I've always believed that dumb people who believe stupid stuff can be neatly divided into four categories:
First, there are non-Christian dumb people who don't know Christ and therefore should not really be held accountable for believing stupid stuff. Political candidates, actors, and media people often fall into these categories.
Second, there are non-Southern Baptist-but-Christian dumb people who believe stupid stuff. These, I think, should not be judged. While they're probably wrong, we should give them a chance to explain themselves. After all, we will all be together in eternity.
Third, there are dumb Southern Baptists who believe stupid stuff. It seems to me that this group is growing and so I'm prone to be charitable to them just in case I wind up in the minority.
The final and fourth category are dumb Southern Baptists who believe the same stupid stuff that I do. This is my favorite category of people. Still I'm never really comfortable with them either. The primary reason is that people who appear to believe the same stupid stuff that I do are elusive. Just when you get it all nailed down, they change categories. This uneasiness can mar your togetherness.
The one thing you can't do is to insist that you will love them only when they become more like you. The fact is that people often don't become more like us. They are often becoming increasingly more individualistic and therefore more unlike us.
Take my wife, for instance. I married my wife in part because she feels like I do about most things. For 36 years we seemed to believe the same stupid stuff. We enjoyed both marital and doctrinal bliss. We both read and carried 20-pound, Thompson, Chain-Reference Bibles. We color-coded the same significant passages with the same yellow, number 9, wide-tipped, "Marks-a-Lot" highlighter. I felt secure.
Then, one day, I caught her carrying a 7-ounce, New International with a button-snapped side flap.
"Kind of a small, less authoritarian Bible, isn't it?" I asked. "Remember that's how Supralapsarianism got started."
She said nothing, but I would give anything if she had not given up a true testosterone Bible for this little, "convenient" purse-size, sneaky witness. I can't imagine any of the martyrs, including Wycliffe, dying for a 7-ounce, button-down, NIV. Our marriage is not in jeopardy, but I liked it better when we were just alike with the same sized Bible.
The only path open to me really is charity.
Maybe that's why I John 4:7-8 calls loving our brothers and sisters the unconditional evidence of being like God. When you get right down to it, God loves all of us, all of the time. And which of us are not pretty dumb from time to time? Which of us do not believe stupid stuff until we get the insight to do better? All of these things, it seems to me, are God's best lessons on "How to love stupid people who do stupid stuff."
Being a Baptist requires the art. Even the best of Baptists get a little dumb and do stupid stuff. But if God can love like that, it's a reasonable goal for all of us.
Calvin Miller is a professor at Southwestern Seminary.