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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and homosexuality

1987 to 1998-JUN:
SBC statements & actions about homosexuality:

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SBC positions on sexual orientation:

The SBC's Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) published a pamphlet called Critical Issues: Homosexuality. It states that:

bullet The many Bible passages that are commonly quoted as condemning homosexuality are valid.

bullet People can change their sexual orientation.

bullet Homosexual orientation is not "caused" by hormonal imbalance or genetic factors, but by an unhealthy relationship with one's parents.

bullet People cannot be pigeonholed into two classifications: homosexual or heterosexual. A continuum exists which includes various degrees of bisexuality.

bullet Although homosexual activity is a sin, it is not the unpardonable sin, or "the most terrible of sins."

bullet Homosexuals can only lead moral lives by remaining celibate.

bullet Discrimination against gays and lesbians is proper, in the areas of:

bullet employment.

bullet to protect the family. [They are presumably referring to families headed by heterosexuals]

bullet to protect other social institutions.

Rev. William Merrell, the SBC's vice president for convention relations said in 1997-MAR:

"It is a fundamental contradiction, to say 'gay minister,'...The teachings of scripture are plain; that one is called to live a life that is in keeping with the principles the Lord has given us. Homosexuality is a fundamental denial of those principles."

Within the SBC, Merrell said members always have affirmed the same position: homosexuality is a sin, homosexual ministers should be removed, and gay and lesbian people must renounce the lifestyle if they want to become members, or to continue as members, of the denomination.

Although the above relate to beliefs up to 2.5 decades ago, the SBC has apparently not changed their position since that time.

SBC statements and actions involving homosexuality

bullet 1987: Their convention condemned homosexual behavior as a "manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards." They viewed homosexual behavior as being linked to a general "moral decline" in America.
bullet 1991: Their convention passed a resolution saying that homosexual behavior is "outside the will of God." and that "it is the responsibility and privilege of the church to minister to homosexuals".
bullet 1992: One of the traditional, identifying characteristics of Baptist churches had always been the freedom of the individual congregation in matters of doctrine and morality. This had been the defining factor among Baptists for centuries, worldwide. Congregational freedom had existed in the SBC ever since the founding of the denomination.

This came to a crashing halt in 1992. First, the North Carolina State Baptist Convention "disfellowshipped" (expelled) two of its congregations. They acted against the recommendations of their own executive committee. Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill NC had approved the ordination of a known homosexual. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh NC had blessed the relationship of two loving, committed gay men. The disfellowship decisions were later ratified by the SBC, who warned that other churches would be expelled if they demonstrated "unfriendly cooperation". The SBC amended their constitution to bar from membership any congregation that would "affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior." This convention was the one at which the then:

"then-Vice President Dan Quayle made his famous "Murphy Brown" speech condemning unwed motherhood. Thus the major media mostly missed what may ultimately turn out to be a much more significant story: that the issue of homosexuality caused the largest American Protestant denomination to violate its own founding principles in the antigay measures approved by the Convention." 1

bullet 1993: The SBC condemned President Clinton and Vice-President Gore for their support for ending discrimination against gays.

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bullet 1995: The Convention acknowledged that human slavery was wrong, that they had sinned in the past on this issue, and that the sin of racism still existed within the church. Slavery and racism have nothing directly to do with sexual orientation, but it indicates that the SBC is capable of reversing a well entrenched, biblically based, ethical position, and apologizing for past sins.
bullet 1996 At their convention, almost all of the approximately 13,000 delegates voted in favor of implementing a boycott of Walt Disney movies, products and theme parks unless Disney changes its policies concerning how they treat treatment of religious topics and their extension of equal rights to their gay and lesbian employees.
bullet 1997: At their annual convention in Dallas, TX, Rev. Richard Land, president of the SBC Christian Life Commission, addressed the messengers (delegates), saying "Disney is going to find out just how many regiments and just how many divisions of godly people Southern Baptists have." Referring to negotiations over the previous year between the SBC and Disney, Land reported "On good days, the Disney corporation ignored us. On bad days, they contemptuously gave us the back of their hands." The 12,000 delegates implemented the boycott that had been threatened in the previous year. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor.
bullet 1997-OCT: Oliver Thomas of the National Council of Churches and Herbert Valentine of the Presbyterian Church (USA) were scheduled to talk in support of the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. 2 This bill would have prohibited discrimination against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation. A procedural move prevented them from being heard. Will Dodson, director of public policy for the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said that he "walked away from the hearing both sad and angry." He was not distressed that the fellow Protestants had been muzzled, and not permitted to speak. Rather, he commented:

"I walked away angry because there were actually church leaders who were there to support the bill. As Christians, our response to this issue should be to love the sinner and hate the sin. It is infuriating to hear church leaders suggest that we are showing love for the sinner by accepting his sinful behavior. Christians ought to be helping them to escape a sinful, harmful lifestyle. I can understand how those without Christ would defend their lifestyle. However, it is inexcusable that Christians would defend lifestyles which are contrary to Scripture."

As of 2011-NOV, the "ENDA" bill still has not progressed.
bullet 1998-JUN: At their annual convention in Salt Lake City, UT delegates passed a resolution opposing any attempt by the government to provide  "endorsement, sanction, recognition, acceptance or civil rights advantage on the basis of homosexuality." This resolution is confusing on four levels:

bullet They opposed legislation which would give recognition to homosexuality. This is surprising, because the only legislation on the books at that time that mention homosexual behavior are those (commonly called sodomy or crimes against nature) are laws which criminalized homosexual behavior.
bullet We are unaware of any attempts to create laws which would extend to gays and lesbians any civil rights advantage. The programs of gay-positive advocacy groups appear to be directed towards obtaining equal rights -- those that already been extended to heterosexuals.
bullet the resolution talks about "homosexuality", but does not indicate whether it is attacking homosexual orientation or homosexual behavior.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. James C. Waller, "In the Middle of Sodom and Gomorrah": Raleigh-Area Churches and the Homosexuality Issue, at This essay describes a gradual evolution of belief within two SBC congregations on the "homosexual issue".
  2. Tom Strode, "Church leaders endorse ENDA; SBC rep decries their defense" at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2011 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-NOV-11

Author: B.A. Robinson
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