I debated myself for a couple days as to whether or not I wanted to write this blog. It will almost certainly cause me some trouble, but at some point I think trouble is worth it when it means we can come to a better understanding of ourselves and each other.
In my last blog post, I mentioned that my wife and I were going on vacation. That was only half the story, it was actually a "working" vacation, so for half of the week I attended the 20th CBF National Assembly in Tampa. (I will post my thoughts on Tampa, and the convention as a whole later)
The elephant in the room, or at least in the hallways, was whether or not the CBF, or any of the leadership, would make any kind of official statement about the "issue" of homosexuality. Of course the vote that was taking place in the New York State Senate during the convention heightened expectations, but ultimately didn't lead to any satisfaction for those looking for an official word.
I heard a story about a state level CBF official who was asked on a college campus what the "official stance" of the CBF was in regards to homosexuality, and his response was, "we have the same stance as Habitat for Humanity, if you are willing to swing a hammer we will work alongside you." While I love this answer, it does stop short of what is needed from our leadership. This is a divisive issue among our churches and in society as a whole, and these are just the things I think I think about it.
Lets be clear, when we say the "issue" of homosexuality, and when people debate it in the hallways, we are actually talking, not about one issue, but three:
- The Legality of Homosexual Marriage
- The Acceptance of Homosexuals in our Churches
- The Affirmation of Homosexuality as a lifestyle
First, on the issue of Homosexual Marriage. This, to me, seems the most obvious and easy place for the CBF to take an official stance. If the government of the United States is going to be involved in marriage (and the libertarian in me asks why they are) then we should not allow the government to discriminate against people because of a religious belief. Being founded on a principle of separation of church and state, it would seem that all Baptists could, and should, come forward to speak out for justice for all citizens of the United States. Now, if there are reasons that aren't religious to continue to disallow homosexual marriage, then that would muddy the waters, but frankly I haven't heard any. Since the CBF already publicly supports institutions such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, this would not cause much of a stir among the churches. In fact, my guess is that the CBF would say that their support for BJC is a tacit statement in itself. So this seems like a pretty easy place to start, and one that would not cause any fractures within the fellowship community. (of course, that's an easy thing to assume from the safety of my keyboard!)
With the easiest question out of the way, lets move on to the issues that could cause a little more disturbance in the "fellowship" force. In order, they are, "do we accept homosexuals as equals?" and "do we affirm homosexuality as a lifestyle," or put more bluntly, do we say "homosexuality is not a sin?"
I think the first question is not that difficult. If "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," even if we call homosexuality a sin, it certainly isn't the sinniest sin that ever sinned, right? Its not more sinful than marital infidelity, right? Or greed? Or lying? So if we as churches say that homosexuals aren't welcome, then what we are really saying is no sinners are welcome, which would certainly help churches that have parking problems! Now, I have heard some say that the difference is that homosexuals aren't repentant. That is certainly a valid point, but frankly ignores the reality of our brokenness has humans, and God's capacity to forgive seventy times seven. I think here again, the CBF on an institutional level would be well within their bounds to make an official statement stressing the common humanity of homosexuals, and the common love that God has for all people. If God loves people, all people, then He doesn't want any of them bullied, or treated as less-than, or discriminated against, or told they are unworthy of a place at the table. We as churches should understand the civil rights movement taking place, and take our stand along side those seeking simple equality of treatment.
From here, the issue gets a little more complex. Being limited to a work force compiled of exactly 100% sinners, most churches among the the Fellowship are willing to allow sinners to serve the church, and I would assume that since we've already established that at the very most homosexuality is just one of a berjillion human failings, we would allow them to serve our churches as well. Do we allow them to lead? That is another question altogether, and its at this point that I think the issue gets divisive.
To me, it seems that this moves to the level of affirmation, since most churches are seeking leaders who at least try to model Christ-likeness before their people. Now, certainly, Christ-likeness can't be understood by a simple list of things-we-do and things-we-don't-do, but it is an overall pursuit of Godliness. Like it or not, many churches, and their people, still believe homosexuality to be against God's created order. They have come to this belief honestly using the best scholarship of Biblical texts, cultural understandings of the past and current church and society, and leading of the Spirit. In other words, they have every right to believe this way, as they have come to it honestly, and not by simply prooftexting Leviticus.
On the other hand, many believe that the Bible's treatment of homosexuality is a cultural component that belongs in the dustbin alongside women being forced to cover their heads, and prohibitions on bacon. (mmmm.... bacon....) These believers have come to understand that God is love, and God honors loving committed relationships, even if they are among the same sex. They have also come to believe that God desires humble servants who seek to help the poor, lost, and hungry and that He doesn't discriminate when it comes to His workforce. These believers have also come to their position honestly, and not with a reckless disregard for Scripture as some would have you believe.
Many CBF churches are part of CBF, not because they are liberals, (whatever that means these days) but because they don't want theological positions imposed on their churches from on high. As Baptists, we have always resisted theological statements that go beyond the very basics of our faith, and rightly so. I think for the CBF to make a statement affirming homosexuality would be a step beyond simply pursuing justice and love for all, and move to an imposition of a theological position on the Fellowship Churches. So at this point I would say the CBF should remain open to churches and individuals who affirm, but institutionally neutral. In this way we preserve the unity of the Fellowship and preserve the autonomy of the local churches that have many varied theological positions on this most important of debates.
So I think the CBF can, and perhaps should, come out with a statement that on a State and National level, we are Open and Open.
Open to homosexuals being equal parts of society and of our churches, and open to churches and individuals who have genuinely come to either position on the affirmation of homosexuality as a lifestyle that honors God.
Like I said at the outset, I'm sure this makes pretty much nobody happy, but I think it is true to who we are as Baptist Christians, and free people worshiping freely.