The Truth, Mainly - 06/12/2000

I'm a beliver in what I believe to be inerrant
by Leon Satterfield

There's trouble in Orlando this week.

That's where a critical mass of Southern Baptists are having their annual meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's going to be interesting. Trouble is always interesting.

At its meeting two years ago, the largest Protestant denomination in the country adopted a statement saying that a wife should "submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband."

Hoo boy.

About a dozen congregations of Southern Baptists said "Not in our house," and bailed out.

This week, there'll be a proposal to ban ordination of women as pastors.

Hoo boy, again.

Look for more moderates to do what groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists have already done: form alternative congregations to disassociate themselves from what they see as institutional sexism.

And that's all right with Southern Baptist leaders.

The chair of the committee that drafted the proposals to be voted on this week, the Rev. Adrian Rogers, said "We receive and affirm those doctrines revealed in the Bible, and we are unembarrassed to take our stand."

The official Southern Baptist line, see, is that the Bible is "inerrant"ómeaning that everything in it is literally true, now and always.

And the reason behind the proposed ban on woman preachers is not, God knows, institutional sexism, but the passage in 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 where Paul wrote “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

Dirty rotten secular humanists see in that passage the Biblical origin of Archie Bunker's elegant instructions to Edith: "Stifle, Dingbat!"

The Rev. Molly Marshall, who taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before she got canned in 1994, is a little gentler. She says the passage reflects "the socio-cultural context of the first century in which it was written."

Translation: It ain't necessarily so. Socio-cultural contexts change.

You can see why she's no longer teaching at the seminary.

Let me make an embarrassing confession: as a dirty rotten secular humanist myself, I believe in the inerrancy of certain passages of scripture: those that I'm already predisposed to agree with.

My favorite inerrant passage is the one in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says that we should do our praying in the closet, that we shouldn't pray on street corners where we might be seen of men, lest we be thought hypocrites (Matthew 6: 5-6).

Will there be a proposal in Orlando to do away with public prayer?

Probably not.

Does that mean that Southern Baptists, despite what they say, don't really believe in the inerrancy of all scriptures?

I'm not much of a logician myself. I often hold contradictory views. And because they're contradictory, I hold them fervently. For example, I believe so strongly in saving money that I'll go to any expense to do it. That probably disqualifies me as a critic of Southern Baptist logic, but here goes anyway:

How can all the scripture be inerrant when some passages contradict others? We shouldn’t be surprised by such contradictions since the Bible is an anthology of pieces by various writers over several centuries.

So is the Bible inerrant when it tells parents of "stubborn and rebellious" sons to turn them over to city elders to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21)? Or is it inerrant when Jesus says "Judge not, that ye be not judged"(Matthew 7: 1)?

Which will it be? Judge our sons fit only for execution? Or leave off being judgmental at all? If one is inerrant, isn't the other errant as all get out?

Do Southern Baptists really believe in the inerrancy of Exodus 35: 2 which tells us that whoever works on the Sabbath "shall be put to death"?

And do Southern Baptists even pretend to believe that pork chops are not to be eatenóon the grounds that pigs "cheweth not the cud" and are thereby forbidden flesh (Leviticus 11: 7)?

But there probably won’t be any anti-pork proposals in Orlando either.

So you know what I think? I think that Southern Baptists aren't so different from dirty rotten secular humanists. I think they, like us, believe in the inerrancy of only that scripture they're predisposed to agree with.

We laughed when Flip Wilson's character tried to avoid responsibility for his mistakes by saying "The Devil made me do it."

Are we permitted to snicker a little when fundamentalists try to avoid responsibility for their mistakes by saying "The Bible made me do it"?


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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