Meeting in Waco last week, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) voted to boot out two churches that have decided to openly accept gay members and treat them as they do other members of the church. The BGCT’s reasoning lacks integrity and opens the group to charges of bigotry.
We have heard their logic before: The Bible condemns same-sex relationships, so we cannot encourage or accept them within our Bible-believing communities. I don’t dispute that there are parts of the Bible that can be interpreted — fairly — as a condemnation of homosexuality. But integrity requires more than just that.
The best argument from the Gospels against homosexuality is inferred through a reading of Matthew 19, where some Pharisees approached Jesus and questioned him regarding the Mosaic law, which allowed a man to divorce a woman through a certificate. Jesus responded: “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In so doing, Jesus does describe marriage as between a man and a woman.
To stop there, though, is to read the Bible very selectively — following only the parts you like. Jesus goes on from this lesson not to condemn homosexuality but remarriage after divorce: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
So, to put it bluntly, the condemnation of homosexuality is inferred within an express condemnation of remarriage after divorce. The BGCT may argue that there are other passages outside the Gospels that condemn homosexuality, but this does not change the bare fact that Jesus taught that remarriage was often adultery. To have integrity — to claim that their view is rooted in a true and consistent belief in the Bible — the Texas Baptists would have to throw out not only those churches that accept and fully include gay members but those that accept and include members who are remarried after divorces not rooted in adultery.
We all know they are not going to do that. If they did, there would be very few churches left in the BGCT. So the BGCT proceeds on without integrity.
And what of that problem of bigotry? It is not bigotry to consistently condemn relationships described or inferred in the passage quoted above, whether a same-sex relationship or a remarriage. In fact, some groups (including the Mormons and some Catholics) do exactly that. In so doing, they express an even-handed belief in the Scripture.
But that is not what the BGCT is doing. Instead, it is discriminating against one group (gay men and women) condemned in that passage — a group that has been routinely stigmatized and persecuted — while giving a pass to another. They treat like people differently and favor the ones who look like them, while disfavoring the ones who seem different. That kind of unprincipled differentiation between the popular and unpopular when they commit the same act is what some people would call bigotry. And they might be right.
To maintain integrity and avoid the charge of bigotry, the BGCT has two choices: It can either now move to toss out churches that accept the remarried or change their decision and welcome those that accept gay members. There is no in-between that can be justified through an honest reading of the Bible.
I know this presents a conundrum. There is no easy answer, and some members will be outraged if the BGCT either bars the remarried or accepts gay men and women. But that’s part of the challenge of the faith: It is a way that is not meant to be easy. Over and over, Jesus taught that the right choice is not popular. He didn’t promise “religious liberty” to his followers but condemnation and death. He said that those who sacrifice for the faith are blessed, not that they are exempt from turmoil.
In the end, many of us hope that the BGCT would resolve this conundrum in favor of love and acceptance. There is little to be gained by throwing out churches that accept gay members, but much to be lost, beginning with integrity.
Former Baylor Law School professor Mark Osler is the Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “Jesus on Death Row” and “Prosecuting Jesus.”