Southern Baptist Convention Declares Gay Rights Are Not Civil Rights

Apparently, my “distinguishing feature” of being in a relationship with another woman is enough to be discriminated against in marriage, employment, and housing, but not distinguishing enough to make my fight for eliminating that discrimination a “civil rights” movement.

According to the Southern Baptists, anyway.

Today, at their convention in New Orleans, the leaders and messengers approved a resolution that the fight for gay rights is not the same as the fight for civil rights launched by African-Americans years earlier. Why? Well, because, while gay and lesbian Americans have “unique struggles,” we do not possess “distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections.” Which means, what, exactly? That we’re not black? Well, some of us are. Does that mean black gays and lesbians are not engaged in a civil rights struggle?

The question is, of course, ridiculous. And utterly ironic, as it came on the heels of the SBC (founded in a split with the Northern Baptists because Southern Baptists advocated for slavery) electing their first black president, Rev. Fred Luter Jr.

While the SBC is to be commended for that move, the civil rights vote reveals not just the hubris, but the incredible hypocrisy being exercised by this church body. I understand that the SBC wants to remain in the religious stone ages, not ordaining women and shunning gays and lesbians. But, to pass a resolution that fully acknowledges the discrimination against a group, then strips it of its language of liberation because the struggle is not the same, down to every last detail, is incomprehensible—and reprehensible.

If a group—or class—of people is being blatantly discriminated against not just by churches, but by federal and state governments, and said group, or class, decides to rebel against that discrimination and claim its rightful place as full, tax-paying citizens of the United States of America, you can damn well bet it is a civil rights movement. Nobody copyrighted the phrase, and nobody can, on one hand say, “Yes, we see that you’re being wronged,” and then say, “but you have no right to work for your civil rights, or to call it a ‘civil rights’ movement.”

But the SBC certainly does want it both ways. They work in their “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy by being clear that while gays and lesbians should learn their place on the back of the bus, they certainly don’t want any harm to come to those (terrible, horrible, more sinful than the rest of us) people. The resolution is clear that the SBC abhors “any form or gay-bashing, whether disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions.” Which would be funny, if their resolution were not itself a prime example of gay-bashing, disrespect, and hateful rhetoric.

Just like Exodus, whose leadership, as Warren Throckmorton pointed out, recently made the same squawking about how they opposed the criminalization of homosexuality in Jamaica, the SBC can’t seem to understand that these sorts of resolutions are at the very heart of the continuing violence and discrimination against gay and lesbian people.

You can’t condemn someone or seek to convince them that they can “change,” then in the same breath try to appear compassionate toward them. It doesn’t fly, because it is the demonizing positions held by the SBC and Exodus about gays and lesbians that are at the very root of the problem.

The bottom line is this: if Exodus and the SBC didn’t demonize gays and lesbians in the first place, there would be no violence or discrimination against them. No one would be seeking to outlaw our very existence or annihilate us by making us “ex-gay” unless they were convinced by organizations like the SBC and Exodus that we are morally evil. Most of all, there would be no fight over the phrase “civil rights movement,” since there would be no need to have a new one.

Until the SBC, Exodus and all other anti-gay groups own their bigotry, the lives of LGBT people will always be seen as “less than” and their rights easily trodden upon.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)