|photo by Drama Queen / flickr|
(If you think I am over-doing this gay emphasis--let me render this disclosure. First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina--historic--the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention--has taken a courageous step of saying that every member of their church has full rights and privileges. There are no second-class members. The Greenville News published a huge first page article on the church's action a few days ago. Some nasty Letters to the Editor followed in that newspaper and the South Carolina Baptist Convention has asked the church to rescind this policy or face expulsion from the State Convention. Funny--the Baptist Convention has forgotten its long and historic heritage. No group comes into a local Baptist Church and interferes with their policy or direction. Of course the last few years we have seen this change dramatically in many quarters. So--I write often for The Greenville News and this article will appear (hopefully) in that paper to say there are a whole lot of us out there standing with our brothers and sisters in Greenville. What follows is what I wrote to the paper and the community.)
The year must have been 1994. I was Pastor in Birmingham. It was a time when the AIDS epidemic was raging. One of our counselor-members came with a question. “I have a woman I’m talking to who has a son who is HIV positive. He lives in California and is too sick to work. He is coming home to live with his mother and she doesn’t think her church will accept him. Would our church take them?” I told her I would hope our church would receive them. The mother came by and decided to join our church. Weeks later her son, Kevin arrived from California. He was angry. He wanted to be back home. He wanted to be working. He wanted not to be sick. He knew his life was slipping away. One Sunday he came to church. It was obvious he was very sick.
It was a scary time for many folk. People did not know if you could catch this disease. Many did not want to be around anyone with AIDS. But there was sick Kevin sitting there with a few people looking at him warily. One Sunday he walked down the aisle and joined the church and and became a member of one of our Sunday School classes. He and his mother became part of our church family. Months later when he was not able to get out of bed his Sunday School class visited him and served him communion. It was the last food Kevin would take by mouth. He died the next day.
At the funeral some members of the gay community were in attendance. And when they looked around some muttered, “This is a Baptist Church?” A few started coming on Sunday and some joined. A few of our members were skittish. Two or three came by my office and asked, “What are you going to do about these people?” “ They said: “I do not want to be part of a gay church!” My response. As Pastor I would turn no one away. We were going to continue to open the doors as we always did . We would take whomever came. I told them I just wanted to be Pastor of a Church with a big ‘C’. Some of those folk left.
That was 20 years ago. If you visited some Sunday you would find a very diverse people. Some Gay folk sing in the choir, some hold important offices, others teach in the Sunday School. But you would also see some people from other countries, African-Americans and a cadre of Mentally challenged adults.The people in Birmingham know this church is open to everyone. The Pastor who followed me told a story recently about a woman who came to her and said she wanted her baptism back. Strange request. The woman told this Pastor that the minister of her home church learned she was gay. He called her up and told her the church was rescinding her baptism. So she asked this Minister if she could have her baptism back.
As I read in this paper weeks ago about First Baptist Church’s decision to open its doors to everyone I remembered Kevin and his mother. I remembered how how scared some of the people were. We got a few letters and phone calls rom irate people in the community. But I remembered how our congregation, without ever voting, just kept the church doors wide open. They asked me back to preach some time after I had left.They made one request. Would you tell us what you were most proud of when you look back at your ministry here. We had built a beautiful sanctuary. The church had grown considerably. I wondered what I would say? That Sunday morning I said the thing I was proudest of was that when the gay issue came down our aisle wearing very human—faces they kept their integrity. And so I applaud First Baptist Church in Greenville for I believe in a hard time,facing a most controversial issue, they have kept their integrity.
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com