Search this blog

The movie Selma reminds us that white clergy protested and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and other African Americans in the 1960s on behalf of Civil Rights. But it also reminds us—as Anthony Bradley recently observed—that many of those clergy were from the North and were Protestant mainliners, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Roman Catholic. One has to wonder: where were the conservative evangelicals?

I recently posed the following questions to several historians who have studied segregation and religion in the Southern United States during the years of Jim Crow and during the Civil Rights Movement.

Did white evangelicals in the South respond to the Civil Rights Movement in different ways from their counterparts in other parts of the United States? Is it fair to say that the majority not only refused to engage but actively opposed it? If so, what historical forces formed their particular responses and attitudes? How did evangelical theologies form or undermine their engagement?

I will be posting the historians’ answers at this blog throughout the week. [See now the responses by Sean LucasRusty Hawkins, and Carolyn Dupont.]

MJHThe first respondent is Matthew J. Hall (Ph.D., University of Kentucky), who serves as vice president of academic services at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also teaches courses in church history and American history. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Legacy of Carl F. H. Henry (Crossway). His dissertation was on “Cold Warriors in the Sunbelt: Southern Baptists and the Cold War, 1947-1989.” You can follow him on Twitter at @MatthewJHall.

* * *

As a historian who is also a Southern Baptist, I am in something of a perpetual quandary. In all of my research on the long history of racial justice and the black freedom movement, I find that my fellow churchmen who supported the cause of justice were more often the exception, not the rule. Instead, my research—and that of historians far more accomplished than me—makes quite clear that white evangelicals throughout the South were overwhelmingly opposed to the civil rights movement. They may have couched their opposition in more genteel ways than the Klan—yes, the White Citizens Councils would do the job—but oppose it they did nonetheless.

A couple caveats here. First, it’s worth noting that the evangelical canopy has always been a broad and unwieldy one. Broad enough to include Anabaptists and Campbellites, Wesleyans and Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Lutherans—we should be leery of speaking of it in monolithic terms. But it does seem that in its most traditional forms, regardless of geography, evangelicals were often those not only skeptically removed from the civil rights movement, but directly opposed to it. There were notable exceptions, of course. And, as noted by historians such as David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway, there has always been a stream within the broader evangelical river that has prioritized social action and justice.

But it does seem self-evident that, in the main, white evangelicals—particularly those in the South—were deeply invested in efforts to either uphold Jim Crow or to try to slow down its dismantling. While a previous generation of historians suggested this was symptomatic of “cultural captivity,” I’m not so sure. In fact, in many cases, it seems that evangelical theology—or at least distorted models of it—were part of the reason segregationist beliefs and structures took shape the way they did. The unfortunate reality isn’t that evangelical theology in the South was muted when it came to racial justice, it’s that it was actively used to undermine justice and to perpetuate a demonic system. And that’s the cruelest historical irony of it all: those who loved the “old rugged cross” were often also those who torched crosses in protest of desegregation.

Why was this? Why did this particular subgrouping of evangelicals seem especially vulnerable to this cultural and theological blindness? It was a malady not unique to southern white evangelicals, but it did afflict them in particularly pronounced ways. Let me try to give some historical reasons.

1. Many white southern evangelicals had a deficient doctrine of sin.

Let me be clear. These evangelicals had a very clear understanding of the personal realities of behavior contrary to revealed biblical norms, or at least a somewhat selective list of them. But where they fell short was in articulating a fully-orbed doctrine of sin, one that has deep roots in the Christian tradition and is far more pessimistic about the extent and effects of sin. A classic Protestant understanding of sin might have helped them recognize the ways in which sin infects not only personal individual choices, but also social structures, economic systems, legal codes, etc. But by relegating sin only to the realm of individual choice, it allowed white evangelicals to denounce anything broader as political entanglement that had no connection to Christian ethics or witness.

2. White evangelicals often capitulated to the racist hysteria surrounding fears of intermarriage.

Those who denounced the civil rights movement routinely trotted out the allegation that the cause was fundamentally about “mixing the races” and marrying off blacks and whites. For many southern whites, the thought of their white daughter married and sexually united to a black man was unfathomable. A long and horrendous tradition had developed citing clumsily applied biblical passages that were purported to demonstrate God’s prohibition of such marriages. Evangelicals should have known better and been immune to such poor biblical interpretation. But when opponents of the civil rights movement tried to delegitimize the movement by “warning” of the secret motives of its leaders, far too many evangelicals were susceptible to their tactics.

