I ran across an outraged comment online. Not directed at me, and so why don’t I just ignore it? Why am I bothering all of you with it? Well, just because it was an interesting train of thought. The writer claimed that the conservative wing of Christianity always claims to be resisting changes for theological, biblical reasons, but those are just covers for being racist and not wanting to have black people in their churches. He’d “had enough graduate credits at seminary” to know that. That’s a common belief, and I can’t say it’s entirely untrue. In some denominational splits, like the Presbyterians, there does seem to be something to that. The PCA acknowledged that there was racial animus during the Civil Rights era, as had been accused. Ironically, though no Presbyterian denomination had or has many African-Americans, then or now, the PCA has a greater percentage than the PCUSA. I dislike reductionist claims which rely on mind reading the motives of one’s opponents, but I allow some reading back from actions to possible motives. Not much. In the case of the PCA, doctrinal issues have pretty clearly been important, front to back, so leaning too heavily on the race issue seems unwarranted.
I used to follow the Lutheran differences years ago, and have no sense that the Missouri Synod remaining aloof from unification had anything to do with race. These are Northern European denominations with few black people to begin with, so I can’t see how we could even talk about this in those terms. The Congregationalist churches that didn’t go UCC were in New England – not a lot of race in the mix there. The Methodists had a lot of arguing and splitting before the Civil War, but even then, congregational governance and the Wesleyan and Holiness movements figured prominently, and Fundamentalist-Modernist splits were the big deal in the 20th C.
So I cast my mind on what else he could mean. Pentecostals have been very welcoming of blacks and Hispanics right from the beginning, as have Seventh Day Adventists. Are those the conservative wings he means? Does he mean Mennonites? Is there some objection to their racial policies that I missed? Brethren churches? This is starting to add up in terms of the percentage of Christians he could possibly be talking about. What does he mean? Are Catholics considered “the conservative wing?” The Eastern Orthodox? They have conserved their theology for quite some time. Or is this some sort of cultural impression of American conservatism that includes more politics than theology? I think he mostly means Baptists, but that’s less fun to say because you don’t get the broad political accusation you’re looking for with that.
Sadly, he may be right that he has enough graduate credits at seminary to say this. His statement contains true elements but is essentially false.