland said...


All of which is to say that:

Issues change.
Faces change.
Weapons change.
Places change.
Laws change.

But people don't change.

Fortunately, neither does the Word of God, and the only thing that can change people, where they need to change, is the life-changing power of that Word.

Jeff Whitfield said...

There is a very sympathetic eulogy posted for Mr Brann at this site:

It is interesting to note tha Mr Brann's funeral was conducted by a Rev. Frank Page.

Anonymous said...

Repeating history is beneficial if its good, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

So what have we learned that got the SBC going in the direction of narrowing parameters, exclusion, and character assignation?
1. Narrowing parameters: sign BFM, baptism, and tongues.
2. Exclusion: Disney, Baptist World Alliance, and CBF.
3. Character assignation: “Glimpses of a Seminary Under Assault” by Russell Dilday, ‘you don’t believe the Bible unless you believe inerrancy’, and ‘you moderate, liberal, barnacle, parasite, skunk you.’

Is it going to be the ‘same-o-same-o?’ You state: President Frank Page “is an inerrantist.” Does that mean he believes the Bible and BGCT doesn’t? What’s wrong with ‘perfect’ or ‘infallible’—do they not break the egg from the proper end?

If the devil is the father of all lies, how can lies in the Bible be ‘breathed’ by God? To say “every word in the Bible is breathed by God” is nothing but making the Bible a political football.

Every word of TRUTH in the Bible is breathed by God, but every word of UNTRUTH is not breathed by God. Is that too hard to understand? I’m sick of being told I don’t believe the Bible.

It is high time to work together in lifting Jesus up instead of condemning those who can’t swallow INERRANCY.
Rex Ray

Anonymous said...

History is most revealing as we learn about others and self. Someone said, "We need to know history, so we will know when we repeat it." I hope history reveals that a turn for the best was made in June at SBC. Thanks for sharing a part of important history...wayne from Alabama

Dori said...

Wade - you say that we should not take up another's offense. Pastor Ben has also said before that to take offense on behalf of another is unhealthy. I admit I am a bit confused.

Does not the Bible say we should bear one another's burdens? And I was taught as a child that if I heard some people speaking unkind words or gossiping about a friend, I shouldn't just stand there silently but confront those who were insulting my friend.

I realize that blind loyalty is unwise. But both your and Ben's statements seem to discount standing up for a friend at all. Please help me see the distinction. What about the verse ... "greater love has no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for a friend."

It seems to me that loyalty and bearing another's burden are very scriptural stances, if grounded in the truth as you indicate.

Anonymous said...

In many ways I just don't see much progress...I mean...does the fact that nobody acturally gets murdered anymore show great progress?

I think we will see more progress in the next 5-10 years than we have seen in the last 150 all because of the new baptist media, the blogs.

We just have to "stick to our guns" (pun intended) and keep the gool old boys feet to the fire. It's all about accountibility and we now have the means for it, for the first time ever. said...


Bearing one another's burdens is Christian and a part of the Biblical ethic. However, I am committed to always love, see the bright side of people, and support people, even those who seek to harm me or my reputation.

My point is simply this: I am VERY grateful for those who have help carry my burden, but I want us ALL to be on guard that we do not carry personal offenses toward people, particulary when that which happened is against another and not ourselves.

I hope that helps!

wade said...

D Long,

That is funny.

I'm using it one day! said...

Bob Cleveland,

I agree!

It was quite an honor to meet you and your lovely wife!


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Wade,

Truly I hope we in the SBC can avoid taking sides in our various disputes. I hope always to speak/write/work in support of or in opposition to positions/ideas/policies, not people.

Nothing that is wrong (such as murder in your story), should ever be used as means to a worthy end, least of all in an organization of God's churches.

Love in Christ,


Anonymous said...


Early yesterday morning my heart missed a few beats and a cold sweat broke out as I perused the front page of the sections in the Dallas Morning News. I woke up an hour earlier than my usual time to see my wife and son off as they were traveling to Arkansas. After seeing them set off on their journey, I went to my computer to read my favorite blogger, Wade Burleson. Around 6:30 am, still wiping the sleep from my eyes, I picked up my newspaper and headed for the bedroom. As I was perusing through the paper I read a 4 inch headline that read in BIG BOLD letters "Even Worse". The sub headline read, "When situation calls for a star to step up, it is Wade who answers...".

Now, you have to remember, I was not in a very alert frame of mind and I just spent the past 45 minutes reading blogs about the recent events at the Southern Baptist Convention and people commenting, both pro and con, about Wade Burleson. When I saw "Even Worse" and the name "Wade", like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane, I was filled with mixed emotions from love for Bro Wade and his family to swinging a sword and leading the charge to defend his honor and good name.

Really, I don't know Wade. I just know who he is and know a little bit about his minitry in Enid. His folks are a different story. His Dad was my mentor and Wade's Mom was my wife's mentor when I attended seminary, 1976-79. Twenty five years later my wife and I still love Bro Paul and Mary and consider them "family" even though it has been ten years or so since we last fellowshiped with them.(It's been 10 years since we last attended the convention. and that is where we usually "caught up" with Bro Paul and Mary.)

So all of this emotion was whirling around in my heart while being in a half dazed mental state. After staring at the headline for a few more seconds and knocking some more sand out of my eyes, I saw that the sub headline went on to say, "When situation calls for star to step up, it is Wade who answers, not Nowitzki".

