I'm a Baptist. I'm a Southern Baptist. I'm an ordained Southern Baptist deacon. I've taught Sunday school, I've sung in choirs, I've directed choirs, I've taught Vacation Bible School. I've spoken from the pulpit. I've led prayer meetings and Bible studies. I've attended Promise Keepers events. I've sent my kids to missions camps. I support marriage equality.
How can this be? I mean, if one reads most DailyKos diaries that mention Southern Baptists--and especially if one reads most of the comments on those diaries--one would naturally assume that I've just admitted membership in a monolithic and hate-driven entity that wants nothing more than to see the LGBT community either sequestered in some latter-day Warsaw ghetto, shunned and ostracized, or shepherded into some sort of "pray the gay away" 'ministry.' How can a lifelong Southern Baptist POSSIBLY support marriage equality? Isn't that proposition ludicrous, even when presented in the rhetorical sense?
Both to relieve the cognitive dissonance I've forced upon you AND to learn of a conversational approach that just might work a wee bit better than does attack or insult when dealing with "people like me," join me below the fold...
Ah, I whetted your curiosity. Good. Incidentally, did you like how I worked the word 'sequestered' into the introduction, just to snare those folks who searched for diaries about the budget, the debt or the deficit? I'm sneaky that way...
I'm not a preachy type of person (another contradiction to the general stereotype applied to Southern Baptists), so instead of going for some ridiculously detailed, 200-links-to-sources diary, I'm just going to step you through the thought process that led me to support marriage equality. Incidentally, that also means that you won't see a single Biblical reference in this diary (there's another stereotype going down in flames!). I hope that, as you read through this, you'll find at least one piece of logic, or one human factor, that will help you as you discuss this topic with others. For reasons that will become apparent, however, it should be noted that is defniitely a "your mileage may vary" approach and may not "work" in every discussion; we Baptists are a rather individualistic lot.
Let's get started, shall we?
1. Baptists believe in something called "the priesthood of the believer."Simply put, this means that, as a Baptist, I serve as my own priest. I don't need a pastor, preacher, or priest to whom I can confess my sins, from whom I can secure God's blessing, or against whom I am to be measured. God made me, and my soul is competent (in and of itself) to engage in a relationship with Him. This is REALLY important to any serious Baptist; in fact, it's one of the key "distinctives" that defines Baptist faith. There is no hierarchy of power, and there is no higher human authority telling me what to believe or what to do. Folks like Al Mohler or Richard Land are not authoritative where my faith is concerned; in a very real sense, it begins and ends with me.
2. Neither general faith nor individual articles of faith can be compelled.I can't make you believe as I do, nor can you compel me to change my beliefs; any forced belief is highly unlikely to be, or become, genuine belief. That's OK, even in this context, because neither of those must be attempted in this case. Next slide, please?
3. Baptists believe in the separation of church and state.I know that some among you are snickering and/or preparing your comment snark at this point, but hold off for just a moment. The doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention (hint: do NOT call it a creed; serious Baptists know the difference) is The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). That document, most recently revised in 2000, explicitly states:
Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. [...] The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. [...] A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power."Yes, I know that the BF&M includes language that names homosexuality a sin and defines marriage as 'one man and one woman', but that is beside the point and need not be addressed, as I hope to demonstrate. Moving on...
Now, we step from religious doctrine to secular authority. In the United States, the Constitution is the 'supreme law of the land,' and its First Amendment states, in part, that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; [...]This dovetails perfectly with the Southern Baptist statement that "a free church in a free state is the Christian ideal." Furthermore, it explicitly supports the BF&M''s assertion that "all men" have "the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power." In addition to these explicit statements, we have a long history of legal precedent stating that government can't limit the statement or implementation of these religious opinions in the absence of a 'compelling state interest.'
