North Carolina Baptists, meeting in their annual convention a few weeks ago, changed the way they determine membership for churches in their convention. In addition to things like believing in God, Jesus and the Bible, North Carolina Baptists also added a statement about homosexuality. Any church that affirms a homosexual lifestyle cannot be a member of the convention. And if already a member, the convention has the right to expel an offending church.
Baptists, of course, are an autonomous body. They can do whatever they want. The only question I have is why single out homosexuality. The Bible indicates that there are lots of behaviors that make God unhappy when we do them. Why put the spotlight on this one and make it part of the criteria for inclusion in the community of faith.
Of course we all know the answer. It is part of a particular Christian theology that considers some behaviors more serious offenses than others. Because of a certain reading of the story of Sodom in the book of Genesis, many Christians believe that homosexuality is the last moral battlefield. If we lose there, the whole country will go the way of…well, Sodom.
But does the Bible actually support such a position. For example, what does it mean that the prophet Ezekiel thought the problem with Sodom was that the people who lived there were selfish, had lots of food an money, but neglected the poor (16:49). Jesus, for his part, also talked about the needs of the poor in the context of the final judgment. The expression, “as you have done it to the least of these,” comes in a description of how humanity will be judged.
Elsewhere in the Bible, homosexuality is never singled out as a behavior worse than other behaviors. For instance, in the book of Leviticus homosexual behavior is described as “an abomination.” But the exact same word is used to describe the eating of pork. Why don’t we have a campaign against bacon eaters?
In the few places in the New Testament where homosexual behavior is discussed, it is always included in a long list of behaviors including greed and gossip.
Greed and gossip?
Why is it we never hear anything about greedy gossips? If Ezekiel and Jesus are right, greed makes more sense as a threat to our standing at the final judgment than anything else. In fact, greed may explain our general lack of concern and compassion for the poor in our midst.
Now, I am not suggesting we launch a campaign to kick bacon eaters and greedy gossips out of the church. I don’t think they should be excluded from being a part of our community. God loves bacon eaters and greedy gossips as much as anyone.
In fact, in the church I was raised in we were taught that we are all sinners and continue to be even after we become Christians. “You are not perfect,” the preacher would say, “Just forgiven.”
My church also taught that God loves us first and foremost. As a child I memorized a part of John’s Gospel that begins with the words, “For God so loved the world…”
We were also taught that God wants us to love one another.
So as far as membership is concerned, I wonder what a church might look like that took for its entry requirement these words: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself—even bacon eaters and greedy gossips.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).