Saturday, July 11, 2015

Appeal for UNITY amidst the Christian and gay divide
by Brenda McWilliams

Long before the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, the debate regarding the religious or moral “rightness” of same-sex intimacy was at fever pitch. The Court ruling, far from settling the issue and “putting it to bed” (pardon the pun) has, in many ways, added fuel to the fire, and the temperature continues to rise.

First, let me be straight regarding who I am. I am an out, gay, Christian woman in a fourteen-year covenant relationship with another Christian woman. We worshiped together for many years at the First Baptist Church of Tyler, TX. I believe First Baptist would be considered a fairly conservative Baptist church affiliated with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I will not go into the details of my years of struggle coming to accept my sexual orientation and the journey, with God’s grace, toward reconciliation of who I am and my Baptist faith and beliefs. When asked how I reconcile being Christian and gay, the short answer is that I am a child of God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and a woman who happens to have a same-sex orientation. However, my story and struggle is not the point of my writing today.

I write today because I am saddened and heartbroken, and to pose a question: What are we doing? What are we doing to our Christian brothers and sisters, to our churches, and, perhaps most importantly, to our witness to the world of the all-inclusive love and grace of Jesus Christ? Perhaps that is a question we should ask ourselves daily and not just in regard to current issues of sexual orientation and our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks.

Here’s the source of my heartache and sorrow. More and more regarding the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, I see battle lines being drawn, troops being mustered, and “war” strategies taking shape. I see the flourishing of a “them vs. us” mentality and thinking. I recall reading the call to arms by Matthew Vines, founder of the Reformation Project, to “eradicate homophobia through the preaching and teaching of the Bible.” (ABPNews, 9/13/2013) That was almost two years ago! Now, eradication of homophobia would be a good thing, a very good thing; however, I don’t know that it will happen through the preaching and teaching of the Bible. After all, did decades, perhaps centuries, of Bible teaching and preaching eradicate homosexuality? Go figure on that one!

Then there is the NALT – Not All Like That – Christians Project, launched in 2013 “to give LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world—and especially to young gay people—their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender” ( I am in agreement that it would be a good thing for LGBT-affirming Christians to be more vocal, to speak up and share their convictions in their congregations, Bible study groups, at work, at school, wherever they might be, in any circumstance and, particularly, in response to something hurtful or derogatory that has been said or done. Both The Reformation Project and the NALT Project are great, and they have done and continue to do good work. Yet, the fire still rages and the temperature still rises.

If we want to truly talk about and strive toward “reformation,” let’s talk about relationships. Let’s sit with one another and share our stories, our faith journeys, our soul yearnings, and see and come to know the Christ within – within ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how true soul formation and reformation occurs.

What hinders us from sharing our stories? Could it be the “other?” How do we perceive, approach, behave toward, and relate to people whom we believe to be different from who we perceive ourselves to be? How do we get to know the "other?" Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different? If we answer "Yes" to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that we start sharing our stories, our heartfelt convictions, and listening to one another as opposed to entering battle heralding our proclamations and unfurling our regimental flags.

I sometimes wonder in this gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, if both “armies” are more focused on attempting to change, convert, and convince the “other” side than on loving one another and fostering unity in the body. Again, I would ask a question: With regard to this issue, what is our desire? Is our desire to be “right,” or is our desire to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness to the abounding love of God through Christ?

I am reminded here of Paul’s urgings to the Ephesians “. . . to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6; emphasis is mine)

I see the division among Christians on the gay issue, and I am saddened. I see and hear the “gay-bashing” from many Christian groups, and I am saddened. I am equally saddened by the “church and/or Christian-bashing” coming from various factions of the LGBT community, even at times from the Christian LGBT community. Where is the humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? This breaks my heart.

As Christians, regardless of our beliefs on the gay/same-sex marriage issue or any other aspect of our present-day culture, we are bound together in Christ. I want for us, the church, the body of Christ, to be inclusive and affirming of one another, bound by Christ’s love for us, our love of Christ, and our desire to share His love with others. I want for us, the church, through and because of our bond in Christ, to be able to sit with one another in covenant community and engage in civil and respectful dialogue about all sorts of issues and questions – even, especially, the hard ones.

Yes, we may disagree on some things, and – since Christ binds us – we can agree to disagree, be respectful of one another’s “soul competency,” and carry on with the mission to share the love of God through Christ. As Christian brothers and sisters, gay and straight, I want for us, the church, to live in unity and the peace of Christ, knowing that unity does not require uniformity in thought or action, nor does the peace of Christ mean there is no disagreement. I want for us, the church, to be the Presence of Christ in and to the world. Somehow, I don’t think we are being that, the Presence of Christ, in our responses to the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm. I am saddened and heartbroken. Again, I pose the question: What are we doing?

More and more, I am being called back to Matthew 10:27, a verse I claimed many years ago: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear proclaim from the roofs. (NIV) I also like The Message translation: Don’t hesitate to go public now. Well, I have gone public!

Friday, July 10, 2015

James Dunn's greatest legacy
by Dick Maples

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Dick Maples is a former chair of the T. B. Maston Foundation.)

When the news came last Sunday of James Dunn’s passing, I spent an hour or so lying in the hammock on the back porch, reminiscing and thanking God for a friendship that began sixty years ago when we served as youth directors of neighboring churches in Weatherford, Texas. Many will write about his accomplishments as director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission and later as director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, but there may be little mention of the powerful impact that he had upon the lives of students and young adults.

My son, Drake, is one of the many who have been positively influenced by the life and ministry of James Dunn. Upon learning of James’s death this past week, he wrote his young adult children the following email, which I quote by permission:
“James Dunn was a friend of mine as a child and as a young adult. He was, and has been, a strong and solid friend of our family for sixty years. He is one of the truly great men whom I have known in my life, and one who has truly influenced American policy and lawmakers for the past 30 years. Strangely, I think you will find that he is not one of those typical ‘churchy’ people that you might expect in Baptist life. In fact, James blustered in the face of the traditional Baptist church . . . and chose to represent individual freedom of religious thinking over any and all church doctrines and church dogmas. He was in fact a true maverick. . . . And one whom I loved and respected very much. 
“HE . . . is one of the reasons that I have never fully tolerated or accepted the traditional trappings of the ordinary church. And I am hopeful that he would be proud of that. He always challenged me to think as well as act. He always demanded that people think and ask questions rather than simply accept the answers of a preacher or a church. He believed that every man has a ‘right’ to speak to his God as he sees and relates to him . . . And that no Government or individual had the right to dictate or interfere in this right. 
“Regrettably, I think that there are very few James Dunns left in the world today . . . And I don’t know if any of you will be as fortunate as I have been to know this one.”
I believe there are legions of people like Drake who would express similar words of appreciation for their friendship with James Dunn and for the rich contribution he made to their lives. How fitting that, upon his retirement from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, he returned to the role in which he began his ministry, that of teaching students. Wherever he has served, from Weatherford to West Texas A&M, from the Christian Life Commission in Dallas to the BJCPA in Washington, and most recently at the Divinity School at Wake Forest, James Dunn has positively impacted the lives of students and young adults and motivated them to become more devoted followers of Christ, and this may be his greatest legacy.