This essay is a response to an essay written by Roger E. Olson.
Mr. Olson’s essay deals with the question of whether Christians should be afraid of being on the wrong side of history. Specifically this is dealing with support for same-sex marriage. It’s a topic I’ve discussed many times in the past and have used the phrase “wrong side of history” when discussing those Christians who vehemently and hatefully resist measures proposed for marriage equality.
Mr. Olson feels that the phrase “wrong side of history” is a polite way of saying people who oppose marriage equality will be viewed “like our ancestors who defended slavery, oppression of women, and resisted the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s”. It’s a valid concern on the part of Mr. Olson and others who share his views on marriage.
Now there is a solid point on which I agree with Mr. Olson. In those civil rights movements, there were many Christians who took up the cause and fought for what they felt was morally right. There’s no disputing this. What Mr. Olson fails to mention is that the loudest voices in opposition of all of those movements were Christians. In regards to slavery, one should remember that the Southern Baptist Convention made the decision to use the slavery passages in the Bible to justify the continued application of slavery in the American South. This is but one example. If one were to seek out pulpits in the South and who was seeking to influence the minds of politicians in the South regarding sustaining Jim Crow, you’d find a large swath of Christians who saw it as their moral duty to maintain the unequal status quo of segregation.
Now Mr. Olson states that he should be counted among those who took stands against the moral evils of segregation, prohibiting women’s suffrage, and the like. The sad thing is this: By taking a stance against the personal freedom of American citizens to receive marriage equality, Mr. Olson and others have become part of the groups that opposed civil liberties in the past. While there is less violence from the Christians who oppose marriage equality, the rhetoric used (barring changes in the appropriate descriptive nouns) is identical to that used by segregationists and slave owners.
There is a great deal of ugliness in the Christian Bible. There are proscriptions for genocide and slavery, for women to be treated as little better than property, and there are passages that seem to speak out against homosexuality. What Mr. Olson fails to realize is that American culture evolves and in that evolution, there are times where the culture decides that certain aspects of religion are no longer acceptable behavior.
In the essay, Mr. Olson speaks to the permissive nature of Christian churches regarding divorce and heterosexual marriage. He makes the point that Christians today see “divorce as an option if not a liberation” and that there is no longer a stigma against divorce in the ministry or in the congregations. I agree with this assessment. In the church I grew up in, divorce was a taboo, something that was to be avoided at all cost. Divorce has become so commonplace that the “sacred” nature of the institution of marriage is debatable at this point.
Mr. Olson believes that Christians should stand their ground against cultural movements that Christians disagree with, provided that Christians “are sure that we are on the right side of God as determined by God’s revelation of himself and his will in Jesus Christ and Scripture”. My response to this assertion is rather simple:
Which verses in Scripture will you be using, Mr. Olson?
I’m sure Mr. Olson is aware of the contradictions in the Bible when it regards how to treat our fellow human beings. There are instructions to separate one’s self from the world and there are commands to change the world to fit Christ’s vision. There are passages that encourage Christians to treat others as they wish to be treated (which begs the question: Would you fight for your right to marry if people told you Christians couldn’t get married? I mean, Christianity is a choice, right?) and there are passages that condemn those who don’t adhere to Christianity’s tenets.
My question to Mr. Olson and to Christians who share his views is this: Why wouldn’t you be frightened by the prospect that you’re wrong? Why wouldn’t the thought of future generations seeing you as little better than the KKK be a terrifying notion? Are you so inured by the false certainty the Bible gives that you would risk depriving Americans of their Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
One last thought: If you wish for people to respect your beliefs, try remembering that not everyone wants to live according to your beliefs. Keep your beliefs where they belong: in your home, in your church, and in the public square. Your beliefs are not the law of the land and they should never be the law of the land.