“The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Biblical scholar Matthew Henry interprets this biblical passage as one in which, “The priests were solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord…while he mercifully forgives our sins, supplies our wants, consoles the heart, and prepares us by his grace for eternal glory….”

Pastor T. W. Jenkins welcomes guests with these comforting words from Numbers 6:24-26 when contacting his website for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida. Jenkins explains his Church as “Christ-centered and biblically-based…[and] offers over 30 ministries, all of which are open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home.” Well, this may hold true, except if your family wishes to assemble a funeral service when the deceased man happens to have been married in life to another man. In that case, this biblical command no longer applies, and the pastor declares it null and void.

During the wake of Julion Evans who had succumbed to amyloidosis (a rare disease of a certain protein building up in bodily organs), his mother, Julie Atwood, and his husband and life partner for over 17 years, Kendall Capers, found no hope after receiving word from Jenkins that he had cancelled Evans’s funeral after reading a newspaper obituary that Evans was married to another man, that Capers was the “surviving husband.” Jenkins told Atwood that conducting the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would be “blasphemous.”

Explaining his decision, Jenkins asserted: “I try not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God and have to stand upon my principles.”

Well, Jenkins, in your refusal to conduct the funeral service, you have, indeed, condemned Evans’s so-called “lifestyle.” Actually, I never really understood why it is that heterosexual people and couples live their lives, while those of us who love and partner with someone of the same sex lead sorted “lifestyles.” Be that as it may, Jenkins has the absolute right “to stand upon [his] principles” as he defines them, though he would do well to take note of an action taken by another branch of Baptists.

The Southern Baptist Convention, in their presumption believing that they and only they know ultimate truth, unfortunately, has a long history of justifying oppression through its interpretation of scripture.

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention on a pro-slavery plank. Delegates asserted as one of their religious “values” that God had condoned the institution of slavery. Therefore, as a good Christian, one must support slavery and not endorse abolition. They cited scripture to justify their position, for example:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5-6).

“Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

In fact, many slave ships had on board a Christian minister to help oversee and bless the passage. Slave ship names included “Jesus,” “Grace of God,” “Angel,” “Liberty,” and “Justice.”

Well, either by divine “inspiration” or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives during the1950s and 1960s.

Later, in 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention passed its “Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military,” which stated in part: “RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm the Bible’s declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible’s promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Fortunately, however, there exists no monolithic conceptualization, for other faith communities’ “values” are progressively welcoming toward LGBT people, our sexuality, and our gender expression, and these communities are working tirelessly to abolish the yoke of oppression directed against us. After the Southern Baptist Convention passed its 2010 resolution, a coalition of progressive organizations, including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe OutLoud, Faith in America, GetEQUAL, Soulforce, and Truth Wins Out sponsored a petition drive calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the harm its teachings have caused the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Similarly, not all members of the clergy interpret scripture as does Jenkins. Pastor Otis Cooper of New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa held Evans’s funeral service at the funeral home that conducted his wake.

Human diversity is a true gift as evidenced by the fact that “families” come in a great variety of packages, with differing shapes and sizes, colors, and wrappings. If, however, we still need to cling to a common definition of “family,” I would remind us of one offered by singers/songwriters, Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips, who tell us that “The definition’s plain for anyone to see. Love is all it takes to make a family.”

I hope one day Pastor Jenkins apologizes to Julion Evans’s family and friends for inflicting even more grief upon the grieving.

 


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