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July 05, 2005

Some wise words from a religious leader

The issue of gay marriage in particular, and homosexuality in general, continues to sow deep divisions among Protestant denominations.  The Episcopal Church's near-schism over the ordination of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire was exhaustively covered in the press.  Recently, the United Church of Christ voted to take a stand in favor of gay marriage - it is the first mainline denomination to do so (as the NY Times notes here). 

It's happening in lots of other churches, though the mainstream media doesn't cover them all.  The American Baptists, historically quite a liberal denomination (not to be confused with the Southern Baptists), and one with a strong tradition of freedom of conscience, have also been struggling with the issue.  There is a sub-group of American Baptists called the "Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists" which is overtly gay-friendly; the emergence of this group has (perhaps predictably) resulted in organized opposition amongst the denomination's more conservative elements, including a resolution in 1992 that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching," and a below-the-radar movement to "disfellowship" (i.e., kick out) member churches seen as too gay-friendly.  This all led to a pastoral letter from the church's "Regional Executive Ministers" in 2004 committing to "voluntarily refrain" from recommending practicing homosexuals for the ministry and from conducting same-sex commitment ceremonies, but also committing to "voluntarily refrain" from threatening further disfellowships, and urging all church members to do the same.  The call has apparently gone unheeded, however, as member churches deemed insufficiently intolerant of homosexuality continue to be threatened with disfellowship.

The American Baptists recently held their biennial meeting in Denver.  At that meeting, the General Secretary, Dr. Roy Medley, delivered this remarkable speech in which, in responding to his church's struggles with homosexuality, he makes plain that his personal views are not exactly gay-friendly, but that he values above all the American Baptist traditions of "soul freedom" (meaning the right of every individual to his or her personal relationship with God, with no church-imposed creed or other doctrinal gobbledygook standing between them), radical discipleship, and radical love.  He says this toward the end of his speech:

In the midst of its divisions, the world needs the witness of a people bound together in love, committed to the difficult task of walking with one another in the midst of strong differences.  We stand at a crossroads.  In our world, the path of radical discipleship, the path of radical love, is the road less taken.  We dare not choose another.  We dare not choose the wrong road ... the road that leads to separation.  That choice will certainly unite you with like-minded people, but will give you small souls, and make you comfortable Christians.  The radical call of Jesus doesn't make us comfortable.  Take the road less traveled - the rich road of love of one another and service for Christ in the midst of our differences.

Wow - "small souls" and "comfortable Christians."  Take that, Dr. Dobson!  Let us hope (and, for those so inclined, pray) that Dr. Medley's way of unity and love in the face of disagreement and division prevails, both within the American Baptist community and beyond.

Posted by David at 06:56 PM in Massachusetts, National | Permalink


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David, thanks for posting this. Medley's invocation of "soul freedom" indeed goes back to the beginning of the Baptist denomination as a splinter group from the Puritans in Massachusetts, as Roger Williams and company were forced to relocate to Rhode Island.

And it cuts to the heart of what the argument over homosexuality is about, both as regards religion and the state: It is *freedom of conscience.* How often have you heard from gay folks who came out of the closet: "I didn't want to live a lie"? Homophobia in its various forms forces people to bear false witness about themselves. It also infringes their "pursuit of happiness", surely an American value.

And as regards Dobson, shows how much he cares about what's inside your head. The religious right literally want to control -- through law -- what people value, what they think. That's not an American idea.

Instead, we are descended from people who sought freedom of conscience in its various forms, and it's something of which to be deeply grateful, patriotic, and protective.

Posted by: Charley on the MTA | Jul 6, 2005 4:21:22 PM

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