Let me be honest...this is a very alien culture to me. I suspect it will always be, and for once I am not talking about the Rainbow Planet. For better or worse, the *unrequested blessing* grants me some insight into that one.
Let’s see here: They hate us, but they don’t hate us...they actually love us. They hate what is inside each of us, that which we cannot help but to be, but they love us when we try to find ways to not be us—it makes them feel better about us not giving in to being “us”. You see, they claim to be “broken,” too, and if we just did a better job of realizing all that...
Right. I grew up an Episcopalian of the 1970s, and we never cracked open one of those New Testament Bibles.
I covered the recent national conference of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for this magazine. The ERLC, simply put, is the educational and activist wing of the SBC in the public sphere.
I had a good perch for three days watching SBC-affiliated people try to pass along their viewpoints to a mostly young group of church educators. They made me cry on two occasions, and laugh on many more, which is why the so-called “Nashville Statement” was a minor bombshell for me when it dropped. That’s not what I saw at ERLC—not at all.
Nothing about the poorly named “Nashville Statement” leaked during the conference. Evidently the group that crafted it, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, had met quietly the day the conference began and published it a day or two after everyone had left. Perhaps there was a tacit understanding already about the generalities of the forthcoming statement’s content (possible) or perhaps there may have been a decent-sized outcry amongst those younger SBC educators present if that statement had hit the floor before all had left town (more likely).
The Council is ostensibly independent of the SBC, but does have many of the top SBC brass as signatories of their statement. A quick check with the ERLC’s communications department affirms independence from the formal SBC structure.
However, some of the convention’s speakers did publicly acknowledge a reluctance to offer more critical analysis of secular trends from a faith perspective, and not just on LGBTQ+ issues, out of fear that what they say would be taken out of context. They worry about being branded as bigots and subjected to retaliation in the secular world as a result.
It is likely that this group gives the SBC-affiliated signatories an outlet to voice their true opinions, with a fair shot of plausible deniability for their day jobs. Other denominations allow for this too, but they probably do a far better job of separating themselves from an outlier when they choose to.
Either way, the statement does not make any of these folks look good to anyone. Frankly it looks like the beginnings of a sanctified anti-LGBTQ+ program of apartheid—inside their denomination at the very least. Message to SBC leadership from someone who knows about this subject first hand: this doesn't end well for you.
Here’s a spot of good news, if we want to call it that: Some of the presenters in both the main presentations and breakout sessions believe that LGBTQ+ people and the secular world have all but won the culture war. They think that the last election result was a fluke, the courts will continue to rule in favor of LGBTQ+ rights and their viewpoints will be condemned to the dustbin, if not worse. They advocate for a selective retreat from secular schools and culture, and suggest not completely expressing their religious views outside the home.
Now in fairness: the overwhelming majority of the people I am writing about here honestly and truly believe that even contemplating a favorable view of LGBTQ+ topics may place their mortal souls in peril. I am personally dealing with a close relation going through this private hell, and I can assure you that these folks are not making all of this up. I agree that this is their problem and not ours, but I also think that most of us know as LGBTQ+ people what is it like to be genuinely scared.
It looks as if the SBC’s powers-that-be are trying to lock down the denomination’s theology concerning our community and to prepare for the long siege. So why wouldn’t we want them to just go behind their self-made walls and disappear? Their quitting the fight in the secular world would take a massively annoying thorn out of our side at the very least.
Well, for starters, we actually do love them as fellow human beings. They tend to show their true colors when it really counts. Many don’t ask questions when emergencies happen, they just show up and show unconditional love and support for all who hurt. Some of them were there helping after the murders at Pulse. That should be commended and remembered.
More importantly, we need to keep in mind that there are sisters and brothers growing up in that denomination who would be trapped behind those walls without outside support. When we engage the SBC types, we get to show the younger crowd especially that we exist and that there is nothing to fear either from us or from the special blessing inside more than a few of them.
It would make us all feel so, so good to see them run away. But pretty much every one of us down here has had at least one positive experience with this lot. It is the classic “Good German” argument applied to our particular circumstances. The SBC, especially their leadership, makes
it really super easy to hate them sometimes, but we shouldn’t. It is quite obvious the majority are scared of us and are acting accordingly. We don’t mesh with their worldview, and if any group of people could use the “love bomb” approach from our side, it’s them.
Apartheid ended in South Africa mostly because the world held up a giant mirror for the white Protestant Christian Afrikaners to see themselves in, and it wasn’t a good look. Their kids changed and dragged many of the parents along. If we take the same approach with the SBC, I bet the same result will happen.
Boycotts don’t work, shame does. Many of the younger SBC types are ashamed of their denomination’s position on LGBTQ+ people and would be willing to find a way out of this mess. A complete disengagement from younger Southern Baptist adults especially will only play into the hands of those who signed that bigoted statement.
Can they change? Odds are they can, and they’ve done it before. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m willing to bet 10-25 years out that we may see the same type of conference the SBC will hold this spring to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King applied to our community. Only they can change how they interpret that book of theirs, but stranger things have happened and I’m old enough to have seen some of this.
Ask yourself an important question: Can you imagine what could be done if we could bring this group of mostly decent people over to our side? We’re looking for the next Kings and Bonhoffers in this bunch, not the next bigots. Those are far too easy to find.
We’re looking for the ones who ask us to be brave and to have faith that we are truly blessed and not cursed. The ones who challenge and encourage us to be better human beings no matter our personal failings. The ones who raise us up when all we want to do is give up. The ones who will not hesitate to defend us no matter their conviction...who would willingly have taken a bullet for any of us at Pulse.
They’re out there. Let’s find them.
The print edition of this column contains an error. A paragraph that says the ERLC is independent of the Southern Baptist Convention is wrong. The ERLC is a commission of the SBC and part of its formal structure, while the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is an independent organization and not formally part of the SBC. Out & About Nashville magazine regrets the error.
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local 40-something trans woman. A graduate of The University of the South at Sewanee, she loves butterflies, strong women and the Austrian School of Economics. Photos: Kelly Hunter and ERLC