I have never considered myself to be a dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist. I was baptized at age 18 and denominations were no part of my decision to affiliate myself with the person and body of Christ. That being said, I have been a member of an SBC church since 2004, so when the SBC decides to do something distasteful and un-Baptist, I feel the need to speak up.
At its annual meeting last week, the Southern Baptist Convention broke precedent and ended a 125-year relationship with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. You may ask, what in the world could possess the SBC to do such a thing, to take by all accounts a faithful, historic congregation and cast them out of our association? The answer is: a church directory.
You see, Broadway Baptist Church, like all Baptist churches of any size or population has gay and lesbian members in their congregation. When the time came to take pictures of families and members in the congregation for a photo directory for the church, some gay and lesbian couples wanted to have their pictures taken together. After prolonged debate on the issue, Broadway decided to allow anyone who wanted to take their picture together to do so for the church directory. This “sin” precipitated their expulsion from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Let me begin by saying how thoroughly un-Baptist this decision by the SBC is. Baptists have traditionally been known as different from other denominations because we allow freedom of conscience, democratic decision-making, and autonomy of the local church. We have not constructed organizations of weighty overseers who micromanage the affairs and doctrinal teaching of each individual, local church. Instead, we feel that as all Christians are afforded grace and wisdom from God, that God intends us to use that wisdom to direct our own affairs in accordance with our conscience and our understanding of scripture. By making this decision and ending a 125-year union with Broadway, the SBC decided to substitute its opinion for that of the congregation and impose its will on Broadway at the end of the proverbial barrel of a gun. That is not how Baptists have operated historically, and indeed, if we are to even maintain some semblance of meaning in the word “Baptist,” we cannot sacrifice the core principles of Baptist organization over minor theological quibbles. It is one thing to disassociate from a church because the congregation fails to recognize the historical accuracy of the resurrection or refuses to submit to Christ’s mandate for baptism or is reluctant to recognize the sinless life of Jesus Christ. It is quite another to do so over the design and layout of a church directory. This is not a case of the SBC overreaching the bounds of its authority. It is a case of a complete supplanting of the Convention’s opinions for that of the local church. It is a break, pure and simple, from Baptist teaching and tradition.
Now onto the underlying issue of the place of gays and lesbians in the church body. Let me be clear as to avoid any confusion. I have very strong opinions about the ecclesiological mandate for biblical marriage as well as opinions of how God intended to use marriage to create strong, biological families, which along with the church, would form the basic building blocks of true, spiritual community. I am not wavering from those positions.
However, I also know that when Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…” he meant literally all. He didn’t mean all the people that society approves of or who you consider “normal.” He didn’t mean bring me the successful, the intelligent, the praiseworthy alone. He didn’t add but don’t bring me the poor, the gays, or the minorities. He really meant all.
Christ knew that all people have a desperate need for reconnection with their Creator. He knew that all people long for peace and hope and love. He never intended to create a class of untouchables within biblical community who were not to be welcomed or tolerated. In fact, He intended quite the opposite actually. Christ spent a disproportionate amount of time with the folks in society who no one else would associate with. He paid particular attention to the people that others had routinely written off. He did this because they needed Him, obviously. But I don’t think that was the only reason. I think He also did it because unlike anyone else in all of history Christ had a keen awareness of the connection between the human and the divine. He saw in them what no one else would: the image of God.
I’m not leaving my SBC church. If people want to hate me because I’m a Southern Baptist, then that’s ok. They might even have good reason to do so. I’m praying for us as Southern Baptists that we’ll learn to stop looking outside ourselves for people to cast judgment upon and start reflecting inwardly about our own shortcomings and how we can better pursue the gospel with passion and vigor. I’m praying we will look for ways to go to the places and to the people in society that Christ would go to and stop trying to dictate where we shouldn’t be going or who we shouldn’t be accepting. I’m praying that we will realize that when Christ wanted to find a way to strengthen the family, he invited others into His family.
Let me finally say that I don’t consider myself to have any right or authority to lecture my fellow Southern Baptists. God knows I have my own moral and spiritual failings to account for and to trust God to forgive. But I do have my conscience. It is clear. And they cannot take that away from me.