Introducing A Baptist Resource On Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

by Rev . Dr. Cody J. Sanders

There are many reasons I remain Baptist, despite having to always explain myself to those who fail to see the fit between my identifications as a queer person and a Baptist minister. “Well, I’m probably not the kind of Baptist you imagine,” I say.

Then I get to explain to folks the kind of Baptist I am.

I tell the stories of groups like the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), the Alliance of Baptists, and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA). When they ask about the tensions between my sexual orientation and my being a Baptist minister—who is in a same-sex committed partnership with another Baptist minister, no less—I describe the history of faithful dialogue within these Baptist bodies on questions raised by the embodiment of sexual difference.

I tell them about the early 1990s, when the Alliance and the Peace Fellowship entered into serious conversations on the intersections of Christian faith and sexual orientation. These discussions led to the full welcome and affirmation of gay Christians by 1995. I then tell them that the conversation leading to the establishment of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, which now represents 88 congregations committed to inclusion and justice for LGBTQ people, stretches back to the mid-1980s.

Out of this long, faithful conversation on sexual orientation and Christian faith, a group of Baptists gathered to dream up a resource that could “harvest” the insights gained in each affirming congregation so other congregations would not have to start their dialogue from scratch. In 2000, these Baptists produced Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations in Dialogue on Sexual Orientation.

I entered this ongoing Baptist dialogue on LGBTQ concerns a couple years ago when I was invited to edit a second edition of Rightly Dividing. The Alliance, AWAB, and BPFNA felt the time had come to renew our resources for this faithful dialogue.

Rightly Dividing has served Baptists well for over a decade, but as times change, so must our conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just recall a few of the most notable shifts in our social context over LGBTQ equality and justice:

  • In 2000, there were no states legally recognizing marriage between same-sex couples. In 2013, 13 states and D.C. legally recognize same-sex marriage, along with the federal government.
  • In 2000, openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people were barred from service in the U.S. military. In 2013, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed (as of Sept. 20, 2011) and gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can openly serve in the U.S. military.
  • In 2000, LGBT people were left unprotected by federal hate crimes law. In 2013, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009) includes crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity under federal hate crimes law.
  • In 2000, few denominations had open pathways to ordination for LGBTQ persons. In 2013, LGBTQ people have the potential for ordination in many of the country’s largest mainline denominations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

Though congregations entering dialogue on LGBTQ inclusion and justice today ask many of the same questions we considered thirteen years ago, changing social contexts continue to raise new concerns.

Rightly Dividing has been updated to address issues including anti-gay bullying and hate crime violence, the evolving language we use to describe our sexual and gender experiences, and information on the latest scientific perspectives.

We also knew immediately that this renewed resource would need to give more attention to questions of gender identity and transgender concerns. Thus, we adopted a new subtitle, A Resource for Congregations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and we updated the publication to include resources and stories addressing transgender experiences.  

In addition, it was clear that the first edition emerged largely from predominantly white church contexts. Intentionality was given to the inclusion of authors who would address the intersections of race with sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Blending articles from the original edition with new resources, Rightly Dividing offers to readers a cadre of voices that Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward endorses as “a collection of some of the most intellectually seasoned and spiritually vibrant leaders of our time.”

Mel White calls the resource “an entire library including every possible question you may have about homosexuality.”

These are the voices of folks like Markie Wenzel, whose life as an evangelist, preacher, and missionary in an independent Baptist Church took an abrupt turn when she begin to openly acknowledge that while her body was that of a man, her gender identity was female. Knowing that she was “fearfully and wonderfully made,” Markie’s journey of fractured relationships with family, friends, and church intersected with a Baptist congregation whose commitment to affirmation for LGBTQ people has allowed for Markie’s reentry into leadership and service in a Baptist context.  

These are the stories of churches like First Baptist Church of Halifax, Nova Scotia—a church whose intentional and prayerful discernment led the congregation through a process of education and dialogue, eventuating in the officiating of same-sex marriages, an outreach to LGBTQ youth, and a public “coming out” as the only officially welcoming and affirming Baptist congregation in Nova Scotia.

These are the offerings of scholars like William R. Stayton, a Baptist minister, sexologist, and therapist who sheds light on the complexities of scientific knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity and the intersection of this knowledge with our religious belief systems.

These are the personal narratives of people like Rick Mixon, pastor of First Baptist Palo Alto, CA, whose journey of self-understanding as a gay man and a person called into ordained ministry led to his becoming the first openly gay man ordained in a Baptist congregation.

I still get strange looks when my partner and I introduce ourselves as Baptist ministers.

Now, I can point to Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth and the individuals, churches, and organizations whose stories are represented within. With this resource in hand, I can say with confidence: “Look—I’m this kind of Baptist.” 

Visit the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America to order this 360-page resource iprint edition or in electronic (PDF) format. Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity contains over 60 articles, personal and congregational stories, essays, sermons, a study guide, and an extensive bibliography of print and web resources that make it well suited for use in congregational and small group studies of Christian faith and sexuality orientation/gender identity. 

Comments (1)

RJ Abada OFM

i love this
i love this

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