Tag Archives: Church structure

Kentucky "Welcoming Church" Leaves Baptist Association

In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same – sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations – and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.

The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches.  In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist’s commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : “All Are Welcome – No Exceptions”.

 

The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC,  that asked the pertinent question “Who Stole Jesus?“. This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister – church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association

The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.

“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”

Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”

Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”

The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.

– Associated Baptist Press – Kentucky church leaves association.

In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the “Who Stole Jesus?” question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to “steal Jesus” away from them.

Soho Masses – Supporting Church Teaching.

The Sunday after London Pride last year, our Soho Mass was briefly disturbed by an uninvited visitor, making an entirely unauthorized video recording of the proceedings. His recording of the bidding prayers has now surfaced on some conservative Catholic blogs.

In a Catholic Herald report, some of the bloggers and others opposed to the Masses have used these as supposed evidence that they exist primarily to challenge Church teaching. Fr Ray Blake, for instance, claims that

“What I find scandalous is that Mass is offered for a group of people who, as this video shows, obviously dissent from the teaching of the Church and gather primarily to challenge that teaching, rather than to worship.”

This conclusion is patently ridiculous, and not supported by the texts of the bidding prayers themselves. These in particular, appear to be what they most object to:

 …..that the various communities we represent, ethnicity, language, gender and sexual orientations, find means to celebrate this diversity, and strive for greater social justice for all people.

Are the opponents seriously suggesting that we should not be praying for social justice? Another prayer they objected to, was for

…lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender organisations here and throughout the world, and especially those which gather to support people of faith, that they may reflect the rainbow covenant of justice and integrity which God establishes amongst us.

What is forbidden by Church teaching, is same-sex genital activity. There is nothing in the prayers that even remotely encourages this.

Watch, and decide for yourselves:

What these prayers do promote, is an obvious corollary to the other part of Catechism teaching – the importance of respect, compassion and sensitivity, which must lead to the acceptance of full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. So these bidding prayers are promoting, not contradicting, Church teaching – one of the parts that the objectors conveniently ignore. (The other part they ignore, is that none of us has the right to pass judgement on the state of another’s soul).

Fr Blake is also totally wrong that the “purpose” of the Mass is not worship. Five years ago, when I and a group of others were discussing with diocesan representatives the parameters for our move into a Catholic parish church, it was clearly understood, and agreed by us, that the Masses were to be pastoral in nature, and not campaigning. As part of the organising team ever since, I can confirm that we have stood by that agreement scrupulously. The sole purpose of the Mass is to provide an opportunity for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, to meet together for a corporate act of worship, in a setting where they know they will receive a particular welcome – together with other Catholics, and in a parish setting. It is true that I and some of the other organisers do disagree, strongly and publicly, with Vatican doctrine on sexual ethics, but that is kept strictly separate from the conduct of the Masses. (In the same way, it is likely that in any student chaplaincy, there will be a strong proportion of young people who disagree strongly with church teaching on sex before marriage, or on masturbation, but that does not imply that Masses for students are organised to promote dissent. A similar argument applies to family Masses and contraception.)

In his response to the objections, the CH quotes our chairman, Joe Stanley, who said that he did not think Fr Finigan’s view of the Soho Masses was representative.

“Our experience of ordinary Catholics in the pew is very different from the comments in the blogosphere. The Masses keep getting represented as “gay Masses”,” he said, emphasising that they are public Masses that extend a particular welcome to gay people and their parents, families and friends. 

But the most important response is that of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of the diocese of Westminster, in which the parish falls. In a supportive statement, he reminds us that

As with every Catholic Mass, the bidding prayers celebrated at the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory ask for the intercession of God in the lives of people who may be in need.

Bidding prayers for every Mass must reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church and this applies to the Mass held every fortnight where a particular welcome is extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics and their families. 

