Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ruminations From A Fallen Southern Baptist

No religious denomination acted more often as apologists for segregationists during the civil rights movement than preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention.

It was of course a time of all-white churches but none was more devoted to white pride. Sermons across the South used the analogy that God did not allow a beautiful songbird and the conniving crow to intermingle, but instead, He established a natural order where some creations were simply on a higher plane than others, such as the difference between the white man and the black man.

It was such a popular sermon that it was printed on brochures and handed out in numerous church vestibules.

Today, the denomination likes to say that it has apologized to the race which was so often the object of its disaffection, but it still manages to mangle its theology with an anti-intellectualism that has been the subject of research and books.

Yeah, Right

Logic is as scarce as African-American ministers in its pulpits.

And yet, ministers like Bellevue Baptist Church’s Steve Gaines would have black Memphians believe that he and his colleagues best understand the reality of their fight for equal rights and against bigotry. They have adopted the vocabulary of the civil rights movement and offer up pandering statements as if listeners suffer from historical amnesia.

It all seems so convenient and politically calculated. After a church history anchored in racial separation and unequal rights, they truly expect and believe that African-American ministers will accept the premise that Southern Baptist ministers feel their pain.

We believe that while a handful of African-American preachers will be seduced by this newfound concern about racial equality, most black Memphians will see through the political expediency of this unholy alliance.

Talking The Talk But What About The Walk

If politics makes strange bedfellows, there’s little question that this one will involve twin beds. And yet, we don’t want to be too hard on churches like Bellevue Baptist Church, which proudly points out its smattering of African-American members. Meanwhile, its 60-member administrative/program staff is all-white 100 percent.

To its credit, Bellevue Baptist does have a person assigned to Hispanic outreach, but in light of its recent rhetoric, it’s certainly a surprise that it doesn’t have anyone on its staff reaching out to the majority race in our region.

It’s the sort of curious contradiction that is so often a regular part of the denomination. They now offer lip service to the importance of women in church leadership – just as long as this doesn’t involve putting them behind the pulpit. The Southern Baptist Convention still requires that all ministers are men.

“Homosexuality is not a valid alternative lifestyle,” the denomination says, raising the question of what alternative lifestyles would it find acceptable – perhaps referring to don’t ask, don’t tell lesbians who tell ministers at Bellevue Baptist that they are simply friends living together.

Bible Beating

We received emails yesterday asking how we could ignore the Bible’s admonitions against homosexuality. But the problem for us is that most of the people who claim to know the meaning of the verses have never traced the translations back to their original Greek or Hebrew. When you do this and factor in the historical realities of the Jewish experience of the time, there are alternative explanations that illuminate the verses’ true meanings.

For example, these Christian fundamentalists have no quotations from Jesus about homosexuality or from any Jewish prophet. They don’t exist.

But here’s the thing: even if people oppose legal protection for gays on their interpretation of the Bible, they are still conveniently selective about which verses they choose to emphasize, because there’s no similar orthodoxy about verses dealing with usury, obligations to the poor, stoning disobedient children and no divorces. In addition, there are verses about when husbands can use prostitutes and verses against masturbation and coitus interruptus.

Golden Oldies

Here’s a few of our favorite verses that never get mentioned by people who argue that the Bible is inerrant and must be literally followed:

Deuteronomy 22:13-20:
If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate…If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.

Leviticus warns heterosexuals that having sex during a woman’s period can lead to execution.

Another Deuteronomy favorite:
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Mark 12 talks about a widow having sex with each of her husband’s brothers in turn until she bears a son:
Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19"Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.

Quoting Scripture

We don’t want to belabor this point any longer, except to say that it’s been said that even the devil can quote Scripture in support of his own purposes, and there’s little question that the Southern Baptist Convention is not alone is using Biblical verses as justification for its bigotry. There have been the crusades, the Inquisition, murder of Jews in the Holocaust, suicide in Guyana by Jim Jones followers, and opposition to inter-racial marriage and equal rights for African-Americans, and that’s for starters.

