MAINSTREAM MESSENGER

Vol. 2, No. 2     April 1999 

Why I didn't Sign the SBC Family Statement

by Alan Brehm, former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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I’m really not against the family -- honest. Just ask my (wonderful) wife of 18 years and my three (great) kids.

I’m really not against the Bible -- really.  I spent 13 years working toward a Ph.D. so that I could teach the Bible as a Southern Baptist Seminary Professor!

What I am against is the disgusting and deceptive way that some use the Bible to oppress and manipulate faithful, honest church folks.

The SBC’s statement on the family presents a case in point.  One of its more controversial parts says that husbands should provide for, protect, and lead the family.  The wife should submit graciously to her husband’s "servant leadership," manage the household, and nurture the kids.  Yes, it actually said wives should run the house and take care of the kids!

What it boils down to is another shot fired in the culture war ensnaring our society.  The "powers that be" among Southern Baptists would like nothing better than to drag our society -- kicking and screaming if necessary — back to the 1950’s.  In fact, one critic called the SBC statement the "June Cleaver" approach to motherhood.

But what looks good on the surface may simply serve as a mask for a darker reality. I doubt that the 50’s were as pure, as wholesome, or as "Christian" as religious right-wingers claim.  Do you really think all our social and moral problems began with the 60’s?  I have a hard time believing that sexual abuse, pornography, child abuse, and domestic violence — not to mention the more obvious ones, like racism, greed, and dishonesty — grew to such epidemic levels only recently.

In the process of this very political campaign, Southern Baptist leaders didn’t think twice about doing what they do so often -- twisting the Bible to make their point (why let Holy Writ get in the way of a good sermon?).

To understand the Bible’s teaching about the family, you have to look at the historical background.  A text without a context is a pretext.  In the first-century world, the man of the family had absolute authority.  His wife, his children, and his slaves had no choice but to obey to him.

The Apostle Paul took that family model and "turned it upside down," to borrow a phrase.  He taught early Christians that one of the marks of God’s presence in their lives was to submit to one another by showing humility, respect, and a willingness to give in. Although the term for "submit" was used in military settings for a "chain of command," that is definitely not the way Paul used it!

Paul then applied the principle of mutual submission to families.  He not only told wives, children, and slaves to practice that kind of humble respect, he also expected the men to do the same.  What a radical departure from the "family values" of the day -- husbands were to be considerate toward their wives, parents were to treat their children with dignity, and masters were to view slaves as fellow human beings!

What really clinched it for me, though, was the way the Southern Baptist spin doctors tried to support the family statement.  They knew that the term "submission" has all kinds of negative undertones for most people these days.   So they justified their use of it by stating that women have a separate function but they are equal in worth. Yeah, they said "separate" but "equal."   That combination was not lost on many of us.

That got me thinking about T. B. Maston, one of my forerunners at Southwestern Seminary. Maston was a professor of ethics and a true civil rights pioneer.  He was calling for racial integration -- even for white SBC churches in the South -- in the 1930’s!  His portrait hangs outside my former office, and I’ve often found myself asking him what he would do with the mess we’ve had in the SBC over the last twenty years.

I tried to imagine what Maston would’ve done if Southern Baptists had come up with a statement on "Race Relations" calling for segregation as the "biblical" approach.  Yes, many SBC churches were preaching in those days that segregation of the races was God’s plan for human society.

Well, there’s no way under the sun that Maston would’ve signed something like that.  At that moment, I knew what I had to do. In one sense, however, I really shouldn’t compare myself with Maston.  He faced death threats for his views. I’ve just had to give up my life’s dream. But then I’m not alone in that, am I?

Of course, my friends know that the real reason why I didn’t sign is because my wife wouldn’t let me.

 

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