©Wendell Griffen, 2018
Justice Is A Verb!
June 12, 2018
This week the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship convene, separately, for their annual meetings in Dallas, Texas. SBC and CBF constituents will – separately - sing, pray, preach, hold hands, and talk about God’s love for the world. Separately, leaders of both groups will profess commitment to the Great Commission Jesus issued to his followers to make disciples. This week in Dallas, Texas the largest white Baptist bodies in the United States will put on the latest demonstration of their mendacity about love and justice. Both groups will behave as if religious ceremony, religious entertainment, and marketing schemes can undo or make up for systemic, deliberate, and sacralized bigotry, discrimination, and practiced disregard for victims of systemic injustice.
The Southern Baptist Convention meets this week on the heels of revelations about sacralized misogyny in SBC seminaries led by Dr. Paige Patterson. Dr. Patterson has denied treating women and girls unfairly. However, credible evidence that he condoned, enabled, and/or openly endorsed sexist, abusive, and otherwise misogynistic treatment of women as leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary led to his recent dismissal as President of Southwestern.
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 by white Baptists who were determined to permit slave owners to be appointed as foreign missionaries. Southern Baptists sang, preached, prayed, held hands, and talked about God’s love for the world while insisting that owning other humans and treating them like breeding stock was consistent with God’s love and the religion of Jesus. Southern Baptists supported racial segregation. Southern Baptists opposed and criticized the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Southern Baptists continue to deny women opportunities for pastoral leadership. The revelations surrounding Paige Patterson are merely the latest episode in Southern Baptist sacralized bigotry and discrimination perpetrated in the name of the Great Commission of Jesus.
White Baptists displeased with fundamentalism, power politics, and sacralized hostility to women in ministry formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1990. At the Convocation of the Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia on May 9, 1991, Cooperative Baptists adopted a document titled “An Address to the Public,” considered the founding document of that body. Early in that document one finds this sentence: “Being Baptist should ensure that no one is ever excluded who confesses, ‘Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:11).’” Yet in 2000, nine years later, Cooperative Baptists adopted a hiring policy that banned employment of persons who are lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
Two years ago, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched its Illumination Project during its annual meeting at Greensboro, North Carolina. While the Illumination Project was purportedly created to give constituents a process aimed at reaching consensus about contentious issues, one thing was clear from the outset. The Illumination Project was contrived to game dialogue and policy about the discriminatory hiring policy. After an eighteen month period of “listening sessions,” in February of this year the CBF Governing Board replaced the discriminatory hiring policy that totally banned employment of LGBTQ persons with a policy accompanied by an “implementation procedure” which bans married LGBTQ followers of Jesus from employment as mission field personnel and several leadership positions.
I serve as pastor of New Millennium Church, an inter-racial welcoming and affirming congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas that has been affiliated with CBF since its formation in May 2009. Each year since 2009, persons from New Millennium have attended and participated in annual CBF General Assembly gatherings.
However, I and others from New Millennium Church will not attend the 2018 General Assembly in Dallas. We refuse to engage in a charade whereby claims about professed devotion to the Great Commission of Jesus and buzz words such as “big tent” and “denomi-network” are used by CBF to justify excluding married LGBTQ Baptists from mission field and other employment opportunities.
This week, Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists will sing, pray, preach, hold hands, and engage in other ceremonial acts two years after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. They will engage in religious preening three years after the Emmanuel A.M.E. church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. As the residents of Flint, Michigan continue suffering the toxic consequences of the evil that has them purchasing unleaded fuel for automobiles while being poisoned by leaded water, Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists will profess commitment to the Great Commission of Jesus but say and do nothing to demonstrate the compassion of God for them.
SBC constituents are unlikely to confess that the SBC enabled and condoned misogyny and sex discrimination against women. CBF constituents are unlikely to confess CBF bigotry and discrimination against LGBTQ Baptists. Both groups are unlikely to say or do anything prophetic about the fact that unarmed black and brown people are routinely slaughtered by law enforcement agencies. Neither group is likely to say or do anything that approaches being prophetic about the injustice of gentrification. The harms suffered by victims of SBC and CBF bigotry, misogyny, and discrimination will not be confessed, let alone remedied. There is no sign that either group will express disappointment, let alone prophetic outrage, about how the people of Puerto Rico have been mistreated and disserved by the Trump Administration since their lives and communities were devastated last year by Hurricane Maria.
There will be lots of singing, preaching, praying, and hand holding. Meanwhile, victims of sacralized bigotry and discrimination will be ignored, patronized, blamed, and otherwise trivialized. To put it plainly, white Baptist mendacity about love and justice will continue without apology, remorse, or any serious effort to begin repentance.
This week, SBC and CBF constituents will demonstrate separate, albeit common, devotion to their versions of religious empire, while professing love for God, their neighbors, and the creation in a blazing exhibition of sacralized mendacity. Whatever else that audacious sacralized mendacity may be, it isn’t obeying Jesus.