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Flynt’s argument is flawed

Published 11:32am Thursday, October 13, 2011

Without a doubt, Auburn University professor emeritus Dr. Wayne Flynt is one of the most acclaimed historians the state of Alabama has produced in the last fifty years. His works on religion, culture and politics have added tremendously to our understanding of the complex forces that have shaped Alabama history in the 20th century.

Given his academic credentials, a lot of people (including myself) listen up when Dr. Flynt gives his opinion about current events, especially politics. The fact he is also an ordained Baptist minister adds a religious, even moral flavor to what he has to say, which makes his comments even more relevant since Alabama sits squarely in the Bible belt.

In a story written by George Talbot and posted this past week on, Dr. Flynt addressed the current controversy over HB56, which is Alabama’s controversial immigration law. He made several points that I find both interesting and troubling, especially since he described the law as “the most mean-spirited, hateful thing I’ve ever read.”

First, I find this particular comment to be fascinating, especially since Flynt is a historian. Given all of the racist laws and literature that came out of the South during the Jim Crowe era, I find it difficult to believe this particular law would rank that high on anyone’s “most hateful” list. Of course, this does not take into account any Nazi literature I’m sure Dr. Flynt was exposed to during his academic career.

Considering the vast array of hateful speech that exists in print, my thinking is Dr. Flynt might be letting his political orientation influence his analysis, which is not surprising, but a little disappointing since most historians are trained to be as objective as possible.

Another comment I found interesting regarded the type of jobs most illegal immigrants work in our state.

“These are the lowest–wage jobs, the lowest-skill jobs,” Flynt said. “Unemployed people are simply not going to leave the house in June, July and August to go fill them.”

In my opinion, Flynt is exactly right. The fact illegal immigrants take low paying, hard labor jobs is a testament to their work ethic. But, it’s also an example of both laziness and bad government when unemployed citizens refuse to work because they would rather sit at home and remain on the dole, especially since government money makes it more lucrative to do so.  Flynt made a very astute observation of our society and work ethic, even though he might not have meant it quite this way.

The last of Flynt’s points I found so intriguing concerned an essentially religious claim about helping the poor and downtrodden in society.

“Jesus said, when you get to heaven, you won’t get in based on what you believe. Forget it,” he said. “You will get into heaven based on how your beliefs transformed the ethical way you acted toward others.”

Flynt went on to say that Alabama is not abiding by this teaching, inferring that Alabamians who support the law are not acting ethically toward illegal immigrants. In effect, they’re treating the poor and downtrodden badly, which ultimately might call into question their salvation.

To me, making salvific claims in this instance is a little strange, especially coming from an ordained Baptist minister. Most Baptists I know abhor works-based, social gospel salvation theology. For them, faith and belief is what gets you into heaven, not works.

Now, doing good works such as taking care of the poor should naturally flow from one’s belief and Flynt is right to point that out. Regardless, it’s my understanding that Jesus talked a lot about individual actions and very little about government when it comes to salvation. In my opinion, Flynt is missing the real emphasis of Jesus’ teaching. I could be wrong, but I’m unaware of any scripture where Jesus addresses what governments should do. Nevertheless, there’s plenty about what individuals should do.

Though I have tremendous respect for Dr. Flynt and his many works on Alabama history (several of which I’ve read), I’m afraid his political orientation has greatly affected his ability to produce a fair-minded assessment of what is obviously a controversial law. Plus, his apparent use of religion in order to promote a political objective is just as troubling.

Objective analysis, regardless of topic, should be the hallmark of any respected scholar. While Dr. Flynt has every right to express his opinion, making controversial political claims and using religion to promote them should be left to politicians like Judge Roy Moore.

Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.