It’s nice to see the Southern Baptist Convention, which is headquartered here in Nashville, take a tentative step into the 21st century by electing its first African-American president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr.
However, this seems to be a case of “one step forward, two steps back” because immediately after the SBC elected Luter, it issued two proclamations that suggest the Southern Baptist church is still firmly rooted in the Dark Ages. One resolution targets homosexuals for discrimination, while the second demonstrates the SBC’s intolerance for religions other than Christianity.
Ironically, black Southern Baptist pastors seem to be among the leaders of the movement to disenfranchise homosexuals by denying them fully equal rights. For instance, Dwight McKissic called it an “unfair comparison” for gays to demand the same rights as African-Americans. According to him, “They’re equating their skin with my skin.” But what happened to the proposition that all human beings are created equal, whether the differences are merely skin deep, or extend to brain cells and body chemistry? And if Jesus had homosexuals at the top of his priority list, as the SBC seems to believe, why did he never mention homosexuality himself, anywhere in the Bible?
The Southern Baptist church parted ways with its northern cousins over the issue of slavery, 167 years ago. Now the SBC seems to be parting ways with most of the modern world. In retrospect, conservative Christians of yore were obviously wrong about many things, including slavery, the need to burn women at the stake or drown them for being “witches,” the Earth being flat, etc. Isn’t it obvious that the same hidebound thinking that plagued Christianity in its dark past continues to plague some Christians today, resulting in bigotry and intolerance?
The SBC’s problems adjusting to modern times are also demonstrated by its resolution authorizing an optional name change for its churches. The SBC just approved, by a narrow vote of 2,446 to 2,232, a much-debated proposal that provides affiliated churches the option of describing themselves as “Great Commission Baptists.”
The great commission was for Christians to “go into the world and preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” The word “gospel” means “good news” or “glad tidings.” If the great commission was to spread the good news that Jesus opened the gates of heaven, and that he taught the need for compassion and justice in this life, few people would quibble with the great commission. However, what the Southern Baptists and other similar churches teach is not so positive. According to them, heaven is reserved for heterosexual Christians only, and everyone else goes to hell, which would seem to make the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit intolerant homophobes.
Jesus died around A.D. 30, and much of the world would remain undiscovered until 1492, so the “great commission” raises a perplexing question: What happened to all the people who lived and died not believing in Jesus, because they had never heard of him?
If people who never heard of Jesus died and woke up in a hell they knew nothing about, for not believing in someone they had never heard of, how could God be considered loving, wise or just?
Conversely, if only people who have heard of Jesus go to hell for not believing in him, then the worst possible thing anyone can possibly do is mention the name “Jesus” to anyone else, since the mere mention of his name flings wide the gates of hell.
Whether there is a God, or a heaven, is of course a matter of faith. But I have a hard time imagining a bigoted, intolerant heaven. I find it hard to believe that a compassionate man like Jesus would banish the saints of other religions to hell, while saving Christian slave owners and inquisitors who burned “heretics” and “witches” at the stake.
When so much remains in doubt, why not give the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the benefit of the doubt?
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.