Click here to read an AP article about a church here in Baytown that has been "disassociated" with by some big Baptist group because they are helping to start a ministry aimed at the Gay and Lesbian community.
For those of you too lazy to read the whole article let me sum up. A good friend of mine, Randy Haney, is the pastor of a small diverse church called Faith Harbour. I am well acquainted with many of the members there and have visited their services. Randy has recently come under fire from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for allowing the group Eklektos to hold meetings at their space, a rented out storefront in the Bay Plaza shopping center. Eklektos is a ministry that seeks to minister to the GBLT community in and around Baytown. At the onset of this ministry I was invited to come to the original planning meeting, but out of laziness or perhaps sheer busyness I neglected to go, despite having half-way intended on it.
Nonetheless, Eklektos pushed on without me. Go figure. Because of Faith Harbour's association with Eklektos the SBTC spoke with Randy about severing ties with Wendy Bailey, the originator of Eklektos. They believed Eklektos to be a new gay church that Randy and her were starting. Well, Randy's not starting it ad Eklektos isn't a church. When he refused the SBTC "disassociated" themselves with him, along with several other organizations including Baker Road Baptist who had until recently been giving support to the Harbour. (In the reports of this meeting I've read the suits from the SBTC kept referring to Eklektos as a church, despite Randy telling them repeatedly that was not a church. That's very humorous and typical to me. Like something you would see in a SNL sketch.)
To a Church of Christ boy who is used to a completely different set of political and ideological messiness within church bureaucracy, I don't quite see why The Harbour was even all that keen to associate with the SBTC, in the first place. In the good ole' C of C while most still adhere to a few general similarities (communion, baptism, a cappella singing) each congregation is truly autonomous and answers to no higher power. Except God. So aside from some unwritten and unbroken rules, there are no rules except what's written in the Bible. Interpretation of scripture is completely up to the individual church, and yet somehow they all seem to conform for the most part. Hmm. That sounds familiar....
As I see it, what good does a membership in any type of hierarchal system do for a church that is aiming to be diverse and individual? Since I don't really know how it all works, I won't assume to know the answer to this, but I'm guessing that the SBTC gives financial backing? I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong. I happen to know that most of the members of Faith Harbour weren't raised Baptist and probably would not consider themselves "Baptists." A service at the Harbour feels very non-descript and free. It's unlike any worship I've ever been to. It feels more like friends just getting together to sing and listen to God speak to them through music, art, the Bible, or whatever else moves them. It's a long way from the church that raised me, but also quite a ways from most Baptist fellowships, as well.
So, it's a wonder to me why the Harbour still wishes to associated with such a stuffy group anyway. But, it is obviously a huge deal, judging by the press coverage, and so my heart goes out to the Haneys and the other members of the Harbour. On the other hand, suppose I do understand. Afterall, I still attend a Church of Christ. There's always the idea that one can change the system from the inside out. I don't think that is Randy's goal with the Harbour, but it's a thought.
The problem, as the SBTC sees it, is simple. They have bylaws stating that member churches may not condone or support ministries that condone the homosexual lifestyle. I probably quoted incorrectly, but that is basically it. The Harbour supports Eklektos by offering space in which to meet, and by linking to the Eklektos website on their own. Eklektos's website states that they are "[A] community of Christians...especially called to welcome and affirm people who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered." To the SBTC this means that since Eklektos "affirms" (an ambiguous term) gays they are "affirming" being gay, and so is the Harbour which means that the Harbour is outside the guidelines of the SBTC.
I have had lengthy discussions with Randy on the topic and I know that Randy would never allow the Harbour to be perceived as affirming the homosexual lifestyle. He is a strict literalist with regard to interpretation of the Bible. I think whether or not Randy is condoning anything, however is not even relevant to the SBTC. It seems to me that they simply want to distance themselves from anything that doesn't fit their mold. Faith Harbour certainly doesn't fit any mold and never has. Being aligned in any way, shape, or form to a gay-friendly organization just adds to their deviation from the mold set up for member churches.
A little research tells us that the SBTC is actually based in the idea that Baptist churches must conform. Their website states, "The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention does not seek theological conformity, but our own autonomy has led us to set parameters for fellowship." Does that not seem a little contradictory to anyone else? "We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture" but they have also decided that one's interpretation of that scripture must conform or they will not associate with him or her.
For the two or so years that I've know Randy I have come to admire him greatly. He and I differ on many topics, ranging from politics to religion, but he has always been gracious enough to sit and welcome my opinions and views. We discuss topics which people can get very heated about and yet he calmly gives me reason for his view and accepts mine without the usual backlash of disdain and judgment that unpopular opinions are often met with. He understands a basic Christ-like principle that many people over-look: Christ didn't tell us what to think or try to force others to believe what he wanted them to. He fought for the rights of others, in fact, and encouraged them rather than ridiculed them. I've never felt judged by Randy Haney, and yet through this ordeal and over his blog and others' he is being judged repeatedly and unfairly. It breaks my heart. But, I know that he can handle it because I know that he's dealt with this kind of scrutiny before. It's my belief that men like Randy who aren't afraid to push for change and unorthodoxy usually are.
I link to the Eklektos website in my sidebar because I believe in it's purpose and vision. It's goal isn't to condemn anyone but to invite people in as they are. Because I believe Jesus will accept us all despite our sins, whatever they are. I also believe that Gays and Straight alike are sinful and are God's Children. Jesus didn't only die for sinners who loved the opposite sex. He died for everyone. I'm proud that Baytown is host to such visionaries as Wendy Bailey and Randy Haney, who, despite polarity of opinions have daily found common ground in Christ. Well, I see Christ in both of you. I love you both and pray that this mess will strengthen both Faith Harbour and the Eklektos ministry (not a church).
UPDATE: The term I was looking for is "disaffiliate", not "disassociate," although it's really the same thing, isn't it?