Wednesday, January 31, 2007

owning up to being an evangelical

Last night I was reading an a letter written from a Christian man in the early to mid 1800's. The letter was a defense of slavery. The author, Mr. Furman (Furman University ring a bell), was the President of the Baptist Convention in South Carolina, and used his Bible to defend the institution of slavery. The letter written to the governor not only defends slavery as permissible, but also as an act of benevolence to the Africans who were slaved from death and brought to America. Here, he argues, they were given access to spiritual truths they were ignorant of before - spiritual truths that are to the benefit of their souls. (Thankfully, there were other evangelicals who were standing against slavery, both here in the US and abroad. Read sometime about Wilberforce in England. In fact, the letter is written in large part to counter the arguments being made by Christians who were in favor of 'general emancipation'. There's always some who can see through the fog.)

Honestly, it was a painful letter to read. It reminds me that as a Christian and as an evangelical, there is a lot of baggage that comes with those labels - most of it self inflicted. But the point of this post isn't to point the finger at Christians of the past and curse them, or even to groan under the weight of the baggage they left us. Instead, I want to ask, where is our blind spot? Three generations from now, what baggage will we have left to those who will follow us?

Jonathan Edwards is my spiritual hero. I don't always agree with him, but his devotion and piety and intellect are astounding. Yet, he owned slaves. I would say this was clearly sin, yet Edwards was blind to it. It was so ingrained in his world and culture, that he didn't see it for what it was. And he wasn't alone. Others failed to see their sins because they were a part of their world and were just accepted. For example, Calvin (another hero of mine) had Servetus burned at the stake (although, to set the record straight, while he did favor execution, he pleaded for mercy and a quick death. The Council decided Servetus' fate). Servetus would've suffered the same end had he been arrested and convicted by the Catholic Church for his heresies, but this cannot be used to excuse Calvin for his sin. Or again, consider Luther (maybe the person I quote the most). There is pretty good, ok incontrovertible evidence, that he was anti-Semitic. Again, this is in large part to the times in which Luther lived, but cannot excuse his sin.

Oddly though, the people who I can't find these kind of examples in are my contemporary heroes. Does that mean that they aren't blinded by their culture to sin in their lives? No, I think it means I'm probably blinded by the same culture to the same sin in my like. So continues the quest to find sin, name it, then kill it.

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