A casual crucifixion: I never gave a shite about being a Baptist until someone else decided I couldn’t be.
Let me preface what follows by saying that to anyone who is reading this and has a poor impression of (or just doesn’t care about) Christianity, the Church etc, this is (largely) likely to just reinforce that view — and potentially you may not want to waste your time reading this. I suppose I write this primarily towards people who I have shared faith spaces with. At the same time, I feel as cheesed off with those people as you might, so you’re also welcome to read on and then hit me up to grab a beer and complain about Christians. We can be a thoroughly shitty bunch.
I still identify myself as part of the Christian story/tradition. I still see the value in what the Church ought to be. And Jesus remains my model for being human in the way God intends, BUT increasingly I feel like I’m trying to promote renewable energy while wearing the uniform of the big polluters. That’s what it can feel like when you have experienced a more beautiful, robust, ecumenical way of faith….and yet your tribe and tradition carries so much baggage you have to constantly question whether or not there’s any point trying anymore.
Christianity is the story I’ve grown up with to help me understand the divine. And Baptist is the flavour of Christianity I’ve experienced throughout my life. You might have a different flavour and/or story. And I don’t want you to change that. I’m no longer interested in scribbling my story over the top of yours. At the same time, I don’t really feel like I have the option to scribble over the top of mine. I suppose it’s a little bit like English to me. It’s the only language I can speak. If I tried to learn a different language at this point in time, it might be admirable and worthwhile — but I’m also never going to be more fluent than I am in English. Might as well do the best I can with the language I learned to speak my first words in, right? All the same, there’s no excuse to stop expanding my vocabulary or finding ways to get creative with the language I have (particularly as someone who earns my bucks from writing and talking).
Yesterday, the Baptist Association of NSW & ACT hammered the final nail in the coffin (or crucifix) they started to prepare a couple years ago — to kick out churches and pastors with LGBTQI+ affirming theology. It was a lengthy process because Baptists are theoretically democratic. The beauty of democracy is that it aims to represent a diversity of voices. The downfall of democracy is a majority with a position fuelled by fear and prejudice can hijack the system to trample a minority they feel threatened by. Note: that trend ain’t exclusively owned by religious people. But if you can fuel the flames of fear through a well organised network of people, religious or otherwise, you can start a wildfire fairly easily. (If you can’t identify a handful of examples of this from the last couple years on planet earth, you haven’t been paying attention.)
Long story short (or maybe more accurately, long story medium, as I recognise the growing word count here) until yesterday part of being Baptist essentially meant ‘local churches have autonomy to figure out their beliefs and values’. A Baptist attitude has always been characterised along the lines of, “You can’t tell us what to believe from the top down! We figure that stuff out, together in our local church!” The Association (technically not even a ‘denomination’) is comprised of churches that may have divergent approaches at the local level, but choose to associate together in a wider context for the common good. Well, that was apparently the story, until now.
I suppose I always knew there were fundamentalists and legalists in this tribe and I would have always had plenty to vigorously disagree with them about, but I generally found value in the concept of prioritising common ground over points of difference.
Well, turns out there were more fundamentalists than I would have guessed, and they worked strategically and unyieldingly to make it clear: divergent thinking is not welcome here. Theological imagination is forbidden here. Baptist distinctive are held loosely here.
Initially they piled into a poorly disguised Trojan horse using fairly convoluted language around ‘values, affiliation and beliefs’. But it was pretty clear the whole time they only had one bee in their bonnet:
How dare people with the same genitals get married?! How dare they try to live out life-long, faithful, covenantal relationships?! How dare they seek to create stable homes and support each other through thick and thin and in sickness and in health! How dare they raise families? And how dare they try to come to church and get involved and offer their loving service to our communities??? Haven’t they read the Bible and come to the obviously clear conclusion that following Jesus literally just means heterosexual marriage? That was the main focus of his teaching…right?
Ok. I’m being facetious. Some might even say I’m being divisive? But then again, I wasn’t the one who suggested kicking anyone out. And yet, my church, technically birthed within this ‘movement’ will indeed be kicked out.
Yep. A couple years ago, within this very Association I started a church for ‘spiritual misfits’. For those with the taste of bad religion still on their tongues. For those with spiritual and religious trauma. For those with mental and physical health challenges that make attending the local mainstream church a near impossible hurdle. And yes, 100% — for my dear, queer siblings who somehow still manage to see the love of Christ through this all this shite. Part of the reason I did this WITHIN this ‘movement’ is because I believed there was value in demonstrating the diversity of ways faith communities can look. I wanted to show a different way. I wanted to advocate in two directions. To my fellow churches: ‘look at all these beautiful people you have kept out’. And to those who only associate church with judgment: ‘it doesn’t have to be that way. The Church can be life-giving.’ It’s hard not to feel futility in both directions today.
At the end of the day, our community is a taste of heaven on earth and it is not going anywhere, and it does not depend on the approval of the Association. I’m for the misfits. I’m for the fringe-dwellers. I’m only filled with more resolve for our community and ones like it that will inevitably emerge in the years to come. In fact, it feels like one of the most important things I can do at this point is to aid in the establishment of more faith spaces that nurture critical thinking, a genuine welcome and space for the potential healing of these wounded and bleeding victims of another religious war they got caught in the cross-hairs of. I sometimes feel like our church is a sick-bay, that only exists because all these other churches are causing so much harm.
Yesterday, I watched 60% (a troublingly small majority for splitting an association of churches over) of Baptists in this tribe casually crucify a minority of churches and pastors with a different view.
Like I said at the beginning, Christianity is kind of my language, so I can’t help but think in religious imagery. You may think I’m being over the top. But cruficixion feels appropriate. They wielded all the power at their disposal to give a callous middle finger to all of God’s LGBTQI+ children in these churches and anyone who advocates for them. And they didn’t show an ounce of pastoral sensitivity or remorse in the process. Honestly, I see in them the same religious impulse that would nail an unconventional Jewish rabbi to a cross for his teachings on inclusion. I see the same impulse that burns heretics at the stake; the same impulse that starts holy crusades. Sure, their mechanism is more bureaucratic, but put these same attitudes of small-minded fear and self-righteousness in a historical context where you pick up swords or nails or torches instead of documents and constitutions and you tell me what happens. They will argue they are just keeping step with 2,000 years of orthodox Christianity. But dang, seems like crucifying your enemies in the name of the crucified Christ is unfortunately orthodox.
Damn Will, you’re not mincing words here!
Guess not. I mean, what are they going to do…kick me out?
I am more convinced than ever about the beauty of faith and spirituality, as taught by Jesus, the original spiritual misfit who literally spent his life dodging and debating fundamentalists until they crucified him, and he prayed for their forgiveness, then rose from the dead three days later in the ultimate burn: “Yeah? What else you going to try? You can crucify love, but you can’t kill it.”
So Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. And give me the strength to do the same (through gritted teeth).
I believe love wins and I believe Jesus is good news and I am going to keep speaking the faith language I’ve spent a life learning. BUT, I’m not leaving quietly. If you’re going to kick me out, and pastors and churches that think like me, as well as all the would-be pastors and churches that actually want to create safe and inclusive communities. Then you’re going to have to listen to us leave loud. Yep. I’m not going quietly. And I’m going to do my piece to communicate clearly that this wasn’t a split over same-sex marriage. It was a split over fundamentalism and fear. They have sadly taken root deeply in this space. LGBTQI+ friends — hear me very clearly, you are not the reason for this split. You are welcome at God’s table, even if this particular table has become unsafe and unwelcoming for you. The table is a central metaphor of welcome in the Christian language. But when tables were misused Jesus didn’t mind turning them.