A Missed Opportunity

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.

Here’s why:

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!

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9 responses to “A Missed Opportunity

  1. Amen, amen, amen.

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  2. Emily, would you consider trying to submit some version of this article to the Memphis paper as an op-ed or somesuch? I’m currently in the south, and it seems like newspapers are much more open to overtly evangelical material. It might be an appropriate confrontation of some and a healing balm for others to read this.

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  3. Oooo you should write a letter to the editor! And I am looking forward tot he book/discussion group!
    – Emily

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  4. We just had this same discussion with our smallgroup and came to the same conclusions. What a missed opportunity to show the true heart of Christ. Great article–you should submit it to the paper!

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  5. i agree. excellently and tactfully written- with grace. a huge issue here, that being gay is worse than another sin- completely unbiblical. the lack of accountabliity within the church for those who are believers is apalling- something i have personally and very recently experienced-that while those on the “inside” are doing what they please behind closed doors,while casting stones at those who have not been brought to the truth in love…. someone needs to have a plank-removal session for those pointing out the splinters in others.

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  6. My thoughts exactly. Who are we to judge? We are taught to love and outreach our arms…to all. He did.

    If the softball program was to be an open league; then I see no boundaries crossed or mixed signals given by allowing a this team to play.

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  7. I have mixed feelings about this issue, so I’m not altogether on anybody’s side. Here’s some of my thoughts:
    1. They are not church members. – I find this argument of yours the most compelling. This was a recreational activity. She was, nonetheless, not just a player, but a coach. I do understand the church being concerned about who coaches a team in a league they sponsor on church grounds. This wasn’t just a person wanting to play a sport, but the leader of a team in a church league. The church responded that they couldn’t, in good conscience, put that person in a leadership position. On some level, I see the church’s side. If she was just a player who was expelled, then I’d agree with you 100%. As it is, I’m still struggling with my opinion on the decision.
    2. This decision singles out gayness – While it may seem that way, Steve Gaines did state “if another coach was currently an adulterer, cohabiting with someone, hooked on pornography, or participating in ‘the sin of homosexuality,’ they would suffer the same fate.” I have little doubt that Bellevue would remove any coach that they knew to be involved in habitual, unrepentant sin. It just happened that this person who was removed was gay, and the media picked up on it. I’m almost certain that Bellevue has in the past removed coaches for other behavior.
    3. This sends the absolute wrong message – “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.” I hesitate to support this statement fully. I agree that what they did erected more walls, but I disagree with the underlying premise that every action that erects walls is undesirable. Loving the Lord and obeying his word does erect walls (2 Cor. 2:15-16), yet we don’t want our sinful behavior to add to those walls. The beauty of the gospel is that we’re all terribly sinful. I don’t believe the solution to building bridges with the LGBT community is to avoid telling them they’re sinful but to admit that we’re all sinful and in need of Jesus. I think perhaps that Bellevue’s actions may have given an incomplete picture of the gospel.
    4. This sends-out a message of a morality-first, at any cost, type of Christian faith – They cut her from what they considered to be a leadership position at the church. As I stated, I’m not sure what the rules should be, but I understand their concern over the character of the coaches in their league. That being said, I think what had sent out this message more than anything is not the firing of the coach but the handling of the situation as a whole. The self-righteous attitude of some people who have supported the decision have added flames to the fire.
    Like I said, I’m not altogether on anybody’s side. I’m concerned about the religious moralism on the one hand, and I’m concerned about a person who is living for herself being in a leadership position connected with a church. From the articles I’ve read, it appears that some supporters of Bellevue’s decision are feeling superior to people like this coach. I obey that commandment, she doesn’t. I’ve already experienced the gospel, she needs it. In reality, we all need the gospel every day. Perhaps it’s not so much the action that Bellevue took but the statements made by and attitude of some people who support this action that’s done the most damage.

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  8. Laura, if I may,

    I relate to what you say on point #3. I do want to affirm that I am troubled if our deep relationships do not lead to confrontation on sinful habits. To me the problem is that the church in general has done a terrible job of expressing love. Our position on this sin is generally clear, while our love is and long has been completely lost. Therefore, imho, we do need to be bending further, making sure that if our immediate presentation of the gospel is incomplete that we’re at least establishing the relational part first (as the one that has been wholly distorted thus far) w/ potential opps for a fuller “truth” to follow.

    Just my 2. I also don’t think any coach outside of the church’s team would consider themselves a church leader but, rather, a leader coming to meet the church’s team and its leader. Why the church might view their leadership this way puzzles me.

    God bless,
    Deb

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  9. I can understand the perception of the Bellevue pastors of wanting to make sure that any person in a position of church leadership should be blameless and an example to others, and being gay doesn’t fit into their concept of that. The head pastor recently claimed this was the reasoning behind the decision to remove Jacobson and her team from the league: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/jun/23/ousting-gay-coach-necessary-bellevue-pastor-says/
    However, I think to call this a position of church leadership is a major stretch, and it doesn’t work. Jacobson is not a church member, and the team that she had been coaching (this wasn’t a new team, they had been together before trying to join the Bellevue league) weren’t church members. In no way was she in a position of spiritual leadership over them acting as a Bellevue representative. When the church opened-up the league to community teams, they had to realize that non-Christians would be a part of that, and non-Christian coaches would have different lifestyle choices than them. In no way does this have anything to do with being in a position of spiritual leadership over Bellevue congregants. I could understand their decision more if this was a Bellevue member who happened to be gay and wanted to be a coach over a Bellevue team… (even though that could be disputed as well) However, there is nothing spiritual about softball, and when you invite teams from the community into your league, you can’t pretend that there is and you can’t expect their coaches to live by your standards. I’m also concerned that the entire team was ousted from the league. I think a more compassionate response would have been to try to come-up with a way for the team to still play even if the coach wasn’t allowed. (although I couldn’t imagine the team choosing to do that)

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