A blog by church member, Gavin McCollum
Welcome to another June and another Pride month! It’s the month where LGBTQ+ people across the country celebrate their love, their struggle, and their happiness. For this year’s Pride month, I agreed to write about the LGBTQ+ community, some of the challenges we face, and where open and affirming congregations like Second Baptist Church can come alongside us to help us face those challenges.
In John 1, God creates everything through “The Word” and The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Jesus uses words to heal the sick and to cast out demons. When Jesus visits Lazerus’ tomb after his untimely death, Jesus resurrects Lazerus simply by saying, “Lazarus, come forth.” In short, Scripture speaks to the immense power that words have to create and also the power that they have to destroy.
Earlier this year, Florida legislators passed and Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education Bill – commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The law forbids the teaching or discussion of anything LGBTQ+ related in Kindergarten through 3rd grades and restricts said teachings and discussions to “age appropriate” topics through 12th grade, though it importantly does not define what is “age-appropriate” or who would get to decide such a thing. After Florida passed its law, a number of other states across the country have lined up to pass their own versions of “Don’t Say Gay”. Supporters of the legislation claim that its goal is to protect children from “inappropriate” subject matter and from being “indoctrinated”- despite the fact that most people don’t have a problem asking 5 or 6 year olds if they have an opposite-sex “significant other”. However, with the wording of the law as well as the rhetoric surrounding its writing and passage, it is difficult not to feel that the goal of the law is to erase the LGBTQ+ community altogether by making it unsafe to even speak of the most innocuous of subjects. By mandating silence on LGBTQ+ issues, the message seems to be clear: silence on such subjects will lead to the denormalization of the LGBTQ+ community and drive them back into the closet. Even more sinister is that we know that LGBTQ+ youth experience much higher rates of mental health issues and suicidality- especially Trans youth. Words- or the lack of words- are being used to destroy.
When I first began to realize that I was attracted to guys, I was in Middle School. (What a time to realize you’re more wildly different from everyone else than you already were!) It was also around this time in history that certain politicians began to push hard to codify the idea that marriage was only between “One Man and One Woman”. This was at the same time when I was realizing that I might just be a part of the abominable community. Throughout this campaign, I heard repeatedly about how the LGBTQ+ community was an abomination. How same-sex relationships were counter to God’s will. I heard that people who had non-heterosexual attractions were simply “struggling with the sin of homosexuality”. This political strategy is largely credited as one of the main reasons George W. Bush was able to win re-election in 2004 and why many states- including Arkansas- enacted their own state-level constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.
As a teenager in middle school and high school, I heard the message loud and clear: I am different, and that difference is sinful and makes God upset. I resolved to bury this secret as far down as I could. I did not even consider myself “gay” or “bisexual” or “queer”. I was simply a heterosexual guy who happened to be (very) attracted to (a lot of) other guys. Maybe I would tell my two best friends and my future wife one day after I was married and could prove my heterosexuality to everyone, maybe I would take it to my grave. Regardless, the constant messages that I heard made clear that there were no safe spaces to work out what I was going through. What I was feeling was not wanted or welcomed. This led an already insecure teenager to loathe himself even more.
Second Baptist Church was going through its own identity crisis during this same time. Would Second still align itself with the increasingly more conservative Southern Baptist Convention, or would it double down on its support of the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship? What would that mean for a church body that contained ardent liberals and staunch conservatives? Could they co-exist? The choice was made to focus almost exclusively on partnering with CBF, but to avoid talking about politically divisive topics- especially the debate over LGBTQ+ issues. Second, which took a bold stand to oppose segregation during the 1957 Central High Crisis and which opened the first faith-based HIV/AIDS clinic in the state of Arkansas at a time when HIV/AIDS was still considered “Gay Cancer”, had chosen a path of least resistance. As I was also beginning to feel a call to serve God and the church in some way- a call that I felt was complicated by my own sexuality- I needed a place of faith to work out what I was going through. In that season, Second Baptist Church was not that place.
I won’t say that I was disappointed in 2BC at the time, because – as mentioned earlier- I did not even conceive of myself as anything other than heterosexual. I literally would not allow myself to “say gay”. 2BC’s avoidance of the issue reinforced my belief that repressing my sexuality was the right and Godly thing to do. While I understand the political and religious realities of the time, I believe that 2BC’s silence on LGBTQ+ inclusion during the early 2000s and 2010s was a failure of timidity.
It wasn’t until I was attending Duke Divinity School that I finally began to acknowledge and embrace fully who I was. This was in large part because Duke was the first place I had ever really encountered other LGBTQ+ Christians who were not trying to “fix” themselves. I also encountered a group of loving and affirming friends and professors who established a safe space for me to come to a better understanding of who I was and how my being LGBTQ+ was not a mistake or an affront to God, and that I was exactly who God made me to be.
But I bring up this story not as a means of criticism or because I am bitter, but because in order to grow from when we trespass against others, we have to confess and repent. We have to speak about how we have been destructive in order to use our words to be creative. And to be sure, Second Baptist Church has embarked on that journey of repentance and speaking to the full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in God’s creation.
I am so grateful that a few years ago 2BC decided to engage in deep, serious, and thoughtful discernment about its stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion. I am even more grateful that 2BC discerned that God’s Good Future includes the LGBTQ+ community not in spite of their sexual or gender identities, but because of their sexual and gender identities. And I am grateful that 2BC has put its discernment into action. We see LGBTQ+ 2BC members leading worship, participating in committees, and being ordained as Deacons and ordained for the Gospel Ministry. Because 2BC has chosen to “say gay”- to speak up about the Image of God that exists in the LGBTQ+ community-, it has created a space that is extremely unique in the State of Arkansas. It has created a space where the children and youth of Second Baptist can see LGBTQ+ people fully involved in the life of the church. It has created a space where those same children and youth who may discern for themselves that they are members of the LGBTQ+ community have an open and affirming church that will not ask them to be anyone else than who they were created and called by God to be. And thanks be to God for that.
But there is more to be done. It is good and right that 2BC has embraced a Gospel of full inclusion within our own walls and ministries. However, the time is here when we must speak out and advocate for that Gospel and those people beyond these walls. What happens in Florida rarely stays in Florida. Hurtful and dangerous anti-trans legislation has already been passed into law here in Arkansas and some politicians are boasting of getting it passed. And we can be quite certain that a “Don’t Say Gay” bill is on its way to the General Assembly in addition to other legislation that hatefully and maliciously targets the LGBTQ+ community in Arkansas. 2BC must continue to stand with and advocate for the people with whom Jesus would stand with and advocate for. I have no doubt that 2BC will do so, but there is a long road ahead.
And that’s why at 2BC we must continue to “Say Gay”. We must continue to create spaces that are safe and affirming and loving for those of us who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. We must continue to be an ally and fight for the lives and rights of the LGBTQ+ community in the face of the leviathan of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. We must continue to “Say Gay” because God does. Because if humans are created in God’s likeness, the God’s likeness consists of being queer and gay and bisexual and lesbian and asexual and trans. And God said all of that was good. And so should we.