By Bob Allen
An openly gay ordained Baptist minister and his partner were arrested Jan. 22 in Louisville, Ky., for refusing to leave the county clerk’s office after they were denied a marriage license.
Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, 34, and his partner of six years, Dominique James, were protesting Kentucky law banning same-sex marriage and a 2004 constitutional amendment limiting legal marriages to those “between one man and one woman.”
The protest, described beforehand as an act of “nonviolent resistance to bring about social change,” was timed to coincide with Monday’s Martin Luther King holiday and in anticipation of two cases coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in March that could establish a constitutional right for gays to wed.
A South Carolina native pursing a master of divinity degree at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Blanchard was profiled in a Louisville Courier-Journal story in July about his ordination to the gospel ministry by Highland Baptist Church, a historically progressive congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.
Blanchard leads the True Colors Ministry Group, a LGBTQ-affirming ministry of Highland that began in January 2011, but is not a member of the church staff. The Courier-Journal reported criticism from local and statewide affiliates of the Southern Baptist Convention about the church’s decision to ordain him.
The article also quoted Highland Pastor Joe Phelps confirming the church’s resignation from the association from both the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Long Run Baptist Association.
Phelps later followed up with a statement clarifying that those decisions came after several years of growing recognition that the congregation shared increasingly less in common with its historic ministry partners of 120 years and were unrelated to Blanchard’s ordination. The article said Highland had previously ended its relationship with the SBC, which excludes from membership churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
Phelps said Highland did not ordain Blanchard in order to gain new members, garner attention or criticize those holding a different view. “We believe it was the right and faithful course of action, whatever the outcome might be,” he wrote in a blog. “Spiritual decisions aren’t made by popularity but by how they conform to the purposes of God we see in Scripture.”
Tuesday’s protest isn’t Blanchard’s first foray into local activism. Last year he and 17 members of True Colors ministry marched in a local gay-pride parade. In August he joined other ministers in a protest against Chick-fil-A restaurants after Dan Cathy, the fast-food chain’s CEO and a Southern Baptist, said in a July 2 interview with the Biblical Recorder: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”
Cathy’s comments renewed earlier criticism alleging the company is anti-gay. Former Arkansas governor and Fox commentator Mike Huckabee, also a Southern Baptist, defended Cathy by designating Aug. 1 as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and urging customers to eat at a Chick-fil-A on that day as a show of support. Chick-fil-A reported “record-setting” sales on Aug. 1 but did not release exact sales numbers.
According to the Courier-Journal feature last summer, Blanchard — son of a Southern Baptist minister who was nicknamed “Bojangles” as a child by his grandfather because he liked to dance — became disenfranchised from the faith of his childhood after coming out of the closet at age 23.
He said he was skeptical during his first view visits to Highland and prepared never to darken the door again if asked about his sexuality, but over time he developed a sense of calling to ministry and first approached the church about being ordained in 2009.
He started True Colors, a Highlands outreach program for members of the LGBT community, where he engages potential members in the community in conversation. If the topic of faith comes up, he mentions True Colors. He compared the low-pressure approach to a wading pool for LGBT persons cautiously interested in finding acceptance in a community of faith.