Today the White House announced a broader exemption to the Health and Human Service’s rule requiring religious institutions to provide contraception coverage to their employees. Basically it says that religious institutions who object don’t have to buy it, but the insurance company will have to provide it free of charge. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty sees this as a positive move that protects the freedom of religious institutions and provides for the health care needs of their employees.
Hopefully, this compromise will quell the concerns of those who felt the previous rule provided to narrow of an exemption for religious institution. I do wonder though if it will be sufficient. In part because I am not sure that religious liberty was their primary concern. The two religious groups that were most vocal in their criticism of the previous rule were the Roman Catholic and the Southern Baptist Convention. These are two groups who always have the subjugation of women on their unwritten agenda for engaging the world. Catholics do not allow women to serve as priest nor do Southern Baptist approve of women serving as Senior Pastors. One wonders if these two groups would have a different theology about birth control if more women were involved in their theological conversations.
Don’t get me wrong, the Catholic Church has provided the world with some brilliant and beautiful thinkers. I try to read something from Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr everyday. St. Francis, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day still provide as good of an example of what it means to follow Jesus today as they did when they were alive. Yet in recent years we have seen that there are problems in the church when it comes to human sexuality. This is true among Catholics and Baptists as well. Unfortunately, each group has its share of predators waiting to exploit. Each group has resisted acknowledging the problem and addressing the issue. They have chosen rather to hide behind their theological priorities and ecclesiastical language. That has left us all a little less comfortable than we might have been when it comes to talking about sex.
A friend pointed out the other day how refreshing it would have been to see the kind of moral outrage from Catholic bishops over children being sexually abused as they demonstrated over the thought of having to provide birth control to their female employees. In fact, the former Archbishop of New York went in the opposite direction last week by recanting a previous apology he had made on behalf of the church to the victims of sexual abuse and their families. Catholics and Baptists alike seem to prefer telling others what is and is not acceptable rather than having open and honest conversations about sex and why God made us the way God made us. t.
In a world that is grossly overly-sexualized, the church must find a way to help families and individuals have a calm conversation about what it means that God has made sex apart of our human experience. To that end, I wish that I could be at A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant this April 19-21.
In the early days of the movement we know today as the Baptist branch of the Christian faith, those who were moving in a Baptist direction did not refer to themselves as Baptist. They were called by Baptist by those who opposed them. It was a term of derision that was not meant as compliment. The Baptist accepted the name and made it their own by the mid 1600s. They were small bunch of people with a whole lot of conviction and not much else. Their status was bottom of the barrel and their ability to win friends and influence people was virtually nonexistent. For that reason, they always seemed to be getting kicked out or run off. In 1607, John Smyth, founder and leader of a band of believers that would become Baptists, led his people to Holland in order to escape religious persecution in England. In 1635, Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist Church in what would become the United States of America was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his nonconformist views on religious matters. In 1770, James Ireland, a Virginia Baptist pastor, was kicked out of free society and into Culpepper County jail for preaching the Baptist understanding of Christianity. From the very beginning, Baptists have an established legacy of being made to feel less than welcome by those who had the power to make their lives uncomfortable.
Even in the 21st century some Baptists are still getting kicked out of places. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is about to kick the Tarrant Baptist Association out of the building that the seminary owns. The seminary is kicking the association out because the association has yet to make any effort to kick one of its member churches, Broadway Baptist Church, out of the association. The association is way behind schedule from the seminary’s point of view as Broadway has already been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Broadway was kicked out of the SBC and BGCT because they would not kick any homosexuals out of their church. Now the seminary is kicking out the association because their failure to kick Broadway out of the association cannot viewed as anything other than tacit approval of Broadway’s decision to not kick homosexuals out of their church.
If all you know of Baptist history is the last thirty years, then you might be inclined to think that the Baptists in this latest dispute are the ones doing the kicking. In the past three decades, Baptists have grown quite adept at kicking people out; running people off and making those different from them feel less than welcome. They seem to find a great deal of satisfaction in doing to others what was done in earlier times to very people who started the Baptist movement. Broadway Baptist Church and Tarrant Baptist Association are in good company. Smyth, Williams, Ireland and a host of Baptist forebears experienced the pain of exclusion, the threat of harm and the brute force of coercion at the hands of those who thought they were speaking for God. Their courage and conviction bear fruit to this day in the resolve shown by Broadway, Tarrant and others who refuse to be bullied by church hierarchies that seem more concerned about their own agendas than in sharing the richness of God’s grace with one another and with the world.
In the beginning, it was the Baptists that were getting kick out of places. Truth be told, it still is.