As a born and bred New Englander I am always excited to see a new part of the country. I love seeing the landscapes and finding local mom and pop places to spend a few dollars as I visit churches, both members and potential members. On my trip through the Deep South last month I was struck by an awareness that was never quite so present in other parts of the country. It was an awareness of danger amidst the southern hospitality that I have heard so much about all of my life.
When I met with the community of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Alabama I was treated to the southern hospitality that lives welcome and affirmation in a diverse community of people that includes the un-housed, the mentally and physically different, as well as LGBTQ and allied folks. I sank into this beautifully diverse community all the while knowing that Birmingham is the city that jail Dr. King and killed or maimed five little girls as they got ready for church on a Sunday morning.
When I met with some of the folks from University Baptist Church in Starkville, Mississippi I saw the beauty of a faith community seeking to live as a prophetic witness in a state that still codifies discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing and employment, public accommodations and services. The cost of a Baptist church becoming openly Welcoming & Affirming in Mississippi is still unknown, but I pray for safety even as I pray for their willingness to be that prophetic witness to God’s love for all.
As I drove south from Starkville to Jackson and passed the sign for Philadelphia my heart pounded and I wondered how many “queers” had been lynched in these parts as they fought for their rights as black and brown-skinned people? I wondered how many Anglo gay and lesbian Freedom Riders had been killed or had their lives threatened because they stood with the African American community? I wondered how this invisible line between the LGBTQ and African American community is kept bold by the false distinction between communities who are scapegoated by powers and principalities that use fear to ensure their continued place at the top.
Bless their hearts......
As I drove through cotton fields and bayous, the Piney Woods and the Delta plain I was struck over and over again by the Word I was bringing to these places, these moments in time. The Good News I shared over and over again was for all who want to be welcomed and affirmed just as they are. The Word I was sharing was about a movement not solely for the LGBTQ community, just as the Civil Rights movement was not solely for the African American community. The Word I was sharing was for God’s Kin*dom come on this world as it is in heaven. A place where the lion and the lamb, the child and the asp will all share God’s welcome table!
And yet I was deeply aware that this Word was filled with danger, for when the lion comes to the table there will always be the desire to eat the lamb for lunch. The lion must be willing to submit their instinct to the Good News of Christ’s new world order if the transformation of the cross is going to end in resurrection. Sadly, this has not been a common response to the invitation by the lions of our world, hence Birmingham and Selma, Jackson and Philadelphia – places where the idea of “southern hospitality” has been met with a banquet of hate. And this hate is born of fear, the same fear that drove a few well placed religious leaders and Roman authorities to condemn a man from Galilee to death for living love.
I look forward to the next time I am in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana because I know there will be new banquets of love to live and more true southern hospitality to enjoy. I look forward to being in Birmingham and Starkville, Monroe and Shreveport, Jackson and New Orleans and all of the other places where Welcoming & Affirming Baptists are living the Good News, because God is doing a new thing there.