Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, in Pike County, Kentucky, has voted not to accept interracial couples as members or let them take part in worship activities, except funerals. According to the article, the recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community they serve. Melvin Thompson, a former pastor and the member who brought the matter before the church, says the proposal has been taken out of context but did not comment further. The proposal has caused a sharp reaction and disapproval in Eastern Kentucky.
This is a case where the church’s decision is baffling, unethical, and un-Christian on multiple levels:
(1) Melvin Thompson proposed a recommendation that allowed interracial couples to attend the service but forbids them from becoming members or being used in the worship service. What possible basis, other than racism, would allow for such a distinction in the church?
(2) The intent of this recommendation was purportedly to promote greater unity among the church and the community. How could anyone think that such a proposal would promote unity? It’s obviously created disunity between the interracial couple and the church, between other members within the church, and the community at large.
(3) The vote was 9-6 in favor of the recommendation with an unspecified number of church members abstaining from voting. The church has about 40 attendees per Sunday but it is not clear how many of them are members who could vote. Presumably there were social factors at play that inhibited some people from taking a stand. This is no excuse for abstaining on such an issue. Also, the ballots should be anonymous to minimize such social factors.
(4) Melvin Thompson claims that the proposal has been taken out of context but declined futher comment. I admit, assuming the reporting is at all accurate, I am hard-pressed to conceive of a context where this proposal makes sense. Either Thompson, and those in agreement with him, must set the story straight or they need to repent. If any reader has additional information please post a comment.
Predictably, anti-religion types use this case to paint all Christians in a bad light. JT Eberhard, of the Freethought Blogs, provides a classic example. He begins by writing:
Who’d have thunk it? Some people did something ridiculous because it’s god’s will.
The problem is that the article does not claim the recommendation was proposed on the basis of the perceived will of God. The only reasons mentioned in the article are secular: (a) to promote greater unity among the church body and the community and (b) racism.
Eberhard goes on to complain about how the Christians in the article disagree with each other. In response to a participant’s comment (“It sure ain’t Christian. It ain’t nothing but the old devil working.”) he writes:
The devil? Horseshit. It’s full-on believers in Christ thinking they know god’s will and deciding that god’s will is compassionate no matter how inhuman. If there is a devil, I’m content to believe those people are it, but let’s not imagine for even a moment they’re not Christians.
When Harville says that “it sure ain’t Christian” he is not saying that those he disagrees with are not Christians. He is saying that they are not acting in a manner consistent with Christian ethics.
There’s not a single believer quoted in the whole article saying something like ‘Man, that seems awfully pointless and lacking in empathy.’
The article hardly includes numerous responses to the event and thus the alleged silence doesn’t prove anything. Moreover, Randy Johnson, the president of the Pike County Ministerial Association and thus probably a believer, states the reactions have included heartbreak and disbelief. I’ll go out on a limb and state that heartbreak probably includes empathy if not sympathy.
How do Christians resolve moral disagreements according to Eberhard?
[B]y repeatedly insisting that they’re the ones who really know the will of god for all [t]he same reasons their opponents believe the same. And they somehow expect to resolve their moral differences this way. This is the problem with religion (well, one of many problems). There is no conclusion so inhuman or so at odds with basic competence that faith cannot be used in its defense. Religion gives strength to any opinion, including opinions so stupid they find support nowhere else but in the unflinching (and uncritical) certainty of faith.
How does the Christian actually ascertain the will of God? Mainly by reading and interpreting the Bible. How can interpreting the Bible lead to a moral consensus among Christians? Because Christians, at our best, use hermeneutics to ascertain the meaning the author intended to convey. Note, I am not saying Christians will agree on every last little detail. But a critical approach to the text weeds out preposterous interpretations. It is not possible to read the text sincerely and entertain any and all positions. Racism is one such position where a decent argument in its favor cannot be made.
There are conclusions about the world and about morality that have been discovered and confirmed through reason, and sometimes Christians luck out and stumble onto them through faith (while FSM-knows how many others stumble into sanctioned lunacy through faith). But it’s wrong to say that faith is a reliable way to get there, and by pretending like it is, whether you’re a Christian or an atheist trying to be diplomatic, you’re breathing life into the force that keeps our society at odds by lending credibility to ideas that make the world a shittier place – ideas that would otherwise be rightly thrown away.
Note the either/or approach to reason and faith. I take faith in God to mean a trust in God based on what God has done in the past. This trust is informed by reason: you can reason that God exists, you can reason that the Bible is historically trustworthy, you can reason that the Bible contains true prophecies, etc. For our purpose here, you can have both religious and secular reasons to be opposed to racism. There’s simply no need to pit reason and faith against each other. Christianity provides no cover for the racist and racism exists among the non-religious too.
I get the impression that JT just needed to let some anti-Christian steam out. Getting the facts right is not overly important. But my feelings toward falsehood are probably merely a result of my irrational religious beliefs. If I were a secular consequentialist I might not mind lying for the greater good.