Skip to content

Open Letter to Fundamentalist editor

July 21, 2011

The grandson of the late John R. Rice, the founder of the really conservative, fundamentalist newspaper, the Sword of the Lord, writes a book (same title as the magazine) on his upbringing in that environment. I find the review by a later editor, Robert L. Sumner, and decided to write him on some concerns I had about his defenses of an issue that was brought up in the book, that really does need to be addressed more. One of my main criticism of conservative Christianity is its treatment of the race issue. Not just ignoring it years ago, while focusing on every other “sin” in the land; but often condoning or excusing it, when brought up; often even turning it around so that the disenfranchised are the culprits, while the powerful are the victims (particularly in economic and moral issues).

Haven’t heard from him yet. (When I wrote the Sword years ago with essentially the prototype of what became my page on conservativism; I did get a rather gracious response, but that IIRC was likely the current editor, Dr. Shelton Smith, already).

Dear Sir:

        I’ve recently begun hearing about the new book by [Andrew] Himes on Dr. Rice, and plan to get it soon. I had seen several blog and forum discussions on it, which mentioned a review by you, which I found here:

I got saved in my 20’s (mid to late 1980s’), after growing up in an agnostic household, and in my teens was alarmed at how much conservative Christians preached on sexual morality, evolution, and then politics (communism, etc), and then (within Christian discourse), doctrine, but completely omitted race. You heard a lot about every false political and religious movement, but never the Klan. Or even the Mob (which was not specifically a racist movement, but was nevertheless guilty of a lot of evil).
King’s liberalism and possible ties to communism was always referred to, but that is an excuse. Himes’ real point, from what I’m seeing, is not so much standing with King, but the fact that the issue was so ignored in the first place. So it only seemed to give them an excuse to oppose racial progress they were already against anyway.
Why was it only the Left, and not the Right, that was fighting for racial justice in the first place? Whose fault is that, really?
In fact, conservatives seemed to favor the status quo’s, and not only that, blame blacks for cultural decay, and all of our financial problems through “programs”. To this day, people continueto blame them, as much as welfare and other programs were reformed in recent decades. But unbridled capitalism (with all its greed and materialism) is assumed to be God’s system, whose CEO’s “earned” all that they have fair and square (an erroneous assumption, as you can see in the financial scandals and in corporate “welfare”), and that the economy is being drained by lazy minorities. (Or if someone does address greed, it’s blamed on the “humanistic/atheistic education system” deceiving the nation).
 And the common fundamentalist “standards” on music basically boil down to which continent the “beat” came from, when you get to the nitty-gritty of the prime “ingredient” that makes music good or bad.
Rice’s main teaching on the issue is found in his booklet, Negro and White: Desegregation, which he described as “Principles and Problems Stated Moderately and Lovingly from the Bible Viewpoint.” He also called it “A Plea for Patience, for Moderation and for Less Agitation and Pressure While Good Men Work Out Problems.”

Because the situation in America was being ruined by agitators trying to move things too fast, Rice felt more time should be taken to accomplish the goals and get the desired results.

These are excuses. People weren’t trying to “work out the problem”; they were trying to prolong discrimination perpetually (their “desired result”), because (among other things) they believed blacks would ruin their nation (as could be found in much of the rhetoric, such as in Citizens Council literature). This had happened both as slavery ended, and again, as segregation was ending.

Scriptures like 2 Cor.6:14 were even appealed to (as you could see from the Bob Joneses and others, when the heat was turned on them, as recently as 2000! The scripture is talking about unbelievers, not races. Yet, people twist verses like that, and then get mad at the new-evangelicals for not listening to us when the modernists or Catholics are the subject. We’ve already damaged our credibility in scriptural interpretation! Ditto on Genesis 9 once being used to teach a curse on Africans. Not only does it not say that, God did not even utter that curse! People did not even read the passage properly!)
It was an evil that needed to end (as well as be repented of from the past), and as it was based largely on bad doctrine (scripture-twisting), it should have been stood against just as much as liberalism, modernism, and all the other evils preached against. (Suppose a government was persecuting you, and you wanted it to end. Would you want them to take their merry little time with it? Wouldn’t you push; just like you push against all other forms of godlessness?) Either evil is evil, or all is relative!
But it seemed the deciding factor was that only sins others were guilty of would be preached against! [Forgot to add, and which they feel threatened by]. Ones they were guilty of [or benefited them in some way] would be stuffed under the carpet, if not justified.

