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Rev. Mel White Headshot

Resist Southern Baptist 'Terrorism'

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Southern Baptists have just won another battle in their war to deny all civil rights to lesbian and gay Americans. Here's how it works. Meeting in New Orleans at the Superdome June 19 and 20, 8,000 Southern Baptist Messengers (delegates) resolved that same-sex marriage is not a civil right.

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, one of two black clergy who presented the resolution, called it "unfair" for homosexuals to equate same-sex marriage with civil rights because there is no definitive scientific evidence that homosexuality is an innate trait like color. At a press conference he proclaimed, "They're equating their sin with my skin."

The belief that we do not qualify as a legitimate minority and that our sinfulness is all we have in common is not about marriage alone. It is the reason why Southern Baptists (and millions of other fundamentalist Christians) believe that LGBT people do not qualify for any of the civil rights or protections that the U.S. Constitution guarantees.

Southern Baptists' reasoning behind this resolution undermines our humanity, demeans our relationships, and sets us up for ridicule and worse... much worse. The resolution ends with the messenger's feeble attempt to show pastoral concern: "[W]e express our love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle," and, "[W]e stand against any form of gay-bashing."

In fact, that resolution by the Southern Baptists in New Orleans gives license to those who would kill us, and a license for us to kill ourselves. Even in their attempts to protect themselves from blame for any tragic consequences that might be traced back to their resolution, they use dangerous, anti-homosexual rhetoric that simply makes matters worse.

When they claim to love those who "struggle with same-sex attraction," they are implying that homosexuality is ultimately a choice about sex, and that the right choice is to spend a lifetime resisting same-sex relationships because they are sinful.

And when they claim to love those who are "engaged in the homosexual lifestyle," they are implying that those who have stopped resisting their "sinful" sexual temptations will invariably discover that the "lifestyle" they have chosen will doom them to unhappy, unhealthy, and unholy lives.

Their ultimate attempt to distance themselves from the tragic consequences of their resolution is their claim that Southern Baptists "stand against any form of gay-bashing." In fact, their resolution is gay bashing at its worse, because it implies that in the end God, too, is a gay basher who will sentence the unrepentant homosexual to an eternity in hell. Ultimately, the Southern Baptist resolution is an act of what I call "holy terrorism."

Terrorists use the fear of human violence to exert their will over individuals and nations. "Holy terrorists" use the fear of God's violence to exert their will in the same way. The U.S. government is spending billions of dollars to protect us from terrorist acts, but acts of holy terrorism like the Southern Baptist resolution in New Orleans are seldom even acknowledged, let alone condemned or confronted.

On June 11, 2001, several hundred Soulforce volunteers staged a nonviolent protest against another Southern Baptist Convention meeting in the Superdome. We walked silently behind a jazz band in a traditional New Orleans funeral procession. The casket we carried was filled with the dramatic, true stories of LGBT Southern Baptists who had killed themselves or who had been bullied, beaten, and even murdered. Also in the casket were copies of the clear and convincing case we created to show Southern Baptist that their teachings led directly and indirectly to the suffering and death of the people they were called to serve, the case we had spent an entire year trying to get their leaders to take seriously.

When our funeral procession reached the Superdome, our Soulforce board chair, Jimmy Creech, and I addressed the crowd of messengers that was gathering. We explained why we couldn't ignore the war that Southern Baptists were waging against LGBT Americans, and why we had to get our casket and its content to the messengers. When we moved forward, the arrests began.

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Over the next 10 years we wrote letters, made phone calls, met with Southern Baptist clergy and leaders of the Convention, and created pamphlets and booklets to respond to their lies about us. We protested at local Southern Baptist churches and at their national events. Soulforce spent tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours reaching out to Southern Baptists.

Nothing worked. They continue their war against us. These guys are serious. They represent 16.6 million Americans in 44,000 churches. There are approximately 30 Southern Baptist congregations in my zip code alone, and they are located in elite suburbs and impoverished ghettos. Wherever there is a Southern Baptist congregation, there are messengers who want to reverse the advances we have made, to amend the U.S. Constitution to deny us our rights, to silence us and drive us back into our closets forever.

It is difficult to remember that Southern Baptists are not the enemy. They are victims of the same untruth they use to victimize us. They are good people who really believe that we are sinful and have no idea of the tragic consequences of their beliefs. We must resist their untruth for our sake and for theirs.

If we resort to violence, we will lose the war. But if our resistance is guided by the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, truth will conquer untruth, and reconciliation will take place. I'm a tired old activist from the 20th century. You are 21st-century activists with Internet tools that could be used to launch a powerful new resistance movement. Just don't wait for someone else to do it. Please, for the sake of millions of our sisters and brothers who are victims of holy terrorism, resist!