Writing in the (Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill) Independent Weekly, Patrick O’Neill covers what didn’t happen at February’s New Baptist Covenant Celebration.
While there were several positive signs as this new group tries to form its identity, for those hoping to see a loving hand extended to gays and lesbians, or to hear a stronger rebuke of U.S. imperialism, the gathering was disappointing.
Opposition to the Iraq War received some airtime, but the U.S. Army was allowed to set up a booth to recruit Baptist chaplains. Race was a hot topic, but abortion and capital punishment were not. Most notably, the gathering did not offer an official embrace to the LGBT community.
[Rev. Tony] Campolo joined others at the gathering who wore rainbow-colored stoles as a sign of solidarity with gays and lesbians. Campolo said he wanted to let them know “we were aware that they were there, and we loved them and accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Rev. Nancy Petty, co-pastor of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, an open and affirming congregation that includes many gays and lesbians among its membership, said she attended the New Baptist Covenant gathering as a representative of Pullen, but did so at “a high cost, emotionally.”
Petty, who is lesbian, said it was a “slap in the face” that gays and lesbians were denied an opportunity to be part of the planning for the Atlanta event.
“There seems to me to be a real incongruency between what they were preaching and what they were practicing,” Petty said. “No one was asking them to endorse gays and lesbians. All that we were asking was to have a place at the table.”
Rev. Petty’s words are important. In their evaluation of the current situation faced by LGBT Baptists and our allies, they offer hints of a strategy for moving forward. We must secure for ourselves a place at the table. As I wrote in my own evaluation of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration,
As long as we allow our organizations to be treated as less legitimate than others’, our voice will be muffled. As long as we allow our issues to be thought of as less urgent than those of other constituencies, our issues will be brushed aside. The courageous support of straight allies such as [author John Grisham] and friends of unity such as [President Jimmy] Carter and Campolo will be squandered if we don’t do more than simply show up. A ministry of presence is vital, to be sure, but it is insufficient. We must “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” We will never see the change we long for, and we believe God longs for, if our motto is, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going to say it too loudly if that makes you uncomfortable.”
How do we secure a place at the moderate Baptist table? We begin by asking for one. Wherever and whenever moderate Baptists meet, LGBT Baptist organizations should ask to be included. We have as much right as any other constituency to make this request.
When our requests are denied, as they were for the New Baptist Covenant Celebration, we should ask why. We are right to ask others to explain why they choose to exclude us. And we should let those who deny participation to us know that we will make their reasons public, so that they can be tested by the broader priesthood of believers.
When their reasons for excluding us fall into the category of political exigency, we should have the courage to hold them publicly accountable. When their reasons stem from a theology of exclusion, we should have the courage to say that out loud and to offer in their place a mature and robust theology of inclusion.
Politics and theologies of exclusion have famously split Baptists in America in the recent past, as O’Neill notes in his article, and they they have the potential to do so again if they are not confronted. Our silence at being officially marginalized does not serve unity, but rather endangers it.
(Thanks to the Gay Religion newsblog.)