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Proposing a New Southern Baptist Tradition

By Warren J. Blumenfeld

Alicia Pedreira was recently fired from her position as a therapist at the Kentucky Baptist Home for Children (KBHC) for no other reason that she was photographed embracing another woman at the Louisville AIDS Walk. Although Pedreira had been given extremely positive job evaluations, had excellent rapport with her clients, and was highly respected by her supervisor and her peers, KBHC justified their actions by instituting a new policy stating that the "homosexual lifestyle" is incompatable with their work and "Christian values."

In addition, the Georgia Baptist Convention's executive committee proposes radical alterations to its constitution and bylaws to exclude all churches from membership that "endorse homosexual behavior."

And in Missouri, President Christian Sizemore of William Jewell College a college with Southern Baptist ties, turned down a student-initiated proposal stating that the college would not "provide recognition, endorsement, or funds" for a gay and lesbian group. "To do so," Sizemore continued, "would be contrary to our mission and purposes, which are deeply rooted in Baptist traditions."

While various aspects of "Baptist tradtions" and "Christian values" are quite commendable, others most certainly are not, including:

Racism: Three years ago, delegates to the annual Southern Baptist Convention held in Atlanta passed a resolution apologizing to African Americans for condoning racism for much of its history, including the institution of slavery, and for its failure to support civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, the Southern Baptists, this country's largest Protestant denomination, was born over the split between the North and South over slavery.

Anti-Semitism: Two years ago at their convention in New Orleans, delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution commiting to put more energy and resources into converting Jews to Christianity,

Homophobia: Last year at their convention in Dallas, the Southern Baptists voted to boycott Walt Disney theme parks, movies, and products over what they see as Disney's "promotion of homosexuality" and retreat from "traditional family values."

Sexism: And in Salt Lake City this year at their convention, they passed an amendment to their basic statement of beliefs stating: "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband."

Yes, the Southern Baptists do have a long tradition regarding gay and lesbian people (as well as African Americans, Jews, and women). Though their long-established collusion with racism is significantly different from their blatantly anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist actions, they consistently react from a place of intolerance and bigotry.

Maybe now, however, is the time for the Southern Baptist leadership to forge a new tradition: one based on acceptance and genuine support for diversity on the basis of "race," religion, gender, class, AND sexual identity. They can take a giant step forward by 1. immediately reinstating Alicia Pedreira to her former position at the Kentucky Baptist Home for Children, 2. officially recognizing and sanctioning the gay and lesbian campus group at William Jewell College, and 3. the Georgia Baptist Convention can drop its planned membership exclusions. It would be nice, also, if the South Baptist Convention issued some more apologies--this time to Jewish people, to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and to all women. I hope we won't have to wait another 150 years for them to do so.

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Warren J. Blumenfeld is Editor of _Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price_ (Beacon Press), and the _Journal of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity_ (Human Sciences Press), and Co-author of _Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life_ (Beacon Press). blumenfeld@educ.umass.edu


©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.