The mystery of Alabama

The fascinating race for the senate seat of the American state Alabama finished on December 12 with the Democrat Doug Jones as the winner. He beat the Republican Roy Moore with a tiny difference. Alabama had long been a Republican bulwark, but Roy Moore had gotten himself into so much trouble, because of the accusations of sexual misconduct, that he lost the election. Jones received massive support from the black population, and especially from the black women! However, remarkably enough, Moore got the votes of no less than 80 (eighty!) percent of the evangelicals.

How in the world can it be explained that four out of every five people in Alabama who call themselves ‘born-again Christians’ continued to support Moore? (And, of course, there also remains the enigma why Donald Trump still has so much sympathy with the evangelicals.) A few days ago I read an article on the website of the Harvard University Divinity School, which addressed this same question.[1] The article was written by a certain Dudley Rose, whose name I had never heard before: an academic and a minister in the United Church of Christ.

Rose points to recent trends among the Southern Baptists, the largest Baptist denomination in the United States and very numerous in Alabama. In many countries, as for instance in the Netherlands, the Baptists are only a very small minority. Many Dutch people would be amazed to learn that this denomination has over 15  million members in the southern states of the US. Rose argues that towards the end of the last century many Southern Baptist church leaders became more and more concerned about what they perceived as the growing liberalism in their church. They were determined to take counter measures. The result of their reaction became evident in the new statement of their faith that appeared in 2000. In the past the faith and life of the Southern Baptists was emphatically anchored in the teachings and the example of Christ, but now the emphasis shifted to the authority of the Bible, combined with an explicit condemnation of some specific sins.

As a result of this trend we now see that many evangelicals stress the importance of condemning certain sins (in particular abortion!) and a strict adherence to the doctrines of the church, while the question whether one actually lives as a true follower of Christ has been relegated to second place. This may explain why most evangelicals in Alabama are willing to still favor a man as Moore, with his inflexible standpoint on abortion, and to turn a blind eye to his sexual escapades. Undoubtedly, other factors also come into play, but I found this short article quite illuminating.

Could it be that a somewhat similar trend is present in the Adventist Church? Is there a trend to emphasize orthodox doctrine in order to combat the liberalism that some (or many?) church leaders fear is on the rise, and that Christ, and the example He gave, are more and more in the shadow of a rigid ‘plain’ reading of the Scriptures, which is mostly interested in defining what is (in their view) correct and orthodox, rather than focusing first of all on what is good and merciful?