There is no sacrilege in bringing together a group of Catholics for worship. The only sacrilege here is in making an unauthorized recording of that worship for the sole purpose of sowing dissension. There is no dissent expressed in praying that all may be included and treated with respect in the Catholic Church. The only dissent, is in opposing a considered, deliberate pastoral plan by the Archdiocese to put Catholic teaching on respect, compassion and sensitivity into practice.

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A Silver Lining to Avila’s Nonsense on “Satanic” Origins of Same-sex Orientation.

The extraordinary fiasco over comments by an advisor to the US bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative would be the stuff of high comedy, if it were not so tragic. (Indeed, much of the commentary from the secular LGBT blogosphere has been hilarity at the nonsensical nature of his claim that homosexual orientation has a Satanic origin).

The tragedy is that someone so appallingly ignorant on both the scientific evidence, and on orthodox Vatican teaching, should have been formally employed by Church bodies in the first place. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that the orientation is entirely natural, regularly recurring in both humans and the animal world, and is entirely non-pathological. The Vatican accepts this, and also states clearly that the condition is in no way sinful, and that the Church deplores violence or malice directed at those with a homosexual inclination, in either speech or action. Instead, we should be treated with dignity, understanding and respect.

Avila’s theology is deeply flawed, an several useful on-line commentaries point out. (See Bill Lindsey for instance at Bilgrimage, with an extensive set of important links, and valuable commentary of his own, on the outdated and damaging views expressed by Avila – and expressed in marginally less offensive manner by some bishops themselves. Personally, I could not face wading deeply into the depths of Avila’s idiocy – but I am fascinated by the aftermath.

The silver lining in the tragedy is more interesting: the remarkably swift response by the Church, both at diocesan and national level. The archdiocese of Boston was the first to response, withdrawing the offending article from the publication in which it first appeared. Now, he has resigned from his position as adviser to the USCCB sub-committee on marriage. This swift response mirrors earlier corrective action by bishops in Canada and Texas to homophobic speech and actions by priests. Together with other indications from different regions and sectors of the Church, I believe the conclusion is now inescapable: the Catholic Church is undergoing a fundamental change in stance on homosexuality and gay relationships.

(I would stress here the change is on of stance, not position. Church teaching remains unchanged:  orientation is morally neutral, genital acts are sinful. What has changed, is a shift in emphasis, from an obsession with the acts, to greater emphasis on the pastoral response, to avoiding offensive speech, and a corresponding increase in priority for the “dignity, respect and understanding”, which has been so badly neglected until recently).

Among several news reports on Avila’s sudden resignation, the best I have found is from the Washington Post.  Here are some extracts:

A policy adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ anti-gay-marriage initiative resigned on Friday (Nov. 4), a week after writing a column that blamed Satan for homosexuality.

Daniel Avila had been an on-staff adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage since June.

Unofficially, Avila referred to himself as the “bishops’ marriage guy” and represented the USCCB’s stance on marriage in Washington.

Avila also apologized in a statement on Wednesday. “The teaching of Sacred Scripture and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church make it clear that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and have inviolable dignity,” he said.

“I deeply apologize for the hurt and confusion that this column has caused,” Avila added. Avila also said that his column did not reflect the opinion of the Catholic bishops and was not authorized before publication. The USCCB has not taken an official position on the causes of homosexuality, Walsh said.

Among the interesting items in Bill Lindsey’s piece, are some suggestions that the swift ecclesiastical response has been triggered in part by the work of progressive activists groups and writers.  Perhaps the bishops are finally beginning to take note of the polling evidence that shows how far they are out of step with the Church on issues of human sexuality. It may not always seem like it, but queer Catholics are slowly gaining influence in the Church. (Avila’s resignation came swiftly after gay rights groups had called for Avila’s ouster. Coincidence?).  In the Washpost article, I particularly liked the response by  Marianne Duddy-Burke, of Dignity:

“I think it’s appropriate that he has resigned,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church.

“I would hope that the bishops will follow it up with some significant action of repentance to demonstrate that they understand the harm that he has done to LGBT people and our families.”

 The Washington Post.

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