When Policy Undermines Solidarity – A Call to End Homophobia Within the CBF

Dear CBF Leadership,

On June 12th, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) issued a statement in regards to the Orlando shooting massacre, saying, “We join with the City of Orlando and especially the families of victims in sincere prayer and acts of support in the aftermath of this violent and senseless massacre.  It is truly beyond reason. Precious lives have been ended and more than 100 families are today horrified by death and injury. We come together for their consolation and to stand with law enforcement and other faith leaders in strengthening the bonds of community.”

 I believe the intent behind this statement was genuine and it was indeed a compassionate message of solidarity to the Orlando community.  Yet as an openly gay, Baptist minister, I find the statement shallow and hypocritical in regards to the CBF’s current policies.  The CBF explicitly denies homosexuals employment based solely on their innate sexuality.  The policy also states that the CBF, “does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice.”  I ask you to consider how difficult it is for a LGBT person to accept your statement of solidarity when your policies, prior to this massacre, would have denied every one of the forty nine people murdered employment because they were gay or lesbian.   These policies are homophobic and have been since the day they were created.  They stand in stark contrast to any form of solidarity with the LGBT community.

 I write this letter out of a love that is covered in deep spiritual scars.  Like so many other LGBT folk who were raised in the church, I’ve struggled to truly love myself despite the homophobic theology I was indoctrinated with growing up.  Now as a Baptist minister myself, I see clearly the work that still must be done to eradicate the CBF of any remaining vestiges of homophobia that prohibit it from fully realizing the radically inclusive love of Jesus Christ for all people.  We can’t say one thing but then have our policies reflect something completely different.  If we do, then we’re guilty of hypocrisy and that is something I don’t want for the CBF.  It is because I love you that I raise this issue once more.

For years I’ve encouraged CBF leadership to affirm and include LGBT folk in your hiring policies but I’ve been repeatedly placated with individual off-the-record statements of LGBT support that never manifest into real policy change.  I was very discouraged when the CBF held a workshop at last year’s general assembly to discuss the LGBT issue but didn’t include any voices of gay or lesbian clergy.  Instead, two heterosexual ministers discussed the biblical reasoning behind including or excluding LGBT folk in faith communities as we sat right there in front of them.  I ask you out of love to consider how humiliating and dehumanizing that is to your fellow LGBT brothers or sisters.  We’re not even given the dignity to be able to speak for ourselves when the topic of our exclusion or inclusion in faith communities is discussed. 

With all due respect, the times of letting the LGBT issue simmer on the back burner are over.  I believe the CBF is at a spiritual crossroads in terms of your policy and your leadership on the LGBT issue.  God has given us the redemptive choice to correct our course in the name of Christ’s love by removing homophobic policies and encouraging the full inclusion of LGBT folk in CBF churches.  I’m well aware that Baptist churches are autonomous and that the CBF doesn’t seek to interfere with individual church policy but we can agree that leadership brings with it the responsibility to lead by example.  That is what I’m asking you to do today.  Lead by Jesus’ example and truly take a stand for your LGBT brothers and sisters at this time in history.

Your brother in Christ,

Rev. Gator Blanchard

Your policy I have referenced above is listed below:

As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness. We also believe in the love and grace of God for all people, both of those who live by this understanding of the biblical standard and those who do not. We treasure the freedom of individual conscience and the autonomy of the local church, and we also believe that congregational leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character.

Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.  

The Power of Love

Yesterday I had the honor of officiating the marriage of two wonderful women.  Each had children from previous relationships and they came together to celebrate this blessed union.  I realized that more and more people are understanding that regardless of one’s sexuality, the sanctity of love between two committed individuals is worthy of deep respect and gratitude.  Our world is slowly changing and although we are not “there” yet, we are certainly further than we’ve ever been and for that I thank G-d.  Love has the power to change this world one person at a time and I’m so blessed to be able to witness that during moments like this.

Nakita Wedding

The Supreme Court & Gay Marriage

Three Blocks to the Promised Land

 

Have you ever held the hand of your spouse in public before?    Until April 28th I hadn’t.  It wasn’t because I dislike public displays of affection nor was it because I never wanted to.  It was simply because up until that day I have never felt safe enough to do so.  You see, my spouse and I are two of the plaintiffs in the recent Supreme Court case for Marriage Equality.  Being from the South, I know the violent consequences of same-sex couples simply holding hands.  For our safety, we and many other same-sex couples learned earlier on in life to hide any indication that we are couples while in public. Yet the morning of April 28th was different because we felt equal and had sense of dignity for who God had created us to be.  It was an experience I can’t put into words except to say it was a sacred moment.

