August 16, 2010 Discovery Day in the Yukon
Dear CBWC Board,
It’s not easy determining how to address a denominational board. Many of you are pastors. You make decisions. You make policy. You try to consider the needs of many, but each of you also knows the individual needs of your own congregations. In the end, I think, you are people on the same journey I’m on: to create a life that magnifies God, to minimize the mistakes that inevitably you’ll make, and to enjoy the people around you and walk with them, easing, if you can, their journeys.
I did not expect to be walking on this particular journey, nor talking to the CBWC about your beliefs, and subsequently the policies that churches enact because of those beliefs, about gay and lesbian Christians. But here we are at either end of a few pieces of paper.
My name is Jerome Stueart. A year and a half ago, after I realized I was gay, I came out to my church (one of the CBWC churches, Riverdale Baptist) in the Yukon Territory. I believed it was the right, loving thing to do. At that time, I was serving as Deacon of Worship. Firstly, I believed that coming out was sharing a part of myself with those that I loved, bringing them into a very personal part of my life. It is what Christians do—we share ourselves. I also had hoped that coming out might begin a dialogue in the church about this issue. I studied about the issue for three years to make sure I was making the right decision, and hoped to share some of those findings in an understanding atmosphere.
Having been raised Southern Baptist, I had previously believed that gays would not inherit the Kingdom of God, that one could not be gay and be Christian, and that we should be wary of any acceptance or affirmation of a “gay lifestyle,” knowing that it was destructive to humanity, an insult to God’s design for families and procreation, and that most, if not all, gays were anti-Christian.
Because I was raised this way, I had no clue I was gay till I was 34. I include my testimony in the package I’m sending you.
I was as shocked as anyone else that my feelings of brokenness, of missing some vital piece of information about life, actually stemmed from not knowing my true sexual orientation. My beliefs did not allow this possible answer. I had ruled out being gay because Baptists knew that “being gay” was really just Satan trying to deceive us.
When I came across the possibility that one could be gay, I knew that God, if I asked Him, would tell me the truth about what I should do. Part of the hallmark of Baptists is our determination to figure out what the Bible says by close study, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Every Baptist believes this. We also believe that dialogue and discussion ferret out the truth—we are not afraid of investigation—we are not afraid of the truth. Further, our belief in the “Priesthood of the Believer” encourages us to listen to God as he guides us—it gives us the freedom to approach the scriptures, and God, by ourselves, knowing that God does not only favor priests and pastors with understanding and knowledge, but that everyone has the ability to know and understand the will of God.
These are tenets of our faith.
If I had brought up any other issue, I sincerely believe my church would have wanted to discuss those issues, or there would have been, at the very least, a small forum to talk about them.
This did not happen. You’ll notice in the enclosed letters that there was no discussion at all. I was forced to resign, and my name was smeared: I was now apparently “living a sinful lifestyle.”
To say I was greatly disappointed in my church’s reaction is an understatement. Worse, a year went by, and I was slowly asked to disassociate myself with the programs, the services, and the people I had previously been associated with. No one from the Elders ever asked me how I was doing. Their only contact, through the Pastor, was to ask me to stop publishing anything that disagreed with their interpretation of scripture.
I am a product of the Baptist Church. I gave my entire life to God, through the Baptist Church, believing that, of the denominations available, of the multiple theologies present in the Christian world, the Baptists came the closest to honoring the actual intent of the Word of God. I studied to “show myself approved to God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth.” At 40, though, there I was, a useless pariah, full of false testimony and theology, sitting within a suspicious body of believers. Had I remained silent, would I still be an active Christian member of my church? Yes.
Well, I was deeply hurt. I felt betrayed, wrongly accused, dismissed and abandoned by my church. The pastor kept quoting the CBWC beliefs on this subject. There was the rumor that the CBWC would not allow even discussion of this issue without the threat of throwing a church out of its denominational care. So much focus on you, instead of any looking at scripture, or consideration of personal testimony, or prayer to God, leads me to believe that you should be included in my letters.
So here you are, included in my letters.
I want to ask you: How many people have already gone through this same betrayal by the people who claim to carry the message of God? How many good Christian men and women have been turned away by the churches they served? How many gay and lesbian Christian take their lives when they falsely believe that God does not accept or affirm them? How many others forego a personal relationship with God because of the church’s stance? How many straight families dismiss Church as a backwards idea because of the church’s policies on gays and lesbians? How many more families will be affected in a negative way by the church before you rethink and revisit your beliefs about gays and lesbians?
Young children are being taught these policies. Odds are, ten percent of them will be gay or lesbian, and even though they smile and laugh now, and believe the church will love and support them throughout their lives, they will be rejected for something they are not responsible for. The others will do the rejecting.
I hope that you will begin the process of rethinking your beliefs. I hope that part of that process is asking gay Christians, like myself, to talk about their experiences, and about their faith. Without Timothy and a Paul to endorse him, early Christians might never have accepted gentiles. And look where that would have left us—neither one of us on either side of a church pew.
Included with my testimony are resources that you can use to see what others—straight and gay—think about this issue, as well as biblical resources, and about what gay and lesbian Christians are doing in the world today.
There’s a growing need as Evangelicals that we realize that many people in the 21st Century will not go to a church that professes to “not affirm” a group of people. If they sense bigotry or discrimination, they will leave. And many people are connected to gays and lesbians—they know them, they are friends with them, and they know them to be honorable, normal, people. They will not accept a church that carries a message of hate.
While you are considering the benefits and the challenges of rethinking these beliefs, I will continue my work here at Riverdale Baptist, and at the other churches in the CBWC, and across Canada.
On behalf of the silent members of your church struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexuality, on behalf too of the parents who are going through this process with their children, and for the future children and parents who will go through this process, I’m asking you to seriously consider these beliefs again, and in the end, to change them.
Enclosed you will find the letters I sent members of RBC, a letter I sent the Elders Board, and a copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which addresses not just the racial injustice blacks experienced in America, but also the silence of the churches who should have been by King’s side. His criticism is for those churches, and his letter is the beginning of the end of that silence.
So it will be, I hope, with my letter to you.
May God guide you as you consider this letter.
Jerome Stueart, PhD.
Former Deacon of Worship, Riverdale Baptist Church, Whitehorse, YT
Former Minister of Music, Santa Fe Trail Baptist Church, Boonville MO
Former Minister of Music, First Baptist Church, Edmonson, TX
Former Religious Education Director, University Friends Church, Wichita KS
Graduate, Magna Cum Laude, Wayland Baptist University