By Elizabeth Evans Hagan
No matter if you believe being gay is theologically sound or not, the presence of the gay and lesbian community in our society is growing all the time. A May 25, 2011, Gallup Poll reported a new all-time high of Americans who think that gay and lesbian relationships should be legal: 64 percent.
Where does that leave us in the church? You can find strong opinions about the changing nature of our culture on all sides. And, in the meantime, such folks are fighting about it, of course, and hoping that this “issue” will someday go away so that our denomination and church meetings will again be peaceful.
The church I pastor falls into the camp of being “welcoming and affirming” toward all people. If your church is not, please keep reading and consider this: Have we ever stopped to think about what the gay community thinks of us as collective Baptist people of faith?
The more opportunities I’ve had over the last couple of years to interact with persons from within the un-churched gay and lesbian community, the more I’ve realized a large percentage of them are former Baptists. They grew up singing “Just As I Am” and they walked the aisle making confessions of faith in Christ to “I Surrender All.” They love evangelism; they were former GAs and RAs all-stars, and some of them even dreamed of long careers in the ministry.
But then along the way came a pastor, a Sunday school teacher or even a parent who told them that being gay and Christian was not possible. They were asked to leave the church that had raised them. They began receiving “love notes” from their parents with scripture verses about God’s anger toward them as they made a new life for themselves elsewhere. And they left the church both in presence and heart, vowing never to return.
Is this really what we want our legacy to be as Baptist people of faith? Haters? Un-reconcilers? Unwilling to accept the gifts of folks who we think are in sin, even as we profess every Sunday the fact that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?”
On Sunday afternoon, members of my congregation and I spent some time sharing the good news of peace with those gathered along the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue at the District of Columbia’s annual Gay Pride street festival.
On numerous occasions, I observed gasps as people walked by our sign that included the word “Baptist” and “accepting” in the same sentence.
“I had no idea that Baptist churches loved people like me,” one woman whispered across our table.
When I asked an older gentleman passing by our booth if he wanted a sticker with the church’s name and website on it, his quick response was this: “Four years at Baptist college was enough for me. I don’t want to have anything to do with you people.”
Another said: “I grew up in the South. Let me take a picture of your sign. I need proof that there are loving Baptists out there. No one will believe me.”
No matter where you stand in your biblical interpretation of whether or not it is OK to be gay, I invite you to consider again where our history of “condemnation” talk has placed generations of Baptists. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle doesn’t give you or any of us the right to be rude, hateful or disrespectful.
I look forward to the day when the word “Baptist” doesn’t stir up such images of persecution and self-esteem crushing condemnation. I look forward to the creative opportunities churches within our Baptist family of faith model for us in the practice of loving our neighbors — even if they happen to identify as gay.
In the end, Jesus came to love those among the ‘they’ in our society just as much as the rest of us.