This week, the Southern Baptist Convention - the nation's largest Protestant body - is holding their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.
Infamous in the past for hardline stances against Bill Clinton, insistence on a wife's "submission" to her husband, and calling for a denomination-wide boycott of Disney because of its toleration of homosexuality, the SBC this week is attempting to soften its imagine into a kinder, gentler Southern Baptist Convention.
They passed a resolution praising the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president, although they made clear their disagreement with his stances on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Daniel Akin, one of the SBC's top leaders, said: "I think it would have actually been irresponsible for us not to speak to the election of the first African American president."
Even as I attempt to analyze the SBC's meeting this week with as little bias as possible (I'm an ex-Southern Baptist), I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow over Akin's statement. He almost sounds apologetic and defensive. Apparently the SBC only praised Obama's election because it would have been socially irresponsible for them not to. I almost have to wonder if his statement wasn't an attempt to deflect criticism from the countless white southerners who make up the majority of the SBC. By no means am I implying that these white, southern SBC members are universally racist. But I have no doubt that many of them are. I personally know at least a few.
Despite praising Obama's election, the SBC did not ask Obama to speak, as they did George W. Bush a number of times during his presidency. In their defense, however, they also did not invite any prominent Republican leaders to speak. Apparently they are attempting to come off less politically-divisive than in years past. As an Associated Press article put it, the SBC is "signaling a desire to stay out of politics."
Their desire to stay out of politics, however, does not mean they haven't managed to pull a few of the punches they are infamous for. Let me tell you two stories.
Rev. Wiley Drake is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church in California and also hosts a radio show. In the past, he has served in leadership roles within the Southern Baptist Convention. He actually drafted the 1996 resolution from the SBC calling for the boycott of Disney over its stance on homosexuals. As recently as 2006-2007, he served as the convention's second vice president.
In January, upon the announcement that Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist megachurch leader in California, was giving the convocation at Obama's inauguration, Drake predicted that God would punish him severely for the "abomination" of associating with Obama, whom he called an "evil, illegal alien."
In May, when Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor, was murdered in a Kansas church, Drake praised the murder, saying he was "glad" and "grateful to God" that George Tiller was killed. He further went on to compare Tiller to Hitler, stating that Tiller was a "brutal, murdering monster" who was "far greater in his atrocities than Adolph Hitler."
A few days later, on June 5, Drake was interviewed by Fox's Alan Colmes, and was asked about Barack Obama. Drake stated: "If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death." When Colmes asked him point blank if he was praying for Obama to die, Drake answered: "Yes."
I trust those remarks are as disturbing to you as they are to me.
That was my first story. The second story concerns a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas. This church is called Broadway Baptist, and is a moderately large church with some 2,000 members.
Some time back, they began discussing the possibility of allowing same-sex couples within their church to be pictured together in the church directory. Ultimately, they decided not to do this, replacing the pictures in question with group pictures of church members. Although it is not clear how many openly gay members attend Broadway Baptist, they apparently have at least a few, two of whom have served on church committees.
Now, with those two stories in mind, I return to the SBC annual meeting this week. In regards to Wiley Drake, an SBC leader said: "Wiley Drake is far out of the mainstream, in fact, he's in a drainage ditch somewhere."
In regards to Broadway Baptist Church, a motion was made to break its 127-year-old ties with the church over its homosexual leniency, and the resolution was passed without even the need for any discussion.
An SBC committee member said: "[Broadway Baptist was] allowing members and also people in leadership that were homosexual...The church was in effect saying that it was OK to have members who are open homosexuals."
I will save any long drawn out commentary on this issue because if it requires long drawn out commentary, then something is definitely wrong. I'll point out only that while the SBC basically ignored Wiley Drake and his hate-filled, politically-motivated, almost bordering on criminal remarks, they literally broke ties with Broadway Baptist because Broadway allows homosexuals to be members of their church. Praying for Obama to die vs. letting homosexuals worship God. When the SBC weighed those two things, they evidently decided the homosexual issue was more important and problematic than an SBC pastor and convention leader praying for the president of the United States to die. So problematic, in fact, they essentially excommunicated the church, while leaving Wiley Drake to continue waving the flag of Southern Baptist values.
I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. I attended private Southern Baptist schools and Southern Baptist churches. I went to Southern Baptist church camps. I went to college and got a degree from a Southern Baptist institution.
But I'm not a Southern Baptist, and haven't been one for a long time now. I don't think I need to say why.