For three blocks on our walk up to the Supreme Court with the other plaintiffs I held the hand of my spouse in world that was changing before our eyes.  We held our heads high, smiling from ear to ear and it felt incredible!  Approaching the court, we could see crowds of marriage equality supporters applauding and cheering for all of us.  I’d never experienced being affirmed like that and I could see the reflection of God in the faces of the LGBT folk and allies lining the sidewalk.  Some of them cried and patted our shoulders.  As we entered the courthouse, each of those precious brothers and sisters were with us in spirit, their hopes, their dreams, and their faith intertwined with ours in this historic case for civil rights.

Waiting with the other plaintiffs to be led into the courtroom, I felt God’s comforting presence as a kind African American bailiff around seventy years old greeted us.  He was in charge of taking folk into the court and seating them.  I asked him his name and he smiled and said, “Moses.”  Some will say that was a mere coincidence but not us.  It was one more reminder that we weren’t alone.  Our loving God had delivered us to the very place that had the legal authority to help create a promised land of equality in these United States of America.  Egypt was behind us and weren’t going back.

Moses escorted us all into the courtroom.  We stood as the Supreme Court justices entered.  It was a surreal moment seeing those larger-than-life individuals sitting right in front you, each looking very serious in their black robe.  We sat through the hearing for Question 1 on licensure , listening to attorneys argue for and against our rights as some of the justices questioned the validity of our request for marriage equality.  For ninety minutes we heard other people discussing whether our love was in essence, equal to that of heterosexual couples, and therefore worthy of the same 1,400 rights and benefits that marriage brings.  It was difficult to sit there and say nothing when your life was being discussed by folk, who for the most part, had never experienced what it’s like to be homosexual in homophobic world.

When court hearing was adjourned, I knew in my heart we’d won the argument.   Gathering with all the other plaintiffs, we walked out into the sunlight. The crowds of supporters erupted with overwhelming applause.  The floodwall that had held back my churning emotions broke loose and I began to cry.  Making our way onto the plaza below I heard an angry set of voices screaming, “You’re all going to hell you fags!”  I glanced over to see a man gripping a bible in one hand and a bullhorn in the other, surrounded by angry people shouting obscenities.  As they continued to yell epithets at us, I felt the old wounds of homophobia begin to throb in my heart but then something happened.  Like the Red Sea parting thousands of years ago, the power of God’s inclusive love broke forth making a way as the thousands of supporters began chanting soft at first but then louder, louder, and louder saying, “Love will win!”, “Love will win!”, “Love will win!”  Their chants completely drowned out the hate and lifted our hearts above the pain so that we could know at last what equality felt like.

Coming back to Kentucky was bittersweet.  It’s hard returning to place where you’re still not equal and feel unsafe holding the hand of your spouse in public.  This is the current reality for LGBT folk but like the old spiritual says, “I’m so glad trouble don’t last always.”  God is surely bringing equality but as wait and pray, Dominique and I will forever remember how incredible it felt holding each other’s hand as we walked the three blocks to the Promised Land.  Have faith brothers and sisters, love will win! Amen

2015-04-27 14.15.01

Wedding of Sarah and Kristy

This past Monday I was deeply honored to officiate the wedding of a very special couple.  Sarah Peacock and Kristy Sturgill were brave enough to participate in the Journey of Faith for Marriage Equality which began with their applying for a marriage license at the local country clerk’s office.  After being denied, the couple spoke to the media about why marriage was important to them and why they were willing to travel on a bus to Illinois to be legally married.  Their comments were so genuine and true that often, the reporters found it hard to not to tear up as they listened.

The bus ride down through Kentucky to Illinois was filled with anticipation and focused determination.  I made final edits to Sarah and Kristy’s wedding liturgy and spoke with them about how important this marriage was going to be to the thousands of same-sex couples who were still denied the civil right to marriage in their home state of Kentucky.  These two women were making history and I knew G-D was leading us in every step.  The event was so powerful that I found myself having trouble taking it all in and being able to appreciate the moments that were passing me by like the landscape out the bus window.

The marriage took place in a small park in Metropolis, Illinois under the most beautiful sky you could imagine.  Immediately afterward, we all entered the Massac County Courthouse and turned in the marriage license.  The clerk then gave Sarah and Kristy their legal marriage certificate.  The celebration began and we didn’t stop until the bus rolled back into Louisville some 3 1/2 hours later.  The depressing fact was that crossing that river back into Kentucky brought with it the fact that gay couples had absolutely no rights to marriage in their home state.  Yet we keep on fighting.

Hope is the shadow of love, cast by the light of G-D that never sets.  We put all of our hope in the love that refuses to accept inequality, discrimination, and bigotry.  Times are changing and we are so ready.