This story was updated Thursday, June 1, to reflect a brief response from Elijah Brown.
A gay man who is married to another man says he was asked to resign from two Baptist World Alliance commissions. When he refused to resign, he was removed from the two volunteer roles by BWA Executive Director Elijah Brown, he reported.
Baptist News Global contacted Brown directly to confirm the account and to ask for a response, but Brown never responded after six days. After the story was published May 31, Brown replied to BNG with the following statement: “Though the BWA does have a standing practice to acknowledge that commission members serve as volunteers, we do not comment on the specifics of any current or previous commission member.”
BWA obtained a copy of an email sent from Brown to T.J. Williams-Hauger April 21 with the subject line: “Commission Invitation Rescinded.” The body of the brief email states: “Following our phone conversation yesterday, this email confirms that the invitation from BWA for you to serve on Commissions is rescinded. Please know that I am praying for you.”
While Brown and BWA do not want to discuss the story behind that email, Williams-Hauger is eager to tell his story. The way he sees it, the worldwide Baptist communion that once was deemed too “liberal” for the Southern Baptist Convention is now too conservative to allow volunteer participation by Christians in the LGBTQ community.
Williams-Hauger serves as associate minister for youth and young adults and community outreach at Lake Street Church in Evanston, Ill., a congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA.
Since 2020, he served on two BWA groups, the Interfaith Commission and the Racial Justice Commission.
This spring, he says, he was approached by Brown about his continued service on the BWA commissions because of a resolution the BWA had adopted regarding a “biblical” view of sexual relations. An internet search produced no public record of any new resolution adopted by a BWA body about sexuality.
Again, BNG asked Brown to clarify this resolution and its application and got no response.
“He lied to me,” Williams-Hauger said.
The American pastor spoke with BWA friends in Europe who serve on the commissions with him, and they did not know of any such resolution either, he said.
Williams-Hauger said Brown urged him to resign quietly rather than make a public fuss, which he has chosen to do. “If you don’t keep this quiet, I’m going to be forced to find the other gay folks,” Williams-Hauger says Brown told him.
Again, Brown was given opportunity to respond to this accusation but did not respond.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to quit. I’m going to need you to take me off,” Williams-Hauger said.
The ABC minister said he refused to go quietly because his dismissal is indicative of a larger agenda.
“We have to be able to call a thing a thing, to name homophobia and racism and white supremacy for what it is,” he said.
Homophobia is felt deeply by Williams-Hauger not only because he’s a gay man but because he had a gay cousin who was murdered after years of abuse he experienced from Christians.
“My cousin Chad … was strangled to death. … Chad’s death occurred over time in the culture of homophobia. … When folks spoke evil into his soul, told him to hate himself, that evil stayed and was able to breed and to grow.
“I’m talking about this because it’s very connected to my ‘yes’ to serve,” he said. “I’m walking in the shoes of the Chads of the world. There has been too much death.”
Williams-Hauger also sees his removal from BWA service as an indictment on all LGBTQ Christians: “When Elijah said I’m removing you from this commission, it was a way of saying my voice as an LGBTQ person is not impactful.”
If his removal wasn’t motivated by homophobia, it could have been because Williams-Hauger holds a more inclusive view of religious work than some Baptists, he said. “I have been one of those progressive voices who said it is important that we be in conversation with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and not for the purpose of evangelism. I wonder if there was some silent conversation around that, that ‘he’s not 100% about leading people to Jesus.’”
It’s not that he’s against evangelism, he said. “I believe in religious diplomacy in a world that is fractured, that it is important to listen to one another.”
Williams-Hauger was not a stranger to the BWA executive director, he said. They previously worked together on an interfaith service at the United Nations.
And the fact that Williams-Hauger is gay was well-known to Brown and anyone else paying attention, he said. “Our wedding story was told in Out magazine. We were the first gay couple to legally marry at Riverside Church in New York City.”
Williams-Hauger also is well known within the Black church, having worked with such luminaries as Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — whom he calls “spiritual fathers.”
“All those folks within the African American community, I am out to. It was no secret.”
Williams-Hauger earned a master of divinity degree from New York Theological Seminary with a concentration in pastoral care and religious diplomacy. He did an internship at the United Nations. He has traveled to Palestine. He has worked at the historic Judson Church in New York City and is in process for ordination with the ABC.
The BWA brings together Baptists from 128 countries and territories. The group is governed by a General Council and involves more than 400 individuals as members of its various commissions.
In 2004, the SBC — once the largest religious body participating in BWA — broke all ties with the alliance because the new fundamentalist leaders of the SBC found the BWA to be not conservative enough.
“We have noted, with sorrow in our hearts, a continual leftward drift in the BWA,” Paige Patterson told messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis that year.
BWA leaders at the time vigorously disputed that claim.
Today, Christian bodies worldwide are dividing over LGBTQ inclusion, including The United Methodist Church and the Church of England.