Tag Archives: SBC

Our Best Days Are Not Ahead of Us

AM17-logoThe 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ended a week ago, and it was the first time that I have been involved in such an event even from a distance via social media. It was also the first significant opportunity I had to advocate for the LGBTQ community with the very people who need to hear it the most. That being said, I have waited until now to give my thoughts on the event. LGBTQ rights can be an emotional subject for many people, myself included, and I wanted to let the dust settle in my own mind before commenting on the experience.

I have to say that I am amazed at how passionately Baptists tend to oppose any theological position that values gender non-conforming people for who they are. (I do realise that not all Baptists do so; it was just the general sense I got from #sbc17.) What also amazed me was the oft-repeated position that Baptists have compassion for all people but cannot and will not abandon God’s plan for human sexuality as laid out in Scripture. It is this sense of compassion, apparently, that leads Baptists to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is a sin, offensive in God’s sight, and something that must change. What I found incredulous was that no one sees the issue with such a stance. Putting it bluntly, if the best we can do to show compassion to these people is drive them farther away from Jesus than we have a seriously problem. That is not compassion. It’s discrimination hiding behind a veil of religious acceptability. If it really was compassion, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I am becoming more and more convinced that our stance as Baptists in this country is turning us into the 21st century version of the New Testament Pharisees. Allow me to explain. One of the things I noticed when I studied the history of the Jewish people from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC through the Intertestamental Period was that they progressively lost more and more of what it meant for them to be God’s people. The temple was destroyed (rebuilt, yes, but never to its formal glory). They were consistently subjugated by foreign peoples, and even during the brief period where they were able to rule themselves the office of High Priest, for example, became little more than a political pawn. Many of them lost the Promised Land as well when they were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. In the end, all they had left was the Word. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is the climate in which the Pharisees came to be. When all you have left is the Law, rigorous obedience to that Law becomes everything.

We see the ultimate expression of this in John 8 when the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask Him what they should do with her. As we’re told verses 3 and 4, the woman has been caught in the very act. She is obviously guilty, and the Pharisees are very much aware of the penalty given in Leviticus 20:10 for this situation. (Before you point out that Leviticus 20 applies to the man as well and that the Pharisees are just using this woman as bait to test Jesus, I am aware of that. I have another point to make here.) By the letter of the law, so to speak, the Pharisees are correct in what they say. That they can make the request, however, without any evidence of guilt, shows just how focused they are on obeying the Law. They actually think they’re doing the right thing.

Are contemporary Baptists that different? We have lost so much in this country of what made us who we are. We no longer have prayer in schools. We no longer really have the voice to speak to societal issues, and when we do speak, fewer and fewer people still listen. We are now but one voice in a sea of voices, many of which are given more respect than our own. All we really have left is morality. It’s the one area, as I see it, that we feel we can still speak to. We have, in Scripture, the reality of sin and judgement, of forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross, and of God’s moral law in the Old Testament. This is a basis that no other group has, at least as far as we’re concerned, which gives us the confidence to still speak out on moral issues. The problem is that when morality becomes all you have left it can easily become the whole point and it’s not supposed to be.

Many of those I spoke with through social media during #sbc17 were quick to point out that the Bible calls same-sex relationships a sin. And, technically, they’re right. Leviticus 18:22, amongst others, says as much. While I disagree with that interpretation (I believe there is plenty of room in Scripture for same-sex individuals the way they are without it being sinful or something “they have to repent from”), it is the interpretation held by many Baptists and by the Convention as a whole. Our focus on morality means that Baptists can share that stance with LGBTQ people, people who as I’ve written before have gone through so much and given up so much just to be who they are, and actually think they’re doing the right thing. Baptists tell them God rejects them, too, and like the Pharisees in John 8 they have no guilt about what they do. We actually have the gall to think we’re being compassionate.

(As an aside, I do still say “we” and “our” when referring to Baptists. Obviously I disagree with the Convention on a number of issues, and the voice of discrimination against LGBTQ people is not one I share. That being said, I was ordained in a Baptist church and I feel that I still have a voice within the Convention even as an ally of the LGBTQ community and an advocate for their rights. I have a foothold, so to speak, in both worlds, and I plan to use that position, and that voice, as much as I can in situations like this.)

Someone, and I can’t remember who, tweeted out during the Annual Meeting that our best days as a denomination are before us. I could not disagree more. As long as we can justify marginalising an entire group of people then our best days are definitely not still to come. Even a brief look through the Gospels shows that Jesus reached out and identified with the outcasts of His society. And what do we do? We make gender non-conforming people into the outcasts of ours. If as a Convention we can’t see that then we have a very big problem indeed.

