Change again or be left behind

“Why can’t Christians just join the revolution?” Asks Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an essay first printed in the Wall Street Journal and then at the Christian site Crosswalk. The revolution Mohler is refering to is the increasing acceptance by our modern secular culture of gay people as full members of humanity deserving of respect and legal protection. 

I can understand the evangelical desire to remain steadfast. It’s common for us humans to dig in on a position when challenged, especially when that position has become important to our view of the world and to our very identity. Evangelicals tell us that their positions come from the Bible, that they take the Bible very seriously, and that it is the inerrant word of their god.

So let’s look at some “Biblical truth.” From Exodus 22:18 we get this zinger: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” That’s pretty stark. It tells me that a Bible believer should not only buy into the existence of witchcraft but shouldn’t leave any suspected practitioner of the art alive. But wait: Bible thumpers who are potential witch thumpers might have an out. They might not have to personally kill witches because Jesus said (John 8:7) “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” So it appears our Bible believers, as long as they deem themselves sinners, get to rest between rocks and a hard place in this instance.

But we know that western Christians have cast plenty of stones, torturing and burning witches, freethinkers and heretics. A lot of this was done by more Orthodox churches before the evangelicals came on the scene but evangelical types are supposed to buy the whole Biblical witchcraft thing. The renowned Method actor and proto-evangelical John Wesley wrote about the belief in witchcraft in 1768 “Giving up witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible.” And we have recent accounts of evangelicals in Africa accusing destitute children and elderly women of witchcraft, accusations which result in exile, torture, and often murder.

So which road should Bible Christians take? The no stones route followed by most western evangelicals today? Or the route of the African evangelical pastors who facilitate horrific abuses of people they name as witches? The Bible and Christian tradition can be used to justify either course; on what basis does a Bible believer make her decision?

Coming back to gay rights and evangelicals we can look at the disgusting bill proposed in Uganda in late 2009 which would impose the Death penalty upon gay people and imprison those who know them and don’t report them. The bill is the result of a seminar starring anti-gay American evangelicals held in Uganda in the Spring of 2009.

Many evangelicals don’t agree with their fellows and don’t support killing or torturing those they suspect of being gay or witches. But evangelicals who do support such faith based actions look to the same Bible that more moderate believers do.

As noted earlier, Albert Mohler is the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Southern Baptists formed in the mid 19th century as the pro-slavery wing of the Baptist movement. The pro-slavery stance wasn’t a sidenote. It was a central, maybe THE central reason for the founding of the denomination.

The Southern Baptists officially renounced slavery and racism in 1995. To my knowledge they’ve maintained that official anti-slavery, anti-racism position since.

But on what grounds did they renounce slavery? I know of no specific anti-slavery passages in the Bible. As far as I can tell the Bible is quite pro-slavery. The Southern Baptists, for much of their existence, maintained that the Bible is pro-slavery. Did they discover some new passages in their scriptures? After 150 odd years? Or did they cave into the pressure from a more just and humanistic society and culture, amending their stance to fit?

Albert says of himself and his fellow Bible believers: “We are about to find out just how much we believe the Gospel we so eagerly preach.” Well, verily I say unto you: nobody is fully committed to the full authority of any so-called word of god, whichever one they cite. Picking and choosing, highlighting and minimizing will go on as it always has. One can’t not (I know, double negative, just bear with me) suffer a witch to live and simultaneously not cast the first stone. The Southern Baptists couldn’t compete as the pro-slavery church in a time when slavery is rightfully seen as a crime against humanity, even if the Bible tells them so.

But aren’t Evangelicals sincere? Aren’t they humble? Aren’t they sincerely humble?

Albert says:

“In this most awkward cultural predicament, evangelicals must be excruciatingly clear that we do not speak about the sinfulness of homosexuality as if we have no sin. As a matter of fact, it is precisely because we have come to know ourselves as sinners and of our need for a savior that we have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Our greatest fear is not that homosexuality will be normalized and accepted, but that homosexuals will not come to know of their own need for Christ and the forgiveness of their sins.”

He continues:

“This is not a concern that is easily expressed in sound bites. But it is what we truly believe.”

Let’s move past Albert’s reference to the evangelical movement’s continued disparagement and persecution of people they disapprove of as an “awkward cultural predicament.” Let’s look at Albert’s recitation of that old hymn, a prayer as old as organized religion and shared by many sects and traditions. You can recite it along with me, it goes basically like this:

“Oh Lord, Hear me your humble servant, see how stupendously humble I am! Make everyone else realize I am right! I humbly demand that you make them realize how horrible they are and force them to do what I, I mean YOU, say!”

Maybe it is just a sound bite problem, it certainly does bite.

Perhaps it’s what Albert and his brethren and sistren “truly believe.” So what? Lots of people believe lots of horrible nonsense. The assertion that a belief is “truly held” doesn’t demonstrate its validity, much less make it noble.

Albert’s essay started with this:

“The Christian church has faced no shortage of challenges in its 2,000-year history. But now it’s facing a challenge that is shaking its foundations: homosexuality.”

Churches (the ones that survived) have met these challenges by berating others, bribing others, threatening others, locking up others, murdering others, and finally, by changing themselves. The Evangelical movement will change its approach to gay rights just as it has changed its approach to a whole host of issues. It will do so slowly, quietly, and with as little fanfare as it can get away with. If it doesn’t it will die. Survival will win out over so-called principle, and they’ll find new groups of people (maybe you or your descendants) to demonize.

Adapt or be swept aside.

  • Ani Sharmin

    Excellent entry. It really does baffle me sometimes that people forget the history of their own religion, how it has changed over the years.