In an article this morning a New York Times journalist defined Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito’s approach to Constitutional interpretation as “originalism.” This Constitutional hermeneutic is further defined by Alito himself, who was quoted as saying, “In interpreting the Constitution I think we should look to the text of the Constitution, and we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption.”
First, this is a great principle in biblical interpretation. We would do well to be “originalists” in the pulpit.
Second, it sheds some interesting light on contemporary Baptist (particularly Southern Baptist) life. As Southern Baptist politics leans conservative Republican, many would offer their hearty approval of Judge Alito. In order to protect freedom of religion, speech, and life we demand that the Constitution be interpreted in light of the framers’ intent. We cannot endorse playing fast and loose with the meaning of the Constitution. What it meant then is what it should mean for us now. Unless there is one meaning there is no meaning.
Now, shouldn’t we expect that same hermeneutic with our own founding documents in Southern Baptist life? Many Southern Baptist pastors are alienated, disenfranchised and fired for attempting to apply the principle of “originalism” to our Baptist heritage. An “original” reading of the historic Baptist confessions (including the Baptist Faith and Message) clearly leads to at least a moderate “Calvinistic” understanding of Scripture. And the healthiest churches are those who remain tenaciously tethered to these biblically-based confessions.
Most Southern Baptists would rather die than be considered liberal Democrat. Yet, many are applying the same principle to our denominational documents that liberal Democrats apply to the U.S. Constitution. I pray we repent from our double standard and joyfully return to “the way we were.”