Let me tell you about the hornets’ nest I kicked over this week.
This weekend, The First Baptist Church of Jacksonville is going to approve a statement on biblical sexuality. It has already been approved by our pastors and lay leadership. Here is what it says,
As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice. I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression.
Genesis 1:27; 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This is an uncontroversial statement for any Christian living in any place at any point in the last 2000 years. It was an uncontroversial statement for the vast majority of Americans at every point in our history up until the last decade or so. This statement framed the legal practice of marriage all across the United States until seven short years ago.
But that was then. This is now.
Now, many in our society view as controversial a statement that has been basic to Christian conviction and human society throughout history. If that were not enough, many now believe such a basic statement is not just controversial but hateful.
I wanted our congregation to understand the rationale for such a statement, and so I filmed a video explaining it. We started production several weeks ago and rented a local venue in downtown Jacksonville to record the video. Shortly after the video was released, our church received an email from the venue. They were polite but made clear the message of the video was completely at odds with their personal philosophy. They felt so uncomfortable about our message that they refunded the entire rental fee.
When I learned about this, I felt badly they were so upset about renting their facility to us. The venue made clear that they would never have done business with us if they knew what we were going to do. Likewise, we would never have rented the facility if we knew how upset they would be. It was all very regrettable.
The same people made a public post on Instagram that was much less kind than their private communication. That post has received a lot of attention. I would like to point out three realities about it.
In their post, the venue proposed to guess the reasons why First Baptist would want to film our video in their location. They proposed two options,
“We can only guess two reasons of [sic] why they chose us. A) They are flagrant morons who clearly did not do their homework on where they are choosing to promote their hateful message (we know you tried to make it look non hateful, we see you . . .) or B) They intentionally used us to attempt to pull legitimacy into their message.”
Wow. We are either morons or corrupt.
Our downtown neighbors claimed to see us but actually refused to see the real reason we used their facility: it is a beautiful location, we love to support our neighbors in downtown Jacksonville, and it honestly didn’t occur to us to interrogate the owners of a rental location about their sexual convictions before agreeing to do business with them.
In my video, I made clear that while we disagree with the LGBTQ community on the issues of human sexuality, we do not view them as enemies. Instead, we love them. And we really do.
If I had called the LGBTQ community “flagrant morons,” I would have been attacked as a hater. And that is what I would have been. It is hateful to talk like that to anyone. It’s sad that some people believe they can speak in such hateful and cruel ways to people with whom they disagree, even on something as important as human sexuality.
When commenting on the content of our video, the location owners said, “Our core values stand on the opposite end of this.” Later they added, “If there is ANY question of where we will always stand, please know it’s nowhere near this.”
I must tell you that I fully support the rights of these business owners to dictate what happens on their property. I would not want anyone to film a pro-LGBTQ video in one of our buildings, and so Jesus’ Golden rule makes me desire to love them and treat them the way I would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
But they do not desire to love us in the same way.
This local business wants their core convictions to guide how their facility is used. I disagree with those convictions, but I respect their right to determine how they run their organization.
First Baptist Church, with its statement on biblical sexuality, is saying the same thing, only from a different point of view. We have core convictions that guide our organization. We would like the same freedom in maintaining our convictions that they desire in theirs. Our statement is only for our members. It is not for the larger community or even for our guests. It comes with no force of law. We are not imposing anything on anyone. If you don’t like it, that is your business. You can go to church anywhere you like.
It is hateful that our neighbors would so cruelly criticize us for wanting our convictions to be honored in our organization the way they want their convictions honored in theirs.
In one of the final statements of their public comment, the owners of the venue made an explicit request to us, “Please don’t ever ask to darken our doorstep again.”
That is a clear message: Stay away!
It is also hateful.
I would like to speak as directly to these dear people as they spoke to us.
If you want us to stay away, we will honor your wishes. We will not darken your door. I think it is going to be a sad, cruel, and lonely world if you must insist on this kind of agreement in order to be neighbors and do business, but if you want us to stay away, then we will.
But I must tell you that we are not asking you to stay away from us.
You see, we really do love you. You are God’s creation. You are our neighbors. We would love to be friends. We would love to serve you in any way we can. We would love to work together to make our city a wonderful place where all sorts of people can feel loved and welcomed.
Of course, we disagree on issues of sexuality. We think the lifestyle represented by LGBTQ+ is at odds with God’s truth, is unloving, and is unhelpful. If your rigid fundamentalism leads you to believe that the absence of agreement means the absence of love, then that really is too bad for you.
For our part, disagreement does not require distance. In fact, the opposite is true. As Christians, we serve the living God who, in response to our sin, drew near to us. He sent his Son to live, die, and rise to pay for the sins of anyone who would cry out to him as Savior and Lord.
None of us here at First Baptist were born Christians. We were born just as sinful as anyone else. But someone loved us and welcomed us in. They told us the truth about our sin and about the Savior. We believed that message and are forever different. We are forever grateful.
We want to welcome you as we were welcomed. If you need help, we would love to serve you. If you would like to come and worship with us, you are always welcome to be part of what we are doing. Of course, when you come, we will ask you to respect our beliefs just as you want us to respect yours. But if you do come, we will welcome you, pray with you, serve you, and love you. We will also probably say some things that will challenge you. That’s ok. Real love can handle disagreement.
If you ever give us the chance, we will be happy to welcome you. We will do that, not because we agree about sexuality, but because we believe everything the Bible says about loving your neighbor, and we really think it’s possible to disagree without being hateful.