By Bob Allen
More than 50 faith leaders, most of them Baptists, voiced support March 9 for a historically black Baptist college being criticized for inviting a lesbian who is legally married to a woman to speak on campus.
Baptist leaders from congregations and national groups including the Alliance of Baptists, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and American Baptist Home Mission Societies issued a statement of support for the president and board of trustees at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., in response to earlier protests from a group called the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors.
The Concerned Pastors, identified as “an informal fellowship of pastors with an affinity to the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” issued a press release March 5 objecting to Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the San Francisco-based City of Refuge United Church of Christ, being invited to speak during the 58th Garnett-Nabrit Lecture Series, scheduled March 15-18 in Nashville, Tenn.
“For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman, to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical and certainly displeasing to God,” the press release proclaimed.
The group called on American Baptist College President Forrest Harris to rescind the invitation and for Jerry Young, the new president of the National Baptist Convention, to release a statement clarifying his views on the subject.
Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, is co-coordinator of National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, along with Randy Vaughn, pastor of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas.
McKissic, in the past a vocal critic of the lack of African-American representation among leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a blog March 8 it is time for the historically black National Baptist Convention to follow the SBC’s example and adopt a resolution affirming that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.
“Our current structure and system can’t stop a college president who does not believe that homosexuality is sin from advancing his non-biblical views and pro-gay agenda on the students at American Baptist College,” McKissic said in a posting titled “A Defining Moment for the Nation and the National Baptist Convention.”
“Many of those students will become pastors and staff members at our churches,” he warned. “They will ultimately bring a different viewpoint to the people in the pews than what National Baptists have historically believed.”
If President Harris does not rescind Flunder’s invitation, McKissic, said, “he needs to be forced to resign or be fired by the board of ABC for violating the trust, the Bible and beliefs of the vast majority of National Baptists.”
The March 9 statement supporting Flunder’s appearance applauded the president for “wisdom, prophetic courage, and commitment to intellectual honesty and academic integrity” in extending the invitation.
“A few vocal opponents to equality for persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are trying to force Dr. Harris to ‘disinvite’ Bishop Flunder because she is a lesbian who married her same-sex partner,” the statement said.
“American Baptist College is dedicated to educating students to be strengthened in believing, practicing and proclaiming the liberating gospel of Jesus,” the letter of support said. “The students of American Baptist College deserve to know that the gospel of Jesus is believed, lived and preached by faithful people who are in committed same-sex relationships in the same way the gospel of Jesus is believed, lived and preached by faithful people who are in committed heterosexual relationships.”
“We thank God that President Harris has not allowed homophobia to shape and determine who can be an effective advocate for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the letter continued.
American Baptist College leaders have not commented officially on the controversy, but Renita Weems, vice president of academic affairs, posted a thank-you note on Twitter “to all who have written supporting the college’s decision to invite @BishopFlunder to speak.”
President Harris joined C.T. Vivian, a Nashville Freedom Rider, on MSNBC March 8 to discuss the role American Baptist College played in shaping leaders of the civil rights movement on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the March 7, 1965, protest march from Selma, Ala., to the capital city of Montgomery.
Vivian, a leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Bevel, a key figure in the Selma march; and Congressman John Lewis are all alumni.
“American Baptist College was that place where John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, James Bevel all came in their embryonic stages of development but with a hunger and a passion for justice,” Harris said. “And our school, American Baptist College, was right there to help match that passion with education.”
Harris said American Baptist College is still “a school that trains social-justice leaders.”
“It’s important that we come to understand that historically black colleges have been those kind of colleges that incubated and took our young people and nurtured them into leadership,” Harris said. “American Baptist College has the singular characteristic in this nation of cultivating people like C.T. Vivian, John Lewis and James Bevel, and I’m proud to be president of that institution.”