By Warren J. Blumenfeld
Anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the EXPRESSION of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for they have entered into the realm of oppression. By so doing, they are exerting power and control in their attempts to define “the other,” and thereby working to deprive others of their agency and their subjectivity.
In their arrogance and presumption believing that they and only they know ultimate truth, the Southern Baptist Convention, unfortunately, has a long history of oppression.
The issue of slavery became a lightening rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.
Well, either by divine “inspiration” or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.
Delegates to the annual SBC session in New Orleans in 1996 passed their “Resolution on Jewish Evangelism” committing to put more energy and resources into converting Jews to Christianity. The resolution read, in part: “WHEREAS, There has been an organized effort on the part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah, Jesus, to be saved:…BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel 6 [of Jesus] to the Jewish people.” The SBC continues to believe, as do some other denominations, that Judaism remains an inadequate religion without Jesus as its central figure.
Also at their 1996 annual session, SBC delegates overwhelmingly voted to boycott Walt Disney theme parks, movies, and products for extending benefits to partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, for the “hosting of homosexual and lesbian theme nights at its parks…,” and for producing films and books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters thereby “connecting Disney to the promotion of the homosexual agenda….” The resolution continued: “That we encourage Southern Baptists to give serious and prayerful reconsideration to their purchase and support of Disney products and to boycott the Disney theme parks and stores if they continue this anti-Christian and anti-family trend.”
In 2010, the SBC passed its “Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military,” which stated in part: “RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm the Bible’s declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible’s promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”
Regarding their stands on women in the Church, at their 1998 session, the SBC declared that a wife should “submit herself graciously” to her husband’s guidance, and the denomination has since removed women from top executive posts. According to the 1998 resolution: “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ….[She] has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.” Later, in 2000, the SBC declared that women should no longer serve as pastors.
I assert that my critique does not amount to a simple theocratic disagreement. This is not a “disagreement” at all! It again speaks to issues of power and control; it goes to who has the power to define “the other” and who has the power and control to define “the self”: the individual and members of a social identity group, or rather, the Church with a capital “C.”
I ask then, how long will it take for the Southern Baptists Convention to apologize to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, to Jewish people, to women, and to all the other individuals and groups they have offended?
With religious rights come responsibilities, and with actions come reactions. Whenever clergy pronounce and preach their conservative dogma on sexuality and gender expression, on women, on Jews, and on others, they must take responsibility for the bullying, harassment, violence against and suicides of these individuals and groups.
Therefore, we have a right, no, an obligation to counter this destructive and, yes, oppressive discourse with all the voices, the energy, the unity, the intelligence, and all the love of which we are capable.
A coalition of progressive organizations, including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe OutLoud, Faith in America, GetEQUAL, Soulforce, and Truth Wins Out, is sponsoring a petition drive calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the harm its teachings have caused the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The petitions will be delivered to leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention at their annual session in Phoenix, Arizona between June 14 and 15.
If you are interested in signing onto the petition campaign, please go to the following website:
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States, Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.
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