A Strategy For How To Learn Acceptance Without Sacrificing Religious Doctrine
If you are a teen, you are in one of the highest risk groups for suicide. An LGBTQ teen has three times a higher suicide risk rate. If you are a teen that grew up in a religiously conservative family, you are in a group that is eight times higher than that for suicide. This is the product of the constant attack on the LGBTQ community by religious conservatives. While there has been some progress for some denominations, it has not been equal in distribution of tolerance. Through looking at Southern Baptists, we can see where faiths have evolved and what still needs to be done.
The Southern Baptist denomination is one of the least tolerant of the LGBTQ community. With less than 35%, it ranks as the third least tolerant Christian denomination, behind Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. With over 16 million members concentrated in rural and Southern areas of the United States, it becomes a significant influencer of local culture and a stronger organizer of political action.
This comes in contrast to the change that Christian denominations, on the whole, are going through in their interactions with the LGBTQ. Every single faith has had an increased positive attitude toward gay marriage. These numbers are even higher for millennials, with over forty-two percent of millennial evangelicals saying they now support same-sex marriage. There is a shifting change in perception and attitude to LGBTQ community and issues.
This has led to a general shift in tone of Christian denominations. Pope Francis has argued that even if homosexuality is a sin he still would love them. With over seventy percent of Americans knowing someone who is gay, it is like demonizing a whole segment of the population. Some experts have seen the prominence of gay and lesbian characters on television and in pop culture in general as a way of humanizing and providing a different perspective than portrayals within their religious communities.
However, for Southern Baptists, there is a unique distinction. In areas concentrated with Southern Baptists, they are the dominant cultural force. Other institutions reinforce objections to homosexuality. The conflict of Alexander County, North Carolina, and Mitchell Gold is just one example of the pervasive nature of Southern Baptists. Mitchell Gold, the CEO of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, one of the largest employers in the county, is a proponent of LGBTQ rights. Even though he is seen as a benevolent figure in the community, he is also seen as someone who is pushing a “gay agenda” and hurting the religious rights of the community of Southern Baptists that he resides in. Even people who support Gold say “I will always stand for my Christianity. My faith in God comes first. Beyond everything.”
This is a fundamental element of the difference regarding exposure. Because of the cultural influence of Southern Baptists in rural communities, the exposure to LGBTQ figures is somewhat one-sided. This is not a universal truth. The First Baptist Church of Christ in Georgia city allows same-sex marriage. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group of churches which has broken away from the Southern Baptist Convention, has direct support for LGBTQ individuals.
While these cases are not happening as frequently as other denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming increasingly exhausted with the cultural wars. Southern Baptist Convention leaders have met with gay rights leaders. They ended their multi-year boycott of Disney in 2005 for their support for LGBTQ employees. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist head of public policy, put out a public statement asking members not to attack individuals but to forgive sinners, “This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing…It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ.” Some have linked the decrease in Southern Baptist membership to their staunch opposition to the LGBTQ community.
This was a similar shift that occurred in Southern Baptists over interracial marriage. Ignoring verses that each person is created in God’s image, interracial marriage was not allowed until after the Civil Rights Movement. And it was a slow process. There were even churches in the 2000s that refused to recognize interracial marriages.
This is the nature of cultural change. It is a slow shift, and that does occur in a linear process. It is a series of actions and reactions. The momentum of rights requires constant resistance on the part of disenfranchised groups that they have to overcome new instances of oppression or how to educate a population that has been dealing with a skewed understanding.
Southern Baptists have been able to become less interested in LGBTQ affairs by using the rhetoric of “moral exceptionalism.” The principle is defined as an inward focus on following religious dogma rather than trying to impress it upon a greater society. By creating a dichotomy between the religion and society, it allows a separate lens to be used by Southern Baptists.
And this may be the strategy for how Christian denominations will become increasingly tolerant of the LGBTQ community. “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” This probably will not resonate well with the more significant society, because this seems like a false separation. One’s sexual orientation is deeply tied to one’s identity. But it may be the only way that a conservative group can enter into a liberal society. If the larger community tries to impose their will on a smaller group you always get backlash. We are seeing that now with groups working to rollback state’s rights for gay adoption or marriage, promoting religious freedom as carte blanche for discriminatory behavior, or electing officials to have ultra-conservative judges who will rule for a strictly legalistic interpretation of Biblical law in the court system.
While there is a shift in attitude, it is essential to be respectful of the beliefs of others. If a change of power leads to changing the power dynamic, you get the same result. A group on the top of the social strata moves to the bottom. That is not a liberal society. Liberalism is not a game of musical chairs for oppression. It is an elimination of intolerance, without prejudice. The ethical standard should be that of Rawlsian justice: that we should think of behavior not based on who is affected by how anyone would be affected.
Southern Baptists do not deserve to be isolated, nor should they be allowed to discriminate against another group. Through a mutual understanding and community building will sustained change come about.