Saturday, November 27, 2004

Letter to a Baptist Preacher

Recently the Southern Baptist Convention in Arkansas adopted a resolution denouncing same-sex marriage. Below is a letter of response from me to the pastor of a very large Southern Baptist Church in Arkansas regarding the resolution. The pastor was once a youth pastor at my home church and was a good friend of our family. I write him so that he hears another perspective on this issue. I leave his name blank here to protect his privacy.

Dear _________,

I wanted to write a follow up letter to our earlier exchange in order to express my disappointment with the Arkansas Southern Baptist Convention's recent resolutions regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment. Our brothers' and sisters' language is cloaked to sound as if its goals are to protect marriage. I would argue that if that were truly the case, something might have been done to shut off the valve to no-fault divorce many years ago. I read recently that divorce is one statistic where Arkansas actually leads the way. I also understand a "covenant marriage" solution, rather than a state constitutional amendment, will be pursued to address the problem.

In the meantime, the words "heritage" and "tradition" are quietly becoming coded in the same sinister way that "state's rights" and the Biblically-based notion of "racial purity" were some time ago.

What is it that destines Southern Baptists to be on the back end of every social movement of consequence throughout its history? They lagged behind (or fought against) slave rights, women's suffrage, civil rights, and now there is their fight to further ban same-sex marriage rights. Jesus was ahead of the justice game, not behind it.

I suppose fear of the unknown plays a large role. But to me it is scarier to prefer the form of something over the quality of it [edt. Biggie up Pastor Mike for this argument]. Before the suffrage movement, the form of voters (only males may vote) was emphasized over the quality of women's ability to vote.

In the struggle for same-sex marriage rights, Southern Baptists have emphasized the form of male-female marriage (and as of 1998, a hierarchical form at that), over the quality of marriage itself. The result is that Britney Spears, convicted criminals, and contestants on reality TV's marriage shows are deemed more qualified to handle the responsibilities and rights of marriage than John and I are. Sorry to be judgmental, but I think John and I have a little more going for our relationship.

It is the "form over quality" logic that kept slavery alive and women from being Sunday School teachers back in Paul's time. Now it keeps a couple of gay veterans who have been together in a committed relationship for over 50 years from being buried next to one another in a veteran's cemetery in Arkansas. And it keeps gay parents (and there are hundreds of thousands in the U.S.) from protecting their children in the same ways you can protect yours. Emphasizing form over quality is rarely a good idea, but it is a persistent one. My dream is that one day, Southern Baptists, as well as all believers, will begin to see the pattern and change it. In the meantime I hate the sin, but love the sinner (as I often hear).

Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are misguided on the issue of same-sex marriage, as I am on other topics. If they understood things from where I sit, I don't think all of them would make the same decisions. Thankfully the intersection of Christ's kingdom with this world keeps us from staying perpetually stagnant and hopeless. And the Holy Spirit has a way of dragging us by the ear to where we need to be.

It is hard for me to bear what Arkansas did in the last election. John and I do not feel welcome there anymore, and certainly not in any Southern Baptist churches I know. But the Holy Spirit comforts us and we have hope that one day things will change there. In the meantime, the world is a big place and we will try to keep our strength up so we can ride this wave of liberty and justice with Jesus rather than paddling behind or against it.

Thanks for listening to me on this issue--again!

Your friend on the "religious left",

Troy Smythe


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