Greetings, churches of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. I’m writing to you today to talk about an important issue that affects your church, or will affect your church very soon.
Most churches don’t realize that the “issue” of gays and lesbians in church already affects them. It has a face. You might have members of your church who are hiding out, closeted gays and lesbians. You might have members with close family who identify as gay or lesbian. Inside your youth group, or your children’s church, are kids who will grow up to be gay or lesbian. These are people you know. They have faces you recognize. What will your church do when any of these people come out? Or when they ask you to accept and affirm them as you would anyone else? Or what will you do if not “coming out” drives these people to hurt themselves, or hurt others by marrying heterosexual partners within your church and, therefore, hurting whole future families?
These are questions many churches are facing now. They are hard questions to ask. CBWC doesn’t currently have a policy on this. Does your church? Some churches are finding themselves blindsided when the moment arrives. Forced to pick between their faith and the one they love, churches split, families are torn apart.
The Current situation in our churches
Gay and lesbian members of your churches are hurting. The families of those members are hurting. Some of the children you are raising in the church now will one day have to choose between their faith and their sexuality. This will hurt your churches more than you can imagine.
Imagine this: we tell our members that we offer them complete and total Christian love. We baptize our babies and dedicate in front of the church, promising to be there for them as they grow. We promise them that we will work out our differences in love. However, from our pulpits, and in our practice, we show that if those people come out, show themselves to be gays and lesbians–that we will shun them, judge them, take away our friendships, our fellowship and our love.
In effect, we ask gay and lesbian members to lie, hide themselves and appear straight—because it will go better for them if they do. And while they sit there, hidden, we condemn them with scripture and tell them that God does not love them as they are. They are the only ones who are required to change first before they can become active Christians. We hold them to a high standard, asking them to be celibate if they are openly gay or lesbian, or to lie and marry our sons and daughters, so that our churches don’t have to face an issue that every other church is facing. What if our churches are believing the wrong interpretation of these scriptures?
Baptists are long overdue in revisiting, and reassessing, these scriptures.
Many gays leave the church because it is not a welcoming place. For evangelicals, whose mission is to spread the word of God everywhere, it must be difficult to see people leaving the church because of our stand on homosexuality, and our lack of hospitality towards gays and lesbians—even those who were raised in our own churches. We find ourselves asking: are we undoing the good work we were doing?
Some will say that we are doing the right thing. That we are taking a Biblical, scriptural stand on homosexuality—one of loving the sinner and hating the sin. The CBWC, on their website under About Us/what we believe/specific beliefs, say that as one of the Baptist specific and unique beliefs, “Any sexual behaviour outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage is not affirmed biblically or historically.”
But other churches, even other Baptist churches, say differently, that biblically there is no injunction against loving gay couples, or single gays or lesbians. These Baptist churches have made a different decision—and they have remained Baptist, kept all their theology, and yet they reach out and love their gay and lesbian members, accepting and affirming them firmly. They keep the families we turn away. And these churches also believe they are right. How is this so? They have scholars too. They have theologians too. Who’s right? Do we owe it to our families and children to search the scriptures again, and to make sure we are right?
The consequences of getting it wrong every Sunday
When we discover there were families in the church who had gay and lesbian children, and they never told us, we reel with the hidden pain they felt as they heard our sermons about their children.
How do we feel when we realize that the kids we taught in Sunday School grew up to hate themselves, or that some of them might choose to take their own lives? Or what if they leave God altogether because of what we said? Does it bother us that other kids learned to taunt, look down on, or otherwise reject their gay and lesbian peers in our Sunday School classes?
If someone came to you today and told you that you could have all of your Baptist beliefs intact, but that there was a way to accept and love your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, would you look into it? Would you form a book study to look at it yourself?
“But I’m not Qualified…”
All of us feel comfortable researching a medical issue on our own, but not a spiritual one. Many of us feel intimidated by someone with a seminary degree, but feel no intimidation approaching, with questions in hand, a doctor with a medical degree. We believe that God speaks to all of us. We believe in the Priesthood of the Believer, that we have the right to interpret, as well as the responsibility to interpret the Bible correctly. But do we also know that we have the ability to interpret the Bible because of the Holy Spirit?
God did not expect everyone to get a seminary degree first before coming to Him. He doesn’t put a bouncer at the door of heaven to anyone without the ability to understand Greek or Hebrew. Through the Holy Spirit we learn, we grow, and we interpret the Word of God.
Study both interpretations
We can study this issue ourselves by listening to the Holy Spirit, reading our bible and reading commentary from those who have insight from both sides of the issue. It’s how we understand ANY issue. We put people who believe both sides passionately and then we read their reasons and arguments. The CBWC has material on their side of the issue—that of accepting but not affirming gay people. They also believe in the one man/one woman view of marriage.
