Independently Speaking
"The Soul Savers"

By Marvin Liebman

Forgive me if I sound frazzled. The proselytizers just won't leave me alone. Ever since the Southern Baptist Convention last month in New Orleans, my doorbell and phone haven't stopped ringing. The reason? I'm one of the prime targets for conversion, at least as Southern Baptist leaders see it.

As a gay man, I'm used to bids by zealous Baptists to induce me to give up my homosexual lifestyle, whatever that is. Now, as a Jew, I seem to be doubly blessed by their entreaties on my behalf. Last month, on the heels of their resolution to boycott Disney for granting equal rights and health benefits to their gay and lesbian employees, the Convention passed another resolution. This one, aimed at "proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews," has Baptist missionaries beating a path to the doors of folks like me. However flattering, all of this outreach is exhausting. I guess the Baptists mean it when they say there's no rest for the wicked.

Never in my seventy-three years has my soul been the object of such attention. I haven't ever shown my soul in public before, but the Baptists who've been calling seem well-acquainted with its supposedly dismal condition. Neither have I ever really worried about being saved. Yet suddenly this, too, has come to concern me. Perhaps it's because these callers, all courteous to a fault, offer such lurid descriptions of the wrack and damnation they claim I'll suffer if I don't embrace their particular manner of salvation.

Anxious to find the root of their peculiar insight, I looked through what records I had on this group. In 1991, I discovered, that Convention documents called homosexuality "outside the will of God." Still, the Convention stated that year, if homosexuals will "turn to Him in repentance," then "the redeeming love of Christ is available" to us. And, they determined, "it is the responsibility and privilege of the church to minister to homosexuals." This must explains the periodic calls I'd had in the past five years prior to the current onslaught. Despite the coating of judgment, it all seemed neighborly enough. They cared about my soul, didn't they?

In the years after the Convention's 1991 pronouncement on homosexuality, the Convention's expressions of wisdom grew less ambiguous. In 1992, for instance, they sought to oust two North Carolina churches that had shown support for gay people, one by performing a union ceremony, one by licensing a gay man as a minister. Denial of membership to churches that tolerate gays became official Convention policy a year later.

In 1993, the Convention condemned President Clinton and Vice-President Gore for their support of non-discrimination protections for gays. In March 1994, in a move that bore out conservatives' takeover of the denomination, trustees of the leading Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, fired seminary head Russell Dilday, a prominent moderate. And last year, in a change of heart that must have required a lot of soul-searching, the group acknowledged that slavery was wrong.

Clearly, the Southern Baptist Convention had a direct line to God. How else could one explain such stances? I, and others like me, needed to get in on the action. Maybe we should mount a missionary campaign of our own to the Southern Baptists to tell them our stories and absorb their wisdom! I decided to run the idea by one of my callers. As a gay man and a Jew, I wanted to stop by the homes of Baptist families. Could he provide addresses and phone numbers? No dice, he said.

Undeterred, I offered again. What if I were to visit Baptist kids in their Sunday school classes to tell them about growing up Jewish and gay? His initial silence, I thought, meant he must be awe-struck by the overture.

"That," he answered aridly, "would be recruitment. By the way, are you a militant homosexual?"

Perhaps, I realized, the Southern Baptist Convention's outreach isn't a two-way street at all. The rebuff stirred my memory. Haven't gay friends of mine complained of their brushes with religion-coated conversion therapies? And for the Jewish people, haven't such conversion attempts been a common nightmare, a centuries-long trail of tears?

Suddenly, I had no doubt about the dangers from which I needed saving. Could God really endorse such intolerant missions as these? I wouldn't claim to know for sure, but looking back over the scriptures, I had a suspicion. There was at least one Jew with whom the Southern Baptist Convention's treatment of gays and Jews wouldn't have sat very well. In fact, the Jesus Christ I knew wouldn't have stood for it, either.

Liebman, 72, came out in 1990 at the age of sixty-seven, wrote "Coming Out Conservative" in 1992. He was active in Log Cabin Club and tried to get "conservatives" to have better understanding of us; failed; and in a piece in the February 7, 1995 issue of "The Advocate," he said "I can no longer call myself a conservative, a Christian, or a Republican." After that, Liebman changed the name of his column from "Conservatively Speaking" to "Independently Speaking." Liebman's column will appear monthly in Oasis, with his permission. He is online at marvin1923@aol.com.
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