Letters to the Southern Baptist Church

The following letter has been sent to Pastor J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention with copies to prominent Southern Baptist Convention church leaders throughout the country in an effort to educate them about the continued severe harm they bring to LGBTQ children and adults. The very teachings that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ is toxic to vulnerable young adults and causes far too much mental anguish up to and including taking ones precious life.

We included Southern Baptist churches where influential Americans attend so they could use their positions of power to effect real change, to help achieve true equality legally and spiritually.  

 

 

Letter from Pastor Stan Mitchell, Founding Pastor GracePoint Church, Nashville, Tennessee. 

Dear Leader,

Recently, you received a letter from my friend Jane Clementi. In it, Jane implored you to sincerely revisit your position on the matter of LGBT inclusion in the church you serve. She did so, first and foremost, as the mother of two LGBT children: one living and one tragically deceased. As you know, the latter child, Tyler, died by suicide due to bullying directly specific to his being gay. Secondly, Jane’s appeal was levied on the grounds of her own evangelical and Baptist background. Herself a devoted Christian, Jane for many years held that homosexuality was a sin. And, finally, Jane’s letter was written on the grounds of her position as Co-Founder and CEO of The Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization established in the memory of her son and on behalf of every child who has, or will ever, experience bullying for any reason.

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Earlier this year, I was honored to be invited by Jane and TTCF ‘s leadership to join their board. As an ordained Evangelical pastor who has served several local churches as pastor over the past thirty plus years, I bring to the foundation a heart for the Christian Church, the Bible, and the Gospel. One of the most pressing expressions of my love for Christ and Christianity is my deep desire to see the Church shift its position on the matter of homosexuality. This shift is something I personally experienced at GracePointe Church in Nashville , TN., a church I helped found in 2003 and then led as Senior Pastor for the next sixteen years. As Pastor Emeritus now, I am deeply grateful to watch as GP, a church that fully affirms the gifts and callings of LGBT people, continues to serve Middle Tennessee and the world beyond. It is truly a Christ honoring and prevailing community of faith.

It was the Spring of 2012 when GP’s leadership made the important decision to lead our congregation into a period of discernment regarding the matter of LGBT inclusion. After two and a half years of study, prayer, and countless conversations, the decision was made to move as a local church to the position of full inclusion. Since that time, my life has become overly and wonderfully full — both in terms of time and in terms of meaning. I spend my days now working with LGBT people (especially youth) and their families as well as pastors and their congregations. Specifically, I work with these dear people as they faithfully and carefully strive to reconcile their faith to what they sense deep in their souls to be true.

Per the pastors and church leaders who come to me, most do so in the manner of the gospel character, Nicodemus. Privately, fearfully, searchingly, they come to me “under the cover of night.” Dozens upon dozens, perhaps into the hundreds now, they come to me seeking a safe place to do this sacred but difficult work. As I work with them, I do not introduce them to a new hermeneutic. Instead, I simply help them apply to scripture the same interpretive lens they have long been using, albeit selectively. It is my deep belief that the same biblically faithful lens which presently allows women to cut their hair, slaves to seek freedom, abused spouses to remarry, and on and on the list goes, when applied to the matter of sexual orientation, that same lens will produce in every church what it has so profoundly yielded in GracePointe.

Again, this is not a new hermeneutic or one that runs rough shod over the biblical text. No. Rather, this is one that takes seriously the words of Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion: “I have many things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. But when the Holy Spirit comes, He will lead and guide you into all truth.” From our earliest days, those misguided days when we excluded more than 99% of the world’s population on the cruel grounds of how they were naturally born (Gentiles), and forward, church history has made it abundantly clear — the Holy Spirit’s work of unfolding the text as human consciousness has the capacity to receive its rich truths has been an uninterrupted reality.

Time and space fails me (and due your credentials it is unnecessary) to detail the long list of corrective, reform, growth moments and movements the Church has experienced from its blessed inception. Truly, the biblical text has proven itself to be a time-release capsule, releasing its truth as the soul of the church has had the capacity to receive it. Ever and again we have proven ourselves to be a people who walk with a text we have not fully experienced. Just as in Acts 10,11, and 15, it is not scripture that stands in need of amendment but it is our reading of the text, informed by human experience, that proves itself to often stand in need of change. “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…” was not a rubric reserved exclusively for Jesus’ great Sermon On The Mount. Instead, this gracious work of the Spirit continues to the present day; and church history has done nothing if it has not proven this over and again. This process no more contradicts Jesus now than it contradicted Moses then. It is not the text that ever stands in question, but our “hearing” or reading of the text that proves itself correction-worthy.

