RDPulpit: Pro-Slavery, Anti-Gay, Similar Theology

“It is vain to look to Christ and his Apostles to justify such blasphemous perversions of the Word of God.”

“…[T]hey’re committed to biblical truth.”


Assured as they are in their correct reading of the bible, these two quotes could easily be about the same topic. The first quote from James H. Hammond—a former senator and governor of South Carolina—was employed in defense of the institution of slavery (i.e., how could it be wrong and condoned by the Bible?). The second is from Melissa Fryrear, the director of gender issues from Focus on the Family—a professed “ex-gay” who is avid in her defense of “healing” homosexuals. The quotes are so similar because the argument each camp is making is exactly the same. Only the noun has changed from “slaves” to “homosexuals.” If the Bible says it, it would be blasphemy to not believe it.

As the uproar over Sarah Palin’s Wasilla Bible Church’s recent promotion of Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out” conference continues, Fryrear found that she had to defend her organization against the charge that they “hate” homosexuals. It turns out they don’t. Instead, their hearts are “full of such compassion, grace and love” for those who “struggle” with homosexuality.

This “compassion, grace and love” leads them to develop programs meant to “pray away the gay” and to ultimately rid the world of the scourge of homosexuality. They are offended by anyone who would accuse them of harboring “hatred” while pursuing their homosexual eradication program. They are merely “committed to biblical truth” and offer those who struggle with their sexuality a way to commit “to following the biblical sexual ethic” or to “pursue heterosexuality” if they wish. Shame, for even thinking such goals may stem from “hate.”  

In fact, they stem from love—but not the definition of love used by those who seek a society free from discrimination based on such things as sexual orientation or gender identity. Just as with slavery there are two very different theories at work, both based on the same idea of love—namely, The Golden Rule. What’s different is the interpretation. Nineteenth century Abolitionists saw Jesus’ command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” as a command to form an egalitarian society—one where equity and equality are key. In an egalitarian society, the owning of another human being would be anathema. Despite all the affirmations of slavery within the pages of the Bible, abolitionists were convinced, according to J. Albert Harrill, that Jesus’ “love ethic annulled the previous Old Testament slave laws, neutralizing their power as texts proving the moral legitimacy of slavery.”

The pro-slavery side agreed that Jesus’ command was supreme, but they interpreted it as a love of patriarchalism. In their worldview, a rigid hierarchy with the rich landowner on top and the slave laborer on the bottom was created and ordained by God. It wasn’t hatred or racism that put the slave in that position, but God. It was the slave’s destiny to serve. This version of Jesus’ love ethic called for fair treatment of the slave in question—but never advocated for his freedom. That would lead to anarchy, “rendering society,” according to Harrill, “‘a chaotic and jarring mass of wretchedness and crime.’” This echoes James Dobson’s dire warning in 2004 that if gays are allowed to wed, “It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.”  

Indeed, the egalitarian vs. patriarchalism view continues in the battle over the “morality” of homosexuality. It’s instructive to note, however, that the slaves weren’t freed when one of these views overpowered the other by finally winning the battle over biblical truth. Instead, the slaves were freed when the abolitionists abandoned arguments over biblical authority “in favor of secular arguments from conscience.”

They realized what Martin Luther King Jr. would later bemoan: “How often the church has been an echo rather than a voice, a tail-light behind the Supreme Court and other secular agencies, rather than a headlight guiding men progressively and decisively to higher levels of understanding.”

Sarah Palin, Melissa Fryrear, and anyone continuing to use or support biblical arguments against gays and lesbians are nothing but tail-lights on this issue. There’s a reason that slower traffic is required to move to the right—the right has been the slow lane on the road of history. When the right acts like a thoughtless driver, lingering in the wrong lane, it makes an obstacle to real progress. It’s time to move past the tail-lights in front of us—even if we have to illegally pass on the right, or get by them on the shoulder.

However we do it, we’ve got to get past the slow-moving right. Arguments over “biblical truth” should be abandoned for secular arguments that raise the conscience of the nation on this issue. The “morality” of gay and lesbian people, and therefore their civil rights, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible. As abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison astutely surmised, “nothing in regard to controversial matters has ever been settled by the Bible.” This is an issue of equal treatment under secular law and nothing more. This is the point that needs to be hammered by gay and lesbian rights groups. Ignore the religious arguments—they are not the other side of the issue, no matter how loudly they protest or how many TV shows they get booked on.

But, Fryrear continues to assert religion’s right to be heard on this matter, asking impetuously, “Don’t people of faith have the same right as any other American to be part of the public dialogue? And shouldn’t Christians have the right to live their lives according to their biblical beliefs?”  

To which we must reply, sure they do. But they should be prepared when their arguments are heard, found lacking and ultimately rejected. Flat earth proponents certainly have the right to be part of the public dialogue and have the right to live their lives according to their belief that the world has four corners. But, society has the right to disregard them as crackpots. Proponents of slavery have every right to be part of the public dialogue and live their lives according to their beliefs. But, society has the right to disregard them as detestable and pass laws outlawing their desire to own other human beings. This same attitude must come from society whenever a religious argument is made against the lives and equal rights of Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. Slavery advocates made dire predictions about the end of the world if the slaves were freed and we’re still here. In fact, the Bible has survived the battle as well. Nothing changed in the Bible—it still condones slavery—but no one dares to make the pro-slavery argument today. We passed those tail-lights years ago and never looked back.

Whether the Bible condemns homosexuality or not is not the issue. The issue is: can we, as a society, continue to condone the abuse, exclusion, and institutionalized discrimination aimed at any group of human beings? Can we, in good conscience, deny equal rights to any citizen, whether we personally like them or agree with them? If we can, perhaps the flat earth society has some new plum recruits.