My wife decided that we should attend the 20th anniversary Jubilee of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists in Providence, RI. I like Providence and we had been here a few months ago for a wonderful , needed vacation so I was looking forward to the time.
When we arrived, I immediately noticed that this conference was different than any conference I had ever attended. First off, for a “national ” conference, it was small — probably 100 – 150 people. Though I live with a Baptist, I don’t know much about them as a denomination. I assume that there are more than a million of them, but that may not be right. (I do know that not all “Baptists” are alike. There are National Baptists (mostly African -Americans) whom I could picture myself married to, Southern (conservative) Baptists who –under no circumstances could I deal with daily over coffee in the morning, and American Baptists (liberal, more often White than not), one of whom I did marry. Anyway, for a denomination with (I assume) more than a million of them, a national conference with 150 of them ( some of whom weren’t Baptist) seemed very small.
We brought our kids and we were asked to sign if it was ok that they were photographed attending. I’ve signed things like this before, but it occurred to me that somebody thought we might be upset if our children were seen at a “gay thing” on line. I said, “Really?” out loud, and another attendee just shook their head and looked sad. I agreed.
Morning worship, like any of these things, featured really good worship and notes about parking , getting around, etc. The hymns were different, though. One of the hymns had the lyrics “I need you to survive“. Survive? Survive what? For what reason? I’d never been to a conference where we sang about survival, but here it was.
Later, a woman I had known at seminary, who had apparently come out of the closet, was talking about how to make it easier for everybody “when your pastor comes out” (which was the name of the talk).
I had gone because I like to hear people’s stories and hope to do specialized therapy with pastors and their families , and this was another issue that might come up in that context. She gave a very good
presentation, but the entire time, I felt myself being sad that she had to develop these skills at all, as she and the other attendees explained that they could lose everything if this wasn’t handled well. In the United Church of Christ, my denomination, we (I’d like to think anyway) are sooooo past this, but here they were, with genuine fear that someone might find out they were gay, or sadness because someone had in the past. Divorce is difficult enough for a pastor and congregation, throwing in sexual orientation and punishing the pastor for having a different one seemed to just wreck their sense of call and their ability to find work , possibly forever. Since God does the calling, this doesn’t seem to me to be in anybody’s best interest, but here was the reality that it is that way. Ouch.
I don’t know why my wife has seen fit to be supportive of this particular group, any more than many of my colleagues, Black or White, can understand why I have an affinity with that culture. It just is what it is, until you account for the whole Jesus thing and the sense that this is where we are supposed to be. There we agree.
It is our job, as Christians, to stand with those who have a hard time in life. Furthermore, saying “I stand with them” isn’t enough. Actually hanging out with those society wants to ostracize gives you a sense of what they are going through and what Jesus would do.
I like addicts, the homeless, and Black folk, and I know some gay folk, but have never seen them in this light. In the rest of society, it seems to me, the battle is over and gay folks have won their civil rights. They are a force to be reckoned with. But right here, in my wife’s denomination, is a “huddled mass” yearning for the freedom to simply exist — with their whole lives intact.
I say “huddled mass” because, aside from the right to worship within a religious context, there is the American context. No one in America should be afraid to worship. This is AMERICA. We were founded on the principles of religious freedom. We started this country so that people could worship God in their own way and in safety.
The idea that a group of people could be afraid to worship if anyone found out they had feelings for someone or wanted a stable life is absurd. And yet, here they are, bravely worshipping despite fears that they might get caught. This is the way the early church was. This is the way early America was. These are the people to hang out with — both to embody Christianity and to embody American ideals. God bless them for their bravery!
I’ve never particularly liked the word “homophobia”, but if ever there was an example of it, this is it. We, as a society, and Baptists as a denomination, are afraid of these people –all 150 of them — including old ladies and people who aren’t gay, bi, “trans” or questioning? We are afraid of people who sing about “survival” in worship? Seriously? That’s a true phobia.
When I was in High School, my German teacher frequently talked about John F. Kennedy speaking at the Berlin Wall and speaking about his standing with them because of their strength and courage in the middle of insanepersecution. My teacher pointed out that Kennedy used the wrong words when he said, in German, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” (I am a Berliner). Turns out that Berliner is a pastry, not a description of a people.
At the risk of doing that, and using the wrong words, I want you to know that I am a AWAB sympathizer and proud to be so.