An organization of pro-gay American Baptists issued an open letter last week strongly condemning a call by denominational leaders for a moratorium on performing same-sex marriages or elevating homosexuals to ministerial positions.
Writing with “uncharacteristic stridency,” the council of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists called a Nov. 20 “pastoral letter” by American Baptists’ Regional Executive Ministers Council a “Trojan horse” that could lead to a purging of gay-friendly churches from the 1.5 million member denomination.
“We implore all American Baptists to reject the moderate-seeming but utterly divisive content of your letter, and to insist again that we will have no creed, no litmus test and no purge in our denomination,” the letter said. “Instead, let us affirm again, that God has called us–ALL of us–together for a mission and a purpose, and let us take up that work.”
AWAB is comprised of about 50 churches that include gays and lesbians in all areas of church life, including leadership. Membership in the association has been an issue in a few of American Baptists’ 34 state and regional jurisdictions, where churches were expelled for their “welcoming and affirming” status.
More recently, some conservative American Baptists are calling for a nationwide ban. Sixty-one churches have signed on to a November resolution by a group calling itself West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth pledging to withhold contributions until congregations that “affirm homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” are removed from American Baptist life, according to a Web site.
The AWAB leaders said by their action, the executive ministers strengthened the hand of anti-gay forces.
“In seeking to address a perceived problem, you have naively or intentionally introduced a real one, a concrete ‘next step’ down the road to wholesale denominational purge and takeover,” the letter said.
They said concessions recommended by the executive ministers were unfair to those with a “welcoming and affirming” view.
The AWAB leaders said the executive ministers’ commitments to “refrain from recommending or approving persons who are practicing homosexuals” and “refrain from conducting or participating in marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples” contradicted a third commitment to “refrain from making stereotypical statements about homosexuals, participating in homophobic behavior, making uninformed assumptions about homosexuals.”
“Your commitment to refrain from bigotry in the third point is already violated by the first two, which establish a second-class citizenship,” AWAB leaders wrote. “To refrain from recommending qualified individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, to refrain from extending the ceremonies and ordinances of the church to ALL of those who follow Christ, is already to participate in homophobic behavior. And so the letter is inherently homophobic, misleadingly so.”
The letter also cited “veiled threats” that American Baptists would be hindered in fund-raising until the “homosexual issue” is settled.
“Of course, the irony here is that the people who scream the loudest about the distraction of the ‘homosexual issue’ are the ones themselves causing the distraction,” the AWAB letter replied.
“No W&A church has ever tried to impose its beliefs about homosexuality on anyone; neither have we as an association ever argued that the denomination must adopt our biblical interpretation, as dearly as we would like for that to happen. Our work has been to ensure that there are some places within our denomination that are indeed affirming, not that every place is.”
“The distractions have come when others have tried inappropriately to impose their anti-gay theology on others and on the broader body,” the letter continued. “Strictly speaking, the distraction has not been the ‘homosexual issue’ but the issue of the hatred of homosexuality. From this alone have come our major distractions, from the extraordinary and undemocratic mail-in General Board resolution and the dismissal of good churches and the resulting adjudications to this latest travesty.”
AWAB leaders also labeled a “subtly misleading” phrase in the November letter: “The prevailing view among American Baptists is that ‘the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.'”
“This misleads twice,” the AWAB letter charged, “once in implying that such data exists, and again in implying that the Gospel is somehow to be decided by majority vote.”
The AWAB leaders also questioned the ministers’ commitment to “pray and work constructively to embrace our unity in Jesus Christ and promote our fidelity to his teachings.”
“The implication that someone can somehow derive discrimination and bigotry from the teachings of Christ is an outrage to all who would live a Christ-like life,” they wrote.
“We write with uncharacteristic stridency,” the letter concluded. “We have always approached our detractors with goodwill and love, and have worked tirelessly for the preservation of the unity of this denomination. But ultimately, our passion about this offense does not derive from our passion for this denomination. Our passion is for the Good News of God’s love, proclaimed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“We write because we believe the [executive ministers’] letter is wrong and unchristian, and will become a tool for the powers and principalities in dismantling the capacity of the ABC to proclaim this Good News. By means of misleading tools like this, the powers may well ‘win,’ insofar as they succeed in dismissing all who believe that Christ’s love is also for GodÂ¹s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied children. But they will be like soldiers at the foot of the cross, gambling over Christ’s clothes: such will be the meager spoils of their victory. For us, and our households, of whatever blessed configuration ordained by God, we will serve the Lord.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.