Southern Baptists draw distance from harsh anti-gay rhetoric, yet hold to convictions
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Anti-gay sermonizing by several independent Baptist pastors has stirred a backlash of death threats, calls for criminal prosecution and planned public protests.
In question are sermons and comments posted to YouTube and Facebook promoting the genocide, punishment or prosecution of gays or suspected gays. The posts have gone viral on the Internet.
Among them are anti-gay comments by pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., advocating the genocide of gays by enclosing them behind electrified fencing until they "die out" from the inability to reproduce.
Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., has apologized after he encouraged parents to "punch" and "crack that wrist" of their sons and daughters if they exhibit suspected gay behavior.
Pastor Ron Baity of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., lamented in a recent sermon that the U.S. no longer prosecutes gays (his May 6 sermons can be viewed at www.wpipbereanradio.org/video_sermons/va.html). Conversely, a Washington watchdog group is calling for the criminal prosecution of pastor Ronnie Spriggs of Hager Hill Freewill Baptist Church in Kentucky after he preached a sermon telling congregants not to vote for President Obama.
State Rep. Andy Gipson, R.-Miss., is defending himself against death threats at his home after he posted on his Facebook page the Leviticus 20:13 law calling for the death of those engaging in homosexual sex.
None of the pastors are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention; only Gipson is a member of a Southern Baptist church in Magee, Miss., and a bivocational minister.
Homosexuality is in the news as President Obama and the NAACP have gone on record as supporting gay marriage after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning such unions.
Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, said the SBC is strongly opposed to gay marriage and it encourages Christians "to speak biblically and authoritatively on the many moral, ethical and political issues that polarize our nation, but to do so with kindness and gentleness."
The SBC is on record as opposing polarizing speech, Oldham said, referring to a resolution "On Civil Public Discourse" adopted during the SBC's 2011 meeting in Phoenix (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=12166).
"While we are deeply distressed at the president's endorsement of same-sex marriage, I believe it is fair to say that the vast majority of Southern Baptists would urge these pastors and all Christians to state their convictions with redemptive grace."
Oldham reiterated that the churches led by Worley and Harris are not affiliated with the SBC.
"The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee had no knowledge of these churches' existence until the news stories of the past several weeks were released," Oldham said. "As independent Baptist churches, they are likely not aligned with any Baptist convention in the nation."
Several Southern Baptists in leadership roles, meanwhile, have set forth their opposition to same-sex marriage and the support for such unions by President Obama and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Dwight McKissic Sr., pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, told church members in a May 20 sermon, "America needs to understand and weigh the full ramifications and gravity" of this year's election. McKissic cited beliefs in Mormon scriptures that he said are foundational to the religion of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and that cause concern among African Americans, while strongly voicing his disagreement with Obama on same-sex marriage.
"The very foundation, fabric, future and the definition of the family -- as we know it -- is at stake" in the election, McKissic said. (The full sermon is available on Cornerstone's website, http://www.cbcarlington.org/482949.ihtml.)
In a Baptist Press column, pastor Eric Redmond of Reformation Alive Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., exhorted Obama supporters to refrain from voting for the president unless he changes his homosexual marriage stance.
"It is the Bible that reveals marriage to be a union between a man and a woman; it is the Bible that reveals all homosexual activity to be sinful," Redmond, a former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in the form of an open letter to the president. "Therefore we would reject your so-called Christian understanding of same-sex marriage as uninformed and false."
Craig Mitchell, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, responded to the NAACP's support of same-sex marriage by contending that the group has strayed from its roots.
"Why didn't the NAACP stick to its original purpose of dealing with racial injustice?" Mitchell wrote in a column. "It is tragic that today this once great organization is now embracing the kind of immorality that it once sought to defeat. To trade one kind of immorality for another is simply hypocrisy."
Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, said pastors in particular should not be afraid to speak biblically from the pulpit without fear of reprisal, even when their opinion is contrary to that of President Obama.
"The fact that the pastor may be responding to a comment from the president doesn't make the biblical comments off-limits," Stanley said.
The ADF campaigns against U.S. law that prohibits pastors from using the pulpit to oppose political candidates.
"At ADF, we believe that restriction is unconstitutional," Stanley said. "Our point is that we should let the pastors and the churches of America debate what is wrong or right."
Stanley encouraged pastors to participate in the ADF's annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, which encourages a pastor to speak freely, guaranteeing free legal representation in response to any reprisals. In four years of observance no legal action has been taken against any participating pastor, Stanley said. This year's observance is Oct. 7.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer.