If you watch the video of Phil Snider’s speech in front of the Springfield City Council (below), you will see what I consider to be an excellently crafted speech. It is so excellently crafted because of the twist at the end in which he completely reverses direction. Sadly, the reason it hits like a blow to the stomach is because the argument is based on a previous sin in our country which was not strongly confronted by the Church at the time that it was being committed. The argument succeeds because it is based on a previous sin of the Church which allows the preacher to claim that we are in current sin even though this is false. Please make sure to watch the three-minute recording before reading on in this post.
Back in the 1950’s, segregation was law in many parts of the USA, but most particularly and most well and completely defined in the Deep South. Law after law had been written to ensure that the races were kept separate. But, more than that, the arguments were backed up by the preaching of many pastors in the Deep South. Segregation was God’s will, they preached. Miscegenation (intermarriage) was supposedly forbidden by God’s curse upon Canaan.
But, in part the pastors who were in favor of segregation were so successful because they were not opposed by the priests and pastors of that era, with some exceptions. In fact, when The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched, pastors and priests said that they were wrong because it was wrong for pastors to be involved in politics. One of the shining exceptions was Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The website of the Greek Orthodox Church says:
A champion of civil and human rights, he had the courage to walk hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, a historic moment for America which was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965. He vigorously supported the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights legislation exclaiming when the first bill was passed,
Glory to the Most High! May this mark the beginning of a new age for all humankind, an era when the Word of God charts and guides our lives”.
In order for the Word of God to guide our lives, the Church must be willing to speak it out clearly. In the 1950’s, the Church was, by and large, not willing to do so. As a result, it all too often appeared that the Church was not fully opposed to segregation, or was at least not courageous enough to oppose it. In part, the Jesus People movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was a reaction against the failure of the Church to speak clearly, against the fear present in the Church that it would be accused of being involved in politics.
And, now, there is a price to pay. Satan has done an excellent work. Had the Church clearly and unequivocally pointed out in the 1950’s that the segregation interpretation was not Christian, the video would not have such resonance as it has had on YouTube. Had the Church said that those who back those positions are not truly Christians, are not part of the Church, there would not have been such a resonance as the video has had. But, the Church did not speak clearly.
As a result, now when the Church tries to correctly speak out against gay marriage, the historical memories return. The Church is looked at as simply the repository of old and outdated beliefs. I would not normally mind being told that the Church holds to old beliefs. That is part of our pride. I would not normally mind the idea that we hold to outdated beliefs. That is simply a criticism by people who do not understand. But, in this case, the witness of Archbishop Iakovos speaks against us. The Church did not speak out clearly, when it could have, to deny the arguments of the Southern preachers. Rather, Archbishop Iakovos was a fairly lone witness.
As a result, a pastor, such as the one in the video, can speak out against the Church with a certain legitimacy. The Church never clearly and forthrightly opposed the bad theology and the oppression of the 1950’s. How do we know that it is not repeating the same error today? Yes, Satan set us up rather well. The pastor’s argument in the video is wrong. But, it may very well win because of the failures of the Church before, during, and after the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era.