My appeal, the appeal from The Tyler Clementi Foundation, to you is not that you dismiss Scripture but that you bravely lean into it. Allow the very human experiences of need, suffering, longing, and the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit not to cause you to dismissively override the text but to drive you back to it as it once did Peter, James, and the Jerusalem Elders. Allow the suffering and suicides of countless gay teens to drive you back to the text humbly asking, “Have we read this most faithfully and fully? Are we reading it most faithfully and fully now?”

Like Paul in First Corinthians 7, I believe we have no direct “command” or “word from the Lord” regarding this matter. What we do have is the slope or trajectory or spirit of the greater text and our history; and by this, we, like Paul, will be able to “give an opinion on this matter as one(s) who have been counted worthy.” And always, like the great apostle, we will do so beneath the canopy of “God’s mercy”, saying, as did he, “regarding these questions, (we) believe we have the mind of the Spirit.”

This is a hard ask I know. I know because I have been asked it. For years these same questions hounded me as a pastor of LGBT people, precious people who were either closeted or greatly sanctioned. Ultimately, I was willing to hear the answers to these questions regardless of the cost. And though the cost has indeed been great, I can wholeheartedly say, “What’s lost has been nothing compared to what’s been found. And all that death that ever were, if it were pooled together, could scarcely fill a cup set next to the river of life that now runs in me.” The reward of watching God’s “Spirit fall on these at it has on us” has been more than I can tell.

Prayerfully submitted for your consideration,

 

Rev. Stan Mitchell

Board Member of The Tyler Clementi Foundation

 

 

Letter from Jane Clementi, CoFounder and CEO  of Tyler Clementi Foundation, Tylers Mom. 

Dear Pastor,

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. I am writing to you today as a mom, a person of sincere and deeply held faith, and co-founder and leader of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization working to end all online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities. I am grateful to have this opportunity to share this message of hope, life, and love with you, with the strong desire that your ears, heart, and mind will be open to the transformational power that is available to you, so you will be able to reflect the love you have within you.

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As Scripture tells us over and over, we must “…. love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” But what is love and what does it look like? Scripture tells us that love does not harm and it does no wrong; it does not steal, kill, or destroy like the evil one but rather love gives life and gives it abundantly!

Telling another person that they are broken, less than, and forever separated from God because of who they are or who they love, does not give life and it is not loving. It actually is as far from love as one can get. Regardless of how the message that homosexuality is a sin is delivered, softly or harshly, it is a devastating message — a message that creates animosity within the hearts of parents, siblings, and other kin, leaving our youth to feel abandoned and alone in a cold world.

I actually see this as a form of bullying. Intentional, unwanted, and aggressive behavior where a power dynamic exists is bullying. When you, as a leader of a faith community, exert your authority and power over someone with less influence and control, and often timeless life experience to draw upon, this is absolutely a form of bullying. Continuing to preach these harmful messages of condemnation that elicit feelings of fear, shame and even terror might even be labeled by some as child abuse or religious and psychological terrorizing of innocent people.

These misinterpretations of Scripture have significant earthly consequences as I have learned all too personally. My son, Tyler Clementi, made national headlines when he was targeted because of his sexual orientation in an incident of cyberbullying in the fall of 2010. Tyler had just started his freshman year at Rutgers University. As my late son’s reality became twisted and distorted, his feelings of worthlessness and isolation must have taken over; tragically, he made a terrible and permanent decision in response to a temporary problem. On September 22, 2010, when Tyler could no longer endure his pain and despair, he ended his life in this world. He was only 18 years old.

As horrific and terrible as this bullying situation was, I have come to know there was so much more happening within Tyler during this time period. From what I have been able to piece together in the long and painful years since his death, his exposure to harmful teachings and misinterpretations of Scripture had led him to think he could not be a Christian and that he could not reach out for help from his family or perhaps, more specifically, from me. I wrestle every day with a painful weight of guilt for the many years of church teachings and traditions Tyler was exposed to — teachings and traditions of bias, discrimination, and prejudice that devalued his spirit and caused so much pain and shame within him.