He pleaded, “We should not mistreat colored people because socialists and communists are interested in the desegregation fight” – and he obviously sincerely believed the latter were the ones behind it.
That was the other excuse. The big bad communists! (Again; not our sin; just someone’ else’s; and as always; we’re the “good guys” defending God’s word).
But if they were tools of the devil, the Bible tells us to “give [him] no occasion“(1Ti 5:14). They found a large hole in US politics they could creep in through, and that is our fault; more than theirs (they’re only doing what they aim to do), or people caught up in it like King.
And it seems fighting against the communists was the prime concern there; not the wrong being done against people made in God’s image.
This is what Himes and everyone else criticizing the conservatives are addressing.
Rice’s conclusion was, “When I preach the Gospel and get somebody saved, I have done far more good than if I preached on race problems. When I hold a great revival and stir a community for God and get people to be converted and live right, I do far more than if I got a law passed.” And that is the primary difference between grandfather and grandson: one wanted preaching on the subject and laws passed, but the other saw a far greater value in lives changed through redemption in Christ.
And here’s the crux of the matter. When fundamentalists thought a political matter was important; then they preached on it and often sought laws passed on it!
And still found time for soul-saving messages. In fact, it was considered one in the same!
Again; they preached on sexual morality, abortion, homosexuality, evolution, communism, liberalism, humanism, and then, rock music, dancing, drinking, trying to get the bar or smut shop closed, etc.

Suppose someone objected in opposing these things, saying that “saving the people’s souls was more important than these political/social matters?” You all would roast him alive, claiming that these things damn souls to Hell, so preaching against them is apart of saving their souls!
So what their lack of preaching on race showed is that they simply did not believe it was wrong. What they think is wrong they preach against, and then, they use contradictory arguments regarding soul-winning.

James 2:11 was the pertinent answer to all of this. It’s such a shame King and the rest of the liberals didn’t use or emphasize it, or that conservatives didn’t instruct themselves by it (as much as they emphasized scripture), but it was the solution:

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said alsoDo not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

It’s funny that people would think adultery was wrong, but not murder. The world believes the other way around. Murder is wrong (abortion not seen as murder), but who consenting adults sleep with is “victimless”; so it’s OK.
However, James is addressing “those who seem to be religious” (1:26). The religious (of nearly all stripes) are the ones who have thought sexual sin was the worst, and the one that needed the most preaching against. So this scripture is speaking directly to this lopsided morality!

And what is “murder” really? Just abortion? (That seems to be the only kind of murder conservatives focus on) No; according to Jesus’ own words (Matt. 5:21,22), much of what was done under racism would certainly fit “murder”, spiritually; and it often did cross the line into literal murder at that!

I see in a day where race had largely become irrelevant in day to day matters, yet the resentment is remaining in conservative circles, who feel something has been “taken” from them, by others, which they want back. Blame is placed on other groups of people, statistics cited, etc. yet then, the other side is accused of playing a “race card” on them!

These people, many of them “good Christians”, have probably never heard either the past, or their self-exalting jingoism preached against as sin that needs to be repented of. They know all about abortion and homosexuality, which others are guilty of, and stand on “the right side” on those, but still think themselves naturally or culturally “better” than others. No one sees the outright but subtle denial of the Gospel in that. (Most remain focused on others’ sins, and how everyone is out to get them).

Believe it or not, when Paul refers to “the flesh” in Romans and elsewhere, [forgot to add: it is not just lust or anger, but] he is addressing mainly people’s belief that their physical lineage was better than others. Racism started with believing that one’s literal “flesh” made them better, and then by extension, the “culture” of the people, especially when shaped by religion!
And this was what was going on in ancient Israel by Christ’s time. (They had swung from an idolatrous “liberalism” in Old testament times; a full 180° to a rabid conservativism and separatism). After all, they were the “chosen” nation; given the Law directly by God Himself (US or European Christians cannot even make that claim!) Surely that made them “superior” to all the “heathen”.

But Paul is teaching that they were still ultimately the same as everyone else. And by nature, that was dead in trespasses and sins.
Basically, what has been going on in this issue, is that people had chosen for themselves what God’s laws or standards of morality are . And I mean by the very ones who have criticized the world and modern Church for precisely that same thing! So of course, they always come out shining, while everyone else is evil, or at least an “apostate” or “compromiser”.
As stated above, it was based on one’s own sins versus others. That was the real standard.

And both the world and the contemporary Church knew this! They may have not been good at articulating an answer (Biblical or otherwise). So they went by general sentiments such as “feelings”, and “unity”. That is why they have rebelled against the so-called “old paths”. They may have been “old”, but they were not consistently biblical.

The result, is that the “lines” fundamentalists emphasized, were already blurred; morality was already relativized, and the rebels then had no further real guideline. So everyone went and did whatever seemed right, as the old-liners lamented. But they are the ones who started that ball rolling, with their skewed standards.
God does not obligate anyone to follow people’s own selective choice of His Word.

In other related issues, slavery may have been in the Bible, but it was not quite the same thing being practiced in this country. Much of it was more comparable to “indentured servanthood” (as was also present earlier on in our history, and no one is condemning that). The way slaves were treated definitely would have violated Eph. 6:9, Col.4:1 and many other scriptures on the way people are to behave and treat each other (they only quoted the “servants obey your masters” portion of those passages).

Something that occurred to me recently: They often raped slave women. They often reasoned blacks were only 3/5th human, and I can see that being used as the rationale. But all they would have really done is make themselves guilty of 3/5th adultery, and 2/5th bestiality! All of these excuses just do not work!

