Big Changes Are Possible in a Short Time

This story caught my eye.  It's a story about Ferguson and the Eric Garner story (for those not from the US--both are incidents involving the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police), and it has Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, calling for solidarity between white (and, really, people of all races) Christians and African-Americans.  “It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,” Moore said.

I think Dr. Moore's statements are extremely positive, in two different ways.  First, they are positive on their own terms--he's right about the continuing need for serious reflection and change in the US with regard to race.  White, conservative churches, as those Dr. Moore speaks for, can play an incredibly central and critical role in the process.  It seems to be that comments like this are legitimately helpful in beginning to fix things.  So, good on Moore, and good on other white evangelical leaders saying specific things.

But there is a second, perhaps even more important reason why those statements are positive.  Check out the quote at the end of the story.

I have gotten responses, and seen responses, that are right out of the White Citizens’ Council material from 1964 in my home state of Mississippi, seeing people saying there is no gospel issue involved with racial reconciliation,” he said in a podcast.

He doesn’t agree with them.

“Are you kidding me? There is nothing that is clearer in the New Testament than the fact that the gospel breaks down the dividing walls that we have between one another.”

I take Dr. Moore at his word with that quote--he finds it unfathomable that racist policies of discrimination could be justified in terms of Christian theology.  But that position represents a radical break from where his own denomination was 50 years ago.  Remember, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed explicitly in opposition to the anti-slavery positions of its northern Baptist brethren right before the Civil War.  In 1964, the members of the White Citizens Council that Dr. Moore finds so abhorrent were very likely to be members of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Dr. Moore's position in 2014 would be anathema to his forebearers fifty years ago, and they would be dumbfounded to hear an official of the SBC taking the public position Moore did.

In 50 years, less than two generations, the Southern Baptist Convention has done a 180 on race.  Sure, I have no doubt that one could find folks in the SBC that would not be keen on Dr. Moore's position here.  But there is nothing to suggest that Dr. Moore is standing on an island in terms of the SBC.  No one is calling for his resignation based on his statements.

Dr. Moore's comments show that change--radical change, unthinkable change--is always possible.  If the SBC did a 180 on race, does this mean that it will do a 180 on gay rights?  Not necessarily.  Is it possible it will do a 180 on gay rights?  Yes.  The SBC position on race was at least as foundational to its identity in 1964 as its opposition to gay rights is in 2014.  It's much like the Vatican II--once you are willing to go there, there is no place that can be categorically excluded.

Dr. Moore (per wikipedia) was born in 1971, after the Civil Rights Movement (or at least at the tail end).  He looks back at his ancestors in faith, across that divide, with incomprehension with regard to race.  Maybe there's the next Russell Moore, yet to be born, who will look at gay rights issues the same way.


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