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Southern Baptist Convention President Meets with Gay-rights Advocates

By Bob Allen

PHOENIX -– Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright met June 15 with a coalition asking the nation's second-largest faith group to apologize for what they believe is damage to lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

jack mckinney
Jack McKinney (left) explains to SBC President Bryant Wright why a new coalition is asking the denomination to apologized for its teachings against homosexuality.

Jack McKinney (left) explains to SBC President Bryant Wright why a new coalition is asking the denomination to apologized for its teachings against homosexuality.

"Today is a special day in the life of the convention," Jack McKinney, a former Southern Baptist pastor who now is a pastoral counselor and spokesperson for Faith in America, reminded the pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta who a day earlier was re-elected to a traditional second term as SBC president.

"It was 16 years ago today that the convention did something very important when it apologized for its stance on slavery and Jim Crow laws – racism," McKinney said. "We feel like the convention is making the same mistake," he said, in the SBC's current treatment of gays.

The coalition of six gay-rights groups presented a petition that nearly 10,000 people signed online in just one week asking Southern Baptists to offer a "sincere and heartfelt apology" for using religion to add to stigma felt by young people who discover their sexual orientation is gay.

Wright told the delegation he was "certainly glad to hear of your concerns," but in the end they must agree to disagree.

"We don't feel there can be a need to apologize for teaching sexual purity," Wright said. "Our only authority for expressing our faith is the word of God, and all through the word is sexual purity for God's people, and that is true whether it's homosexual sex or it's heterosexual sex. We just feel like from our understanding of Scripture, that that is taught in the Old and the New Testaments."

"To follow Christ, it would be very difficult for us to betray our faith by ignoring what God's word says about sexual purity," Wright said.

Prior to the meeting, leaders of Faith in America, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe OutLoud, Get EQUAL, Human and Equal Rights Organizers (HERO), No Longer Silent, Soulforce and Truth Wins Out gathered for a "teach-in" outside the Phoenix Convention Center to educate convention messengers about how their well-meaning attitudes cause harm to gays.

"I do not speak today from a perceived position of moral authority," said McKinney, former pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., which was disfellowshipped by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 for its support of gays. As a pastor of three churches historically associated with the SBC, McKinney said he "once believed as they did that any expression of sexual orientation or gender identity that did not meet the norm was sin and worthy of fierce condemnation."

That was before his life was "profoundly changed" during the last two decades working and counseling with LGBT individuals. "These friends have been the Good Samaritans who saved me from my narrow-minded bigotry and cruelty," McKinney said.

Faith in American said gay teens are three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, and there is a link between church teaching and suicide tendency among gay LGBT youth. The group said the SBC's "promotion of bigotry" causes parents to reject their children and conveys the idea that "stigma and hostility toward LGBT people are OK."

Ben Alley, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate from Marshalltown, Iowa, said he won't be spending Father's Day this Sunday with his family, because his father, a music minister in a Southern Baptist church, disowned him when it came out that he is gay.

Robin Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, delivers a statement at a "teach-in" outside the Phoenix Convention Center. "My parents and I don't talk anymore, so I will not have any contact with them this Father's Day," Alley said. "So this Sunday when you spend the day with your family, remember that there are some out there who will not be spending it with their families because of religion-based bigotry."

Robin Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, said congregations that "come out" to say gays and lesbians have the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms as heterosexuals also face the prospect of being shunned, chastised and disfellowshipped "because they dare to believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are equal in the eyes of God."

Lunn, an American Baptist, said Baptists have a unique place in the wider Christian community because of their honor and respect for autonomy of the local church. Southern Baptists, she said, have moved away from that tradition in threatening to expel churches that even appear to include LGBT believers, let alone welcome and affirm them as part of their life and ministry.

"I stand here today as the representative for AWAB to say to the SBC that it is time to turn and repent of this anti-Baptist imposition of doctrine and dogma on the local church," Lunn said. She also called on the SBC to repent for "unwillingness to engage in honest and respectful dialogue across this difference."

Members of the coalition said Southern Baptists' anti-gay teachings interpret Bible verses selectively, similar to how earlier generations used Scripture to justify slavery in the 19th century and racial segregation in the 20th.

"It is time for groups like Southern Baptists to stop hiding behind an interpretation of the Bible that gives them carte blanche to demonize LGBT people," McKinney said. "It is time for Southern Baptists to stop telling destructive lies that sexual orientation and gender identity are lifestyle choices that can be fixed."

"It is time for the Southern Baptists to repent of their oppression of the LGBT community and apologize for the enormous damage that their false teachings are doing," McKinney said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.

Published June 16, 2011

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