NOTE: This is an excerpt from Bert's book Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2012, Smyth & Helwys Publishing).
I recently sat on a discussion panel at one of the Baptist institutions of higher learning in which I once studied. The panelists shared our thoughts as we explored this question: “Can someone be a Christian and be gay?” The following is a brief synopsis of why I answered with a resounding “yes!” Let's recall a few basic facts about the earliest believers in Jesus; that community of believers in Jerusalem:
- They existed as a small group within Judaism. They were Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah … for the Jewish people; and they still worshiped in the synagogues and in the Temple.
- They kept, or at least gave verbal allegiance to, the Law of Moses – things like not eating shrimp or anything from pigs; and, of course, all the males having “a little minor surgical alteration” to mark them as God's people.
- They “knew” what God was like; they “knew” how to live in a “right relationship” with God; and they “knew” that God would not (meaning, could not), act against what they practiced based on the authority of the Scriptures.
- Oh, and they were not very fond of Gentiles (anyone who wasn't a Jew); their actions essentially said, “to hell with the Gentiles.”
There's a story in the eleventh chapter of Acts about some rebels who had the chutzpah to go forth into foreign lands preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to … the Gentiles! Worse, these heretics let Gentiles respond to the Good News without first converting to Judaism!
The believers back in Jerusalem had to take action; they had to defend the faith against such false practices. They sent Barnabas out to Antioch, a letter of correction in hand, to investigate the situation and set everyone straight.
When he got there, though, Barnabas recognized the movement of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the working of God outside of and even in contradiction to so much of what the Jerusalem believers “knew” to be true. Barnabas stayed among those Gentile believers for a while, and it was in Antioch, among those who were undoubtedly “getting it all wrong” and not truly in “right relationship” with God, that followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.”
Now then, let's review a few basic facts about Baptists in America:
- We are ethnically Gentiles and not orthodox Jews. Many of us eat shrimp and pork products as freely and liberally as we desire.
- We are most certainly not overly concerned with which males have had that “little surgical alteration” (which in America has nothing to do with being God's chosen ones).
- And, we are the beneficiaries, then, of the early heretics who dared to recognize God's movement outside of and even against what the Jerusalem believers “knew” to be true.
We Baptists are now in the position of the early believers in Jerusalem. We have become so enslaved to our own understandings that we “know” what God will not (meaning, can not) do. We have labeled an entire group of people “Gentiles,” separating them from us, and our actions essentially say to them, “to hell with you.”
We insist that LGBTQ individuals must first conform to what we say and do before they can grow in a relationship with Jesus. In other words, we need to correct their errant ways, and, well … set everyone straight.
Some of us, though, have witnessed the movement of the Holy Spirit among, and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within, our LGBTQ friends. Some of us have experienced the working of God outside of and even in contradiction to the teachings and doctrines of the Baptist tradition.
Like Barnabas, I choose to be open to God, whose love endures forever, whose mercy knows no barriers, and whose grace is far greater than my limited understanding, my feeble interpretations, and even greater than my most certain beliefs of how to live in a “right relationship” with God.
We Baptists are being confronted today with the reality that God moves in ways God is not supposed to move; that God is, truthfully, bigger than and free from everything we know to be right.
And this is why I am a “welcoming and affirming” Baptist – embracing, worshiping with and serving alongside my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
For more information, visit Bert's friends at the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.