The Southern Baptist Convention is the most numerous Protestant sect in America, comprising over 16 million adherents and second only to Catholics in numbers of American Christians (68.5 million). Since Catholics formally accept evolution (though the official position, that hominins were injected with a soul, is a form of theistic evolution), converting Southern Baptists to accepting science and evolution should be a major goal of accommodationist organizations like BioLogos.
And Lord knows those organizations have tried. Unsuccessfully. Diehard evangelicals simply won’t give up the literal truth of the Bible, no matter how many times they’re told that it’s metaphor, poetry, or parable.
In frustration, Karl Giberson (an apostate from BioLogos) and Randall Stephens wrote an op-ed piece in last week’s New York Times decrying evangelical Christians’ rejection of both reason and scientific knowledge. They singled out evolution and gay marriage as two items that don’t deserve to be rejected, since “the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage.” (This is of course more than a tad disingenuous, for Biblical scripture is pretty clear on the sinfulness of homosexuality, and of course evolution wasn’t known when the Bible was written—indeed, the book tells a completely different creation story.)
Well, neither BioLogos‘s rump-osculation of faith nor Giberson and Stephens’ scorn are going to work. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological seminary and the U.S.’s most famous and vociferous member of his sect, tells us why in his blog piece “Total capitulation: the evangelical surrender of truth.” (Note the word “of” here, clearly stating that this sect already has the truth.)
Going after Giberson and Stephens’s piece, Mohler pinpoints the flaw for him and his followers:
Following a line of argument popular among secular observers of conservative Protestantism, [Giberson and Stephens] explain that fundamentalism “appeals to evangelicals who have become convinced that their country has been overrun by a vast secular conspiracy.” In other words, they explain evangelical conviction in terms of psychology, not theology.
Their essay reveals the central question that evangelicals must now answer: Do we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Mohler’s answer, of course, is “yes.” And to these folks, God has spoken clearly on the immorality of homosexuality. Mohler rejects Giberson’s view that the Bible doesn’t say anything relevant to gay marriage:
That hardly represents an honest or respectful approach to dealing with the Bible’s comprehensive and consistent revelation concerning human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Is Romans 1, for example, just a scattered proof text? Is not all of the Bible God’s Word? Well, Giberson has already made his view of the Bible clear — it is simply “trumped” by science when describing the natural world.
Giberson and Stephens reject those who believe the Bible’s clear teachings on the sinfulness of homosexuality and prefer a figure like David Myers who “believes that Christians can be faithful to God, the Bible, and their tradition and still believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable.” On what authority? Once again, the norms of secular science trump everything else.
I weep for the gay Baptists, just as I weep for gay Catholics like Andrew Sullivan. How can they possibly remain members of their church?
In the end—and this is why accommodationism will fail with people like this—the Bible is what trumps science, reason, or empathy:
Oddly, Giberson and Stephens criticize evangelical leaders who, for example, “pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of Scripture.” Do they seriously believe that evangelical Christians should prefer leaders who would let the Bible be silent and base their arguments on some other authority? Clearly, this is exactly what they suggest.
. . .We know know that when Giberson and Stephens speak of the Bible “as our sacred book,” they mean something far less than what evangelicals have historically believed — that the Bible is the very Word of God. The most honest part of that paragraph is found where the writers admit that they “find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation.”
That is a huge admission — and one that is especially telling. Giberson and Stephens are far outside of the evangelical mainstream, and they know it. Even on the issue of evolution, Giberson affirmed Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan’s assertion that the rejection of evolutionary theory “is the mainstream of evangelical thought.”
The problem with accommodationism is the same problem Sam Harris has singled out about apologists for Islamic extremism: apologists and accommodationists simply do not believe that religious people mean what they say. Southern Baptists accept the primacy of the Bible, and if it conflicts with evolution and gay rights, well, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
Mohler’s last paragraph shows us clearly why accommodation will fail with groups like this:
Evangelical Christians will either stand upon the authority and total truthfulness of the Bible, or we will inevitably capitulate to the secular worldview. Giberson and Stephens force us to see, and to acknowledge, the consequences of the evangelical surrender of truth.
The accommodationist strategy of telling such people that they don’t have to choose between the Bible and science (or reason, or the simple morality of gay rights) because there is either no conflict, or they’re reading the Bible wrong, is a misguided and futile strategy. The Bible is pretty clear on this stuff, and since the Bible is God’s word, Mohler and his minions will not be moved. They do feel that they have to choose, and they’ll always choose God.
Templeton and BioLogos are wasting their money trying to turn these people toward science. Giberson and Stephens realize this, and so have resorted to calling out the intransigence of people like Mohler. That, of course, won’t work either. If you think any of the Bible as divinely inspired or reflecting historical truths about God and Jesus—as Giberson and Stephens apparently do—then you have no leverage to go after Mohler and other literalists. As Mohler notes, by what authority an Giberson and Stephens assert that they know the “correct” way to interpret Scripture?
No, there’s no convincing Mohler and his flock. Instead, the only solution is to educate the next generation about the folly of religious superstition.
UPDATE: Note that alert reader Jerrold Alpern found a letter in today’s NYT from the Chief Communications Officer of Kentucky’s Creation Museum. It includes this hilarious statement:
Accepting the Bible as God’s literal truth doesn’t mean that we discount science. It does mean that we interpret scientific evidence from the biblical viewpoint. We evaluate the same evidence as evolutionists, but they interpret it from their viewpoint. Evidence isn’t labeled with dates and facts; we arrive at conclusions about the unobservable past based on our pre-existing beliefs. This exercise also involves reason.
Some evidence, of course, is labeled with dates.