A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but then stinkweed would smell just as stinky. In my opinion, the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t need to change its name, but its more odious beliefs and modus operandi.
Southern Baptists once encouraged the persecution of millions of African-Americans by using the Bible to “prove” that slavery was “God’s will.” (As Jefferson Davis once pointed out, slavery is a “Divine decree” commanded from Genesis to Revelation.) Today the SBC encourages the persecution of millions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons by using the Bible to “prove” that God is a bigot. But if the men who wrote the Bible were wrong about slavery, they could easily have been wrong about other things too.
The SBC considers homosexuality to be the “unforgivable sin,” and yet according to the Bible, Jesus never even raised the subject, so it obviously wasn’t high on his agenda. He did, however, spend considerable time criticizing self-righteous religious types (were they the Southern Baptists of his day?) who claimed to be the apples of God’s eye, while exhibiting no compassion for the people they despised and oppressed. In one of my favorite Bible verses, Jesus prophesied that the prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven before the self-righteous. What if he meant what he said? Will gay prostitutes be first and their oppressors last?
I have noticed that many gays exhibit much more “fruit of the spirit” than their Pharisee-like oppressors: kindness, gentleness, etc. And shouldn’t we add tolerance to that list?
And why would Jesus reserve his sternest criticism for hypocritical moralists then save them at the expense of everyone else? We all know Baptists have sex however they please, because their pastors often get caught with their pants down. So why damn gays for also enjoying sexual freedom?
Ironically, the biggest problem conservative Christians face today is their dishonesty about the “Word of Truth.” How can a book that commands slavery, infanticide, matricide, ethnic cleansing and genocide be “infallible”? But if the Bible isn’t infallible, why cling to the verses that lead to false morality, hypocrisy, bigotry and intolerance?
Modern Bible scholarship and simple logic confirm that certain “gospel truths” developed over time were not the revelations of God. For instance, if human beings live in danger of an “eternal hell,” it would have been incumbent on a wise, loving, just God to inform everyone (not just the ones with access to the Bible) about “hell” and how to avoid it. But there is no mention of “hell” anywhere in the Old Testament. (Hell, the Hebrew language doesn’t even have a word for “hell” — a curious omission, if God spoke to Moses.) And it’s obvious that Jehovah knew nothing about suffering after death, because he never mentioned such a possibility to his best human friends (or even his worst enemies). The Hebrew prophets spoke of Sheol, which was clearly the grave. But everyone went there, good and bad. David said that God would be with him when he made his bed in Sheol, and Job asked to be hidden from suffering there.
So “hell” obviously did not pre-exist and was not created during Old Testament times. But neither is there a single verse in the New Testament in which the creation of “hell” was revealed. How could a just God create “hell” and fail to warn every human being about it immediately?
And yet the SBC damns everyone to “hell” then frantically tries to “save” them with hole-y (or unholy) theology.
How did “hell” enter the Bible? Ironically, the Jewish historian Josephus — a contemporary of Paul and the apostles — said the only Jews who believed in hell were the Pharisees. They “borrowed” the idea from the pagan Greeks, undoubtedly because it was good for behavior control and making money — now the hallmarks of conservative Christian organizations like the SBC and Roman Catholic Church.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.