These misinterpretations and teachings do not simply have earthly consequences, more importantly, they have heavenly consequences as well. You have caused far too many to fall away from their relationship with God because of your cloudy vision in reading Scripture. Using eyes from the 1st century, I sincerely believe you are not allowing the wisdom and knowledge God has been sharing with His children over the centuries to speak to your hearts or minds.

We know so much more today about the harmful physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of these condemning and hurtful messages. Medical data and research including but not limited to the following:

– LGBTQ kids raised in condemning religious families are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

– And, their attempts are six times more likely to result in hospitalization and/or death – Although less than 10% of the general population identifies LGBTQ nearly half of America’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.

– More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth say they have been personally bullied or harassed since the 2016 presidential campaign began, compared to fourteen percent of nonLGBTQ youth.

– The level of depression and anxiety existing in the lives of LGBTQ teens and kids is sadly wildly outpacing those same maladies in other groups.

Think about this information; please let this data sink in for a moment. This knowledge is not news to God but maybe to people who will not open their eyes or minds to the simple fact that who we love is a God-given gift and cannot be changed. We are all different, with different gifts and traits, but we are all beautifully created in God’s perfect image. We might be able to improve some gifts but most gifts or traits cannot be changed. I will never be an opera singer and my eyes will never be brown, just like the simple fact that two of my three sons will never be attracted to women. This is not a congenital flaw but the gift of God. You must stop interfering with God’s will. Open your eyes and see the tragic consequences that your negative homophobic interpretations have caused in the lives of our loved ones. Please stop stealing our children away and leaving our families broken and destroyed.

Your insistence to hold to harmful doctrine is not helpful or encouraging. These teachings do not draw people to the love of Christ. Rather, your toxic messages add to the tremendous burdens of many, crushing their spirit and destroying so many lives and families. Your harmful teaching that homosexuality is a sin must stop. And it must stop immediately before any more innocent young people are harmed.

To stop your harmful and toxic messages would certainly be making a compassionate loving move forward for all those sitting in your pews. But for you to experience true healing and wholeness from your wrongful deeds, you need to take a full step forward and repent for the great harm you have caused to so many. People need acknowledgment of their pain and suffering and you need to give voice to the harm people have experienced because of your misguided dogma. Just as the Southern Baptist Convention did in 1995, apologizing for the role it played in the inhumane practices of slavery and segregation, now is the time to acknowledge the immense harm and pain your misguided interpretation of Scripture has caused to the LGBTQ community and their families.

This is such an important moment in history; you have the grace-filled opportunity to repair the harm and injustice done by your past teachings related to gender, sexuality, and racial inequality. Be an instrument of grace and take a leadership position in ending the systemic racism in America where so many of the roots trace back directly to the SBC practices and its members. Don’t just stand for the sanctity of human life in regards to the unborn but stand for the dignity of all human life, regardless of the color of skin, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. After all, “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Take this huge opportunity to shine God’s love into this world by being the leaders you were called to be on these very important issues.

These are huge steps to take for sure, but please know…you are not alone; many other Churches and denominations have already gone ahead, paving the way with repentant hearts as they have heard and responded to God’s compassionate and loving call on behalf of all His children.

I am grateful for your time in reading my letter. I pray it has fallen on open ears and tender hearts. This message was written to you on behalf of the affected parents and youth in your pews. They are there. Quietly there. Silenced there. I want them to know there is support for them. I want parents to know the truth that God would never expect them to turn their backs on their children, especially not for who God created their children to be or who God created their children to love. For those of us that are followers of Jesus Christ, it is essential that we reflect on the unconditional love that God extends to us. God never walks away from us and we must never walk away from our children. That is the truth parents must-hear. This is why we will be making all of our letters accessible to the public. If this letter tugs at your heart, even in the least, please reach out, I would welcome a conversation.

May God fill you with His peace, courage, and strength as you hear His call to take the necessary next steps to shine God’s love into this world.

In Christ’s love and peace,

Jane Clementi

CoFounder and CEO