Yesterday I returned from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the Southern Baptist Convention changes how it relates to the LGBT community. The question is whether that change will be simply a kinder, gentler spin on “love the sinner, hate the sin,” a softer rhetoric toward some and a harsher one toward others, or the beginning of a deeper journey toward understanding.
But one thing is clear: The survival of the Southern Baptist denominational identity and its mission in the world is at stake. They know this, and I think some of the contradictory messages we heard at the ERLC meeting suggest a full-on identity crisis.
We went to the meeting with deep suspicion, knowing all too well that the SBC has a long history of hostility toward the LGBT community. Yet what we found were people — many people — eager for conversations.
Many of us recall the days when evangelicals blamed us for HIV/AIDS, the attacks of 9/11, and just about every national disaster to have happened in the last 30 years. We remember when we were accused of being sexual predators ready to corrupt children and destroy society. And we don’t have to look far back for examples of SBC’s anti-LGBT policies and practices — for example, pressuring World Vision to reverse its decision to hire Christians who are married to same-sex spouses, and, even more recently, the unanimous passage of a resolution at the SBC Annual Meeting in June that denied the existence of transgender people. And at this very conference, we heard yet more disturbing rhetoric about transgender people that attempted to build a theological framework for the SBC’s misguided positions.
Even within this reality, the Southern Baptists we met were gracious and hospitable. They organized a behind-the-scenes conversation with an LGBT-affirming contingent that lasted well into the night; when we offered comments, they seemed genuinely pleased; they thanked us for coming and called us brave for showing up; they even retweeted our tweets without irony.