More pertinent to our current debate in Memphis is the fact that a number of gays have been killed in recent years by people who considered it the natural extension of their obeying of God’s will. In fact, they even quoted Bible verses as their justification

That’s the pitfall of fundamentalism. Even if you believe that the Bible is inerrant, that doesn’t mean that your interpretations are. In fact, the history of religion in Western civilization shows that interpretations change and doctrine shifts.


But we really didn’t mean to get this deep into the debate about Bible verses, and the decision on the anti-discrimination ordinance shouldn’t be about the Bible either. It’s about making sure that all Americans have equal protection under the law, the fundamental principle of our democracy.

Contrary to Rev. Gaines’ clever rhetoric, this vote isn’t about special privileges for gays. It’s about ensuring that they receive the same rights as the rest of us and providing a workplace that does not require Memphis gays and lesbians to live two lives as has been the case for way too long.


Save This MG said...

Very well said. Thank you. I have found that the Southern Baptists are the most exclusive group of people I've ever known.

antisocialist said...

The last paragraph seems misleading. What "rights" do the rest of us have that gays and lesbians do not have?

Zippy the giver said...

Ask the people who have historically been killed without legal recourse in AMERICA in the good ol' south, from Texas to Misssisippi, for being to gay.

Quoting bible versus to discredit quoting bible verses out of context is also a nonstarter. Want to find out what those verses really mean? Go visit a Rabbi, read a Torah, a Mishnah, a Zohar, and the Talmud, get back to me after your nap. They don't mean anything of what they look like.
Jesus wasn't about equality so much as egalitarianism, and THAT would support the protections.
Th bible is pretty clear about what supports about most things it doesn't like, idolization, obsession, theft, gluttony, overdoing anything. It supports what works and not what doesn't, that's it's purpose, to instruct mankind in what works, for all time. If you can parse a metaphor and are willing to read the other books about the bible you can get that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps our conscience is an evolving entity and we should recognize that certain parts of the Bible are dated and need to be deleted particularly the parts that mention homosexuality in them.

Now that we recognize that homosexuality is a genetically inheritable trait, our religious doctrines and laws should reflect our scientific truths.

Of course, scientists are now finding that many other behaviors or traits may be genetically linked so we'll need to update/remove our laws that currently protect citizens from other citizens carrying these traits. After all, they inherited these traits and really don't have a choice in how they conduct themselves.

Therefore, get rid of Romans and parts of Genesis that condemn homosexuality and I think we'll have a better Bible. You know this served the Mormons quite well when they became "enlightened" back in the 1970s when they finally allowed blacks to join their church.

Anonymous said...

Smart City Memphis has brought lots of good issues to the forefront, things that we don't see in printed media, things that are thought provoking and very beneficial to all of us who read it. However, this is a low point.

You've already had lots of other posts talking about how we should pass the Mulroy ordinance and related posts, given lots of reasons that have generated support and opposition.

So why do you insist on continuing this with a long diatribe against religious leaders in our county, especially Southern Baptists?

You can find lots of bad things to say about pretty much any religion and denomination if you research enough. The title seems to sum it up. You used to be a Southern Baptist but hate them now. That's a personal situation and it doesn't matter whether you are in another donomination, another religion, or have abandoned religion altogether.

So you've had your rant. Why not stick to issues in the future and leave your personal dispositions out of it?

By the way, I am not a Southern Baptist and have my own issues with them but will not discuss them here.

packrat said...

Oh, I think SC is spot-on in his pointing out the complete hypocrisy of Southern baptists, the denomination MOST absent in the fight for civil rights for black people during the 50's and 60's (in fact, the denomination MOST COMPLICIT in trying to maintain segregation) trying to use black religious people in the present to discriminate against another group of whipping boys. Keep hating on the fags, Baptists, it keeps those donations rolling in...

Anonymous said...

Shame on the evil white minister for "seducing" the poor black ministers into supporting his evil white conservative "agenda".

Anonymous said...

BOHICA! memphis!

Zippy the giver said...

Anonymous 8:56;
The bible's passages regarding homosexuality are egalitarian, there's nothing wrong with them, it's people's interpretations of them that make them dis-empowering for some. The worst passage states that you can not lay with a man as a woman, in other words, trying to disguise yourself, not like a drag queen does, but as a true subterfuge. That is dishonest behavior, and THAT does not work.
Some one will be pissed off when they find out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, SCM, for taking this on. Contrary to what anonymous thinks, it's the Southern Baptists who made this an issue by trying to wrap themselves into civil rights rhetoric. They are only using these black preachers for as long as they help kill this ordinance.

