Yesterday’s Heresy Can Be Tomorrow’s Truth

In a long, interesting piece for the Atlantic that mostly focuses on the Southern Baptist Convention’s efforts to overcome a legacy of racism, Emma Green poses a question that ought to occur to conservative evangelicals engaged in the culture wars:

Southern Baptists officially believe in Biblical inerrancy, meaning that scripture is “truth, without any mixture of error,” a phrase that dates back to the confession of faith U.S. Baptists adopted in 1833. In 2012, the Southern Baptists voted to reaffirm their belief in inerrancy, in opposition to “some biblical scholars who identify themselves as evangelicals [who] have in recent years denied the historicity of Adam and Eve and of the fall of mankind into sin, among other historical assertions of Scripture.”

But if Southern Baptists in 1860 believed the scriptures justified a system of slavery based on race, and Southern Baptists in 2015 believe the scriptures justify total opposition to racial discrimination, did one group err?

Best I can tell, there’s more biblical support for slavery than for stigmatizing homosexuals, and a lot more than for prohibiting abortion. So why are today’s fundamentalists so sure they’ve gotten it right this time? If, as many conservative evangelicals seem to believe, the main public challenges to Christians today are fighting abortion and same-sex marriage, would not an omniscient God dictating Scripture to serve, as Southern Baptist congressman Paul Broun once called it, a “manufacturer’s handbook for how to run all of public policy and everything in society,” maybe condemn them every page or two?

If you’re really focused on the Bible, of course, the thing that jumps out at you from the New Testament are teachings about the radical equality of human beings and the spiritual peril of being judgmental. But you can’t see that forest for the trees and the pine straw if you are trolling through scripture looking to justify your prejudices and privileges.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.