Ethnic tension, religious liberty threats, and the anniversaries of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination have stirred up my mind to ask a few "what if's":
What if Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches in the antebellum American South had 1) exercised discipline on members who participated in the evils of slavery and 2) proclaimed a biblical theology of all people created equally in God's image?
- Would the Civil War have ever happened?
- Would the size and power of the federal government have exploded exponentially, as it did through the events and aftermath of the Civil War?
- Would Jim Crow laws have ever gained traction? Would the Civil Rights movement have even been necessary?
- Would the 14th amendment have been enacted? Its "equal protection" clause vastly expanded the power of the federal government over state governments. That amendment is a key reason the federal government, particularly the Supreme Court, is able to overrule state provisions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. What if that amendment never made it into the Constitution? Could Roe v. Wade have even become a federal issue?
- Would theological liberals, who often opposed slavery and racial discrimination sooner and more forcefully than theological conservatives, have gained less credibility and moral influence in American society?
- Would African American pastors have had access to theological training in conservative schools, rather than only liberal institutions? Would African American congregations be more theologically healthy today?
- For that matter, would there even be "African American congregations," or would churches be far more ethnically integrated than they are today?
- Would gay rights activists be able to make the case that discrimination against homosexuals is as morally repugnant as the Jim Crow South?
- Would we be staring in the face the precedent of the Supreme Court's Bob Jones University v. United States decision as a threat to churches' tax exempt status
Of course I can't answer those questions with any real certainty. But this much I will say:
Don't tell me that ecclesiology is peripheral, or irrelevant, or simply a matter of what works best.