By John Pierce
Apparently, a kinder, gentler approach to addressing social issues has caused concern among some Southern Baptists who preferred the harsh rhetoric of former ethics hit man Richard Land to his younger and more winsome successor, Russell Moore.
So Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, wrote an opinion piece to assure readers that only the tone is softening.
In the column defending SBC opposition to homosexuality, Page wraps up his case by comparing sexual orientation to his family’s “genetic presupposition” to alcoholism. Clearly implied is that his choice to not drink alcohol is comparable to gay and lesbian persons choosing to not act upon their same-sex attraction.
However, the sacrifice required by his comparison (a life entirely free of a meaningful, committed, loving relationship as opposed to passing on beer, wine and liquor) seems quite unbalanced.
Also, it is interesting how this unfair comparison can be made with such ease and confidence, yet how defensive persons holding such positions become when someone (like me) points out the clear parallels found in previous biblical defenses of other social issues such as slavery.
To say one will never change his or her (or, in this case, “our”) position, as does Page, places way too much confidence in human interpretations of holy texts. Sadly, such strident claims indeed were made about slavery, racial and gender inequality, divorce and other issues in which there have been changed minds.
Regardless of one’s so-called biblical perspective on a social issue at the present time, it seems to be incomplete (therefore, not truly biblical) if unaccompanied by a Paul-like acknowledgement of seeing through glass darkly — which affirms that we all see through culturally-shaped (biased) lenses.
In fact, years ago when solidifying himself with the new Southern Baptist leadership, Page stated that he had changed his mind about the role of women. In his case, he said he no longer holds to the belief (that he defended in his doctoral dissertation) that women can be called to pastoral roles.
While that is the opposite change of opinion experienced by many concerning women’s equality in recent decades, it is yet a confession of change.
Does God allow only one change per person? And didn’t Southern Baptists offer an apology for the convention’s role in defending slavery and advocating racism — albeit a century and half late?
To say “We’ll never change our mind…” about an issue that is not a central theological tenet simply claims too much — and limits the convicting work of God’s Spirit to other persons or to only those issues that fit a very narrowly defined concept of “sin.”
It is astute, however, to notice that increasingly strong defenses such as this one often suggest a cracking foundation. As more good Baptists and other conservative Christians deal with homosexuality personally or in close family situations their questions are not as easily answered by a rigid denominational stance or a couple of force-fed, isolated Bible verses.
Even casual Bible readers know there are much stronger (based on both the clarity of texts and number of verses) cases that can be made in defense of slavery and women’s submission (even more so than Southern Baptists insist) and in opposition to divorce.
Yet, times — and even Baptists — change.
And they will again. Someday. Maybe.
However, the change most needed now is a simple acknowledgement that biblical interpretations about social issues — from slavery to Sunday recreation — have been changing for a long, long time.
But, as Southern Baptist leaders know, that is a dangerous confession. To admit that one has been wrong in the past opens the possibility to being wrong about something in the present or future.
And that just doesn’t play well with those who demand certainty — and prefer a God and a Bible that are all figured out.