Baptists Fight To End Discrimination Against LGBT People
By Rev. Robin Lunn, Executive Director,Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Baptist fighting for the end of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this over the last year as events in our Baptist landscape seem to be shifting almost as fast as the national landscape on LGBT civil rights.
In the last year we have seen Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, marriage equality become the law in Maryland, New York, Washington D.C., and Washington state, and the sitting President and Vice President of the United States come out for the full civil recognition of same-sex marriage. These tectonic shifts have all been made possible, in part, by the work of courageous Baptists who have called, petitioned, marched, preached, prayed, and lived, believing that one day, God’s Kingdom “will come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
To many the idea that there are Baptists, gay or straight, who are not only welcoming, but also affirming, is akin to that classic oxymoron that our congress can somehow muster bipartisan cooperation. I meet people almost every day who wonder how I am a welcoming and affirming Baptist, an ordained Baptist minister, and a lesbian in a long-term committed same-sex relationship.
The truth is there are thousands of us who practice our faith in private and in public and who believe that there is no dissonance in being welcoming, affirming and Baptist. It is the same faith that Baptists have practiced for nearly 400 years in this country that compels us to study and pray, discern and listen, and let the Holy Spirit guide us to a more expansive place of welcome for all. For me, this is about what Cornell West says, “Tenderness is what love feels like in private. Justice is what love looks like in public.” To me “welcome” and “tenderness” are the same thing.
Justice-making is something that comes through discernment. Discernment is what President Obama has named as “evolution.” It is what brought a diverse group of Baptists together in Charlotte, North Carolina last February to participate in the “Many Voices, One Love” event. It is what drives the members of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists to march in local Pride Parades, hold alternative Proms, work for LGBT asylum, teach about healthy human sexuality, and most importantly, offer sanctuary to those on the margins who have been harmed by the church simply because they are different.
I say I’ve been thinking about this for a year because last summer three very significant things happened in the Baptist world. The first was a call by the young people of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship(CBF) for a serious conversation on homosexuality within that communion. This call was answered in humility and faith, by Rick Bennet (Director of Missional Formation) and others. This April, the CBF hosted an amazing weekend conference on human sexuality and covenant. This serious and faithful conversation has planted a seed that will take years to see come to fruition. However, the shoots that are already coming up are beautiful!
I also was humbled to take part in an action initiated by Faith In America that culminated in a coalition of religious and secular groups hand delivering a petition with over 10,000 signatures to Rev. Dr. Bryant Wright, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. In an hour-long meeting we witnessed him say to a young gay man in our group that it was wrong for his parents to shun him for being gay. We witnessed the tenderness of human love between parent and child being felt and expressed by a man who has spent the better part of this last year walking his words back so he can keep his job. When I serendipitously met Dr. Wright at the concierge desk later that evening I invited him to join me in dialogue around issues of biblical interpretation over sexuality and covenant. When I said that I don’t know what the Spirit is up to and that our willingness to be in dialogue is really what we are called to as Christians, I saw in his eyes humility and understanding that leads me to believe God is still moving in him on this issue.
The third, and for me, the most significant moment was when AWAB was allowed to have a table in the exhibit hall at the ABC-USA Biennial in Puerto Rico last summer. This moment of providence has opened a door that has always been closed to us and the hearts and minds of so many in my Baptist family are starting to turn as they discern the new wind of the Spirit in their lives.
All of these moments were made possible by the straight members of the AWAB family. What most people may not know is that AWAB is a mostly straight ally community, laity and clergy who have been working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ for almost 40 years. When I stand as the face and voice of AWAB, I stand as someone surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who love and affirm me because we are in Christ, not because we are all gay. It is their love, and the shoulders upon which I stand that enables me to keep stepping out and encouraging others to do the same regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What I’ve learned from this past year is a reminder that “you get more bees with honey” and that in our landscape it is the willingness to stand as humble witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit in love when we encounter our “other” – those how are not welcoming and affirming. Whether it is the SBC, the ABC-USA, the CBF or any other Baptist body, I know that the family of AWAB can move mountains when we do as Jesus did – walk, eat, celebrate, teach, pray, and simply be with those who are not like us.