Thursday, July 20, 2006

American Baptist Ethics

Yesterday I received word of a new statement by Rev. Dr. Roy Medley the General Secretary of ABCUSA. It is a call for American Baptists to live lives of high moral and ethical standards. Sounds good right??? I got excited!!! Dr. Medley then goes on to whack at the favorite dead horse of the mainline church, homosexuality. Here is a brief quote; 'while not the most important discipleship issue in the New Testament, nor our highest priority of ministry lest we focus on one set of sins above others that afflict us such as racism, greed, sexism and gluttony, nonetheless, sexual concerns increasingly dominate our attention (Romans 1:28). We live in a culture obsessed with sex. We see evidenc of sexual abuse every day. We are stunned at the reports of sexual impropriety by persons in caring professions (1Corinthians 6:18). Many persons have been victims of these abuses. The result is an environment of deep suspicion regarding the sexual integrity of persons in authority. In this context, the matter of homosexual practices continues to divide American Baptists.' You can view the full letter at

I sent Dr. Medley a response. First and foremost I take issue with the context in which Medley places GLBT lives, the context of abuse and impropriety. Dr. Medley is at least suggesting that GLBT persons are to be categorized with rapists, child molesters and pastors who abuse members of their congregations and nothing could be more wrong. People who are GLBT are not acting out in anger, violence, or coercion of others as are those who abuse and attack women or children. Homosexualtiy is a relationship between two equals, two consenting adults who are expressing a deep emotional connection. Some may not approve of this expression, but that disapproval should not and cannot be couched in terms of abuse. The two, abuse and homosexuality are exclusive, the first about violence, the second about love.

Second I take issue with Dr. Medley's suggestion that his interpretation is the only viable one for Christians. While a respectfully disagree with Dr. Medley's interpretation about homosexuality I afford him every right to believe the way he does. That being said, as Baptists we stand on the foundations of religious Liberty and Soul Freedom. The idea of Soul Liberty states that every person is gifted by God with the ability and the right to interpret and apply scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. While this should be done in the context of a believing community (the church) that does not give the church the right to dictate belief to the individual. religious Liberty states that all individuals have the God given right to respond to God as they see fit. In his clumsy use of 'proof-texting' Medley has suggested that there is only one way to interpret the Bible on the issue of homosexuality. There are many faithful Christians and knowledgeable scholars who have different interpretations of the Bible regarding this issue and although we may not agree, as Baptists we are to afford all the right to their interpretation of the scripture.

Third and finally I took issue with Dr. Medley's call to ethics. Yes, we should take ethical stands. Let's take important ethical stands as did Jesus. Jesus took a stand for openness and inclusion of all genders and ethnic groups. Lets take a stand on the subtle racism that treats undocumented workers as second-class humans, and that see inordinate numbers of persons of color in the prison system. Jesus took a stand for economic equality. Lets take a stand against poverty, the cost of oil, the cost of health care, the way American's choose to spend their money, the lack of foreign aid to Africa for the AIDS epidemic. Jesus took a stand for the hungry. Lets take that stand. Jesus took a stand against violence. Lets take a stand against the treatment of detainee's in Gitmo or the war in Iraq. These are ethical stands. Jesus never preached about homosexuality and rarely about sexual ethics. What Jesus said about sexual ethics is important, but Jesus talked a lot more about economics that sex... Why don't we do the same.

We need to raise the level of discourse in the American Baptist Churches, a level of discourse that addresses real issues, like homelessness, poverty and violence among nations and in our homes. Dr. Medley had a chance to do that and failed. I hope and pray that he will try again and next time take an important stand. I firmly believe that if/when churches take stands and offer guidance to families about these issues, they will want to come to our churches.

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