It was a beautiful September day on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The sun was shining brightly through the Beech trees along Lexington Road as they turned from green to orange. I ran down the stairwell from my dorm room in Carver Hall to go track down one of my professors. I had good news.
As a senior at Boyce College, I had been contacted by a church that was interested in calling me as their pastor. I had known I was called to the ministry for as far back as I could remember. I preached my first sermon when I was 8 years old and spent all my middle and high school years devoting myself to preaching. Now, I had an opportunity to go from being a “preacher” to “pastor,” and I couldn’t have been more excited.
As luck would have it, I found one of my professors in his office. I shared my entire experience with him, how I had interviewed with the committee, how much they enjoyed hearing me preach, and how much I wanted this job.
He leaned back into his chair and pulled off his glasses. “Jordan,” he said, “you are talented. You are going to have numerous opportunities in ministry. If you are asking me what you should do, I would turn it down. Stay here. Get your master’s from Southern, then see what’s out there.”
Then he added, with a chuckle, “If they call me from down there wanting a recommendation … I’ll tell them you are gay.”
He was making a joke. In fact, he could hardly finish his sentence through his laughter. I chuckled, too, under my breath, thanked him for his time, and then scurried back up the stairs to my dorm room.
I spent the next few hours crying alone in my dorm room. I pressed my face down into the fibers of the rug we had on the floor. I pleaded with God, for the millionth time, to change me. I was completely heartbroken.
The thing is, I am gay. I tried my best to deny that for a really long time. I tried to “pursue women” as all young men at Boyce College were taught to do. Albert Mohler himself told us to graduate with a “diploma in one hand and marriage certificate in the other.” He warned that churches would be spooked if we were unmarried, or worse yet single without any prospects of marriage on the horizon.
“I tried to ‘pursue women’ as all young men at Boyce College were taught to do.”
So, for four years or so, I tried my best. I attended the “approved” seminary churches in Louisville. I joined in as we made fun of the “liberal” Presbyterian Seminary across the street. I debated Reformed Theology in the dorms. I drank coffee at the “seminary hipster” watering holes. I tried to transform myself into what Southern Seminary wanted me to become.
But after four years and that haunting chuckle in Carver Hall, I decided I simply couldn’t take any more. I could not listen to another John Piper sermon. I could not join another “accountability group.” I could not continue to be the shell of the person I had become.
It pains me to know that many others have been through the same kind of mind-warp.
Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention doubled down its assault on LGBTQ folk, with the SBC Executive Committee tossing out two churches over their LGBTQ policies. Mohler tweeted, “Anyone who argues that the Bible … is not clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality is either very confused or deliberately dishonest about the structure of biblical theology and the clear meaning of the texts.”
Perhaps Mohler is referring to Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.” That does seem pretty clear. So does Exodus 35:2, which clearly states that one who works on Sunday ought to be put to death. That might be an issue with a bunch of folks, though, especially during football season. Oh, and should you ever need a refresher on the terms of selling your daughter into slavery, flip over to Exodus 21:7. That also is pretty clear.
“No one, not even the SBC Executive Committee, has the market cornered on everything there is to know about God or biblical theology.”
The truth about biblical theology is that it is complicated. Our Scriptures were written over thousands of years and in a context where the world functioned sort of like an episode of Game of Thrones.
When church leaders make matter-of-fact statements that dismiss communities of faith from fellowship, they aren’t making a statement about what the Scriptures say, they are making a statement about what “they” say. Similar claims of scriptural authority have been made throughout church history, often to excuse behavior that at best is exclusionary and at worst, deadly.
We live in a diverse world, and the Scriptures speak to that beautiful diversity. No one, not even the SBC Executive Committee, has the market cornered on everything there is to know about God or biblical theology.
“Very confused or deliberately dishonest” summed up my life at Boyce College. On the outside, it appeared I had all the answers. But where it mattered — on the inside — I was a mess.
Something happened that day when my professor laughed in Carver Hall. That laughter made me realize that authenticity is a spiritual gift, a gift that some may never find. It is a gift that unites us with the God who created us, the God who loves us and the God who delights in our diverse world.
I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have it all figured out. But as I journey along the way, I do my best to listen, to learn, and day-by-day I am being redeemed. That is biblical theology, and that is the best lesson I ever learned at Boyce College.
Jordan Conley hails from Eastern Kentucky and now lives in Louisville, where he’s a Baptist minister, member of Crescent Hill Baptist Church, a student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and funeral director.