Let’s Discuss a Few Things

AM17-logoWith the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting starting this week I’ve been more active than usual on social media recently in an effort to raise awareness regarding the negative impact that the Convention’s position on LGBTQ issues has on LGBTQ people. While I am pleased to see organisations like Faith in America taking a very bold approach to directly engaging the Convention on this problem, I have also seen concerns raised by Christians as to just what those of us who support the LGBTQ community are trying to accomplish in raising these issues with the Convention. I wanted to take a few moments to address those areas in hopes of clarifying a few misunderstandings.

Area # 1 – We Want to Rewrite Scripture

The issue here, as I understand it, is that as the Bible calls homosexuality sin (see Leviticus 18 and 20) and we want the Convention to treat LGBTQ people in general, and LGBTQ youth in particular, with the same openness and respect they show to everyone else, we must therefore want to rewrite Scripture in order to remove these passages and any others similar to them.

Speaking for myself, I have no desire to rewrite Scripture and I would not support anyone who does. I have spent the last year praying and searching through the Scriptures in order to find room there for LGBTQ people as they are and for who they are and in a positive light. We have room in a “Christian” worldview for everyone else, so why not them, too? It’s a sad commentary on our Christian culture today that I had to do that, but I am grateful for the experience because it’s given me the confidence I need at times like this to speak out. I wanted to be able to love them for who they are and as they are without trying to force them to change anything (because I strongly believe they don’t have to) but at the same time I wanted to remain rooted in the core tenants of my own beliefs (such as respect for the authority of Scripture). For me, it was Romans 1 and 2 and Genesis 1 that opened my eyes. In addition, there are interpretations of Scripture, valid interpretations, that provide positive room in the Christian worldview for LGBTQ people. Again, it’s sad that we even need to be told this, but there you have it.

I’ve heard it said many times in church, “Come as you are.” We even have worship songs along that line. All we’re asking is that the Convention take LGBTQ people as they are, no strings attached, without trying to force them to change or trying to convey the idea that they even need to.

Area # 2 – God Said It So It’s Binding

I’ve heard this one repeated often in the last few days, and it honestly pisses me off. The gist of it is that God has said in His Word that same-sex attraction is a sin and sorry but if we’re going to obey Him than we have to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is sinful in God’s eyes and they need to repent of it.

If you ever have the privilege of meeting and getting to know members of the LGBTQ community, you’ll find very quickly that they have been through hell. Many of them have spent years coming to terms with who they are and how they feel. Some have spent most of their lives doing so. And once they have come to terms with it, they’ve given up everything to live as who they are.

When we come across a person like this, who’s quite likely been rejected by everyone close to them, the best, most-loving response we have is, “I’m sorry, but I’m bound by obeying God to tell you that He hates who you are?” (Or something to that effect.) I mean, really, that’s the best we’ve got? Not an ounce of compassion or understanding or even the slightest effort to see life through their eyes? Not even the tiniest attempt at respecting them enough to say hey, maybe you are born this way? If that’s the best we have then I fear we’ve become no better than the Pharisees of old, who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46 NLT) The really sad part is that we actually think we’re being loving when we do this.

In Conclusion

If we really want to be loving, if we want to really represent this Jesus we claim to know, then we need to change the Convention’s policies to let these people into our churches as they are and without trying to force them to change. Talk to them. Get to know them. See life through their eyes. They are truly beautiful people, made in God’s image just the same as you and me. Any response we make that values the legalities of Scripture more so than the heart of the person in front of us only makes us more into Pharisees (the one group in the New Testament, remember, that Jesus opposed more than any other; not a group I want to be a part of).

Now that we’ve clarified a few things, what’s stopping us from loving and accepting these people as they are?

What are we known for?

MV5BMTYyMTcxNzc5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2ODE2MTI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_We saw Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales this past weekend and without giving away too much in spoilers let me just say it was the emotional, fun-filled adventure we’ve come to expect from these movies. There’s this one scene in particular that got me right in the gut. If you remember from the end of the third Pirates movie, Jack Sparrow lost the Black Pearl (again). And if you remember from the fourth one, Blackbeard shrank the Pearl and stuck it in a bottle. Well, there’s a scene early on in this one where Jack is on the beach with no ship and no crew and he stares out towards his beloved horizon and holds up the Pearl, still in the bottle, to make it look as though she’s sailing through the waves once more. It’s heartbreaking to watch. I mean, here is what he wants more than anything else in the world, the very thing that makes him who he is, and it’s the one thing he just can’t have. And in the very next scene he gets fall-down drunk and barters away the last real piece of his identity as a pirate for one more drink.

