William N. Eskridge, Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School, writing yesterday in the New York Times:
Race relations in this country show how religious practice and doctrine can change when public attitudes and the law change. Before the Civil War, many Mormons and Southern Protestants maintained that the Bible supported slavery for persons of African descent; when slavery ended, the same denominations read Scripture to require segregation of the races and to bar interracial relationships. Apartheid was the legal regime codifying those religious and social attitudes.
As American public opinion and constitutional law moved away from such overt discrimination in the 20th century, so did American religion. Southern Presbyterians and Methodists renounced their racist readings of the Bible in the middle of the last century, while most Southern Baptists did so after landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s. The Mormons abandoned formal racial segregation in 1978.
Biblical support for slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws rested upon broad and anachronistic readings of isolated Old Testament passages and the Letters of Paul, but without strong support from Jesus' teachings in the Gospels. The Southern Baptist Convention now concedes that its churches misinterpreted the word of God on matters of race. The current Baptist view that God condemns "homosexual behavior" and same-sex marriages comes from the same kind of broad and anachronistic scriptural readings as prior support for segregation.