Gerald Harris’ editorial titled “Breaking family ties painful, but sometimes necessary” in The Christian Index, official publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention, is condescending toward Mimi Walker, co-pastor of Druid Hills Baptist Church, specifically, and toward women in general.
It is also an insult to that fine congregation that has remained faithful despite great sociological change in their Atlanta community. And it should be offensive to any honest and reflective Christian whom Harris does not permit to have a different interpretation on this subject than his without being dismissed as unfaithful to the Bible.
However, his writing puts him in the company of Baptist and other church leaders who made the same arguments in defense of racial inferiority and the slavery of persons of African decent.
For example, Harris claims that “The Bible is clear on this issue…” while selecting an isolated biblical passage that supports his position and ignoring both those parts of scripture that affirm women in leadership roles as well as those even more restrictive than he wishes to argue.
He points to 1 Timothy 2:11-14 to bolster his claim that women are not to teach or have authority over men. And, of course, he ignores the supposedly inerrant preceding instruction (in vs. 9) that calls for women to dress modestly without “braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”
It is just flat dishonest!
And no amount of patronizing about how women are of equal value but restricted to different roles can gloss over the sexism here. As Susan Shaw of Oregon State University, who has done major research on Southern Baptist perspectives on women’s roles, once noted: In such cases, the roles with all power always go to men.
Defenders of slavery took the same approach, however, by isolating verses such as Ephesians 6:5-6 (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart”) while ignoring the broad and deep biblical message of human worth and equality.
Also like those who argued for slavery, Harris asserts that he and his ilk are true to the Bible while those in disagreement “adjust (their) sails to catch the wind of popular opinion.” He reiterates: “Neither should our interpretation of Scripture become so accommodating to our secular society that every assumption and concept fits snuggly into our humanly-devised system of theology.”
But what if it is Harris’ system of theology that is humanly devised? Did not secular society reach the gospel truth on racial equality and the unspeakably inhumane treatment of African slaves well ahead of many church leaders? Absolutely!
Also, in both cases, proponents claim to defend God’s intended order of authority rather than merely a humanly-devised social structure that they find comfortable and beneficial.
If fundamentalist Baptists continue to be the last holdouts on basic issues of human worth and equality, and keep building their flimsy cases on highly selective scriptural evidence at the expense of the broader biblical truth, who is going to listen to what else they might say?
Hopefully, there will not be many who do so — and even fewer who will judge the merits of the wonderful Christian gospel on such remaining blind spots.
Those who argued so passionately that the only true biblical interpretation was one that supported racial inequality and human bondage were dead wrong. So are Harris and those who make this equally poor case — and aggressively impose it on others.
As the old folk song asks: “When will we ever learn?”
And, for God’s sake, at least admit that the potential for error — so clearly evident in the past — still exists today. It is amazing how those who affirm biblical infallibility are so willing to assume the same authority for their human interpretations of a hand-picked verse or two while ignoring parts of the very same chapter.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.