3. White southern evangelicals were blinded by their majority status to the injustice around them.

Other historians have noted that blacks and whites often inhabited two different worlds. Southern whites often thought they knew the world of subordinate blacks, assuming all was well in the racial hierarchy. Jim Crow allowed for southern whites—including the large number of them who claimed membership in churches—to sincerely believe that everyone within the system was content. Only a few “troublemakers” ever seemed to voice dissent, and those that did often could end up on the other end of a rope, hanging from a lynching tree due to allegations of some impropriety or questionable criminal allegation. In part, this helps explain why so many southern whites excoriated the civil rights movement as merely the fabrication of a group of “outside agitators” sent in to stir up strife among the otherwise docile and happy black population. While they were eventually disabused of that notion, it seemed to them to be the only rational explanation for the powder keg that seemed to have exploded out of nowhere.

4. White southern evangelicals imbibed and perpetuated the Lost Cause mythology.

Developing at the end of Reconstruction and the closing of the nineteenth century, white southerners constructed memories of the Old South and the Civil War that perpetuated assumptions about white superiority, the necessity of racial segregation, and the seemingly victimized status of the region. It found expression among trained historians, but at the more popular level—one deeply infused with religious meaning—it became even more influential as a form of civil religion. For many southern whites, including evangelicals, it provided a worldview that told them that slavery was an unfortunate institution that would have naturally run its course, that the South was marked by a different chivalrous—and more Christian—moral code than the rest of the nation, that the “War of Northern Aggression” was an unconstitutional incursion into southern states’ rights, and that the South still represented the only great hope for long term American stability and prosperity. Well in place by the 1950s, the Lost Cause mythology inoculated massive numbers of white southerners—including Jesus-loving, gospel-preaching, soul-winning churchgoers—to be leery of anything that suggested that the status quo was characterized by injustice and unrighteousness.

Evangelicals are right to prioritize the work of racial reconciliation and its rooting in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But reconciliation by its very nature requires some sometimes unpleasant conversations and mutual understanding to answer the question, “How did we get here?” I’m hopeful for the future of evangelical racial reconciliation in part because I see a new generation willing to look to the past with honesty and to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant. Even more, I am confident that the gospel that reconciles sinners to God and to one another is as powerful as ever.

Editors’ note: The 2015 Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit, sponsored by The Gospel Coalition, will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26 and 27, 2015. To learn more go here. Save 20 percent when you use the code TGC20.


View Comments


27 thoughts on “Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Southern White Evangelicals: A Historians Forum (Matthew J. Hall)”

  1. Erica says:

    I’d be curious to hear Dr. Hall’s answer how the civil right and same sex marriage movements are different. All 4 of the historical reasons to evangelicals blindness to racial issues also seem to apply to lbgt issues.
    1. A focus on sexual sins, treating remarriage as different than same sex marriage, and the inability to distinguish between monogamous relationships and adulterous ones.
    2. Complaining about how same sex degrades marriage, but once again ignoring divorce which is the larger problem.
    3. Still blinded by majority status
    4. Purity culture instead of lost cause

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Erica, you may find this piece helpful:

    2. Josh Kelley says:

      It is a fair question, Erica. To me, gay rights should be treated like the Civil Rights movement in as far as it covers human rights. If a person is being denied his or her human rights because of their sexual orientation, it becomes a civil rights issue.

      The question, then, is if marriage is a human right. If it is, then it must be defended for all as a civil right. But then it cannot stop at same sex marriage. If marriage is a human right, then we cannot deny it to anyone. Does a person want to marry themselves? It would be their right. Marry their sibling? Marry half a dozen people at the same time? It would be their right as well.

      If marriage is viewed as a human right, it will eventually cease to have any real meaning. But if it is a social construct, created for the betterment of society, then the society holds the ability to limit its meaning.

      1. Erica says:

        Hey Josh,
        Marry their sibling like Abraham and Sarah? Marry multiple wives like Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon? Marriage has been a civil right since Loving v. Virginia ruled against interracial marriage bans.

