Occupation is part of the Southern Baptist Convention's 2001 annual meeting theme, reinforcing a decade-long message that the fundamentalist-controlled SBC wants a political takeover of American culture.
Printed on promotional material is the theme's biblical text of "Occupy till I come," taken from the King James Version of Luke 19:13.
The word "occupy," in the King James Version, is an unfortunate translation, according to a trusted conservative commentary.
The Matthew Henry Commentary said the word "might much better be translated, Trade till I come, Pragmateusasthe--Be busy."
From this Greek word comes the English word "pragmatic," which means to pay attention to details. Of course, business is a pragmatic enterprise.
Most versions of the Bible more correctly translate this word in economic terms. The New International Version says, "'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'" The American Standard Version reads, "Trade ye herewith till I come." The New Revised Standard Version records, "Do business with these until I come back." The New American Standard Bible reads, "Do business with this until I come back." The Good News Bible states, "See what you can earn with this while I am gone." The Cotton Patch Version of Luke reads, "You all do business till I get back."
Given the weakness of the King James Version on this word and the other options available, why would SBC leadership use the word "occupy"?
Conservative Christians often say good grammar makes for good theology. And one of their strong suits is biblical word studies.
So, why would the SBC choose a militaristic term?
The most likely answer is that the denomination's political leaders want to take charge of culture.
These leaders and their partners in the religious right feel American culture is hostile to their values, worldview and agenda. They have a crusading passion to invade this alien culture and possess it. Their strategy is to use the political process to control society.
As Israel occupied the promised land in the Hebrew scripture, Baptist conquistadors want to conquer the promised land of America.
Unfortunately for these folk, their political ambitions are not shared by many rank-and-file Southern Baptists, who are troubled by the state of American morality but still hold high regard for the separation of church and state.
They prefer the other part of the SBC's annual theme "Until He Comes ... Go!" This emphasis resonates with the denomination's historic commitment to mission trips and soul winning.
The twin agenda within the denomination necessitates a dual theme. Rank-and-file Baptists favor personal evangelism. The political leaders savor political conquest.
Difference is more than a matter of strategy, however. The evangelism camp sees the church as more important than the state. The church's singular priority is to save the spiritually lost. The conquest camp is really more interested in the state than the church. The church serves as an organizing base for Christian political operatives to control the nation.
Behind the difference in strategy is a shared, unshakeable belief. These folk know they possess God's truth and represent God's only hope for the world. Such convictions allow both camps to share the same tent.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.