We'll come back to that last thought, but first I'll make a historical assertion:
5. Marriage belonged first to the individuals involved; churches formalized it later, and governments recognized that religious formalization still later.We have ample evidence, from both objective human history and subjective religious interpretation of Scripture, that marriage customs and rites predated the foundation of either man's churches or man's government. Even today, we find cultures which practice customs identical to what we call 'marriage' in every way save religious ceremony and/or government recognition.
This fits precisely and squarely into both Baptist belief and American government. Baptists believe in the individual human conscience (the BF&M refers to it as "the sacredness of human personality"), the competence of every person to stand before God without the intercession or governance of a pastor/preacher/priest, AND the independence of religious opinion from government influence. At this point, it should be clear that Baptists claim ALL of these to justify their very existence - one distinct from other religious denominations and government edict alike. Government, for its part, treats marriage as a religiously neutral institution; it explicitly provides and recognizes civil marriage for those who wish to make such a commitment outside the authority of any established religion. That stems directly from the facts that marriage predates the church (in terms of 'common law'), AND that citizens enjoy the individual, if penumbral, rights both to marry and to choose whom they wish to marry, thanks to the Ninth Amendment.
This, we arrive at several inescapable (to me) conclusions, which stem from sources both religious and political:
a. We must accept that religious belief is not universal.Thus, if any religious group wants to claim the First Amendment right to decide for themselves whether to perform or recognize same-sex marriage, all of us MUST respect their right to do so; however, that group MUST ALSO accept that every other religious group enjoys that same secular right, and that the government CANNOT interfere by "choosing" one result over another.
b. We must accept that each person decides these questions for themselves.
c. We must accept that, as a consequence of points (a) and (b), America enjoys a rich diversity of religious thought, as described in and supported by the Baptist Faith & Message.
d. Through the First Amendment, our government explicitly supports this religious diversity AND is limited in the scope of any actions which might serve to 'establish' one school of religious thought over the others.
It's clear that organized religion is not of one mind on the question of same-sex marriage. It's equally obvious that the civil government provides for marriage outside the context of organized religion. Thus, the only answer to this question for anyone who claims both religious belief AND protection of that belief under the First Amendment is that the government must, in the absence of a 'compelling state interest', recognize both marriages performed by other religious groups AND those provided by the government to those who claim no religious belief. As an aside, this also argues that the government must provide same-sex marriage to those who desire it outside the authority of any particular church or denomination, so as not to effectively compel belief in those churches from individuals desiring a same-sex marriage.
Now, let's take note of what I DIDN'T say:
* I didn't say that anyone was "wrong" or "right."At this point, all questions of "religious freedom" have been rendered moot; the only discussion remaining (because--and remember this as you discuss the matter--this ISN'T a religious discussion, right?) is what 'compelling state interest' may exist to justify government's interference in the matter. That is a completely secular discussion, and one which can be conducted in a far more civil manner - should it prove necessary.
* I didn't say that anything was or wasn't "godly."
* I didn't say that anyone needs to change their view of God, or His Word, or His will, at all.
* I didn't say a word about what God "wants" or "doesn't want."
* I didn't say that either side was "un-American."
* I didn't say that the government's choices would change anyone's beliefs.
This also defeats any mention of the government "defending marriage;" the BF&M specifically states that
The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.So, if the gospel is to use only spiritual means to pursue its goals, how can we ask the government to do it for us?
The astute reader will note that I didn't even state whether I personally "approve of" same-sex marriage. Well, that's because I haven't really decided yet how that notion fits within my personal religious beliefs. Even at an individual level, however, it's clear that if I want to claim the liberty to decide that question for myself--and, it must be said, the liberty for churches to decide that question for themselves--then I MUST support that same liberty for everyone else; my personal opinion (whatever it turns out to be) simply does not affect the conclusion I must draw.
Will I join in a same-sex marriage? Let's just go ahead and call that unlikely; I'm a straight guy who's been in his first marriage for more than a quarter-century. Would I join a church that performs or recognizes same-sex marriage? As I said, I haven't figured that out just yet. I can, however, claim both my Baptist faith AND my American citizenship in supporting marriage equality, and I don't have to compromise either identity in so doing.