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Illuminations: Room for All of Us at God’s Table

I went out to get the mail on the Wednesday following my ordination. It was the same day the local paper ran an article on my journey to becoming the first gay person ordained at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

As I opened the mailbox, I found three hollow-point bullets set up side by side. There was a scribbled note reading, “No faggot gonna be a Baptist minister by God and the father, son and holy spirit will make sure of it!”

I assumed the trinity was a reference to the three bullets that were meant to threaten my life.

As I stood there, a lot of things crossed my mind. There was fear, anger and a flood of painful memories.

I recalled the hateful words used in the Southern Baptist Church of my childhood that demonized LGBTQ+ folk and how church leaders I’d looked up to said God didn’t love gay people because they lived in sin.

I even remembered the deep pain of hearing my granddad say I was an abomination to God when I found the courage to tell him I was gay.

It occurred to me that homophobic theology had done more damage to my soul than those three bullets ever could.

So, as I walked back to the house, I prayed for the courage to continue witnessing to God’s inclusive love no matter what I found in that mailbox.

Last week, as I rushed to find the online publication of the CBF’s update to their hiring policy, I felt like I was walking out to my mailbox once more but this time with hope for a new beginning.

Reading the revised hiring policy that the governing board adopted that said a person’s sexuality would no longer be a consideration for employment made me feel so alive, so loved and so welcomed!

I had to read it over again to make sure it said what I thought it did. It was certainly progress and I was so relieved for my fellow LGBTQ+ Baptists and allies because we’d worked so hard for this moment.

As I continued reading the report, I reached the implementation procedure.

There I recognized the language of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination that made my heart sink.

The implementation procedure stated that important positions in missions and ministerial leadership were restricted to only those, “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.”

In other words, married LGBTQ+ folk like me, who are called by God to those positions within the CBF, would continue to be discriminated against. This was yet another painful moment in seeking to live out my calling from God.

It should be noted that three Illumination Project committee members explained in an EthicsDaily.com interview that the governing board did not adopt the implementation procedure as a formal policy.

Rather, it was published in order to be transparent about CBF’s internal hiring criteria moving forward.

Even so, I wondered, why would the CBF go so far for LGBTQ+ inclusion and leave this discriminatory piece in there? Do they understand that inclusion is only possible at 100 percent? Otherwise, it’s still exclusion.

In the midst of my anger and disappointment, I remembered that Jesus also confronted similar ideologies that denied equality to the marginalized.

What made Jesus’ approach uniquely redemptive is that while he witnessed against all forms of oppression, he still invited the oppressor to turn and follow him.

In modern terms, I’d describe it as saying God’s inclusive love seeks the wholeness of both the Martin Luther Kings and the Bull Connors of this world. Even so, Jesus knew that mutual wholeness and reconciliation are not possible when any amount of inequality and discrimination remain.

With that realization, LGBTQ+ Baptists must now determine what comes next for us.

Individually and collectively, we must wrestle with our righteous anger as well as our belief in the power of God’s inclusive love to make all things new.

On one hand, I feel there is merit in remaining with the CBF to help dismantle the discriminatory implementation procedure.

On the other hand, I agree with some of my peers that remaining in an organization that continuously discriminates against you is not healthy.

Whatever decision each of us come to, it must be our own, and I hope our straight/cisgender allies understand and respect that.

I don’t know about tomorrow, but I’m reminded of the enduring truth that God’s love is abundant.

My former pastor, Joe Phelps, would scarcely let a Sunday go by without reminding us of that.

There is room for us all at God’s table and I believe that with all of my heart. No amount of homophobic theology or discriminatory hiring policies can convince me or my LGBTQ+ family that we aren’t loved by God for exactly who we are.

That truth lies deep within our souls, beyond the reach of those who continue to deny it.

My prayer is that the same abiding assurance of God’s inclusive love leads both the LGBTQ+ community and CBF to 100 percent inclusion and wholeness.

Bojangles Blanchard is the creator of True Colors Ministry at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and a board member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. You can follow him on Twitter @Rev_Bojangles.

This column is one of a series of articles on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Illumination Project. Other columns in the series are:

Illuminations: Seeking Guidance of God’s Spirit by Sara Powell

Illuminations: Dealing with a Messy Smudge of Ash by Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey

Illuminations: Spiritual Equality of All Christians by George Mason

Illuminations: The Long Struggle Against Discrimination by Colin Harris

Illuminations: Agree to Disagree – Agreeably by Steve Wells