There are many seminary-taught people, and lay people, who take a different interpretation of the scriptures concerning gay and lesbian people. They are Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mennonites, the United Church, among others, and they accept gay and lesbian people, both single and married, into full membership with full rights to serve God. And they can show you in scripture how they did it. Hundreds of churches, who have the same theology you do, made the effort to look at the scripture again, and choose to save these people by pulling them lovingly back into the church, and affirming who God made them to be.
Where can I find information on this interpretation?
There are many websites that cover the basics of the scriptures we use to condemn gay people. They give an overview of how they are interpreting the scripture. The best of these sites are at Whosoever magazine, and the Welcoming and Affirming Baptist Churches website.
For those of you who want a more thorough study, good books exist on this subject. Jack Roger’s Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality makes a wonderful book study. No one can stop you from learning the truth about the widespread turning away of gay and lesbian Christians and their families. Only you can do something to help them.
Things you can do:
1. Form a book study to read one of the books listed as a group
2. Have a video night and invite others to watch one of the DVDs listed on the Helpful Resources page
3. Ask the church to hold a churchwide forum or discussion that takes into consideration both sides of this issue—with knowledgeable representatives from both sides.
4. Invite a Christian gay person to your meeting, or to your house to talk to him or her about their faith.
5. Invite the family of a Christian gay or lesbian person over to your house to talk to them. Give them encouragement and hospitality no matter where either of you stand on the issue.
6. If someone comes out in your church, make a public show of support for that person, whether or not you have worked out the theology yourself. That show of support could be the difference between life and death, someone staying or someone leaving, a church together or a church split.
7. If someone comes out in the church and they are in a service position, it’s okay to ask them to step down from any service position until you can study the issue. This is not too much to ask. But please study the issue. Pick a date by which the study will be done, look at both sides of the issue from sides that support the affirming and accepting of gay people, and those that don’t. Publicly affirm them as a person while you do the study and be ready to hear them when they want to speak.
Why did you write us this letter?
You are members of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, one of the sixteen churches represented by members of the Board of the CBWC. Like you, my church belongs to this denomination. I am a member of Riverdale Baptist Church in the Yukon Territory. Our church has been facing this complicated issue over the last year and a half. It has not been easy for anyone. You can read more about me, Jerome Stueart, if you follow the My Story link. You can also view there letters I sent to my own church here, and to the CBWC. My hope is that this will be a resource, one of many, for your church, for it is addressed, like a personal letter to your sixteen churches.
Each of your churches are linked multiply to this letter, and you can contact and discuss this issue with each other. Many times we never see or hear from the churches in our denomination–we may not even be aware of them. But today, like that moment that happens in church on Sunday morning, I want you to stand up and greet one another:
And the group that binds them together: the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
My hope is that you will sit down and talk about this issue, that you will do it in your homes, that you will do it in your studies, that you will do it in your fellowships, and that you will ask your administration to join you at some point. Be careful that you do not reflexively defer to your pastor for his knowledge alone to solve this–or else you lose what we hold dear about being a Baptist–that we do not need an intermediary between us and the Holy Spirit, that we can listen to the Holy Spirit and interpret scripture too. By all means, invite him in–but find a way to come to consensus on the verses, and the Bible, and what the Holy Spirit is saying. These are your families being affected, not a theological issue to be parsed.
We cannot continue to preach condemnation on gays and lesbians and others in the GLBT community and not reap the consequences of misrepresenting Christ. Our churches will dwindle in attendance. Our own children will walk away from the church. And we will be forced to wear this condemnation against gay people as either a tar baby or badge of honour.
I pray that the churches will consider this request while there is still time to change course. Your church is part of the CBWC and they will not want you to openly discuss this, to hold a forum on it, or to put it to a vote. It could mean your expulsion from the CBWC. But who is it that can harm you if you are eager to do good? (1 Peter 3:13)
The CBWC does great things in the world, and there is no denying that they are a help to other countries, as well as many communities in Canada. But irreparable harm is being done to people who are being told to hate who they are, or to change who they are for the sake of God and the church. Quite frankly churches bully gay people and their families until they submit to the pressure. This was never the intent of the good news. Despite all the good we do, if we hurt others to do it, can we say we are following God?
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Please let your sixteen churches be the first to study this issue–every person–to make sure your church is not contributing to the problem, and to make sure that the good news gets to every person, regardless of race, gender, sex, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, or any other factor. The Good News is the Good News of Salvation to every one.
Blessings and the Peace of Christ to you,
If someone has already come out in your church, or you want to know what to do when they do come out–even if you don’t agree with their interpretation of the issue, please consider reading: when someone comes out in your church. We can react in a loving way–we can sit and listen to each other. We can be Christ to each other.