June 26, 2001
Dr. James Merritt
President, Southern Baptist Convention
First Baptist Snellville
PO Box 647
Snellville, GA 30078
Dear Dr. Merritt,
Congratulations on your election to a second term. And sincere thanks for taking your stand publicly that Southern Baptists "deplore violence against anyone, regardless of their race, color, or even sexual preference." However, the phrase that includes us – even sexual preference — is rather dangerously misleading. I’m sure you meant no harm, but when you apply the principles of exegesis to those three words, what inferences are clear?
For example, by your use of the word even, you’ve set "sexual preference" as a category inferior to "race or color." What if you had said, "We love Baptists and Presbyterians, we even love Jews…" That clearly implies that it is easy to love Baptists and Presbyterians, but it is a lot harder to love Jews. So, people who hear your words against "physical violence" are left to wonder why is it harder for Southern Baptists to deplore violence against homosexuals than people of another race or color.
Worse, instead of sexual orientation you say sexual preference, which implies, against all scientific research, that homosexuality is a choice and not a given. We hope you don’t mean to imply the following, but this is the way our adversaries hear your words. "We deplore violence against anyone, regardless of their race, religion, or even sexual preference… though these people bring violence on themselves because they are sick and sinful by their own bad choice."
So, in your honest attempt to take a stand against making lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people victims of violence, you have demeaned us twice. And by refusing to meet with us, by refusing even to come out of your Annual Meeting for just five minutes to take your stand against violence with us, you’ve added a third dangerous inference, that homosexuals can be talked about, but don’t even bother to talk to them let alone with them.
If Jews had asked you to take your stand with them against anti-Semitic violence, you would have come out gladly. If women had asked you to take your stand against spousal abuse, you would have agreed without hesitation. So any one looking on wonders why homosexuals are so sick and so sinful that you couldn’t even meet with us or stand with us at a press conference against violence. Gay men, lesbians, and transexuals are the number one victims of hate crime violence in cities across the nation. Turning your back on us sets a tragic example for Southern Baptist pastors who then turn their backs on their gay parishioners or for Southern Baptist parents who turn their backs on their own gay children or for "gay bashers" who honestly believe they are doing God and the nation a favor by killing us.
You imply in your letter that you refused to meet with us because you don’t "respond to any kind of ultimatum." Read our letters again. We certainly didn’t intend them to be "ultimatums." We offered to take no action, to perform no protest in New Orleans if you would just meet with us and take a stand with us against violence. Our vigils were polite. Our materials were not inflammatory. Our Jazz Funeral was deeply moving. And our civil disobedience was conducted with respect and without interrupting your program or causing fear or anger to your Messengers.
If our words seemed like an "ultimatum" we apologize, but we’ve spent more than two years reaching out to Southern Baptists, trying to begin a dialogue about sexual orientation. We’ve tried time and again to demonstrate to you with photos and stories the tragic consequences of your teachings and actions against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children. Isn’t it time to consider the issue of sexual orientation again when so much is at stake?
Tens of thousands of Southern Baptists have been crying out for decades, begging you to re-examine the evidence that homosexual orientation is just another variation of God’s mysterious creation. How many of them have killed themselves in their desperate desire to reconcile your teachings with their experience? How many lives have been wasted, families destroyed, churches divided because you refuse to even discuss the scientific, psychological, historical, pastoral and even biblical evidence that your gay clergy and laity are as normal as you are?
We don’t deliver "ultimatums." We’re working to save the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention in the same way Jesus tried to save the soul of the Pharisees. They knew the Law by heart, but they had forgotten the heart of the Law. The heart of the Law is this, said Jesus, "justice, mercy, and truth." Your antigay teachings are unjust. Your antigay actions are unmerciful. And though you quote over and over again those six ancient biblical sentences to caricature and condemn us, you refuse even to discuss the truth that we are God’s children, too, created and loved as we were created.
We’ll be back next year, Dr. Merritt, and the year after that and the year after that, until one day, the Spirit of Truth gets through to your hearts and minds. This is not an "ultimatum." This is a loving promise from people of faith who know all too well the tragic consequences of your anti-homosexual misinformation in the lives of our sisters and brothers and in your lives and in the lives of your families and friends.
Jesus has delivered the only "ultimatum" that concerns us. One day, He said, there will be a judgment. Those who care for the outcast will depart into eternal life. Those who refuse to care for the outcast, will depart into eternal damnation. You are making outcasts by your teachings and actions against sexual minorities. And by making outcasts out of us, you are making Christ Himself, an outcast. "When you refuse them," he warned, "you refuse me."
Please, Dr. Merritt, appoint that blue ribbon committee to hear the evidence. Talk to gay people in your congregation privately, hear their stories. Talk to the scientists, the researchers, the medical doctors. Talk to the pastoral counselors and psychologists. Talk to the biblical scholars. Talk to our loving Father. Your re-election gives you one more chance. Let the Spirit of Truth move in your heart and mind. Help us end the suffering.
PS: During the next year, you and the members of your Executive Committee will receive stories and photos of Southern Baptists who love the SBC but who have been victims of its anti-homosexual teachings. The first will come from Karen Weldin, the Director of our "Bring Truth in Love Relentlessly to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, 2002." We would love to meet with you before that Annual Meeting. Name the time and place. We’ll be there.