Fifteen or sixteen months ago I sent a workshop proposal on “Homosexuality and the Church” to Bo Prosser and Dan Vestal, and I attempted to explain the rationale behind the proposal. Homosexuality is the single most significant, emotional, and divisive issues in the United States today, and Baptists are talking about it along with everyone else. However, we Baptists remain silent, i.e. we do not discuss the issue anywhere in the congregational life of the church. Consequently, neither extensive Bible study or an analysis of the options before the church are discussed openly as an issue that we must think about and attempt to understand each other. Therefore, the sole purpose of my workshop proposal was to lay out different options the church faces in its endeavor to understand and address the problem. My proposal was positively modified to include a panel of Baptists who would discuss the options together as a group, modeling the kind of conversation with of open agreement and disagreement that would emerge in any discussion. Primarily because of the location of the CBF General Assembly in Memphis, a hotbed of Baptist fundamentalism, I suggested that we should wait and do the workshop next year in Houston where fundamentalist would not co-opt the issue before we non-fundamentalist Baptists engaged in brief conversation in a workshop. Bo agreed, and we planned to do the workshop in Houston.
A few months ago a group whose names I do not know decided that such a divisive issue could best be addressed in the local church rather than a workshop at the General Assembly. I disagreed with their decision, or I would never have made the workshop proposal for our annual meeting. If I had not been concerned for the environment and tone of the conversation, I never would have suggested we not do the workshop in Memphis but wait and convene it in Houston. I had thought (and still do): One of the ways that Baptist pastors and church ministers could introduce the conversation in their own church would be through material and conversation from a regular workshop in our June meeting. The pastor could refer to this workshop and panel if he or she thought it would be helpful. Otherwise, the minister must accept full responsibility for raising an issue not on a Baptist agenda anywhere. Although I regret the decision not to include the workshop this week in Houston, I am grateful to Dan Vestal and Bo Prosser for their patience and openness in the consideration of the viability of my proposal.
Although I have lectured on the issue of homosexuality and the church for the last ten years, one of my Baptist friends asked me about my interest in the subject. Beyond my academic concerns and responsibility, I am deeply interested in the subject because it is an issue throughout the United States that we Baptists have not addressed and may never address until the achievement of a consensus in American culture that will resolve the issue for us. Moderate Baptists are corporately among the most timid collection of Christians in the world. If we address an issue with openness and candor that does not correspond to biblical inerrancy, we are terrified at the prospect that fundamentalist Baptists will use it to smear us in outrageous caricature that will decimate the integrity in our identity. Likewise, we are genuinely concerned that some doctrinaire, liberal Baptists will ridicule our dialogue as a lack of courage to offer leadership on the issue, because they already know that everyone in the Christian community should echo their viewpoint as the unambiguous declaration of the Gospel. I think moderate Baptists are strong enough not to be intimidated by fundamentalist Baptists and secure enough not to allow anyone to tell us what to think. After discussion and dialogue we will have a better understanding of the issue and each other, but unanimity is not a Baptist virtue. To insist on unanimity is as unBaptist as to cower in silence.
However, my primary concern for discussion of the issue of homosexuality is the simple truth “it is not an issue.” Responses to the question of Baptist attitudes toward “homosexuality” is actually a response to many of our children or friends children, persons we have taught in Sunday School, young persons whom we have seen confessing faith in Christ in the waters of baptism. Some say, the homosexual population only entails 5 to 10 per cent of the population. Yet when that 7 per cent involves families I know, friends of my children, persons in my congregation, the percentage turns into the question of bringing my children to Jesus for his blessing and grace.
I do not expect everyone to have a strong interest in the subject of homosexual persons in the life of the church in contrast to other missional concerns. Yet it is a concern, because homosexual persons who have grown up and been baptized Baptist Christians think that the last place on this side of hell that will welcome them in the hospitality of Jesus is a Baptist congregation…fundamentalist or moderate one and the same.
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE CHURCH: ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINTS
Perhaps my oversensitivity has occasioned an unnecessarily long Preface, but my primary purpose remains the same: What are the major alternatives that the churches encounter in the endeavor to understand and discuss homosexuality in the life of the community of faith? I will identify four broad options, each one subject to internal variation. The description of each major perspective is brief and limited, but the essentials that differentiate each from the others remain plain. They only provide a starting-point for understanding the rationale of each viewpoint as well as for conversation respectful of the perspectives of others.
The coming posts on “alternative viewpoints” constitutes a rough copy of what I would have presented in a workshop on “Homosexuality and the Church.”
4 alternative view points in outline:
1. Rejection of homosexual persons: the norm of heterosexual marriage
2. Acceptance of persons but rejection of homosexual behavior: the norm of heterosexual marriage, the affirmation (or requirement) of celibacy
3. Homosexuality ‘In the Shadow of Human Fallenness’: “Accommodation”
4. An affirmation of the human calling to covenantal union: ‘Welcoming and Celebrating’
All four of these broad viewpoints can be heard in discussion and debate in the church today, often with a distinct variation. Each position can lay claim to Scripture and tradition, but they do so in different ways. The Christian integrity of the “proponents” of all these viewpoints (within their variation) is accepted and affirmed. Therefore, we approach the issue of “homosexuality” and attempt go gain mutual understanding through conversation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.