Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to email@example.com. A version of this article previously appeared at Baptists Today on March 28, 2013. At the time of publication, Pierce was executive editor / publisher at Baptists Today.
Selective memory can cause many Christians to wonder in amazement at why their understandings of and proclamations about what seems so clearly right to them are not readily accepted by others.
There is this missing sense of awareness that credibility has been lost — for valid reasons.
Here’s a hint: When it comes to issues of justice, peace and equality, the track record of conservative Christianity being on the right side of history is not very good.
One can never, and should never, escape the haunting reality that those who owned and subjected persons of African descent to work for the exclusive economic benefit of their owners were for the most part highly regarded as model citizens and Christians.
Likewise, those who forced Native Americans off their lands were Christian leaders who built some of the great churches and religious institutions of today. Just check the founding dates on the cornerstones in Georgia and see how often a year from the 1830s is engraved.
Later, those who covered themselves in hooded robes to burn, of all things, crosses, and to carry out violent acts against Black citizens would change into coats and ties to head to church on Sunday to pray and sing praises to the Good Lord.
Those who turned fire hoses and fierce dogs on innocent and defenseless demonstrators who were seeking basic civil rights were the same respected congregational leaders who regularly filled Sunday school classes, choir lofts and deacons’ meetings in Baptist churches.
Those who went on record in the 1980s and beyond, claiming that half the human population is excluded from having an equal role in ministry and relegated to the authority of men because Eve brought sin into the world, drummed up and passed such nonsense at big denominational meetings. It was done in the name of faithfulness to “the infallible, inerrant Word of God.”
Despite such a long history of being on the wrong side of history, there seems to be some disconnect for many professing Christians who can’t imagine why their clear perspectives on what is right and wrong aren’t readily embraced by others.
When current questions about human rights and equality are raised, there remains a baffling look on the faces of those who can’t seem to grasp why anyone would question their authoritative proclamations when they speak so clearly on behalf of God.
Well, here is why: the lack of credentials to do so.
It is not enough to proclaim biblical authority as if some divine pipeline has been installed from God to selected holders of the truth who have no blinders. One simply cannot speak in such absolutes while holding to a tradition that has been so absolutely wrong so often.
The track record for many expressions of the Body of Christ is not good enough to permit unquestioning acceptance of what is claimed once again to be the authoritative word of God — offered without a hint of humility.
The best those who claim to follow Jesus, especially white Baptists and other conservative Christians of the South, and Roman Catholics still reeling from scandal and cover ups, can do in such times is to confess these past failures and complicity in evil — due again and again to the tragic inability to see truth because it gets clouded by personal ambition and fears.
Perhaps more honest confessions and prayers would include: “God, help me to get it right this time.”
Acting like members of an exclusive club of God’s favorites doesn’t open doors for constructive and meaningful conversations about life, liberty and faith.
Kingdom causes are better served when those seeking the way of Christ preface any conclusive statements with an acknowledgment of having been wrong in the past and having the potential to see unclearly in the present and future.
Otherwise, we misrepresent ourselves as something other than struggling seekers of truth — and misrepresent the faith we hold so dear as something less than the remarkable gift of grace it always proves to be.
The cross we encounter this week can speak both to our ongoing failure to grasp truth — and to the truth that God’s grace grasps us in our failures.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.