  2. Remley says:

    Intriguing read for this Mississippi resident. There’s a lot here that is still very relevant for the context I’m in. Thanks for taking the time to lead this series, Mr. Taylor, and to respond, Dr. Hall.

  3. Greg Long says:

    Erica, because the Bible says they’re different.

  4. John Hanna says:

    Erica, there are many reasons why the comparison of America’s ugly history with respect to race to the recognition of the sinfulness of same-sex sexual relations is not a valid comparison in any meaningful way. Here are a few briefly stated:

    There are many reasons why the comparison of America’s ugly history with respect to race is not a valid comparison in any meaningful way to the recognition of the sinfulness of same-sex sexual relations. Here are a few briefly stated:

    1. Human beings are created in God’s image with inherent goodness and value. Yet, racism in American history, through slavery and segregation, degraded and denied the goodness and glory of that image. One result was the separation of the races into superior and inferior, effectively denying our common identity as equals before God and one another.

    However, to say that certain desires and behaviors are sinful, as in the case of same-sex relationships, doesn’t deny the inherent goodness of someone’s humanity but says something that’s true of all of us. Calling someone a sinner affirms the common and tragic condition we all share as human beings in need of redemption, forgiveness, mercy and grace from God. If calling someone a sinner, including sexually, makes a person a bigot, then Jesus was the most hateful bigot of all.

    2. This argument is typical in its American and Western narrowness and parochialism, ignoring both history and the rest of the world. Christianity was Middle Eastern, African and Asian before it was northern and Western European. Race-based slavery and segregation, including opposition to interracial marriage, was not in any way “Christian teaching,” but was a position advanced by one group of Christians in one part of the world during a brief period of history. It was aberrant teaching which could easily and properly be rejected without any loss to Christian understanding or teaching. Actually, its rejection, as explained above, is consistent with human being in image of God and corrected what was a grave error.

    The glorious picture of the new heavens and new earth given to us in the Bible is that it will be filled with those from every nation, tribe, people and language. Christianity is a global, multicultural, multilingual, multiracial movement, and has been from its very inception, when in Acts 2 it says that those in Jerusalem were from “every nation under heaven.”

    Conversely, that the expression and enjoyment of human sexuality is in the union of the two sexes, male and female, within the permanent, exclusive, life commitment of marriage is universal Christian teaching and understanding throughout history. This union of man and woman is the pinnacle of God’s creation in Genesis 1 and 2, and is a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church, with a marital celebration being one of the ways the Bible depicts the joy and radiance of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 19). To say that this understanding of marriage and sexuality is comparable to the bigotry and blindness of America’s past is to say that Christianity itself is blind and bigoted, for they are linked. Also, the Christian understanding of sexuality isn’t simply a “rule” among others, which can be cast aside while maintaining other beliefs we prefer, as if redemption could be “made to order” according to our contemporary, affluent, privileged, entitled tastes. It has to do with the nature of what it means to be human, orienting desires, affections and behaviors away from sin in opposition to God, towards God in faith, hope and love.

    To renounce racism and segregation and their effects is to renounce evil. To renounce marriage and sexuality as the “one flesh” union of man and woman is to renounce that which God created good, and is a picture of Christ’s love for his people.

    3. Race is a physical characteristic related to appearance. Sexuality in general has to do with desire and behavior, morality and immorality, acceptance and rejection, self-giving, love, procreation, family, etc. That the United States has a shameful and brutal history with respect to race has no bearing on any of this. 19th century slavery and 20th century segregation do not provide any insight or information concerning what we ought to do with our sexual desires or how we should behave sexually. Simply stated, race and sex are two starkly different categories.

    1. Erica says:

      Hey John,
      It seems we disagree about sexual orientation being a choice. I think it’s just like other physical characteristics – skin color, hair color, eye color, height, handedness, baldness – that we have no control over. The problem with the segregationists is that they put more weight on some verses than others. Similarly, I put more weight on 1 Cor 7 saying that marriage is the solution for lust, whereas you put more weight on 1 Cor 6 and the assumption that when Paul referenced homosexual prostitutes, he also intended to cover monogamous relationships. I think that prostitution is decidedly different than marriage.

      1. Andrew says:

        Hi Erica, you might find this post interesting. This was written by a non-Christian who is a practicing lesbian woman. I do not support all of what she says, but I think what she claims about the matter being “choice” is particularly helpful.

