November 21, 2006

Religious credibility

My religious conservative friends tend to assume (though some will not admit it) that they are slightly more moral than the rest of us. After all, they believe in the Bible as a literal and innerrant guide and so are grounded in principle. I have always struggled with that for multiple reasons.

First, it seems to me that most innerrantists also interpret the hell out of the scripture--some verses more than others, and actually give credence to some more than others. Prohibitions on homosexuality are taken at face value, while challenges to wealth, violence, war, arrogance etc., are read in a "context." Which is exactly what I do.

Second, as someone who reads history quite regularly, I am struck by how often our religious conservatives have been on the wrong side of history, or certainly have been very slow to come around. Religious conservatives defended slavery, segregation, women's inequality, anti-poverty efforts, and have opposed environmental movements.

This came up recently during a discussion over at Les's blog where the subject of homosexuality came up. (Les and Tony continue to be good friends of Streaks Blog even though, and perhaps because we disagree on so many issues. Those disagreements, however, have been respectful and listening to the other side. That is true of this discussion as well, though we disagree.) In the comment field, a Baylor graduate student (Big Daddy Weave) and I tangled with some guy from Tennessee. Now, I don't think BDW and I share the same viewpoint on everything, including homosexuality, but he made a great comment:
"Baptists have been on the wrong side of most cultural issues. A good family friend once said that the Southern Baptist Convention's stance on homosexuality is reminiscent of its stand on slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Look at what Baptists have had to repent for in recent years - slavery, civil rights, women. Southern Baptists attempted to paint John Kennedy as the boogeyman and were at the forefront of saying a pope would be in the White House if we elected a Catholic to office. Southern Baptists were wrong then and maybe they are wrong now ???"

At the same time, I read Melissa Rogers where she pointed to this column on religious redibility:
"For those who have lingering doubts, dust off your Bibles and take a few hours to reacquaint yourself with the teachings of Jesus. You won't find a single reference to homosexuality. There are teachings on money, lust, revenge, divorce, fasting and a thousand other subjects, but there is nothing on homosexuality. Strange, don't you think, if being gay were such a moral threat?

On the other hand, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about how we should treat others. First, he made clear it is not our role to judge. It is God's. ('Judge not lest you be judged.' Matthew 7:1) And, second, he commanded us to love other people as we love ourselves."

At the end of the day, I understand (again) that reasonable people will disagree on this subject. While I don't understand the fear that some people have regarding homosexuality, the subject strikes at the heart of a very complex human dynamic. Our psycho-sexual makeup is complicated and confusing.

But the conservative religious track record is very mixed here. In most cases, they have followed progressives and then often grudgingly. I understand that they believe they are following the Bible and God's leadership on this, but when that same justification was used to oppose MLK and Civil Rights, or was used to oppose equal pay for women, or against environmental regulation--then the process for determining truth has credibility problems. That doesn't mean they are wrong this time, but it does suggest that humility is in order.

1 comment:

Kevin said...


Amen! I too, have been reflecting on how many conservative Christians have been on the "wrong side of history."

I often wonder if their conservatism is more cultural than biblical.