A coalition of religious and secular organizations advocating to end the harm caused to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth by religion-based bigotry met Wednesday in a historic meeting with the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz. It was the first time any LGBT advocacy organization, much less five different groups, has ever sat down with the head of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prior to the meeting, the group staged a “teach-in” at the SBC’s annual convention at which it asked the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for an apology for the harm caused by church teaching that justifies and promotes prejudice and condemnation toward LGBT individuals.
SBC President Bryant Wright told an 18-year-old member of the group who had been rejected by his father, a Southern Baptist music minister, that the boy’s father was wrong.
Ben Alley, 18, of Marshalltown, Iowa, was introduced to Wright in the meeting as someone who would not be spending this coming Father’s Day with his family because his father had rejected him because of his sexual orientation.
“I want to tell you your father was wrong,” Wright told Alley.
The groups represented at the meeting were the national groups of Faith in America, Truth Wins Out, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptist, and the Phoenix-based group HERO.
During the meeting, the coalition confronted Wright with the psychological harm caused by the SBC’s official support of “ex-gay” ministries, which seek to turn a gay person heterosexual through prayer. Such attempts at sexual conversion are rejected by all respected medical and mental health organizations.
“Each day I have to pick up the pieces of people with shattered lives and broken families as a result of your failed ‘ex-gay’ programs,” Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen told Wright at the meeting. “How many people will have to be harmed before the Southern Baptist Convention stops supporting ‘ex-gay’ programs that don’t work?”
Robin Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, told Wright that many Baptists from all stripes are ashamed of the harm being caused by the SBC’s teachings. Lunn said that AWAB receives the churches that have been disfellowshipped for being welcoming and affirming of LGBT or standing against religion-based bigotry’s harm.
“We’re talking about biblical interpretation and the power of scripture,” said Lunn. “It seems to me that the moment exists right now as a time for us to begin to have humble honest dialogue across these differences.
Wright told the group that the Southern Baptist Convention believes homosexuality is a sinful behavior but does not hate gay or lesbian people. “People commit adultery,” he said.”We don’t hate adulterers.
“All through the Word is teaching about sexual purity for God’s people. That’s true whether it is heterosexual sex or homosexual sex we just feel like from our understanding of scripture that that is taught in the old and the new covenant. I realize that is contrary to what you are thinking on this particular issue. I certainly realize that. But as followers of Christ, it would be very difficult for us to betray our faith by ignoring what God’s word says.”
Mitchell Gold, founder of Faith in America, told Wright that the church had been wrong in the past when it misused church teaching to justify and promote slavery and segregation and that he hoped the SBC would examine how it is wrongly using biblical interpretation to justify harm toward LGBT people, especially youth.
“I’m a little older than some in this room. I just turned 60. I can remember during the 1960s hearing similar words justifying positions against integration or justifying negative attitude toward black people,” Gold said. “I think what we are saying is that you recognized you were wrong and apologized for it.
“There is an enormous amount of harm being caused to people. I respect that you say you are not preaching hate. But when you are a 14-year-old kid and you’re a sinner and an abomination because of the way God created you, it’s devastating to you. That’s why kids jump of bridges. That’s why the high suicide rate among LGBT people.
“That’s why we’re coming to you calmly and saying that we really want this to maybe open up a thought process to rethink. I understand what you are saying that you only have the scripture to go by. But you’ve had the scripture for a long time and it is not always interpreted in a way that is kind to other human beings.”
Brent Childers, Executive Director of Faith in America, said that he hoped the Southern Baptist Convention would discourage pastors from advising parents that they should kick their gay kids out of the home.
Wright, whose own son was present at the meeting, said he would still love his son if his son was gay but still could not accept his son’s homosexuality as normal and would still believe it is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Childers told Wright that Ben Alley had not had a relationship with anyone at the time he felt he must leave his home to escape the constant condemnation. “There was no sin of sexual impurity in his life. But yet, here he is today without a family this Father’s Day because of what the church teaches.”
Childers said he hoped the Southern Baptist Convention would urge its pastors not to encourage parents to reject their own children because of their sexual orientation.
Attending the meeting were Gold; Childers; Lunn; Besen; Alley; Dr. Jack McKinney, a former Southern Baptist minister; Rev. Dr. Anthony Spearman, an AME pastor and chair of the religious affairs committee of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP; Brad Wishon and Jimmie Gruender, both with the Phoenix chapter of Human Equal Rights Organizer (HERO), which coordinated volunteers and assisted in setting up the meeting with Wright.
Image flickr J. Stephen Conn