What was the process like that led Crescent Hill to adopt an unequivocal commitment to LGBT inclusion?
I’ve been at Crescent Hill seven years and obviously that does not encompass the totality of the history of that place. I came about the time that folks from Burma began arriving in large numbers and uniting in membership with Crescent Hill, and much of my time in those early years was spent trying to figure out how in the world we might be able to be a church, a unified body, that includes people who don’t speak English, who have a completely foreign background and cultural experience, as well as with folks that have been around Crescent Hill or at least born in the U.S. It took a lot of hard work. It took a lot of effort. We reached a place a number of years ago, where while things are far from perfect, things work. Things work. We have learned how to be in community with others who are radically different from us. About three years ago, not long after I rolled into the position that I have now, we realized that in order to be authentic to gay and lesbian individuals in the pews and in our community that we needed to clarify how we were going to be in relationship with those folks. I found that because we had in the previous years learned how to be in relationship, one that is fully welcoming and affirming of folks who are so radically different from us, that this experience really helped us have conversations about how we were going to be in conversation with people who were already long-standing members of our church and in leadership positions and loved and had modeled Christ for us, who also happened to be gay and lesbian. So the coming of folks from Burma and their incorporation, and our incorporation into them, and their incorporation into us so that we might be one church, laid the groundwork for us and it paved the way. When we began to have some conversations and began to discern how we were going to be in relationship with LGBT folks come the spring of 2013 it became evident to me, and I think to others, that it was a pretty simple move to make. We studied the Bible, we prayed, we heard testimonies from those who were gay and lesbian in our church and beyond our church about how church had helped or hurt them in their journey. All around that was the fact that if we can do what we had done with folks from Burma then this is not a difficult step for us to make. But at the conclusion of that e two-month discernment process on June 20th we took a vote and it was overwhelmingly in support of the motion that was before the congregation to fully welcome and affirm those who are gay and lesbian. Not everyone agreed. A number of folks abstained. Those who did vote voted overwhelmingly in support of that move, but we’re still not a homogeneous place.
You could say that about any group of Baptists, couldn’t you? Have other Baptist Congregations asked for your help in fostering such a process in their own church?
We haven’t heard from any corporate body about navigating a conversation like that yet. However, we have heard in the last month, since the KBC announced that they intended to dismiss us, from dozens if not hundreds of individuals, many of them who are I know from churches that are affiliated with the KBC and other Southern Baptist churches asking about how it is we understand and interpret the Bible and how it is we reached the conclusion that we did.
So you will be open to spending some time with others who wish to begin this process?
Yes, without a doubt and that’s been one of the greatest sources of encouragement over the past few weeks. We continue to have the opportunity to share our story in the media and are hearing from folks asking us for resources , asking for some guidance, telling us they are not where we are at this point and time, but that they are open to growing and learning and exploring about how we got to be where we are. That’s where the real work and opportunity for ministry is opening for us.
Has this positive response surprised you?
No. It hasn’t surprised me all. I know many people in churches that are labeled as conservatives that I respect and care for who think with an open mind and are willing to embrace new ideas. It hasn’t been a surprise to me at all.
How would you characterize your conversation with Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders leading up to Crescent Hill’s expulsion from the KBC?
We did have, I wouldn’t say extensive, a fair amount of communication with KBC leaders including the Executive Director Dr. Chitwood in the month that led up to yesterday’s vote. And those conversations were cordial. They were not heated. They were pragmatic in nature and so I appreciate that there was a clear channel of communication between those leaders and us. I am grateful for that and appreciate of the fact that they were willing to engage with us in these ways.
How has your church family taken this ending of a 100+ year relationship?
With mixed emotions, as you can image. So many folks at Crescent Hill are like me. They grew up in Southern Baptist churches and it was in those places we were first taught the Bible. Those teachings have brought many of us at Crescent Hill to where we are regarding this matter today. There’s sadness, there’s genuine sadness, for me and many others, but at the same time we are delighted and greatly encouraged by the fact that so many people are reaching out to us and want to learn more about this matter and about how we got to the place where we are, or expressed such encouragement and support for us. Mixed emotions of sadness. Also gladness for the opportunity to forge new relationships and to do new ministry that articulates the love of God.
I know that Crescent Hill has relationships with other state and national Baptist Bodies (CBF, ABC, AWAB, and Alliance of Baptists.) Do you expect that your church’s stance on LGBT inclusion will have any negative or positive impact on those relationships?
With those entities you just named I don’t think it will have a negative effect for them or us. Certainly for the Alliance and for AWAB, those Baptists entities that we affiliate with have advocated for a long time for full Inclusion of LGBT individuals. I believe and I hope this will be something that brings greater attention to the good work that they have been doing for many years. As far as the KBF and CBF go I hope that this might just further some conversations in those circles about this issue. I think that both CBF and ABC are pitching a big enough tent and there is room for these kind of conversations and there needs to room for those who want to undertake them.
Have you received tangible support from the KBF?
Chris Sanders, the Interim Director of the KBF was with us today (Wednesday) and we have been fully embraced and welcomed by the KBF.
What are your feelings as you prepare for the first same-sex wedding at Crescent Hill?
I will be jointly officiating. Given everything that has unfolded in last several months with the KBC and given the fact that Robin Lunn, the executive director of AWAB was with us just a couple of weeks ago and preached, I feel as if that over the course of the last month we have come out of the closet as a place that fully welcomes and affirms LGBT folks. What happens when you go through that and feel that and experience that then your first same-sex wedding comes along it is not as big a deal as it could have been for me or for our church, because that’s not the moment in time in which we are now making a statement. The word is out. Even though it’s a relatively new development that wedding will not be the most shocking development.
The CBF says that LGBT inclusion is a now best left as a matter for each individual congregation to address on its own. What are your feelings about the hesitancy to take a corporate stance in favor of LGBT inclusion?
I understand that it is a difficult place to be. I think it’s really important, especially given Crescent Hills’ last few weeks, to recognize that there are Baptists who are striving to pitch a big tent, that are striving to be real “denominetworks” or denominations or associations that are true to Baptist polity, that recognize that each congregation and each individual makes decisions regarding their faith. This has to be balanced against making sure that we are not discriminating against, perhaps latently or tacitly, individuals that are just being who God has created them to be.
Listening to you it seems fair to say that Crescent Hill does not see itself as an activist church on this issue.
No, I don’t think Crescent Hill sees itself as an activist church. I think Crescent Hill sees itself as Crescent Hill. This stance is wholly consistent with the DNA of Crescent Hill that’s been in place since at least 1926 when the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary moved from Broadway downtown to the hill on which it is currently situated. Crescent Hill was formed in 1908. I feel confident in saying that this is who we are and this is pretty much who we always have been. It doesn’t feel very activist because this is who we have always been. It really just feels like being honest.
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