South Carolina Baptists Confuse Condemnation and Compassion

Southern Baptists in South Carolina have approved a resolution to encourage pastors around the state to preach against homosexuality.

One of the eight resolutions approved Tuesday by more than 1,000 delegates holding their 190th annual meeting in Columbia also points out that “Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians have been portrayed by the media as intolerant or dangerous because of our commitment to Christ and our belief in Biblical precepts.”

But the resolution also calls on Christians “to uphold the biblical standard of human sexuality against all onslaughts” while encouraging believers “to love and show compassion toward homosexuals and transgendered persons.”

So many places to start…

First, Southern Baptists haven’t been portrayed as intolerant or dangerous because of their “commitment to Christ” or their “belief in Biblical precepts.” They have been portrayed as intolerant and dangerous because of how those beliefs lead them to act. If you believe, for instance, that it is okay to tell people that God hates them and they are going to hell because the Bible tells you to, then you will, no doubt be seen as “intolerant and dangerous” no matter what the subject is. Also, if you, as a denomination, continue to deny the growing evidence that being gay or lesbian is as “sinful” as being left-handed or green-eyed, then continuing to condemn gays and lesbians from the pulpit will undoubtedly be seen as “intolerant and dangerous.”

The resolution also calls on Christians “to uphold the biblical standard of human sexuality against all onslaughts.” I wonder which biblical standards they’re talking about—the practice of polygamy perhaps? The subjugation of women as the property of their men? The ability of men to divorce their wives for infidelity, but women have no such recourse if their husbands are unfaithful? Knowing the Southern Baptists, the last two have been defended for some time now.

The kicker though is the last part that encouraged believers “to love and show compassion toward homosexuals and transgendered persons.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that statement. It’s clear that they think the word “compassion” means something different than what it really means. Condemnation and compassion may both start with “co-” and end with “-ion”—but that’s all they have in common. You cannot be compassionate while you are, at the same time, condemning someone. To be “compassionate” means “to suffer with.” Those who have compassion on another, understand, at the deepest level of their being, the suffering of the other person.

Southern Baptists may think they understand gay and lesbian people and their suffering—but they don’t, simply because most of the suffering gay and lesbian people endure come at the hands of Southern Baptists and their fundamentalist religious kin. Until they understand, at a deep level, their role in our suffering (and seek to end that suffering) there is no way they can ever actually have “compassion” for gay and lesbian people. They can certainly have pity, but never compassion.

The saddest part of this story is how far afield the Southern Baptists have strayed from their own history. While it’s true the denomination was established in a split with northern Baptists over slavery, the Southern Baptists have much to be proud of. They have often been strong supporters of the separation of church and state, and their denomination was set up to be congregational with the convention speaking “to” the congregations, but never “for.”

For the convention to pass resolutions telling pastors what to preach about, and for that matter, what congregation members should believe, is very “un-” Baptist of them.

I suggest that the Southern Baptists pass a resolution returning to their former practices that honor and respect the religious freedoms and liberties of all its members. That would be a step toward true compassion.