Scott Walker’s church is as interesting an American story as Walker himself


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 47, is facing new scrutiny as the flavor of the month in Republican presidential politics.  Among various disputes in play, he’s an evangelical Protestant and thus needs to be prepared for skeptical questioning about religion and pesky  “social issues.”           

While in London, Walker was asked if he’s “comfortable with” or believes in evolution. He said “that’s a question politicians shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” Skewered for ducking, he quickly followed up with a vague faith-and-science tweet.  He also ducked when asked whether President Obama “loves America” after Rudolph Giuliani raised doubts about that, and then again when asked if the President is a fellow Christian.

Walker would be a Preacher’s Kid in the White House, the first since Wilson, so reporters will be Googling a Jan. 31 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel piece on this, datelined Plainfield, Iowa  (population 436).

When Scott was young his father Llewellyn was the pastor of Plainfield’s First Baptist Church on -- yes -- Main Street and a town council member.  Llewellyn was also a pastor in Colorado Springs, Scott’s birthplace, and Delevan, Wisconsin, where Scott completed high school.

The father, now retired, served in the American Baptist Convention (now renamed American Baptist Churches USA), which has a liberal flank but is largely moderate to moderately evangelical.  The Journal-Sentinel missed that the current Plainfield pastor endorsed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, which vows bold Christian opposition to abortion, assisted suicide, human cloning research, and same-sex marriage.

The governor emerged from obscurity during a furious fight with government unions that were backed by some clergy (including American Baptists). commentator Diana Butler Bass contended that “Walker does not give a rip about pronouncements by the Roman Catholic Church, any Lutheran, Episcopal, or Methodist bishop, or the Protestant social justice pastors. These religious authorities, steeped in centuries of theology and Christian ethics, mean absolutely nothing to Scott Walker’s world. His spiritual universe is that of 20th century fundamentalism in its softer evangelical form, a vision that emphasizes ‘me and Jesus’ and personal salvation.”

Look for more of the same. But actually, we know little about Walker’s religio-moral thinking. A quick Internet search turned up only a couple unsatisfying interviews with him about  this. There’s much ground left to explore.

Meanwhile, don’t miss the significant American scenario represented by Walker’s home congregation, Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa.  It’s part of a southeastern Wisconsin phenomenon that highlights the spread of evangelical and independent (“non-denominational”) congregations.

Meadowbrook began with a core group meeting for prayer in 1987, soon launched worship services at the local YMCA, called a pastor, and has prospered since. It practices the Baptist-style believer’s baptism by immersion in which Walker was raised, and upholds typical conservative Protestant theology.

This church was “planted” by the remarkable Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, with which it shares credo and method. Elmbrook began in 1957, also with a prayer cell, began to worship in a rented school, dropped its “Baptist” label, and in 1970 it called as pastor British go-getter Stuart Briscoe. He remains a popular speaker in retirement.

Since 1979, Elmbrook has planted not only Meadowbrook but four daughter congregations in the city of Milwaukee, and one each in Hartland, Richfield, Franklin, and Mukwonago. These younger churches in turn have established new congregations in West Bend, Sussex, and Muskego. Like multiplied loaves and fishes, one congregation has fostered a dozen more. How was this accomplished? Good story there.

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