And that is why I take the time to address old-line separatist fundamentalism. It is true how both the modern world, and even the modern Church has slipped into a totally relativized morality and often doctrine.The fundamentalists (along with several Reformed groups, but of course, they’re pitching Calvinism) seem to be the ones who are serious about the Bible and the faith. They seem to be the best spokesmen for the faith.
Yet it is so appalling to see them not only promote themselves as so serious, and then go on to denounce everyone else (in the world and the Church), but then be making so many ridiculous excuses and denial about a sin they, or the historical movement they represent, had been guilty of.  Just admit it was wrong! (Like Himes is doing).

But it seems that can’t be done, because what is at stake is the whole premise that “we were the good guys, (and the rightful rulers of society), and we had sin all under control generations ago, but then the godless snuck in and ruined it, so all the sin in the land/world is everyone else’s fault”.
This is the underlying thrust of just about every conservative polemic on society and politics, (and now, the contemporary Church) I have seen in the last 30 years.

Of course, racism is such a big spot on such an illustrious record, so it has to be denied at all costs, and even it’s evil projected onto others (the communists, etc). One has to prove everything in the past was all right. But just think about when everyone stands before the Lord. Are you so confident that He will abide by these selective standards of morality, and just ignore all of that as irrelevant? Suppose it is true that this is been part of what cause His name to be dishonored in the world? (Rom.2:24) We don’t get to decide what is true or important or not.
How do we expect anyone, in the Church or world to take us seriously, when we preach to them to “repent of sin”; “come out and separate from darkness”, etc., and we can’t even do it on an issue like this?

In Christ

Eric Bolden 

From → Politics

  1. Dr. Sumner finally responded, citing his age and health for his delay. (I didn’t even realize he was in his 90’s!)

    The communication was civil, and he pretty much reiterated the things said on his review of the book.

    I then articulated my points in a new way:

    To the notion that more could have been done in Civil Rights by the fundamentalists, but they believed there were “bigger fish to fry”, and would have had to lower their emphasis on soul-winning to do so:

    But when a modernist, or today, a “new evangelical” determines there are “bigger fish to fry” than doctrine, repentance, holiness, etc. and that they should adopt all sorts of worldly methods, also in the name of “soul winning” (e.g. “we should have a thrash-metal mosh pit because it will lead the young people in”, etc.) then you all do not accept that, and it becomes your prime issue against them. You even argue that those methods contradict the Great Commission.

    The race issue was no different.
    None of us gets to decide what’s important in the spreading of the Gospel or contradictory to it, and we are warned that our behavior can be a hindrance to it, and that we can oppose others doing wrong, while doing the same sort of thing ourselves.(Rom. 2:1, 19-24)

    To my family, coming from the other side of the great divide back then, it did not look like the spreading of any Gospel (“good news”); what all the rebels of my parents’ generation complained of was that this “gospel” was being used as a “pie in the sky when you die” tactic. i.e. “Just let us abuse you now, but be happy; for if you believe and submit to this, God will make it up to you in the next life”. It looked like a great big scam (knowing how humans are prone to stuff like that), and it more than anything else made all of religion look phony.

    So these “gospel defenders” did more than anyone else to push that generation into atheism, and all the other forms of rebellion.
    Again, the Bible makes it clear that the way we come off to people does matter, and many times what people think is “gospel preaching” really is working against it.

    Again, the book makes clear that the real reason they were basically silent on racism was that they still agreed with its principles.

    The criteria of what was worth preaching was purely political, (Michael Horton points this out excellently in his books!) and they were fighting for things other than “soul-winning” just as much as the liberals. How is opposing integration apart of “soul-winning”? I guess, for no other reason, than that those evil modernists and communists were for it. But this is not the way we determine what is the Biblical Gospel.

    (I also added some points from later blog entries).

    After reading about “The Lost Cause”, I realized that that greatly sums up the whole agenda of conservativism (both religious and political).
    But should we be fighting a “lost cause”? (especially while telling others only soul-winning and Heaven are important)?

    So this “Lost Cause” is what I think the problem remains today. While not intending to be racist, many people still are trying to hold onto the righteousness of their ancestors, and American History. But in order to do this, they must excuse or declare unimportant all the dark stuff like racism.

    For example, why were King’s errors trumped up so much in the first place, regarding the book? The book is not about him and his movement. It’s about our forebears, yet discrediting King seems the only way to clear their name! It’s sort of like a child caught doing something wrong: “what about him? He was bad too!

    I don’t deny his moral failings, but again, it did seem to be used as an excuse to trash the whole cause of Civil Rights.
    As I continue to ponder this stuff, I find it a total shame that there was no other group of Christians who were just as committed to the Bible as the fundamentalists, but would stand up for the rights being denied, and expose the abuses of scripture involved. (Which is why I guess I’m so impassioned now, though 40-50 years too late. I just wasn’t old enough back then).

    No one is without sin; not even the saved, not even nations with a lot of Christians in them. We cannot insist on taking such an “uncompromising” stance against others, while demanding everyone give us (or our ancestors, forbears, nation, etc.) a pass. Realizing this would perhaps heal some of these wounds in the Church, and then perhaps those wayward new-evangelicals, modernists and others would be willing to listen more.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Master Directory of Articles « erictb
  2. Further thoughts on race issue and the Gospel in light of two books | "ERIPEDIA"

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: