Oklahoma Baptists: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ninth Commandment!
July 21st, 2009
Last month, Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern issued her loopy “Proclamation for Morality” that blamed gays (among others) for our economic crisis and held that the United States was created for Christians and Christians only. That was bad enough, but an Oklahoma-based newspaper, The Baptist Messenger, decided to take it a step further by making it official — or at least official looking:
Yep. The Baptist Messenger — an established weekly newspaper with a paid circulation of over 85,000 —- decided to photoshop Governor Henry’s signature on the embarrassing and archaic “Proclamation for Morality.” And to try and make the piece of right wing trash look even more legitimate, they placed the text of proclamation onto Executive Department letterhead and forged the signature of Secretary of State M. Susan Savage next to the state seal of Oklahoma.
The Lost Ogle blog has the complete scan of the proclamation. Having suspended the ninth commandment (or the eight commandment if you use the Catholic/Lutheran method of counting), The Baptist Messenger tried to make amends by offering their non-apology apology with a message from the editor posted to their web site’s front page:
In the July 16 Messenger, the graphic representation of the Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality was misleading, indicating that Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and Secretary of State Susan Savage had signed the document. This is not the case, and the Messenger staff apologizes for the oversight and error.
Hunting around for two fraudulent signatures, a fake letterhead and an legible image of seal of the State of Oklahoma, don’t accidentally get attached to a loopy proclamation because of an “oversight and error.” Their apology is about as misleading as the Photoshopped proclamation. It’s about as credible as well.
What Mainline Clergy Believe
May 22nd, 2009
“Mainline Christianity” has deep roots and wide branches. With about 18% of Americans (and 24% of all voters), the denominations that makeup this more-liberal end of the Protestant Christian world trace to the founding of our nation. When Americans think of church – the steeple, the stained glass windows, the minister in a clerical collar – these are probably the Christians that come to mind.
However, in today’s sound-bite driven media and take-no-prisoners politics, moderate Christians with nuanced positions and non-combatant values don’t make for good television. Instead the fire-breathing “Bible believing” family values culture warrior gets to speak for all of Christianity. So to non-believers, the impression is that Christianity is at war with the rest of the world, and gays are enemy number one.
But a recent survey of Mainline ministers finds quite another Christian response to gay and lesbian Americans. On most issues, these denominations are quite supportive.
The six denominations included, in order of support are:
- United Church of Christ
- Episcopal Church
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Evanglical Lutheran Church in America
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- United Methodist Church
- American Baptist Churches (USA)
(for those unfamiliar, American Baptist Churches is a smaller Baptist organization that is not affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention)
Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey was released this month. And it provides us with better understanding of the beliefs of clergy in Mainline Denominations.
In general, these ministers are supportive of gay civil rights. Additionally, they are fairly supporting of the inclusion of gay persons into the body of the church – though that differs by denomination.
Some of the more interesting public policy issue findings are:
- 79% agree with the statement “Homosexuals should have all the same rights and priveleges as other American citizens”
- 67% support passing gay-inclusive hate crime laws
- 66% support employment non-discrimination laws
- 55% support adoption by gay persons
The one area where there is not majority support is for marriage equality. Only 33% support gay marriage with another 32% supporting civil unions. However, as I discuss in another commentary, support for marriage goes up to 46% when religious assurances are given.
There is also a large variance between denominations on this issue.
- 67% – United Church of Christ
- 49% – Episcopal
- 42% – Disciples of Christ
- 38% – Presbyterian
- 37% – Lutheran
- 25% – Methodist
- 20% – American Baptist
After clergy were reassured that churches and ministers would not be forced to conduct such marriages, support for civil marriage laws were over 50% for all denominations other than United Methodist and American Baptist.
The report goes on to break Mainline Christianity into three camps in relation to gay and lesbian issues; 29% are a supportive base, 30% are an opposing base, and 41% are in an uncertain middle. They find that on most issues the middle tends to side with the supporting base.
They also found that 45% of mainline clergy report that they are more supportive than 10 years ago. Only 14% are more conservative. The following is how those who became more supportive explain the change.
Among clergy who reported becoming more liberal on gay and lesbian issues, the top factors they cited as being very or extremely important to this change were discernment through prayer and reflection (66%), having a friend, congregant or colleague who is gay or lesbian (58%), and additional Bible study (55%).
We have long known that coming out is a valuable way to influence public opinion. Those who have real life examples from which to draw – rather than lies and stereotypes from anti-gay activists – are more likely to find that gay men and women are a valuable part of the social fabric.
But those within the Christian fold will also find it interesting that prayer, reflection, and Bible study can yield greater support for gay persons. Religion, when applied by devout and sincere people seeking to find meaning from sacred Scriptures for real life situations, need not be the enemy of freedom and equality.
As for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into religious life, the study found
- 94% – welcome gay persons in their church
- 63% – believe that the gospel requires their full inclusion in the church
- 51% – believe the church should not work towards making homosexuality unacceptable
- 45% – support ordination of gay and lesbian ministers without special requirements
- 13% – lead congregations that have formally become “open and affirming congregations”
These denominations have the potential to become strong allies in our question for civil equalities. Already many ministers from these denominations are active in showing legislators and voting citizens People of Faith who do not agree with the political agenda of “Christian” and “Family” groups that seek the exclusion of gay persons from civil equalities.
As time goes on, it is increasingly likely that Mainline Christianity is going to move in the direction of fuller acceptance, inclusion, and support. We should, as a community, be appreciative of their help and proactive in efforts to build bridges to these churches.
Separating Religious and Secular Marriage?
June 20th, 2008
One doesn’t expect that Baptists in Texas would be particularly balanced in their discussion of same-sex marriage. But this article in the Baptist Standard, the Texas Baptist news journal, was surprisingly informative.
If featured a the viewpoints of Barry Lynn, a minister in the United Church of Christ and the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Maggie Gallagher, an orthodox Catholic and the president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.
Gallagher argues that the government should recognize only such marriages are are determined by religions:
“A real alternative would be for government to recognize and enforce religiously distinctive marriage contracts so long as they serve the government’s interest—say, permanent ones for Catholics,” she continued. “But what people who talk about ‘separating marriage and state’ really propose to do is simply to refuse to recognize religious marriage contracts at all. This is not neutrality; it is a powerful intervention by the government into the lives of religious people.”
Oddly, I could be persuaded to support this idea. If the government were to allow churches to define marriage and then recognized and enforced those religiously distinctive marriage contracts, gay people could marry in every state of the union and in any nearly every city that had a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, a Quaker meeting, or a United Church of Christ congregation.
Of course, Gallagher really means that the government should recognize and enforce the contracts of her denomination and not those who disagree with her.
Lynn believes that the government should be out of the marriage granting business and instead should offer civil unions to all and let the churches provide marriages to whom they wish.
“Everybody recognizes that you don’t have to have a religious marriage. State legislatures write out the rules of marriage, the rights and responsibilities of this civil institution,” he said.
“If people have to sign documents or register before an official, it in no way impugns the integrity of the religious promises that are made during a sectarian or religious ceremony
Kudos to the Baptist Standard for providing a clear presentation of two differing views on this subject.
Broadway’s Pastor Calls It Quits
April 17th, 2008
Rev. Brett Younger, the gay-tolerant pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth has decided to give up his efforts to bring about unity and peace in his church.
After surviving months of bitter infighting over the philosophical direction of his church, the Rev. Brett Younger, senior pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, is stepping down to work on the faculty of a divinity school in Atlanta.
Younger, 47, is going to work at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta. Members of the church leadership were told about his resignation earlier this week. His last day at Broadway Baptist will be June 8.
I’m saddened by his decision and hope that it does not encourage those at Broadway who were intolerant and unkind to feel justified in their behavior.
Broadway’s Anti-Gays Vote
March 10th, 2008
We have followed the story on Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth and their debate over whether to include gay people in their church directory. They decided to do away with the term “family” and allow individuals to have their pictures in “groups” instead. Sadly, this wasn’t enough of a rejection of gay families for some members.
But members were sharply divided last fall over whether gay couples should be pictured in the church’s 125th anniversary photo directory.
That fight led to a bigger one, over Dr. Younger. A group called Friends for the Future of Broadway accused him of ineffective leadership and of leading the church in too liberal a direction.
So they tried to oust the pastor. But the vote has been taken and the anti-gays just didn’t have enough votes.
The vote was 499 for retaining Brett Younger and 237 against, giving the pastor a two-thirds majority.
Let’s hope that their drama is over. We wish Pastor Younger continued support and we wish much healing for Broadway Baptist.
Broadway Baptist Finds a Happy Compromise
February 25th, 2008
The moderate church includes a number of gay members and seeks to be open to all who want to worship. But trouble arose when it came time to prepare a directory that included family pictures; two men showed up for their family shot.
Some of the more conservative members didn’t want gay couples listed as “family”. The men offered to have separate pictures taken.
But some of the more liberal members were angry that gay people were being disrespected and treated as second class members. What to do?
Well after several months, meetings, church discussions, “scholarly presentations and an in-depth look at the Scriptures”, and much anguished hand wringing, the church has found a compromise:
In a 294-182 vote, members approved a recommendation by the church’s board of deacons to publish a directory that would include member photos in “candid, small and large group pictures” but not include family portraits.
What an elegant solution. Now each group may seek to define for itself what members comprise their group (that isn’t a family, you know).
But regardless of the ridiculousness of renaming family as “a candid small or large group”, I believe that this process has been good for the church and for Christianity as a whole. As people struggle with the issue of including gay couples in communion, they have to deal with the realities of those people that they know and love. They can no longer pretend that their heterosexism is benign nor that passive anti-gay attitudes harm no one.
Church members voted after a sermon by Pastor Brett Younger in which he asked parishioners to look people in the eye and question what they see and how they react.
“If we look into the eyes of a gay Christian, we may have to rethink some of our opinions,” Mr. Younger said.
Very true, Pastor.
And give my regards to… um, your church.
Broadway Baptist Punts on Gay Members’ Photos
December 3rd, 2007
As we told you earlier, there is a debate at Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church over whether the photos of gay members can be included in a church directory.
Broadway views itself as inclusive and no doubt cannot see the message that is inherent in, “If we put your picture in the directory, we are endorsing your sin”. Nor do we hear discussion about the double standard of excluding gay members but not excluding others for their sins or non-orthodox theology.
The church was scheduled to vote yesterday on a compromise – include gay people but only photograph them as individuals, not couples – but the Dallas News reports that the body could not come to conclusion.
Members were to vote Sunday after morning worship. But in a clear indication that they are divided over how accepting to be of homosexuality, they met for an hour and then postponed any decision until deacons make a recommendation on Feb. 24.
“We will continue to discuss this issue together as a church family,” Kathy Madeja, chair of the deacons, said in a prepared statement. “We do not want to rush to make a decision, but rather to continue to listen to each other and for God’s leading for our church.”
The pastor is offering another alternative which is to forgo members’ pictures altogether and focus instead on church ministries. Though I believe the pastor’s intentions are honorable, this option reminds me of those school districts that will ban all student groups in order to keep gay students from forming a support club. Sadly, too often excluding gay people becomes the highest priority and anti-gays are quick to restrict the privileges of all people to ensure that gay people cannot participate.
We’ll let you know what the church ultimately decides.
More Baptist Controversy
November 16th, 2007
Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX, is a moderately welcoming church. Although they have had gay members for many years, they seek to neither “endorse or condemn homosexuality.” This neutrality has served them well, allowing gay people to feel welcome but also allowing those Texas Baptists who’s religious convictions persuaded them of homosexuality’s sinfulness to join in worship without direct confrontation.
But sometimes confrontation comes unexpectedly, as it did for Broadway Baptist. The church decided to celebrate its 125th anniversary with a book describing its missions and displaying pictures of its members.