Southern Baptists jumped in with their dogma flying, so it's fair game to consider whether they have standing in the debate. I think that this shows that they are guilty as charged.

Thanks for the guts to write this.

antisocialist said...

Per the last paragraph of the original post, I would appreciate it if SCM would explain what "rights" the "rest of us" have that gays and lesbians do not have.

Smart City Consulting said...


Sorry we didn't answer. We thought surely it was rhetorical.

First and most basic is that they now have no protection that they can acknowledge that they are gay at work without fear of reprisal. And if you don't think this happens, you haven't worked in government. There's also the gay equivalent of the glass ceiling.

It seems clear to us that if almost every one of the Fortune 500 companies has anti-discrimination policies that they were instituted in recognition of the need to deal with problems and create a fair work environment and there is an obvious need for this equal protection under the law.

antisocialist said...

Thank you for the reply. When you toss around words like "rights" loosely, I tend to take them literally, not rhetorically. I respectfully submit that your concept of "rights" is misconceived.

Just like gays and lesbians, I also have no protection that I can acknowledge I am not gay at work without fear of reprisal either. As an example, a straight man may have been hired for a job under the pretense of being gay. Just like gays and lesbians, he would have no protection if he divulged his true sexual orientation. Just like Mr. Hurley and Jack Tripper, only in a an employer/employee situation instead of landlord/tenant.

My example is probably rare in reality, but certainly not implausible. In my experience, it is equally as rare as counter-examples involving gays and lesbians in government.

Oh, and I worked in government for a very long time and never once witnessed this sort of discrimination against gays or lesbians. I can also recall a handful of known gay and lesbian government coworkers who suffered no apparent mistreatment by their employers - some were even promoted.

Absent any compelling evidence that this is a measurable problem in (County) government, it leaves me to wonder what other agenda is really at stake here.

Smart City Consulting said...


It feels a little like you're tying yourself up in knots on this one to keep from acknowledging the obvious. There is widespread anti-gay hysteria, prejudice and discrimination in this city, as proven conclusively by Commissioner Bunker and his preachers. If there was no persistent problem of discrimination and reprisals against gays, we just don't see why almost every Fortune 500 company and hundreds of governments have taken this step to ensure equal rights.

And we're not throwing words like "rights" around cavalierly. All we have to do is to watch the way that our gay friends and family members have to navigate their way through life, work and love to understand that it doesn't take tons of empathy to understand the bigotry that often greets them.

We've seen people not get promotions in local government because they're gay, we've seen people not hired because they're lesbians and we've watched the hostile workplace that has existed in a number of government departments.

This is not an abstract for us. We have seen it and we have seen that it must end.

antisocialist said...

I am not tied up in knots at all. On the contrary. If I believed what you characterize as obvious really was obvious, I wouldn't hesitate to admit it. My perception is clearly much different than yours.

Also, it seems you have tossed around the word "rights"cavalierly though, despite your insistence otherwise. Gays and lesbians have exactly the same rights as the "rest of us".

Bunker and a few African-American preachers are nothing but anecdotal evidence of something you perceive as a problem. But they are hardly "proof", as you claim, of widespread anti-gay hysteria, prejudice and discrimination in this city.

Your experience in government has lead you to a certain conclusion. But your experience is no less valid than my experience, and my experience has lead me to an altogether different conclusion.

I've seen qualified gays and lesbians hired. I have seen some receive promotions. I have also even seen qualified straight people passed over for promotions that went to individuals "not like the rest of us". I have never witnessed anyone being treated with hostility in the workplace for being gay or lesbian. If I had, I would have intervened. I am not saying it never happens. I am just saying it seems likely to be rare if I have never witnessed it.

If you want to argue, absent any substantive proof, that gays and lesbians need special protection in the local government workforce, that is one thing. But to (rhetorically) assert that they do not have the same rights as the rest of us seems disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

And why are those three crosses out there on I-40 you might ask? Because Blacks were encroaching on the mighty Bellevue Blvd. Baptist so they up and moved, kit and kaboodle, dug up their former pastor and headed east. Yeah, they have a proud civil rights history. And how good would that choir, singing tree, Christain dog and pony show, be without the gay Bellvue members--and don't tell me they are not there--I know better.

A love worth finding--not in my book.

Zippy the giver said...

I too have sen straight people pased over for promotion that went to a gay person, and I've also sen that person get their a•• kicked after work, be hospitalized, and not be able to do anything about it. They were as competent as the straight guy, but, not after that.
There are problems still.

Anonymous said...

If you think this ordinance is superfluous and meaningless, then why be against it? If it means so little, let's just pass it and get it over with.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing - I don't CARE what the bible says. Legislators should not take religious doctrine into consideration when deciding policy or law, even if it happens to be the prevailing view in these parts or in the country. There's a reason our country was founded on the belief that the church and state should be seperate. Why is anyone even listening to these religious leaders? I'm sure all of the hate-mongering, bible-thumpers would LOVE it if some other religion became the majority view in this country and started pressing their own agenda into law. Why are we even debating this? Wherever there is discrimination, the individual, status, choice, whatever, should be protected within the bounds of the law. It doesn't matter what you personally believe.

antisocialist said...

SCM, I am curious about one more thing. . . How does the County's existing sexual harassment policy fail to protect those not like the rest of us?

Zippy the giver said...

I don't think it says anything about any recourse on the part of the victims regarding harrassing gays.

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Religiosopher said...

As one false preacher bickers against the other false preachers, the Holy Biblical Context Plainly reveals that ALL so-called "Reverends" in America are LIARS, THIEVES, ROBBERS and DESTROYERS ~ espicially according to JESUS CHRIST in John 10, as He Boldly Exposes the FAKES who are HIRED and PAID by their DECEIVED followers. Though the Pay-Per-View Southern Baptist pastors are probably the Evilest of All Evil Schemers in the world, what Christ Says about "THE" HIRELINGS is inclusive of THEM ALL ~ whether Black, White or Chinaman.

The website openly exposes the Abominable Baptist Criminals for what they truly are ~ especially the Southern Baptist Liars-For-Hire ~ and with vivid Biblical Proof, I openly expose the church-house Criminals of other False "christian faiths" as well. Though the Bible God Condemns Homos and Homofagliosis, He plainly and surely Condemns Fornicators, Adulterers, Cheats, Thieves, Murderers, ALL LIARS, and MANY other such things ~ no matter whether these particular Sinners profess to be "saved" or not.

Anonymous said...

To Rev. Steve Gaines PO BOX 1210 Cordova,TN 38088 (Bellevue Baptist Cordvoa TN) FWD to Stv Gns (2nd of 3 Letters) Stv:: Jesus loves you more than an only & says "I took it across the back for you, can you not now sacrifice as I say & did live only on 10% of the 500K you make. Commit the rest to training volunteers and preaching the word door to door in Memphis and for $250,000 worth of Salvation tracts. Spend what is left feeding the poor and making a homeless shelter. Also can you not move into a $800.00 apartment and stop talking about taking Memphis for Christ and start doing it by assigning volunteers to work not for your Church but for me." Stv can not 50% of your members fast with water only for the 36 hours after they recieve notice of this letter. KIDS say the darnedest things and NOW 1 of 3 of them who are now between 4 and 8 will not make it into Heaven or be here in the USA when righteousness flows like a river. They will soon know this and the glares and stares they reflect back at you will reveal it. HATE is powerful and Christ loves you more than you love your own children, as do I or could, yet there is 1 who hates ('cause of the Gospel) your soul even more than this or the hate who see or will see in the eyes of young ones since apparently you choose to. I say choose life, Christ and life or choose the hater of your soul and his surrogate. The Bible says the soul of every attender of BB is in your hands as is life and death. RED at any & all places in and around BB is your way to get a msg to me, that and thru the Lord. As you said to me : Do not you or anyone for you email me. (Exodus 4: 8/ Rev 15:1) Seek GOD with all your heart. Choose life. There is one thing very important to me says Jesus: MY SHEEP.