Haven’t we all been there? There’s something that we want, or need even, to make life work and for whatever reason it’s the one thing we just can’t get. And so we lock the desire away somewhere down deep and try to get on with life as it is. We get so busy we tell ourselves we haven’t got time for whatever it is, or we don’t really need it after all, thank you very much. Anything to avoid the pain inside. And who could blame us, really? There are times when I feel this way more often than I care to admit and in all honesty I simply don’t know what to do with the way I feel. It’s far easier to just try to get on with life than to face up to something I don’t even know how to begin to deal with. What exactly is at the root of all this may differ for everyone, but it’s a reality I’m convinced we all face. Black, white, gay, lesbian, trans, straight, it makes no difference. We all want more.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we’re told that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” We all feel like there should be something more because there actually should be something more. We’re all missing something. The crazy hope of the Bible is that there is actually something out there, some object or person of desire, which makes this whole damn thing actually make sense.

When I first had the idea for this post I was going to leave it at that. If you feel Jesus tugging on your heart through your desires then I would definitely encourage you to be open to it and respond. That being said, it hit me that this hope is supposed to be largely what defines us as Christians. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter tells us to “always [be] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The implication is that Christians are by nature such a hopeful people that those around them can’t help but notice and be intrigued by it.

Is this still true today, I wonder? I remember preaching on this text a couple of years ago and asking those in the audience when the last time was that someone had come up to them and asked why they were so hopeful. For many of those present, myself included, we couldn’t remember when this had happened, if ever. There are, of course, many reasons for that. Hope can be the last thing on your mind when your head hits the pillow after a long day at work and you know when the alarm goes off you have to get up to do it all over again. My point here is not to shame us for this but rather to point out that if we’re not known for being hopeful than we’re probably known for being something else.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian you can probably think of many things Christians are known for, especially here in the U.S. (and not all of them positive). All I have to do is peruse my Facebook or my Twitter feed to know that perhaps more than anything else right now Christians in this country are known for trying to take away the rights of those we disagree with. We’re connected to the Republican party and by God we’re going to use that connection to see this country remade the way God wants it to be. It would be laughable if only it didn’t cause so much pain.

That’s what we’re known for and that’s sad. If you’ve been around a church much at all you may have heard it said of someone that they’re “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” This is usually not a compliment of the person in question. They may, for example, be so focused on being “spiritual” that they don’t have  the time or the inclination to help out their fellow man. Having observed the church in this country over the last few years, and having experienced first hand the pain we inflict on those we marginalise, I have to wonder if maybe the reverse is true of Christianity as a whole in the U.S. today. Are we so focused on this world that we’ve forgotten it isn’t our home? Once we make this world the point, anything’s justified as long as it keeps us in power. We’re the ones who have God’s authority (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves), so why shouldn’t we be in power? And have we become so wedded to our own worldview that we’ve forgotten we’re not the only voice in this culture? Are we so convinced of our hold on the truth that we’ve forgotten the need to treat others with basic dignity and respect?

I would answer yes to all of those questions. We have forgotten so much and gotten so far off track that we think the most loving thing we can do for someone is share our own worldview with them without showing even an ounce of respect for theirs.

People need hope. We all do. If the Bible is to be believed, Christians are the ones who know where to find hope, for this world as well as for the next. If we want to start bringing hope again then it’s time for us to remember just who we are and just what we’re supposed to be about as Christians.

 

 

The Last Few Weeks

hqdefaultSeveral weeks ago, I published here an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention on the subject or our treatment of the LGBTQ community. In that time, I have forwarded this letter to every Baptist organization I can think of that is in the public eye and therefore in a position to do the most good (including, among others, the North American Missions Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Baptist Press). Given how touchy we Christians can be on the subject of homosexuality, I expected to get a flurry of responses. What I got instead was silence. Our stance that the concerns of the LGBTQ community do not represent a civil rights issue is causing nothing but hurt and we don’t even want to talk about it.

When I finally did get a response from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), I was able to understand better the logic and the reasoning behind our position as a Convention on the civil rights issue, the so-called “bathroom debate,” and trans people in general. I have to say that from a theological standpoint, I found little to fault with it. It fits the theological worldview that many Baptists share. That being said, the Convention’s position has one major flaw. If you’re an LGBTQ individual reading this, you’ll know better than anyone that you don’t share that worldview. You approach this entire subject from a completely different angle, so to speak. And that’s fine. The flaw in the Convention’s position is that we don’t even bother to acknowledge that difference. We have our reasons for seeing things as we do, we want you to come around to see things our way, and that’s that. For example, I read through one article that was provided to me by the ERLC about how feeling like your actual gender doesn’t match your physical gender is a diagnosable medical condition called gender dysphoria, and it’s our job as Christians to love you through that struggle until you come to a place where the gender you feel you are matches the gender you physically are. So this thing which you say makes you who you are, well, as the Convention sees it, it just means you’re confused. Basically, you’re mentally ill.