        1. Erica says:

          Hey Andrew, I think it’s an interesting post and it adds some nuance to the question of choice. One way to think of it is that everyone is on a continuum where on one end is 100% hetero and the other end is 100% gay. Most people are at or very near the 100% hetero end of the spectrum. People in the middle have some degree of choice, although they, like you, don’t necessarily pick who they love. At the far end of the spectrum are people who could only pretend to be a hetero relationship. Until people can agree about the far end (100% gay), then there’s not much room for conversation about the in the middle people.

      2. Erica,

        I think your initial question is a good one since the comparison between civil rights and homosexual rights is often made. I raise these additional questions with the hope of clarifying some different assumptions that different participants to this discussion bring with them:

        1. What is the definition of marriage? Is there significance to the fact that in 1 Cor 7 Paul speaks of man and woman with regard to marriage?
        2. On what exegetical ground do you conclude that 1 Cor. 6:9 refers to prostitutes and not more generally to those who can be characterized by the sins indicated in the list?
        3. Do you think we should prefer interpretations that harmonize passages of Scripture or interpretations in which some passages are set against others?
        4. Should sexual desire and behavior be equated with things that are neither desires nor behaviors such as baldness, height, or skin color? If so, why?

        1. Erica says:

          Hi Brian,
          1. Marriage is a legally protected relationship between 2 or more people. Paul referred to 2 gender marriage since it’s the dominant type and probably the exclusive type in his time. The extreme patriarchal views of the time meant that anyone (male or female) in the female position was inferior. Relationships were thought of in dominant/submissive terms more than gender.
          2. The two words are very rare in ancient Greek, which makes exegesis difficult. Paul goes on in 1 Cor 6 to discuss prostitution, so it’s obvious that is something he believes is wrong.In Romans 1, he equates homosexuality with idol worship and temple prostitution, so it’s likely he’s referring to that in 1 Cor 6.
          3. There is naturally tension in verses (Gal 3:28 vs. 1 Tim 2:12). Some harmonize by saying equality is only for heaven. Others say Paul was addressing a particular situation in Ephesus. When confronted with a gifted female teacher, one calls her a sinner and the other thanks God for giving His gift of teaching.
          4. Behavior is different than physical characteristics, but they are tied together. People’s behavior is constrained artificially by their physical characteristics. Black people were forbidden from marrying white people. Handedness is another good example. About 10% of people are born left-handed, but Christians and other cultures have considered left handedness evil and forced left handed people to use their right hand. Likewise, many cultures try to force homosexuals to act straight. Women are prevented from teaching.

          1. Erica,

            Thanks for the interaction. Your answers raise some more questions for me, if you willing to continue the dialogue.

            1. How would you differentiate your definition of marriage from a contractual business arrangement, which could also be described as a legally protected relationship between two or more people? What is the basis for your definition?

            2. Given that the two words in 1 Cor. 6:9 are rare, why import the matter of prostitution? Since the second of the two words is a simple compound that refers to men lying together, why not presume that Paul has coined a term (it is not found in the literature prior to Paul) to refer to Lev. 18:22 which uses the equivalent terminology in Hebrew? In Romans 1, what is the exegetical basis for saying that Paul is referring to temple prostitution? In Romans 1 is Paul equating homosexual actions with idolatry, or is he noting that it is one of a number of sins to which God gives those who worship anything other than him over to?

            3. Are you saying by your examples that verses that seem to be in tension should be harmonized in some way?

            4. Physical characteristics may be used as a reason for constraining certain behaviors, as, in the first example you gave, black people having been forbidden from marrying white people. But isn’t that different from saying sexual desires and activities are the same as skin color?

            1. Erica says:

              1. Marriage is different because it sanctions a sexual component. It is an arrangement where sex between the participants is approved and encouraged (as say to opposed to prostitution, extra or pre-marital relationships). Ideally, sex would only occur in a marriage.
              2. Lev. 18:21-22 is interesting in that it interrupts the discussion of sexual sins to mention the worship of Molech before talking about homosexuality. It’s odd to throw Molech worship in unless Molech worship also involved homosexuality.
              2b, Either way you interpret Paul, it seems that idolatry precedes homosexuality, which is different than a homosexual orientation which has nothing to do with idolatry.
              3. Yes.
              4. Obviously there are differences between sexual behavior and skin color as there is in any analogy. In the case of marriage, sexual orientation and skin color are good parallels because they are both given as the only reason to prevent a couple from marrying.