The "Wade" that was "Even Worse" was the basketball star for the Miami Heat, Dwayne Wade. Of course the "Wade" of the Miami Heat is public enemy #1 in the Dallas sports world and in my heart, at least untill we beat them in the NBA Championship Finals! The name "Wade" is an unusaual name, so I absent mindedly thought "Wade Burleson", not the evil "Dwayne Wade".

Like I stated, I love Bro Wade Burleson and his family because of what his folks mean to me and my wife. But if I find out that "Wade" Burleson is pulling for the Miami Heat and Dwayne "Wade", you can forget what I just said! The fellowship is broken. The love is gone. And if you think I'm being silly or frivilous, isn't that just about the way we practice "agape" in our churches and convention politics?

Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, by the way you love, forgive, and get along with each other." (My paraphrase)

Thanks Wade for letting me use your name to make a point, but the humorous story really is true!


Anonymous said...

Interesting debate... Seems like everyone thinks that the conservatives are the only ones who have said negative things--trust me, it ain't so! I've sat in meeting and watched Russell Dilday and Miles Seaborn screaming at each other and it came from both sides of the issue. The sad thing is that this whole deal has absolutely nothing to do with inerrancy (and never has) but has everything to do with power, money, and control. May the Lord have mercy on us as Southern Baptists--and I hope the new generation can keep their perspective right.

Anonymous said...


I think the issue that Dorcas is talking about is injustice. What do you do when you see another person attacked or mistreated. Perhaps we do not take it personally, but we should not take anything personal (we battle not against flesh and blood). I for one have stood by far too long while injustice has taken place on so many levels. God is teaching me through drawing me into actions like responding to Hurricane Katrina and the IMB policies, that when injustice and sorrow takes place, it is my responsibility to do something and intervene. Like you said, we don't take it personally, but that doesn't mean we don't get involved. May we be people who get involved for those who can't take care of themselves.

BTW, anyone heard of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan? We had a resolution on it at the convention. That is an example of injustice that should prick our hearts and cause us to fight for others. Well, in the same way that we stand up for that, we should also stand up for one another, not in a personal way, but in a way that promotes Christian charity and justice.

Rob Ayers said...

Just a note to Dorcas (and others)....

Offenses are owned by the individual, not the crowd. Mathew 18:15 identifies that the one "who has been sinned against" should go to that one who has sinned against them "alone." What invariably happens is that we do not like to own misery alone - we like mutual support for that is the human condition. We also consciously or otherwise looking for allies in a coming fight - so we tell others of our offense against the one who we feel has sinned.

As a Pastor, I had a person approach me one time and start screaming, "How could you do that against _________?" I said, "What????" Then the person started in very accusative tones to tell me what a terrible man I had been because I had unintentionally hurt their friend and did not know it. After listening to the attack (and keeping down my thought of grabbing this person by the neck!) I told him, "Do you remember when I taught how Christians are to deal with offenses?" This started a sputtering, "What do you mean?" "I mean, my brother, that if my brother was offended, he needed to come to me and tell me alone in an attempt for us to deal with the issue and reconcile - not for you to take the offense for him." "But you don't understand Pastor; he is my friend!" "Anymore so then to be obedient to God's Word, and allow our brother the blessing of reconciling with me in God's way - not to create a bigger issue than is needed to create division in the body."

Dorcas, it is simply this: to get in front of God's method of dealing with personal offense and mutual reconciliation is to make the rift bigger, not smaller. Instead of two people seeking peace in God's Kingdom, more people are at each other's necks to "win." At all times being obedient to God's Word is more important than being right. The reason that Baptists have a hard time of dealing with each other in a personal, church, and denominational level is because of our blatant disregard to this simple command - reconcile with the offender one on one; if unsucsessful, confront and attempt reconciliaton with a witness present; if unsucsessful, deal with the offense and the adjudication of the matter before the church. It is as simple as that.

Rob Ayers

James said...

Arkansas Razorbaptist,

I don't think we've come that far. The issues have changed, but the interpretive methods that had Southern Baptists defending slavery have largely remained in the convention. The war and American culture changed our views in that area more than our reading of Scripture (sadly).

But I will join you in a hearty Woo pig sooie.

Anonymous said...

Dorcas, this explanation might be helpful, I hope so. Recently where I work, a situation arose between two people. We'll call them Lucy and Ethel. Ethel's daughter, sister-in-law, and best friend also worked in the same building but in different departments. By days end, Lucy had the wrath of people from four different departments on her. Without knowing both sides of the situation, those 'extra' people took up Ethel's offense. For a week Lucy was subject to verbal jabs, cold shoulders, and the silent treatment.

On the other hand, Lucy had the prayers of other Christian's who also work there and her family. They encouraged her as well. That is carrying the burden.


Anonymous said...

Rex Ray said: "Every word of TRUTH in the Bible is breathed by God, but every word of UNTRUTH is not breathed by God. Is that too hard to understand?"

My dear brother, where is the inspired, inerrant, infallable man who can tell you which part is true and which part is false? If there is any falsehood in the Scripture, how is it that we errant, fallable men can determine which is false an which is true. "ALL Scripture is given by the inspiration of God or is God breathed". In John 17:17, Jesus prayed "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." He didn't say "some of your word is truth". The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:16o, "the entirety of Your word is truth,and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever." Once again, if this is not true, then please introduce me to the inspired, inerrant, infallable professor, pastor, teachr, or council that can tell me what is true and what isn't true. For that to even be a possibility, we would have to throw out Romans 3:23 and a host of other verses, wouldn't we? And if we throw out Romans 3:23 - what hapens to Romans 6:23? You are on a slippery slope my dear brother. ALL of God's Word is true!