Racism and Fundamentalism: Why We Need to Pursue Accurate Exegesis

Here more of my thoughts on fundamentalism.

I was scrolling through Twitter last Saturday (yes, I have a twitter account @NateLabadorf) and noticed something that really disappointed me. I did a search for my alma mater Bob Jones University to find out what people were saying about it. To my disappointment, the most repeated topic was how racist BJU was/is.

I know the university has changed since its racist days, thank goodness! I’ve thankfully seen a complete turn around to a more biblical stance. That is, they have openly apologized and made efforts to incorporate and even celebrate racial diversity.

Steven Jones started the process in 2008. Steve Pettit has made many more efforts to push for racial equality: such as celebrating MLK day, having chapels dedicated to black history appreciation, and going above and beyond to ensure that minorities feel welcome at BJU.

But stop and ponder that last date–BJU began to make amends in 2008. Fourth-eight years too late. While racism has no business in the church at all, at least by the 1960s BJU should have been aware of the issue of racism. Since they claimed to analyze culture by the Bible, they should have analyzed this issue and joined the cause of desegregation! But they waited for over 48 years. Why? Because of biased opinions backed up by tenuous eisegesis.

The point of this post is not to relive the racist past. Nor am I calling for the boycott of BJU. The fact is I am very encouraged by the way BJU is going. My point in bringing this up is to draw attention to a larger issue: the need for academics in fundamentalism. BJU, as an institution of fundamentalism, just illustrated this need.

Fundamentalism, as a whole, is very orthopraxy-centered. In other words, they have a strong emphasis on having the right practice in life. This is different from orthodoxy-centered, which is bent toward having the right doctrine in life. Now, while there is much good to be said about being orthopraxy-centered, it has one major fault: those who focus on it typically end up twisting Scripture to fit their definition of morality.

Early on in Fundamentalism, there was an anti-academic bias. This opinion was not completely misplaced. But as too often happens, they threw the pot out with the burnt food. Fundamentalism went very anti-academic in its attitude and, strangely enough, especially in the area of biblical studies. Rigorous thought was replaced with blind adherence.

Then, somewhere in the postwar era, fundamentalism froze its application of morality. Unfortunately, this freezing caught many things in the ice besides pure, biblical ethics. One of those things was racism. Not willing to critically evaluate their applications of morality by biblical research, racism pervaded fundamentalism far too long.

Racism is just one example of how orthopraxy-centered movements can quickly run amuck when the honest, academic approach to Scripture is ignored. Devotion to one’s personal standards rather than to the accurate interpretation of Scripture will quickly lead to strained exegesis.

Christian’s aren’t perfect. I get it. Don’t forget, I’m one too. We are all going to mess up. I’m not calling for perfection. I’m not calling for retributions or reparations. But I am calling for—no I’m begging for people to analyze their beliefs in the context of the whole Scripture and to dig into it and understand what it means.

Not only this, but also to draw the line of morality exactly where the Bible draws the line–where it clearly draws the line. Not like the racist doctrines which were an ambiguous line drawn from several obscure references that were not even addressing the issue of race at all. A little academic honesty would have seen through this.

This is why every belief, standard, and moral position must undergo an extreme critical evaluation. If we truly believe that the Scriptures are what determines right from wrong, then we must act on it.

Before you draw support from that random verse in Malachi, ask yourself if that is really what that verse is teaching. Did that verse mean what you think it means to the original audience? Have you done the necessary research to be sure that verse teaches what you believe? Can you find any corroborating support for what you think inside of Scripture? If not, don’t hold it as if it were Scripture.

This article is not sufficient to discuss the different levels of belief and all the nuances of Scriptural application. However, it is a plea. Before you preach what you believe, check to see that you’re right.

Please, don’t be caught preaching an application which can only be supported by three random proof texts and a quote by C. H. Spurgeon. (And frankly, if you need to quote Spurgeon to prove your point, your point is very weak). You need to make sure you understand Scripture as it was originally intended to be understood. Only then can you say your moral standard is right.

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