On a warm Sunday in December, in a closed-door special business meeting, the congregants and elected deacons of Broadway Baptist Church staved off potential controversy by delaying a decision about publishing “family pictures” in a church directory. Broadway Baptist boasts an immense building for its 1,500 members.
On any given day, the church bustles with activity as it hosts community meetings and stretches a hand to some of Fort Worth’s hardest-to-reach communities.
On the church’s web site, Broadway Baptist Senior Pastor Brett Younger stated, “When a business puts together a directory, nobody worries about what statement they’re going to make” – but that it’s different for a church. While that’s true, the issue currently getting blown out of proportion is whether gay congregants who are partners should be pictured together. And apparently everyone is worried about what statement picturing the gay members, either separately or together, might make.
My house of worship, the Jewish Beth-El Congregation, used to share a block with Broadway Baptist. When fire damaged Beth-El in 1946, congregants were welcomed into Broadway Baptist for Shabbat services for two years, until reconstruction was completed.
While Beth-El Congregation moved to the more residential Hulen area, Broadway Baptist stayed put. Their rationale, according to the web site, was that Broadway would continue to serve “the down and out” of the inner city, as opposed to “the up and coming” of the Fort Worth suburbs. This is the church that each week welcomes the homeless for dinners, not one that shies away from thorny issues.
My first thought (and I’m ashamed I had it) was “Are there really gay Baptists in Fort Worth?” Not to offend my friends who are Baptist, but doesn’t it seem that the term “gay Baptist” might be a little of an oxymoron? If I were a gay Christian, I doubt I’d choose the Baptist church. While Baptists purport not to hate gays, many Baptists – like members of other conservative denominations – compare “homosexual behavior” to the sins of adultery, robbery, or murder.
It’s a shame that many Christians condemn homosexual people based on one chapter in the Torah, or Old Testament. The Book of Leviticus is filled with Moses’ instructions to the Jews, who had left slavery in Egypt, before they reached the Promised Land, and Chapter 18 has some specific words about men “lying” with men. While the message of the chapter appears clear, it isn’t. There is a ton of Jewish disagreement about what those words mean. And it must be taken in context: Moses was writing specifically about the practices of pagans in surrounding areas – pagans who also practiced polygamy, child sacrifice, idol worship, and other things that were abominations to the God of the Jews. Is the message relevant in the context of two grown-ups in a committed relationship?
To further muddy the waters, many Christians appear to have rejected much of the “holiness” instruction in Leviticus while keeping the particular chapter condemning homosexuality. I am sure there are good reasons why it’s acceptable for a Christian not to keep kosher (Chapter 11) or wear clothing of mixed materials (Chapter 19). In their New Testament, Christians are apparently relieved of the duty of observing much of Jewish ritual. That includes circumcision, the mixing of meat and milk, and the strange prohibition against weaving two kinds of fibers together. Apparently the new rules didn’t remove the condemnation of gay men and women.
Some Broadway Baptist members believed that it would not be an issue for gay congregants to be pictured separately. That’s kind of like Beth-El publishing a directory and not including my non-Jewish spouse. I fell in love with someone who was different from me. Some Jews would condemn my decision. A rabbi in Olympia, Wash., actually refused to marry us. But I am pleased that I found a faith home that accepts both me and my Christmas-loving husband.
Reform Jews have struggled long and hard with the decision to accept the idea that people cannot help whom they love. A 50 percent intermarriage rate probably had something to do with that. But in some Jewish congregations, the idea of publishing a directory with interfaith couples’ pictures would bring as much controversy as the decision facing Broadway Baptist.
It would be a shame if this issue were to divide the Broadway Baptist congregation. This church’s 30 different “missions” include an AIDS care team, a food pantry, outreach to a low-income school in their neighborhood, and a weekly community dinner that feeds most homeless people in Fort Worth. While many congregations talk about doing the work of the Rabbi of Nazareth, this congregation just does it.
But then, it’s really none of my business. It’s the business of Broadway Baptist’s members. If their congregants have a problem with the decision, I am sure they will vote with their feet. Let’s just hope that the issue doesn’t entice radicals on both sides of the gay Christianity issue into ugliness and vitriol.
Laurie Barker James is a local freelance writer.