Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church.
Baptist hero Richard Furman wrote the words above in a document entitled "The Views of Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States." The first edition of this pamphlet was published in 1822 and a second edition was produced in 1838, some 13 years after Furman's death. For decades this biblical defense of slavery became the model for Bible-based arguments in favor of owning people in this country. Baptists and many other Southern evangelicals were just sure that there was nothing wrong with holding slaves and they adamantly claimed to have the Bible on their side. On the other hand, other Christians, mainly in other parts of the country, made biblical arguments against slavery.
These days we think Southern Christians were wrong to defend slavery back then and we are ashamed of the biblical arguments made by Furman and others. We repudiate their take on the scriptures as adamantly as they clung to it.
This bit of history is one thing that concerns me about the prevailing position of evangelicals regarding homosexuality. Most evangelicals, including most Baptists, say today that all homosexual behavior is wrong and they point to a handful of biblical passages to support this claim. But some other Christians interpret the scriptures in a more affirming way regarding homosexuality.
Is it possible that someday Christians will look back on the prevailing position of Baptists and other evangelicals on homosexuality today in much the same way that we look back on the position concerning slavery of Richard Furman and other Baptists of the 1800s? Whatever your answer to that question, we have got to learn to talk about this issue in a healthy way. We've got to figure out a way to discuss this important topic with a humility inherent to the realization that we see as through a glass darkly--we don't know it all.
And we've been wrong before.