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The SBC Binary of Al Mohler and the Biblical Spectrum of Marriage and Sexuality

June 6, 2014

Wilson argues that, even as he has come to affirm same-sex behaviors and relationships, the issue need not divide congregations or Christians.
Pastor Cortez cited Wilson’s argument as foundational to the position he and his church are now taking — “agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another.”
But, there is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them….
There is no third way on this issue. Several years ago, I made that argument and was assailed by many on the left as being “reductionistically binary.”
But, the issue is binary.

— Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., “president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.”

Well, let’s not assail Dr. Mohler’s old argument. He’s re-articulated it anew here.

It would not take too much research to go back just a little further in Southern Baptist Convention history to find lines drawn, crossed, and then erased. For example, in 2010, there was this:

RESOLVED, That we call on our churches to proclaim God’s mercy and grace to all people—including those who have been divorced without biblical grounds—due to the truth that the blood of Jesus can atone for any sin and can cleanse any conscience;

And, for instance, in 1999, there was this:

Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery. . . .

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry….

Divorced people got a bit more grace. African-Americans got a bit more of a welcome. The former got that because there was more and more acknowledgement of more and more divorce among the SBC members. The latter got a bit more of a welcome because more and more of the majority Euro-American SBC members were acknowledging more and more how out of step their churches were with a more and more intentionally inclusive South, where governments and neighborhoods and other churches perhaps were more intent on race reconciliations. The capital letter RESOLVED is just to mark the watershed moment where a majority at the Convention can publicly agree on a statement. It is progress if not so progressive given the late date in human history and given the surrounding culture relative to the SBC culture.

But, really, the legacy of the SBC and many other Baptist groups is to be decentralized and to allow the local congregants and members to take their own positions along a theological, and political (i.e., church polity), and “biblical” hermenuetic spectrum.

When it comes to marriage and sexuality, there are lots of Baptist views allowed. There is even this ironically-consistent Baptist-culture belief that allows for variation, difference. The SBC may be a Convention that tries to articulate for all Southern Baptists what must be practiced, followed, and believed. But the “either / or” and “in” or “out” mentality is counter to the history. I’m tempted in writing this blogpost to run through the Bible like a William J. Webb. It sure is helpful to notice the variation in the Bible on marriage and on sexuality. It flies in the face of an Aristotle-like insistence on some “A is not NOT-A” formula applied to biblical ethics.

Let me just end by linking to a blogpost of American Baptist minister Rev. Robin Lunn. I heard her preach Jubilee from the Bible last summer at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Massachusetts. I was so impressed that I went looking for things she’d written and found what she’d posted just three days earlier:

A Baptist Revival Of Love

The day Rev. Lunn posted this, somebody named Darryl drags the SBC into the conversation with this comment:

The Southern Baptist Convention dominates what people think about Baptists in general, and the SBC is where most of the KJV-only fundie crowd lies. The Baptist part of Christianity is generally a heavy Free Church tradition, with emphasis on personal revelation, so Baptists will range throughout the theological spectrum.

The tradition and culture of the SBC is the one I’m most familiar with. My parents were SBC missionaries, and I grew up an SBC MK (the K standing for “kid”). (I’m still growing up.) My spouse grew up an SBC PK (the P standing for “preacher’s”), and my father-in-law is still an SBC ordained minister. There are pressures from Dr. Mohler and the like to make sure there is no middle ground on sexuality and on marriage and on purity and the like. If SBC history proves anything, nonetheless, it’s that there may be lines drawn, and crossed, and then erased. Hopefully the SBC can be less “binary” and more varied, more biblical. Hopefully there will be no big huge public need for a RESOLVED about the regrets of the SBC because of Baptist misbehaviors towards persons, church members even, who are LBGTQIA persons.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 6, 2014 5:36 pm

    Implicit in the “RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake” is this –

    The “we” is “white” SBC folk. The “our own healing” is the own healing of white SBC folks. White brothers and sisters. Not “our” African-American brothers.

    The binary is right there. White, NOT white. This was 1999. The white SBC started in 1845. The issue was the “in or out” issue over whether the Bible supports slavery of African peoples, or NOT.

    My own SBC missionary father was no racist. And yet when he was dying of cancer, and when his hospice nurse in his home was African American, he claimed that she was the first African American friend he’d ever had. When he was an SBC pastor in Texas during the Jim Crow laws, he and my mother did hire “The Help.” Nancy worked cleaning our house and watching their children and doing our laundry and cooking and so forth and so on. The wage was minimal, I can guess, and probably not minimum wage. The point of this little paragraph is that my SBC minister father, a white man, did not befriend a woman who is black until his dying days. She might have informed his reading of scriptures a little more had they been friends earlier, he dependent on her.

    So my next little paragraph is just to get us all listening to another preacher, another woman, another African American. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman-Davis, like Dr. Mohler, is a seminary professor too. She advises her students and other preachers not to preach about homosexuality until they have a friend who is gay or lesbian. There’s no time like now, and there’s no day like today, to make a few changes. Hers is good advice, and it resists this binary mentality:

    http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/pdf/dialogue/JustDontDoItUntil_ValerieBridgeman.pdf

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