Commentary: For I was a stranger, and you (didn’t) welcome(d) me

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I was a stranger six years ago. I ventured away from the hills of East Tennessee into the heart of Texas Baptist life. You welcomed me as you saw me—intelligent, capable, somewhat wise, somewhat careless. But there was a part of me you didn’t see—a part of me I kept from everyone.

Josh Carpenter 151Josh CarpenterI kept it from others because I knew what it would cost to admit I was gay. Futures would close to me, and the stability of institutions I loved would be endangered. It was better for everyone for my sexuality to be unwelcomed, most of all by me.

Yet I must thank you. The unwelcome gave me a feeling of discomfort, and the Spirit stirred something within me. In spite of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ continued rejection of LGBTQ persons and those Baptist churches that nobly and prophetically support us fully and without reservation, the Spirit used you to work good in me.

I accepted who I am. I, like other LGBTQ persons, have lost family but gained wholeness. The stories you may hear about mental trauma, suicide and emotional scarring among people like me are not just stories. They are realities we live with daily.

Torn between concern & commitment

I do not mean to imply you are callous or complacent to such concerns; indeed, I do not think you are. Rather, I think you are torn between this human concern and another commitment. That commitment is to a particular way of reading Scripture. We could trot out passages like Romans 1, but do we really need to? We have all heard them before. How does a church wed that reading of Scripture to human decency, a decency the church feels that it is called to?

An easy solution is “welcoming, but not affirming.” As a gay Christian, I am telling you that such a position is absurd. We can never hear that position as anything but a veiled threat. Your recent decision revives the trauma many of us have received at the hands of our families and other faith communities. The message we hear from you is the message we have heard from them: We are not welcome among you.

It is absurd as it kicks against the pricks of the gospel. Christ in Matthew 25 insists upon welcoming the stranger as a mark of the Christian community. I was a stranger. You welcomed part of me, just as you welcome part of those LGBTQ persons in your churches.

But there is a part you do not welcome, a part you feel you cannot welcome.

No picking and choosing

Christ does not allow you to pick and choose parts of people to accept. He demands that you look into their eyes and see in them a person created in God’s image, be they lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender fluid, pansexual, transgender or straight. Sexuality is not a criterion for entry into the kingdom of God; rather, that criterion is related to providing basic needs like food, shelter, community and healthcare.

If you insist on reading passages like Romans 1 without recourse to context or hermeneutics—however one may suggest doing such a thing—I encourage you to do it with Matthew 25 as well. See how you stack up. I’ve a feeling that churches like Lakeshore Baptist, First Baptist Austin and Wilshire Baptist stack up far better. If we try the spirits as the Book of James suggests, it seems to me the Spirit of God is at work in these three churches. What spirit is at work in the BGCT?

I will readily admit when a person reads Scripture, one sees a good bit of themselves in one’s reading. This power is part of what makes Scripture useful for us Christians; it shows us who we are.

What Scripture tells us

Perhaps we should be horrified at what Scripture tells us about ourselves. A reading that leads to hatred and rejection seems to me to reflect a heart bent towards hatred and rejection. A reading that leads to acceptance and unity seems to reflect a reading shaped by the gospel of Christ, a gospel that transforms an alienated and hostile world into the kingdom of God.

Your recent decision adds to that alienation and hostility in that you have alienated churches from your communion. This action does not bring about the kingdom, and thus you abandon your mandate to be Christ’s emissaries in the world. If you feel shame for nothing else, feel shame for betraying the cause of Christ in withdrawing fellowship from other followers of Christ.

To the ostracized …

Finally, I offer a brief word to those churches that have been ostracized: I do not imagine your mailbox has been overly kind these recent weeks, but I figure you knew that was coming. The faces that correspond with your stance may be few, but know that others are taking notice of the good you do. LGBTQ lives are fraught with questions: Will there be anyone to perform our weddings? What if the nation turns against us? What about children? To know that others stand with us is a blessing beyond words.

Grace and peace to you.

Josh Carpenter, a former Texas Baptist, is a graduate student in Florida State University’s religion department.

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