This article was passed along to me recently, and it really bothered me. Basically, what happened is that Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN made a decision to open their adult softball league to community teams that weren’t affiliated with the church. The coaches of the teams who chose to participate went through an orientation/training before the season started, including Jana Jacobson. After the training, Jacobson was approached by one of the pastors of the church to confirm suspicions that she was gay and let her know that her team was no longer allowed to play in the church softball league because it would appear to send a message of the church condoning her sexuality.
Now, let me be clear… I’m very familiar with this church. I have dear friends and family members who are a part of this church, and I want to approach this issue as sensitively as I can. Many Bellevue church members and other Christians probably think this was a wise decision, and I don’t doubt their sincerity of heart in wanting to be authentic in their beliefs. I do, however, strongly disagree with this decision to not let the team play because there are gay players.
1. They are not church members. This was a team from the community that had no affiliation to the church, or any church, whatsoever. Bellevue had opened-up their league to community teams, and this team was simply looking for more games. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, Paul says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” In other words, Christians have no business putting moral restrictions on those who are not members of their own community and called to a life in Christ. Jacobson had agreed to abide by the league rules which included moral codes like no alcohol, smoking, cursing, etc… This decision was not in reaction to lewd behavior or any outward rule that was broken, it was about what a few softball players chose to do in their private lives off the field.
2. This decision singles-out “gayness” as a sin worthy of disassociating yourself from… but I’m pretty sure there were no morality tests for other coaches and players. In a church that size, I’m willing to bet there are other softball players who are involved in some things that the church wouldn’t condone. There’s gotta be at least one guy cheating on his wife… several who are addicted to pornography, and probably a good handful who are just really big jerks. By choosing to put the gay coach out of the league, Bellevue is sending a message that the issue isn’t being sinful, it’s being gay. Everything else is ignorable and forgivable…being gay isn’t.
3. This sends the absolute wrong message to the gay community. I can only imagine how hurtful and angering this is to the gay community in Memphis. This team, mixed of gay and straight players, simply wanted to play softball. They were willing to voluntarily associate themselves with a church whose spiritual beliefs about their sexuality were not affirming because they realized that it’s just a softball game. This could have been an incredible opportunity for bridge-building. This could have been a chance for church members to show this team some love and acceptance, maybe opening a door for one of them to want to visit the church. Conversations and friendships could have been started. This could have been a healing experience for someone who has been deeply hurt by the Church because they are gay, just to play a normal game of softball with some Christians. For all of the missions and outreach this church does, this softball team came to them! This could have been a chance for a church member to see his gay neighbor as a regular person to hit a ball from rather than the “other.” This could have been a beautiful opportunity for God to create some healing bridges from the Church to the gay community, but instead, I think it has erected more walls.
4. This sends-out a message of a morality-first, at any cost, type of Christian faith. Bellevue put the “danger” of someone getting the wrong idea about how they feel about homosexuality (I’m pretty sure there’s not much confusion about this, they tend to be pretty clear in their convictions.) above relationships. They cut-off relationship to a non-Christian because they thought she wasn’t moral and it would reflect badly on them. This is not the love of Jesus. This is a deeply disappointing reflection of our tendency to judge others and self-protect our image.
I’m truly saddened by this story. My intention in writing this isn’t to bash Bellevue Baptist Church, it’s to give voice to what I believe to be an injustice. Christians are not called to stay cloistered in a group that protects itself from outsiders who might be different or disagree with them. Jesus himself sought-out people who the religious people of His day discarded and rejected in order to show them love and treat them as a beautiful soul created in His image. And if I recall, He received some flak for it and His reputation was questioned, but He knew that love is more important than your public spiritual image. I really wish Bellevue had seen it that way.
***As a sidenote, part of the reason this interests me so much right now is that a few months ago I read a great book called Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin. This book is about how to build bridges from the Church to the gay community… how Christians should be the ones to take the first step of showing love and reconciling relationships. The first time I read it, I was blown away, challenged, and excited. So starting July 1, I’m going to be hosting a book group through my church for anyone who wants to read and discuss this book. I hope for the group to be a safe place to explore our experiences, thoughts, and biases against the gay community as well as explore in prayer and conversation how we as Christians can come alongside our gay brothers and sisters and show them love in their journey with God. If anyone in the Seattle area is interested in being a part of this, let me know!