I'm just a poor conflicted Catholic, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't understand all the ins and outs of the Baptist Church -- but aren't they the ones who believe that each of their churches is independent and can't be told how to practice its faith? Or has that central belief been ditched, the way Republicans deserted their ideas about balancing the federal budget?
I'm asking because last week, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention expelled Myers Park Baptist from the NCBSC's holy midst. It turns out Myers Park's policy of "welcoming" homosexuals -- i.e., treating gays and lesbians as if they were human beings who are as good as you or me (imagine it!) -- was just awful in the eyes of the all-knowing state Baptist convention, and of course, the Lord. Who knew?
For that matter, who knew so many gays and lesbians are clamoring to join the Baptist Church?
I guess you've got to be careful. Let in homosexuals, and they might start to think they're as entitled to be a Baptist as other sinners such as, say, adulterers or divorced people; or folks who buy lottery tickets; or secret drinkers, if the Baptists have any of those (ahem); or thieves in suits who rip off their fellow man during the week but make up for it on Sunday; or, God forbid, dancers (!). Yep, first you let those gays and lesbians in, and the next thing you know, the pulpit starts sporting house plants and Sunday services reek of patchouli. We just can't have it!
Now, I admit that I've always had trouble telling one Protestant denomination from another. Years ago in my hometown, a Catholic businessman of Italian heritage tried to tell a group of us boys about the various Protestant churches. He explained, "The Methodists are OK, they don't mind having a good time; the Presbyterians run the town but they'll bore you to death; Episcopalians are watered-down Catholics; and, for some reason, the Baptists hate our guts." The point being that no faith, Catholicism included, is beyond being criticized or joked about, and none of them come close to living their founder's decrees about forgiveness.
That said, though ... uhmm ... what's up with the Baptists? Many organized religions tell their members how to live their lives, but Southern Baptists take it to another level. They seem to absolutely love bringing the hammer down on anyone who doesn't trod the official straight and narrow, which usually means condemning others for not living in the 19th century the way they're supposed to.
But why, you ask, would they want to keep out homosexuals? Well, remember, it could get pretty complicated trying to figure out how to apply the part of the SBC's statement of faith from 2000, which states, "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." I can hear the confusion now: "Which one is which?! Help us out, we're Baptists, we don't have experience with this kind of thing."
Plus, you never know whether gays and lesbians would appreciate the subtleties of the Southern Baptists' history. The SBC, after all, was founded as a protest against the anti-slavery views of American Baptist leaders in the 1840s. As late as 1968, racism was still rampant, and only 11 percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans. In fact, it wasn't until 1995 that the SBC renounced its racist roots and apologized for its past support of slavery. Considering all that, one can see why homosexuals might not understand that their newly chosen church is actually a bastion of progress. I mean, the women can even wear dresses above their ankles these days -- how much more progressive do you want them to be?
But enough with satire and sarcasm. The fact is that, as long as anyone can remember, Baptist churches in the South have been a bulwark against progress, fighting any attempts to make their congregations, or America, more inclusive. Not happy with just "fighting," they're usually sanctimonious about it, too.
Take Allan Blume, the head of the Baptist State Convention's board. He told last week's meeting, with a straight face, " ... we are welcoming to everyone." But, he continued, Baptists can't welcome those darned homosexuals because "our convictions ... call us to obey God." And Rev. John Miller of Concord added, " ... we need to be firm in the message that, unless you repent, you cannot see the kingdom of heaven." This in spite of Jesus being repeatedly portrayed in the Bible as welcoming outcasts and sinners.
Why anyone but a masochist would want to join such a group is honestly beyond me (although an un-closeted masochist would be rejected, too, I suppose). At the same time, however, if gays and lesbians want to share pews with Southern Baptists, that should be their right.
Consider that the Vatican calls homosexuality a disorder, but many American Catholic parishes have active ministries that welcome gays and lesbians. As with other issues such as birth control, U.S. Catholics ignore the Vatican, and so far, the Vatican lets them do it. It's called learning to live with each other. Maybe Baptists could take a lesson.