Many Baptists and conservative Christians have set homosexuals aside as unparalleled pariahs. There are sinners, and then there are sinners. Ordinary sinners engage in everything from adultery to zealotry. Sometimes, they receive rebuke, and at other times, their church-going friends look the other way. But sinners are women who have sex with women or men who have sex with men, and they can get their church kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That’s what happened again this summer, when the SBC voted to disfellowship Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth because of the congregation’s perceived tolerance of homosexual members. Article III of the SBC constitution notes, “… churches not in cooperation with the convention are churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” Controversy erupted at Broadway when some same-gender members asked to be photographed together in its pictorial directory, but church leaders insisted Broadway still complies with convention policy. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting disagreed and severed the convention’s relationship with the church.
The situation most likely will affect the Baptist General Convention of Texas—if someone proposes the BGCT follow in the national convention’s footsteps.
But the issue presents broader implications than the affiliation of one church. Homosexuality will not go back into the closet. Besides, most churches of any size likely include gay and lesbian members, in the open or not.
I’m not a geneticist or a biologist, so I don’t know if someone is “born homosexual.” I do know many homosexuals who swear they did not choose their orientation and never would choose to feel this way. Still, a direct reading of Scripture says sexual relations are designed by God to be enjoyed between one woman and one man exclusively within the bonds of marriage. While I empathize with the pain and grief of homosexual friends, I believe the Bible says their option is to remain celibate. I do not belittle their suffering, because the sex drive is one of the most powerful forces on Earth, but I also cannot ignore what seems to me the plain teaching of Scripture. Likewise, I do not feel their same-sex yearnings alone comprise sin. Humans are responsible for actions, not feelings. So, we must differentiate between homosexuality and homosexual activity.
This said, Baptists and other Christians must determine how we respond redemptively to homosexual church members. The SBC’s action does not seem to be redemptive, because it singles out one behavior for condemnation while turning a blind eye to the broad range of sins.
Many Christians fear homosexual activity—and perhaps homosexuality itself—and set it aside as a special category. This not only is unbiblical (since blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is named the unforgivable sin), but it also is irrational and disproportionate.
Gossips, back-biters and tattlers have divided many multitudes of congregations. Authoritarian, arrogant and hypocritical church leaders have run an infinite number of new Christians out of the church. Mean ministers and deacons have shoved untold thousands of children and youth so far away from Christ they never will draw near again. These sinners have done far more damage to the Kingdom of Christ than Baptist gays and lesbians. And yet we overlook these damaging and damnable sins. In fact, many of their practitioners are considered pillars of their congregations.
I write this with a heavy heart. I’m sure these words have angered many of you—to both the right and the left of me. And I know one editorial will not resolve one of the most sensitive, frightful and serious issues in the church today.
But we must talk about it. We cannot be afraid to talk