Gay Christians and the Southern Baptist Convention

This post originally appeared in my column at http://examiner.com. You can view the original here.

Johnny Hunt, President of the SBC

Last month at their annual convention, the Southern Baptists voted to sever their ties with the Broadway Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, Texas.

Broadway Baptist Church has been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) since the church’s inception in 1882. Over the years, two of Broadway’s pastor have served as leaders in the SBC. The relationship has been a fruitful one for more than a century.

Now, the SBC has ejected Broadway because of their position, or rather non-position, on homosexuality. Broadway’s leadership has refused to make a statement for or against homosexuality. A number of members of the church are openly homosexual.

The SBC has historically been opposed to homosexuality but during the 80’s, a more liberal element took control of the convention. Conservatives campaigned hard against the more progressive liberals and during the 90’s slowly took back the reins. The past decade has seen the SBC adopt a much more traditional position in many areas.

In 1997, they announced a boycott of the Disney companies because the SBC felt that Disney promoted immorality, particularly homosexuality. The boycott ran until 2005, and even after officially ending the boycott, the SBC leadership stated they would continue to “monitor the products and policies” of Disney.

The boycott was followed by a 1998 revision of “The Baptist Faith & Message”, the SBC’s guiding doctrinal statement. The revision included a new article stating plainly that the SBC believed marriage was the union of one man and one woman.

In 2000, the SBC officially adopted an updated version of “The Baptist Faith & Message”. In this document, they included two strongly worded anti-homosexual statements that reflected the beliefs of many SBC churches:

Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. (Article XV)

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. (Article XVIII, originally added in 1998)

While Broadway protests that they have done nothing to warrant their ejection and that they should not make moral judgments as qualifications for membership, the SBC leadership made it plain that “The Baptist Faith & Message” is the official position of the SBC, and churches who join the SBC are required to comply to it. Translation? Homosexuals are not welcome to participate in SBC churches.

The SBC does not single out homosexuality as the only sin that is worth ejecting churches from their ranks, but thus far, it is the only one to gain national media attention. Statistics are not available for churches ejected for other acts that might be considered sexual sins – adultery, fornication, divorce and remarriage or other practices.

The leadership at Broadway has stated plainly that it is not the practice of the SBC to deny membership to people committing adultery, so why should homosexuals be singled out. They further contend that they are not supporting homosexuality, but simply not discriminating against homosexuals.

What does all of this mean for Manchester and the rest of New Hampshire? In New Hampshire, the Southern Baptists have planted a number of new churches in the recent decade. Their church planting arm, North American Missions Board (NAMB), has planted several congregations that are now flourishing. All of these churches have accepted “The Baptist Faith & Message” as their creed, which means excluding homosexuals from membership.

But New Hampshire has recently seen a change of position toward homosexuals in recent years. In June, Gov. John Lynch signed a Gay Marriage Bill that will take effect in January 2010. In fact, every New England state except Rhode Island has now legalized and protected gay marriage, and Rhode Island has civil unions.

How will the Southern Baptists react to a changing landscape where homosexuality is becoming more tolerated and accepted in mainstream New Hampshire society? People outside the church are less likely to view it as wrong or different, just as they view other things considered sexual sin. Churches have acclimated and adjusted to cohabiting heterosexual couples,divorce and remarriage (once considered adultery by many Baptists), and many other things once considered anathema.

Where once homosexuality was considered a disease or psychological disorder, it is now becoming better understood. And even if a church believes that the Bible teaches homosexuality is sin, should it be distinguished from other sexual sins? If churches are going to be opposed to homosexuality, they must be opposed to all sexual sin equally. Is there a bias against homosexuals that needs to be overcome to reach them effectively? And if so, can churches overcome it?

Only time will tell.

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