But when a gay couple showed up to have their picture taken for the directory, Betty Price, the directory coordinator, was having none of it. She raised a stink and spread her discontent – even calling the General Baptist Convention of Texas – before resigning from the position.
So now the church is having to face the decision of how to treat their gay brothers and sisters. Would they include the couple as a family, would they include individual photos, or would they decide that gay members are not worthy of inclusion in a directory.
The pastor, Brett Younger, discussed the problem at a Wednesday night church service (Star-Telegram):
Younger said that the church has had gay members for decades but that no couple had ever been pictured in the directory. He said to change directions would understandably be “troubling to many.”
On the other hand, Younger wrote that other church members think that the congregation’s gays, who “worship, serve and give just like everyone else,” should not be treated like “second-class members.”
The response has been varied. The church staff recommended to exclude them from the directory. The deacons considered letting families decide for themselves who was in their family, but voted that down and could come to no further decision. Those attending a monthly business meeting voted to present the idea to the congregation (for their vote) to list the couple together in the telephone directory but to show two separate photographs. The vote will be on December 2.
One of the more interesting aspects of this story, to me, is the attitude of the couple in question. They refused to allow their names to be published and they willingly took separate photographs because they did not want to be “poster child[ren] for a division in the church”.
“We are at the church to learn and to serve,” one of the men said. “There are people out there who are destined to be activists. I don’t feel like one of them.”
Often it is those who are quietly living their lives with integrity that most impact the world around them.
As a side note, perhaps it is not surprising that the pastor at Broadway Baptist from 1992 to 1999 was Rev. Stephen Shoemaker, currently the pastor at Myers Park Baptist.
No. Carolina Baptists Expell Gay-Friendly Church
November 13th, 2007
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has does not have many requirements for association. As the Charlotte News-Record rather concisely put it
Churches must provide financial support and not affirm homosexuality.
During their meeting last year, the Convention voted to kick out of fellowship any church that did “affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior”. This definition includes accepting a single gay person as a member in a church.
As a consequence, several churches dropped their affiliation with the Convention.
Myers Park Baptist Church, a Charlotte church with membership of about 2,000, decided that their 65 year association should not be let go without comment. Their pastor, Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, wrote the following eloquent appeal, which I am including in full:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I appeal to you by the mercies of God to refrain from removing churches like ours from your fellowship. Christian fellowship is too divided as it is and is a scandal to Christ who prayed that we might be one.
I appeal to you as Baptists who treasure soul freedom, soul competency and the autonomy of the local church. These great Baptist principles argue on behalf of including those of minority witness and minority interpretation of scripture in its fellowship.
Our church studied the Bible, sought the Spirit of God and talked earnestly with each other for over 20 years to get to the place where we said we were “open to all and closed to none,” and fully welcomed gay and lesbian persons who wished to follow Jesus with us. We do not claim to have the whole mind of God, and we respect those whose interpretations of scripture differ. It is the spiritual freedom we offer one another.
I appeal to you as Biblical people led by the Living Spirit of God whose life is centered in Christ.
Jesus welcomed those considered outcasts and sinners by His culture and religion into the Kingdom of God drawing near. We seek — we hope — to live in His Spirit.
And we, like Peter in the Book of Acts, have overcome our original resistance to the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons as Peter overcame his resistance to accepting Gentiles into the people of God. He saw the Holy Spirit fall upon the Gentiles, he saw God working in their lives and said:
“If then God gave them the same gift that He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
We could base the unity of our fellowship on any number of issues of Biblical interpretation: speaking in tongues, war, abortion, death penalty, divorce, homosexuality, and on and on. Let us base our unity on Jesus Christ as Lord and his call to discipleship and on the competence and freedom of the individual to open scripture and interpret it for his or her life guided by the Spirit of God.
H. Stephen Shoemaker
In response, the Executive Committee found his church is not “in friendly cooperation with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina” and today the membership as a whole gave Myer Park Baptist the boot.