Thursday, June 25, 2015

Southern Baptist Leaders Join Growing Tide against Confederate Flag

As I noted yesterday, this has been a remarkable week in the effort to remove the hateful symbolism of the Confederate battle flag from public glory. As businesses and Southern politicians have suddenly turned against the flag, Christian leaders have led the way. Thankfully, many Southern Baptists - whose convention literally started to defend slavery as biblical - are lending their voices to efforts to take down the flag. I'm not sure it's quite worthy of profiles in courage, but it's still an important moral stance. Better late than never!

Ethics Daily ran my latest article today as I explore this movement against the flag. The article, Southern Baptist Leaders Join Growing Tide against Confederate Flag, focuses on Southern Baptist leaders and politicians who have spoken out this week. It also ends with a surprising and dramatic shift by a Southern Baptist leader who previously supported the Confederate battle flag.

More voices continue to rise. Since I wrote the piece, leaders of the Southern Baptist state convention in South Carolina urged the removal of the Confederate flag from their state's Capitol, and Cooperative Baptist pastors in Mississippi urged their state's leaders to adopt a new flag that doesn't include the Confederate flag. It's nice to see so many Christian leaders helping lead an important moral change in our nation. Now we must commit to not stop our efforts toward racial reconciliation and justice with just the removal of a flag. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Take Down that Flag of Biblical Orthodoxy

Across the nation, politicians and corporate leaders are suddenly rising together to condemn the Confederate battle flag as a racist symbol. It's an amazing shift to watch, especially as politics in states like South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi have quickly changed so that criticizing the flag is no longer political suicide. This week looks like the worst week for the Confederate battle flag since General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox!

The scrutiny of the Confederate flag has also raised questions about memorials, statues, and even highways honoring Confederate leaders. There will likely be some statues removed (especially in state Capitol buildings) and some roads and schools renamed. But perhaps the most interesting example raised is at a seminary.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote a column yesterday addressing the racism of the school's founders: James P. Boyce, Basil Manly, Jr., and John A. Broadus. Boyce, the seminary's first president, owned slaves, served as a chaplain for the Confederate Army, and served in South Carolina's Confederate legislature. Manly and Broadus joined Boyce and William Williams (whom Mohler didn't name) as the four founding professors of the school. All four owned slaves, and Broadus also served as a chaplain for the Confederate Army.

In his column, Mohler condemned the racism of the three men.

"The Southern Baptist Convention was not only founded by slaveholders," Mohler wrote, "it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument."

Mohler went on to rightly call the racist beliefs of the founders of Southern "heresy."

"[R]acial superiority in any form, and white superiority as the central issue of our concern, is a heresy," he wrote. "To put the matter plainly, one cannot simultaneously hold to an ideology of racial superiority and rightly present the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Despite his clear condemnation of the racist theology of the three men as "heresy," Mohler affirmed the three men and defended leaving their names on buildings at Southern.

"I gladly stand with the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in their courageous affirmation of biblical orthodoxy, Baptist beliefs, and missionary zeal," Mohler wrote before specifically praising Boyce, Manly, and Broadus.

"I intend to keep those names on our buildings and to stand without apology with the founders and their affirmation of Baptist orthodoxy," Mohler added.

Mohler condemned the founders of the seminary for their racist heresy, but still praised their "biblical orthodoxy." Can people who owned slaves and viewed slavery as justified by the Bible actually represent biblical orthodoxy?

Interestingly, Mohler defined "heresy" quite carefully - and appropriately - in his column. And in doing so, he made it a serious charge.

"Not every doctrinal error is a heresy, though all doctrinal error is to be avoided," Mohler wrote. "A heresy is the denial or corruption of a Christian doctrine that is central to the faith and essential to the gospel."

Yet, he presents the founders of Southern as men with a "courageous affirmation of biblical orthodoxy" while also holding a "heresy" that is "central to the faith and essential to the gospel." If that's "biblical orthodoxy," then biblical orthodoxy isn't worth praising. 

(photo from Mohler's website)
"Biblical orthodoxy" remains a key buzzword for Mohler. He linked it to the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and the fight for biblical inerrancy. His focus on inerrancy also emerges as he invoked the phrase to back a belief in a literal Adam and Eve, support a literal reading of stories in Genesis, and condemn same-sex marriage. By Mohler's own examples, biblical orthodoxy lies at the heart of how he reads scriptures. Can people who believed the Bible justified slavery really be affirmed for biblical orthodoxy? 

I addressed this issue late in my sermon during the Churchnet Annual Gathering in April. Here's the key passage:
For too long it’s seemed the approach to biblical interpretation in many churches and denominations has been to merely tack on amendments to our stories about the Bible. “P.S. keep reading the Bible the same but now no more supporting slavery.” “By the way, keep reading the Bible the same, but we should probably stop slaughtering Native Americans.” “P.S. keep reading the Bible the same but let’s stop lynching black people.” But if I read the Bible in such a way that I think slavery or genocide or Jim Crow is okay, then I need to not just change my position on those but I also need to figure out to read the Bible differently.
Surely we cannot separate the racist theology of the founders of Southern from their beliefs about the Bible. To affirm their interpretations as "biblical orthodoxy" is to affirm heresy that we cannot affirm. That doesn't mean their names should be chiseled off buildings on Southern's campus, but it does mean we must not remain chained to their way of reading the Bible.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Few Baptist Voices Join Global Discussion on Papal Encyclical

On Thursday, Pope Francis released a much-anticipated encyclical (papal letter) on the environment. As the most visible Christian leader, what the Pope says matters and impacts how Christians in general are viewed. Additionally, encyclicals trickle down through the Catholic Church as bishops and priests use them to instruct people in the pews.

Given the potential of a papal encyclical to impact public discussion, I watched for reactions within the Baptist community. There had been some expectation that the encyclical would spark environmental conversations within various faith communities. The massacre in a Charleston church (that occurred just hours before the encyclical's release) likely took much of the attention away from Francis's words. But I did note some key responses in an Ethics Daily article today. The piece, Few Baptist Voices Join Global Discussion on Papal Encyclical, also includes a few responses by Christians in other traditions.

Here are a few highlights from Francis's encyclical Laudato Si ("Praise Be"):
Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture... The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.

... Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods.

... access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.

...  Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

...  In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people's access to places of particular beauty.

... when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.

...  we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and "whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor".

... The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.

...  It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.

... This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

... Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way.

... We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.
The encyclical also includes considerations of biblical texts to theologically ground the arguments. Hopefully the document will spark more conversations about an important topic.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Millennials & Science

I wrote the cover package for the latest issue of Word&Way (a Baptist newspaper in the Midwest). The theme for the issue is "Millennials & Science."

The first article, Millennials Integrate Science, Religion Differently, looks at generational differences as young Christians consider issues of faith and science. The article includes comments from Jonathan Merritt (a millennial who writes about faith and culture issues), Ken Keathley (professor of theology and director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Hillary Glauser-Patton (who teaches biology at Southwest Baptist University and serves as director for SBU’s Darrell R. Strait Center for the Integration of Science and Christian Faith).

The second article, Young Adults Concerned about Environmental Issues, looks at the environment as one area where Millennials may show change from previous generations. The article includes comments from Aaron Weaver (communications manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), Merritt, and Robert Parham (executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics).

I hope the articles spark more consideration of the important intersections between faith and science, and perhaps help us find ways to integrate them better than in the past.