Without being too blunt, like I said I understand the theology behind the Convention’s position, but how the hell are we supposed to love and respect you, to be ambassadors for Christ and show you that he loves you enough that he died to get you back, if we can’t even acknowledge and respect where you’re coming from?

What we have here, in essence, are two completely different cultures (something else I think we as Christians have a hard time understanding). It’s long been an issue in church history that it’s not enough for us to try to share the Gospel but we have to bring along our culture as well. The Apostle Paul dealt with it in the New Testament. He wrote the Letter to the Galatians to oppose those who believed it wasn’t enough simply for Gentiles to believe in Jesus but they also had to keep the Jewish law (including circumcision). And 1500 years later, when church missionary efforts were headquartered in Europe, those who brought the Gospel around the world were notorious for bringing European civilization along with it. In short, we have a bad habit of believing that in order for you to be acceptable to God, you also have to become like us. What we forget is that every time we try that, all we do is hurt people. That, more than anything else, is what I think is driving the Convention’s position in this area.

And I know there are those who will read this and say that how we treat the LGBTQ community is not a cultural issue at all, that Scripture is very clear on this matter and that pretty well determines how we interact with you. Our job is not to enforce our beliefs on you, or to try to convince you to come around to seeing things our way. Our job, as representatives of Jesus here on Earth, is simply to take you as you are and love you as you are in hopes that through that you see his love for you. Anything that gets in the way of that not only hurts you but also stops us from being about the very thing that we are supposed to be about here in this world.

Please hear me when I say that taking you as you are does not mean for me that you are confused or mentally ill. It also does not mean that I view the reality of you being gay, or lesbian, or trans, or whatever, as a reality that only exists inside your head. It means that I will love and accept you as gay, lesbian, trans, or whatever. As a Christian I can do no less.

An Open Letter to the Churches and the Leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention

Following the Pulse massacre in Orlando last year, I reached out to the LGBTQ community through an open letter published here. The deaths of those 49 people prompted a flood of support from the Christian community as a whole, but I had trouble with the actions of my fellow believers both because it took the deaths of almost 50 people to get us to show love to the LGBTQ community and because, not long after the event had faded from the headlines, we returned to our usual less-than-charitable stance towards this community as a whole. So I reached out then, and I have continued to reach out, to try to show these people who Jesus really is and that they matter to Him. It has been a difficult thing to do, at times, as we as Christians have caused them a great deal of hurt. I was, however, privileged to get to know various members of the LGBTQ community through social media, and even more privileged to be allowed in to begin to understand their hopes, fears, and hurts. With that as a background, I now want to reach out to the denomination in which I was ordained.

The conversations I have been privileged to be a part of have given me much to ponder. Our two groups can and do disagree on much, yet a constant theme was the pain that we as Christians have caused. In responding to that pain I was forced to reflect on my own worldview, and that process has brought me to examine the Southern Baptist Convention’s official position on these issues. It is to that position which I would like to now speak. To put it bluntly, I am concerned that in being so zealous to defend the authority of Scripture we are in reality making mistakes which cause us to fail the very lost people we claim to be most concerned about.

I disagree with much of the Convention’s official position on these issues (can we, as but one voice in this culture, really say that the government’s adopting our beliefs on same-sex marriage is for the public good?).[1] There are two mistakes in particular that I wish to address. The first mistake we are making illustrates the real-world consequence of the overzealous commitment to Scripture which I believe we as a denomination have at present. Before examining that in detail, however, I would first like to state that I share a commitment to Scripture as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. That being said, when such a commitment is devoid of compassion for the lost it does little more than turn them off to the Jesus we represent. Allow me to explain. In a resolution published in 2012 entitled “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ and Civil Rights Rhetoric,” representatives of the Convention stated, “we deny that the effort to legalize ‘same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender,” and furthermore, “[we] oppose any attempt to frame ‘same-sex marriage’ as a civil rights issue.”[2] These statements are rooted in an error on judgement on our part. The term “civil rights,” by definition, refers to having the freedom to live your life as you see fit. The members of the LGBTQ community should have, by that right, the same freedom to be themselves that you and I enjoy in this country. That alone makes same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, one that we refuse to respect. I have to contrast this stance with our stance on religious liberty, which as the same resolution outlines we do see as a civil rights issue and are willing to fight for. In short, we appear to be willing to fight for our own rights but not those of others, and that is a problem. (The Golden Rule apparently doesn’t apply anymore.)