              1. Thanks for the interaction. This is helpful.

                1. This is a helpful clarification. But it does raise additional questions. Why would sexual relations be a significant part of the definition of marriage? Also, I’m still interested in how you ground your definition.

                2a. Why do you presume that verse 21 relates to verse 22? Is there any extra-biblical evidence that indicates that Molech worship had homosexual activity as a component? Would a consistent reading following your approach conclude that v. 23 is also linked with Molech worship and such actions only wrong when practiced in connection with idolatry? Why see the link between verses 20 and 21 given that זרע (seed) is a keyword that ties those two verses together (something that is admittedly clearer when the verses are read in Hebrew)?

                2b. Would you say that the other activities to which God gave people over to (vv. 28-31) are different here than those same activities when they have nothing to do with idolatry? Or would you agree that it makes more sense of the logic of the passage to say that God gives idolaters over to additional sins (which remain sins even out of a context of idolatry)? Also, on your view how do you understand Paul’s reference to exchanging natural relations for relations that are contrary to nature?

                3. We are agreed, then, about seeking to harmonize Scriptures that appear in tension.

                4. Is it your position that any reason for preventing a couple from marrying is wrong? If not, then doesn’t the question of the difference between skin color and desires and actions that, as you note, are connected to the definition of marriage need to be addressed?

              2. Erica says:

                Hi Brian,
                1. I’m not sure how to say I ground my definition. I think I’m using the common, modern understanding of marriage. Marriage has meant different things throughout history, but sex has been a core part of it. Obviously, there have been exceptions like when David was old and couldn’t stay warm. You look at the patriarchs and polygamy was common. Different cultures have different use of a dowry in exchange for a daughter or to pay for a daughter to get married. Arranged marriages were very common until recently in the West. Besides sex (and maybe more important?), there was the idea of joining families and joining property through marriage. The modern, romantic notion of marriage has sort of lost that idea of joining families to some extent.

                2.a Here’s a link about Molech I’m not sure if applies to v23, but it would make sense. I anticipate your next question will involve bestiality, and I would say I think that’s a different topic, but I don’t immediately recall any NT verses on bestiality. So I don’t give the wrong impression, just because the Bible is silent about something doesn’t mean it is good or right. For instance, the Bible is silent about domestic violence (or supports it 1 Peter 3:1), but I don’t think it’s right. Jesus gave us 2 very broad principles – Love God, Love man. same sex marriage doesn’t violate either one.

                2b. v28-31 all list things that violate those 2 principles (Love God, Love man). To go against one’s nature is to go against one’s orientation. So a gay person having a straight relationship is also going against their nature.

                4. Like in 1 Cor 5, we have to look at how support of a particular marriage affects the gospel message and the individuals involved. In that sense, I think it’s more important to support same sex marriage today than inter-racial marriage in the 50’s. A same sex couple can not find opposite sex people to marry, whereas an interracial couple could find members of the same race. (Not that they should;I’m just weighing 2 evils). We can look at how Paul condoned slavery and the subjugation of women to make it easier to present the Gospel. If it was the 80’s, and the external culture thought same sex marriage was wrong, we’d have a harder choice.

                5. My question for you: How do you know conservative churches are not making the same mistake today that they made on segregation and slavery in the past?

              3. 5. Your question is an excellent one that conservative churches need to answer. When I look at defenses of slavery and segregation by Christians in the past, it is clear that they conformed to their culture and misinterpreted Scripture to do so rather than allowing Scripture to challenge their culture.

                For instance, consider how Exodus 21:16 applies to American antebellum slavery: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found sin possession of him, shall be put to death.” This verse undercuts the entire structure of American slavery. If we had to, we could work through each of the biblical passages on slavery to demonstrate that what was permitted under the OT law was very different than what was practiced in the American South. In New Testament times slavery was so embedded in the culture that a minority of group like Christianity would not be able to put an end to it or disentangle itself from it immediately without doing greater harm. In such circumstances, God does not tell his people to foment revolution (for a discussion of the theology behind preferring reformation over revolution, see Albert Wolters, Creation Regained, 2nd ed., 89-93). He does however instruct his people to live in a way that undermines the evil of slavery. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, as required by Roman law, but he sends him back “no longer as a slave,” but as Paul’s son and Philemon’s “dearly loved brother.” Paul also forbids masters to even threaten their slaves (much less beat them), reminds them that the slaves are their equals, and commands that they treat them with justice and fairness (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1). If Christians in the American South had attended to the Scriptures, they would have sought to abolish slavery (as Christians elsewhere did) rather than perpetuate it.
                The least defensible part of American slavery was its race-based character. This means that segregation stood on very shaky biblical ground. Historian Paul Harvey notes, “The biblical passages about God’s providence in slavery and segregation were open to multiple readings, even among biblical literalists. In the twentieth century, this theology of race was radically overturned in part through a imagination of the same Christian thought that was part of its creation. By the 1960s, segregationists defended Jim Crow more on emotional (‘our way of life’), practical (‘tradition’), and constitutional (‘states rights’) than theological grounds. In doing so, they lost the battle to spiritually inspired activists who deconstructed Jim Crow.” Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era, 2. One of the reasons for this is that racial ideas have to be imported into Scripture; they are not read out of it (On this see Colin Kidd, The Forging of the Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, 20). In fact, Kidd notes that the concept of race “started out as a theological problem in the early modern period. In particular, the unity of the human race was fundamental to Christian theology. If mankind did not spring from a single racial origin, then theologians were confronted with a scenario that undermined the very essence of the Christian story. The sacred drama of Fall and redemption rests upon assumptions of mankind’s common descent from Adam” (Kidd, 21-22).

                The main lesson I draw from Christian defenses of slavery and segregation is that we need to beware cultural pressures to adopt unlikely and unfaithful interpretations of Scripture.

                It is that very danger that I see in defenses of same-sex desires and behavior that appeal to the Bible.

                Let me note some examples from our discussion:
                2b. It is unlikely that either Paul or his readers would have understood “to go against one’s nature” as going against one’s orientation. That’s just not how nature was understood then. They would have understood nature to refer to the order that God built into the world, as the way things ought to be. Further the passage itself specifies what God considered unnatural and natural. In the sense Paul is using the term, same-sex relations are unnatural. That doesn’t meant that some people don’t have strong desire for them (Paul is noting that such is the case), but it does mean that those desires are not according to God’s intention of how the world ought to be. C.E.B. Cranfield’s International Critical Commentary on Romans is a standard non-evangelical commentary that should bear out the point about how nature was understood in Paul’s time.
                2a. The idea that condemnation of same-sex relations is only condemning same-sex prostitution seems a clear instance of reading into the text what is not there. I think Leviticus 18 may be the best chance of making such a connection. The difficulty there is that a clear keyword link exists between 20 and 21, making a 21-22 link unlikely. The argument in the link you provided that Lev. 20:5 is referring to prostitution in connection with Molech worship is grammatically unlikely. Molech is the object of the prostitution in this verse, which makes it fit the very common OT image of prostitution as a metaphor for idolatry. In addition, though there were fertility cults in which prostitution was a part of the worship, there is no evidence that Molech worship was one of them (also, Ashtoreth was the consort to Baal, rather than Molech). The Anchor Bible Dictionary, a standard non-evangelical reference work should bear out the information about Molech.
                1. An example of culture putting pressure on our biblical interpretations can be seen in the shfiting definition of marriage. I would maintain that such an important theological concept should have a biblical grounding. When Jesus is asked a question about marriage, He turns to Genesis 1:27, 2:18, 21-24 (Matt. 19:4-6). Jesus specifically notes that God created marriage as between a male and a female who enter what he calls a one flesh union.

                4. Thus I would hold that a comparison between inter-racial marriage and same-sex “marriage” is not an apt comparison. a. Race is a social construct; the determiners of what distinguishes one race from another have shifted according to time and culture (Colin Kidd, see above, has a helpful discussion of this). Sex/gender are biological realities. What is more, they are realities that play into the definition of marriage itself. b. Desires and behaviors, especially in connection with sexuality, are moral matters. Moral matters require moral evaluation. And again, these are moral matters that are tied directly to the definition of what marriage is. All this to say, race should be irrelevant to marriage, but a person’s sex and the related desires and behaviors, far from irrelevant, are closely tied to the definition.

                Thus if we make a civil rights comparison to this issue, I don’t think the analogy between those who oppose inter-racial marriage and those who oppose same-sex marriage works. It’s a false analogy. But I think the analogy between Christians who misinterpreted Scripture under culture pressure is a cogent analogy.

                Thank you again for this discussion. I’m interested in any thoughts you might have in turn.

      3. John Hanna says:

        Hi Erica, I didn’t say that same-sex desire, attraction, are a choice in the way you seem to be understanding. It seems that for many, they are compulsive, controlling, overpowering, involuntary. That however is not a reason to say something isn’t sin, but is the essence of sin – mine and yours and everyone else’s. Sin is what masters us and is so intertwined with our being that we cannot separate ourselves from it by our own power. That’s why we needed nothing less than the Son of God to take up our humanity in full, bear our sins, plunge down into death and rise again. “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”

        Desire and attraction are different from identity and behavior however, which are chosen. Effectively, what a person is saying at that point is I accept this desire as my Master and Lord, and give myself, my identity, my life, over to it. To identify desire and attraction with race and other physical characteristics, is to simply accept them as a given which we affirm as good and encourage. Effectively, this eliminates sin as a meaningful category in any way, since sin emerges from the core of our being as a desire for that which is opposed to God. It encourages and affirms that which Jesus came to set us free from. What all of us need is a reorientation at the core of our being away from sin and self to God, overflowing to love of neighbor.

        1. Erica says:

          But Paul said if you are overpowered with lust, you should marry. He didn’t say that we just needed to be saved and we wouldn’t lust. Eating, drinking, and breathing are also “compulsive, controlling, overpowering, involuntary”. Paul puts sex in the same category as these 3 when he says to abstain only for a period of time with mutual consent. Just like we fast from food or drink, we can fast from sex.

  5. Jacob Phillips says:

    Thanks for posting. This is excellent and I look forward to the rest of the series.

  6. Josh Kelley says:

    Justin, thank you for this series. Matthew, thank you for this post. I am Seattle kid traveling through the South, struggling to understand this strange world. You have answered many of the questions I’ve been asking.

  7. Phil Wade says:

    “But by relegating sin only to the realm of individual choice, it allowed white evangelicals to denounce anything broader as political entanglement that had no connection to Christian ethics or witness.”

    That’s a lesson we still need to learn. A pastor friend of mine recently said that when slavery was legal, many Christians said that they couldn’t do anything about such a large institution, but if they personally didn’t own slaves, they were doing their part. Then during the Jim Crow era, they said if they personally treated everyone with respectfully, they were doing their part. Now, we still say we can’t doing anything about the big problem of race relations in America, but if we personally support healthy relationships then we’re doing our part. And the problems remain.

  8. I’m thankful that #1 the SBC has nothing like the racist positions that were present at our founding. and #2 that the SBC doesn’t speak on behalf of anyone. In other words, the SBC can only ever summarize the current consensus among her churches. That means no SBC leader or any other person can speak for me or my church, let alone anyone from the SBC in days gone by. This is where the SBC has an advantage over more “top-down” ecclesiastical models.

  9. Cody says:

    Hi Erica, if you’re still around I’d like to ask you why you can’t put an emphasis on both 1 Cor 6 and 7.

    1. Erica says:

      Hey there Cody, when two verses appear to conflict, people try different ways of harmonizing them. When I said I favor 1 Cor 7, I meant that I think the interpretation of 1 Cor 6 applying to all homosexuals is wrong. When I said he favor 1 Cor 6, I meant he must mean that marriage is not God’s plan for lust (1 Cor 7). I think we both would say we’ve harmonized the verses to not conflict, but we’ve reached different conclusions.

  10. Cody says:

    That is what I would say too. I’d say though that your interpretation is driven by sentiment moreso than logic. Wink.

  11. Cody says:

    Excuse me Erica. I should have said your interpretation is driven more by wishing for people to be happy and less by wishing them to be moral. It would have been better for me to have said “pragmaticism” instead of “sentiment”.

Comments are closed.

Search this blog


Justin Taylor photo

Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books