Southern Baptists, Slavery and Same-Sex Marriage

By: Dr. Brent Aucoin

Proponents of Same-Sex Marriage frequently seek to win over their opponents by warning them that they will end up on the “wrong side of history.”  This appeal is predicated on the notion that it is primarily evangelical Christians who are opposed to same-sex marriage, and that it was evangelical Christians who in years past took the wrong side in controversies over slavery and the civil rights movement.

This line of argument, of course, is not without its flaws.

As others have pointed out, the admonition to not be on the wrong side of history will carry little weight with those whose theology correctly informs them that it is infinitely more important to be on the right side of eternity than it is to be on the right side of history.  In addition, the blanket assertion that evangelicals who oppose same-sex marriage today were wrong about the civil rights movement is historically inaccurate as it not only dismisses the relatively few white evangelicals who championed black equality but egregiously ignores the numerous black evangelical Christians who supported civil rights (and who today oppose same-sex marriage).

Though the argument is flawed, I think there is another way that we can respond to, and learn from, this call for us to not end up on the wrong side of history.  Although it is true that self-proclaimed Christians spearheaded the movements for the abolition of slavery and for civil rights, it is nevertheless best for us to acknowledge that evangelicals (particularly Southern Baptists) were more often than not on the wrong side of both of those righteous crusades. But then we are to ask why that was the case?

Part of the answer, I believe, is because far too many white evangelicals listened to what society said about matters such as slavery and segregation than what the Scriptures say.

So, if our evangelical ancestors went astray on matters of social justice as a result of allowing themselves to be unduly influenced by the spirit of the age and area in which they lived, then what lesson are we to learn from their mistake?  Is it not that we are to be more diligent now than ever before to have our views shaped by God’s Word rather than by man’s opinion?  Will we dismiss what the Bible says about homosexuality because the culture in which we live urges us to do so?

Remember, far too many of our evangelical and Baptist predecessors in the South supported white supremacy because the culture in which they lived urged them to do so.  Rather than worrying about being on the wrong side of history, let us rather learn from history and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Dr. Brent Aucoin is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of The College at Southeastern.

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