I have to also say that, while I explicitly disagree with that stance, I understand why we take it. Putting homosexuality into the same protected category, so to speak, as race and gender would put us into a theological quandary that we would very much like to avoid. If one can be born black, or born female, then adding homosexuality to that list implies that we believe on can be born with same-sex attraction, and even suggesting such an idea gives most of us pause. The biblical evidence points us to the conclusion that same-sex attraction is a choice, and if Scripture is wrong about that then what else is it wrong about? And so out of fear of that slippery slope, we avoid the issue altogether and double-down on our biblical argument, all the while either not caring about the hurt we cause or being unaware of it.

I say unaware of it because that’s what I believed at first. In the conversations I’ve had with members of the LGBTQ community, the question, “Why do you people hate us so much?” has come up a lot. Truth be told I didn’t really have an answer for it. Christians do attack the civil rights of these people, that much is clear, yet those actions do not reflect the Jesus that I know and so after stating as much in these conversations I would usually conclude to myself that the Christians involved are well-intentioned but very badly misguided. And then I came across the resolution mentioned above, where the country’s largest Protestant denomination spells out the logic behind denying a group of people basic human rights. If that’s not hateful, then I don’t know what is. We are not unaware of what we are doing. We’ve thought it through, enough to make it part of our official position on the matter, and that’s scary. In no manner could our position ever be construed as representing the Jesus of the Bible.

The second mistake we’re making has to do with what we are communicating to the world regarding LGBTQ individuals in general. Article III subsection 1 of our constitution states that “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse, homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.”[3] Furthermore, our list of position statements also states that “homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgiveable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals.”[4] Two aspects of this position are troubling. First of all, to sum up, if a group of believers is at all nice to homosexuals then they can’t possibly be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hate these people so much that not only do we not want them as members in our churches but we’ll kick out anyone who disagrees. Secondly, we are communicating to a group of sinners, the very people Jesus came for, that in order to be accepted by Him they must change who they are. Nothing in all of Scripture supports such a belief. In fact, the exact opposite is true. There is nothing any of us can do or change in order to make ourselves acceptable to God, and that is why Christ’s work on the cross is so necessary. In short, we can’t save ourselves no matter how much we change. The LGBTQ community, however, apparently needs to change in order to be saved. As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus takes us as we are. Why can’t we do the same for LGBTQ individuals?

My goal in raising these points is not to start controversy or to simply criticize the Convention’s position but rather to encourage Southern Baptists to think through how what we communicate to the world hurts those we are supposed to care about. And if you can show me from Scripture that my perception of the Convention’s position as outlined above is in error, by all means please do so. Too often in the last few months I have had to apologize for the actions of my fellow Christians. I would much rather be able to explain that we as believers are not actually doing the things we have been accused of. Sadly, however, my fear is that I am not wrong in this. My fear, ultimately, is that we are failing the very lost people we should be looking to bring to Jesus. (And please hear me when I say that I am not asking us to change our worldview simply to suit the beliefs of others. If, however, aspects of that worldview bring us to cause pain to others, and not because “they are blinded from the truth” or some other biblical excuse but simply because we have taken things too far, then that is a problem with our worldview and one that needs to be addressed.)

We as a Convention can do better in how we treat the LGBTQ community. Simply respecting their position on civil rights would be huge start, and one that does not have to pose any theological quandaries for us. How hard is it for us be respectful even while we may disagree? Just as importantly, we can act to welcome these individuals to fellowship in our churches and ensure that we no longer disown those Christians who try to treat them with love and respect. The people who make up the LGBTQ community are just that, people, like you and me. If for no other reason than that we owe them respect in our behavior. There is no Scriptural justification for doing otherwise.

In Christ,

Pastor Mike

 

[1] “The Southern Baptist Convention Passes Resolution on Gay Marriage,” Denny Burk, last modified June 16, 2015, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.dennyburk.com/the-southern-baptist-convention-passes-resolution-on-gay-marriage-sbc15/.

[2] “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ And Civil Rights Rhetoric,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2012, accesed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1224/on-samesex-marriage-and-civil-rights-rhetoric.

[3] “Constitution,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/

aboutus/legal/constitution.asp.

[4] “Position Statements,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp.