By John Pierce
Whenever a hot-button issue arises within the larger society, as well as within church life, there are those who charge proponents of social change with abandoning the Bible and caving into culture.
One does not have to be an indefatigable historian to find ready examples about all kinds of changes that faced such criticism and opposition — from Sunday recreation to racial and gender equality — voiced by leading Christian figures at the time.
Southern Baptist Convention president Ronnie Floyd recently took up that charge regarding the fast-moving political embrace of marriage equality, according to Baptist Press. “Even religious leaders are caving in to the shifting sands of cultural change…,” the Arkansas pastor is quoted as saying.
While it is possible to make a biblical case for most sides of any debate, this familiar way of standing in opposition to social change is riddled with problems.
Chiefly, it has been the common refrain used by defenders of the status quo through most every societal shift including women’s rights, dancing, interracial relationships, blue laws, slavery and many others.
The charge in each situation is: You cave into modern culture while I remain true to the unchanging Bible.
Within that charge is the arrogant assumption that one’s long-held social position could not have been influenced by earlier cultural norms that shaped what one claims to be biblical.
To strengthen that position, the charge of disbelief (and well as failed patriotism) is first employed. The 19th century Presbyterian minister and writer James H. Thornwell of South Carolina took such an approach in defense of African slavery.
He labeled supporters of abolition as “atheists, socialists, communists [and] red republicans,” according to Christianity Today. Then his argument of holding the one true biblical position followed.
Because of such historical evidence, much caution about labeling others as failed disciples who cave into culture should rest with conservative evangelical Christians. The track record is simply not good.
One doesn’t have to dig too deeply into history to know that more-conservative Christianity has a solid record of coming down on the wrong side of one social issue after another related to equality and human rights. And, in each case, the go-to argument was one of staying true to the Bible while the less faithful were “caving into culture.”
That reality does not mean that every new issue that arises should be embraced without questioning or even appropriate opposition where one’s conviction lies. But it should cause a sense of humility and caution that doesn’t quickly dismiss those with a different perspective as unbelievers.
Indeed, following Jesus is counter-cultural. However, what many assume to be a “biblical worldview” or “Christian culture” often misses the very essence of Jesus’ words and deeds.
And, as a result, history and the Bible have often been found on the side of those who at the time were deemed heretics who caved in.
On any side of any debate, however, caution is always needed before claiming that one’s own perspective is assuredly shared by God.