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.

Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

By: Dr. Brent Aucoin

In the torrent of comments that flooded the country in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, there was a discernible stream of opinion that considered the Court’s same-sex marriage ruling in light of its infamous 1973 decision to legalize abortion.  The range of opinion on this matter spanned from Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), calling Obergefell “the Roe v. Wade of marriage,” to those explicitly rejecting such a linking of the two decisions.  For Moore and others, Obergefell is similar to Roe because just as the latter failed to end the debate over abortion, the former, they assert, will likewise fail to usher in a clear consensus in favor of same-sex marriage.  For those like Cokie Roberts who completely disagree with Moore, Obergefell will take a different trajectory than Roe because it involves something positive (marriage), as opposed to death (abortion), and because same-sex marriage allegedly enjoys popular support, whereas the same was not true of abortion in 1973.  While I personally found this debate intriguing, my interest in the association between legalized abortion and the federal government’s recent recognition of so-called same-sex marriage is based not so much on what may happen in the future, but what their connection indicates about the past.

In seeking to trace the history of the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage one could look as far back as the Fall, as both originate in man’s sinful nature and rebellion against God.  However, what accounts for and connects the two together most immediately is the fact that both are products of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  Few, if any, Americans living before that tumultuous decade could scarcely imagine either abortion or homosexuality being viewed respectfully.  Today, both practices are not only widely celebrated but considered to be rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, despite the absence of any mention of them in the document.  This dramatic shift occurred because the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s successfully started the process of convincing Americans that recreational and aberrant forms of sexuality are both moral and harmless (even if the lives of other human beings must be ended in utero in order to facilitate such activity).  In short, the cultural dominance of a semi-Biblically informed worldview in matters of sexual morality began to be shattered in the 1960s.

Understanding this turn of events should help Christians more clearly see the task ahead of us.  It is not so much a matter of winning elections (though elections do have consequences), or of getting the Court to reverse itself (as helpful as that may be, and has been in the past in matters such as slavery and segregation), but rather convincing an entire culture that God’s instructions for marriage, family, and sexuality are superior to what is today considered to be the most progressive and enlightened approaches to such matters.  The task before us is enormous.   We are faced with nothing less than changing the way an entire culture thinks about some of the most important questions facing humanity.  We may never “win back the culture” but we must continue to live out and proclaim a Biblical sexual ethic not only in loving obedience to our Savior and Creator, but out of Christian love for our neighbors.  As the sexual revolution has progressed from the Sixties forward it has left millions of victims in its wake.  The unbelieving world ignores or excuses the carnage of the revolution, and instead revels in their perceived liberation.  By God’s grace, we who are His children have been delivered from this deception and are more attuned to the pain and suffering that results from sin – in this particular case, sexual sin.  Out of a genuine desire to help our fellow man, we should continue to draw attention to the error of their ways, praying they will heed our advice and ultimately repent of their sins.

Christians now constitute the counter-culture in America.  Spiritually, intellectually and culturally, we are in the minority.  From such a vantage point, and from an earthly perspective, things look grim.  However, human history has demonstrated time and again that a cultural minority can come to eventually dominate a society.  The sexual revolution of the 60s is but one example. Other examples include Christianity making the transition from fringe group to majoritarian status in human societies.  Such transitions are not designated revolutions, but rather revivals.  We may or may not see a revival in America in our time on Earth, but as with every generation of Christians living and laboring in the days before Christ’s return, we must continue to pray and prepare for revival.  If some are willing to dedicate all they have to bringing about cultural revolutions, how much more should we as Christians be willing to give our all in hopes of a spiritual revival.

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

Race in America 50 Years Later (Brent Aucoin)

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Brent Aucoin is Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College at Southeastern. His published doctoral dissertation (completed at the University of Arkansas) is entitled, A Rift in the Clouds: Race and the Southern Federal Judiciary, 1901–1910. He continues to research race relations in America. So we asked him to evaluate where we are now 50 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. See below for more resources on race relations upcoming at Southeastern.] 

When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008 and Fred Luter was elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012, some predicted that the elevation of these two black men to their respective offices would help solve the racial problems in America and America’s largest Protestant denomination. In the case of President Obama’s election, some prognosticators even began speaking of the advent of a “post-racial America.”   However, events such as the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the recent upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri, make it clear that racial strife continues in America. Likewise, the Southern Baptist Convention continues to struggle with an image tarnished by its pro-slavery origins and the fact that it remains a predominately white denomination. While it is safe to say that some individuals expected too much from the elections of Obama and Luter (particularly the former), it is also safe to conclude that those expectations, and the extraordinary attention given to their elections, indicate that the issue of race continues to be an important and pressing topic in America and in the church.

It is for this reason that I believe Americans and Southern Baptists in particular must take time to learn about and to reflect upon the history of race relations in our country and denomination. As a society and as a church we are grappling with the issue of race. This has been the case since the founding of both the USA and the SBC. America and American Christianity have been on a long and arduous journey when it comes to the matter of the relationship between black and white. If one wants to know where we are now in this journey and how we can move forward, then one needs to know how we have gotten to this point, and what is the ultimate goal.

America’s observation of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides the perfect opportunity for us to do these very things. The passage of this monumental piece of legislation half a century ago has been dubbed as something just short of miraculous, considering its historical context. In a single moment racist practices and laws, which in some cases had plagued African Americans for nearly three centuries, were upended. The Act sought to transform America from a color-conscious society to one that is blind to race. The Act outlawed racial discrimination in employment, access to public accommodations, and education. Like the unprecedented, historic elections of Presidents Obama and Luter, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a momentous milestone in the history of American race relations.

However, like the elections of Obama and Luter, the Civil Rights Acts also failed to solve all of the racial problems that many hoped and expected it would. (See, again, the recent turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri as an example of that failure.) It, like other milestones, marked a significant turning point in American race relations, and the taking of another step closer to the ultimate goal of racial reconciliation. But how close are we to that goal? How far along have we come in the journey? We know we are not there yet, but are we close, and what needs to be done to bring the journey to a successful end?

During a two-day event being put on by the Center for Faith and Culture called “Christian Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” these questions and others will be explored and discussed. On the evening of Tuesday, September 16th, Dr. Gerald Smith will consider the role that Christianity played in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s and how Christians can guide the ongoing quest for racial justice and reconciliation. On Wednesday, September 17th a panel consisting of scholars and a veteran of the civil rights movement will examine the history of race relations in America from the 1960s to the present. This Casual Conversation event will begin at 10:00 AM and be held in Binkley Chapel.

For information on these events please check out this link. And if you have questions you’d like to ask Southeastern’s Casual Conversation’s panel please submit them here: Join the conversation on Twitter at #Secasconvo and on the livestream:

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