by Rodney Kennedy
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has recently been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). And his newest book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, is coming out any day now!
First Baptist Church — a megachurch in Jacksonville, Florida — is requiring its members to sign a “Biblical Sexuality Agreement,” an anti-LGBTQ+ statement that denies the existence of trans people, opposes same-sex marriage, and calls same-sex intercourse ungodly.
The church’s senior pastor used anti-LGBTQ+ disinformation to explain why all church members must sign or resign.
The statement reads: “As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice. I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression.”
Members will need to sign the statement by March 19 or else be removed from the church, First Coast News reported. At the same time, the church continues to insist that it is a welcoming church that spreads the love of God across the city, and that it loves, absolutely loves, everyone.
Part of me revels in the notion of asking members of a Baptist church to take a solid, even literal stance on social issues. What disgusts me is Baptists taking stances on social issues that put them on the wrong side of justice and righteousness. My question: What’s next? Will the pastor roll out a statement on abortion in 2023? A statement on supporting the Republican nominee for president in 2024? Will he issue statements on biblical interpretation?
Has this church been poisoned by secular politics? I fear the answer is yes. When churches experience an increase in attendance from 100 to 1500 during a pandemic because the pastor rants about COVID conspiracies, opposes vaccinations, and generally spreads misinformation, then we know that the poison is spreading.
Perhaps the pastor will issue a statement that wives should graciously submit to their husbands. Perhaps statements will follow demanding adherence to young Earth creationism and the fantasy that America was founded as a Christian nation. Perhaps church members will start pushing for statements against “wokeness,” Critical Race Theory, Disney World, and the state income tax. Perhaps there will be church members demanding statements supporting prayer in public schools, no restrictions on gun ownership, and the firing of schoolteachers who teach evolution and the reality of racial inequality. Perhaps there will be the demand that church members demonstrate their patriotism by placing American flags on their freshly kept lawns in their gated communities. Perhaps church members will issue edicts demanding that their church follow the lead of Robert Jeffress and have fireworks in the sanctuary to celebrate the Fourth of July.
I can hardly wait to see more resolutions from the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. But the problem with such statements is that once you start, where do you stop? Have you noticed that the fundamentalist/evangelical vehicle has no “stop” button? Once they go on a righteous outrage campaign, there’s always something else that requires their attention. These intensely political animals are experts at ferreting out issues that get a positive reception from other moralists. For example, the current panic among evangelicals and Republicans about transgender persons looks like an easy win. There’s the sense that people will go along with oppressing transgender individuals because it is offensive to the common person. But it won’t stop there. This is a beast that must constantly be fed, with new groups to be consigned to the fires of hell.
And how long will it be before other statements will have less than unanimous support and division will creep into the fellowship? Then the church will split and there will be two churches. With each passing year, there will crop up sincere church members, zealous for the commandments of God, and they will want to have statements that ensure that all the members are really, really conservative enough. Suspicion will grow. Mistrust will pop up like Kudzu on a Florida interstate.
Baptists still have a modicum of contentiousness, wrangling, arguing, fighting, and misbehaving in their spiritual DNA. The fact that they have been mostly submissive sheep since the fundamentalist takeover in the 1980s doesn’t guarantee that this tranquility will always be the default setting. It doesn’t take much to set off a group of Southern Baptists. Ticking time-bombs and Southern Baptists have a lot in common except that Southern Baptists are more volatile. For example, at the slightest hint of a liberal within a hundred yards of a Southern Baptist church, they spring into action like a mobilized National Guard. When they get a fix on the suspected liberal, the gnashing of teeth and the growling and hissing can be heard six blocks away from the church. The poor suspect never sees it coming as he gets blasted out of the water with the high-powered weaponized rhetoric of the good people of God.
The good pastor of FBC Jacksonville may be the one who has taken his finger out of the dike that has been holding back reams and reams of paper statements from repressed Southern Baptists.
But there’s something else. Thinking that he is taking a stand against an evil, secular culture, the pastor of FBC Jacksonville may discover that he is aiding and abetting an absolute rebellion against his kind of Christianity, his kind of exclusion, his kind of judgment.
So I am very pleased to suggest some alternative, helpful, and biblical statements for the pastor to submit to his huge congregation as conditions of membership:
- “As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that Jesus has established his rule on earth and commands me to love foreigners, immigrants, and outsiders. He has called me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.”
- “In the spirit of Romans 12, I will feed my enemies when they are hungry and give them something to drink when they are thirsty.”
- “In the spirit of Leviticus 19, when an alien resides with me in my land, I shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides in my land shall be to me as a citizen; I shall love the alien as myself, for I too was an alien in the land of Egypt, and the Lord my God brought me out of the land of Egypt.”
As regards their current anti-LGBTQ+ statement, the pastor and the church members should not expect that their current statement is going to hold back the righteousness of God and the mercy of God and the love of God for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and queer persons.
If FBC Jacksonville persists in this anti-God, anti-Gospel, anti-empathy, anti-human stance, they should sign a contract to build an ark.
Because the flood of righteousness, mercy, and justice will ultimately sweep them away.