A REPLY TO DR. DELMAN COATES FROM PASTOR DWIGHT MCKISSIC,
CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL BAPTIST FELLOWSHIP OF CONCERNED PASTORS
APRIL 15, 2015
Dr. Coates, grace and peace to you in the Name of our Great King, Jesus Christ. Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough response to the National Baptist Concerned Pastors Press Release regarding three pro-gay marriage speakers who recently appeared on the campus of American Baptist College, Nashville, TN. The tenor and tone of your response posted at “Many Voices: Black Church Movement for Gay and Transgender Justice” seeks to communicate truth, wrapped in a veil of tenderness. As you know, with regard to same-sex marriage, you and I don’t share agreement on what the truth is. Nevertheless, it is my desire to “speak the truth in love” in reply to your response, just as you sought to do. When and if an opportunity presents itself, I too would welcome an opportunity to dialogue concerning this matter.
The National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors (NBFCP) believe that the Bible teaches that all sex outside of God’s plan for marriage, and sex between same-sex partners, married or unmarried, is sin. This is the historical tradition held by the Church and most societies on the planet for more than 5000 years. Therefore, if there is anyone pushing a divisive agenda, it would be those who are seeking to undermine and overturn 5000 years of established tradition. Dr. Forrest Harris, President of American Baptist College, in extending an invitation to three proponents of same-sex marriage that contradicts the published positions regarding marriage on the NBC website—is the one responsible for fostering division. Blaming those of us who are “currently contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” “for the potential division,” is simply a dishonest response to the facts.
Allow me to address your concern that our request to ask American Baptist College to rescind the invitation to Bishop Flunder “seems contrary to what one would expect from an institution of higher learning that seeks to encourage the free exchange of ideas.” You are correct, Dr. Coates: Colleges are historically places where “free exchange of ideas” is encouraged.
Just as there are limits on free speech, there are also limits on a “free exchange of ideas” even in a college setting. As you know, one cannot yell “fire, fire” in a movie theater or any similar gathering place, unless there really is a fire. One can’t articulate language that’s designed to incite a riot, while addressing an emotionally charged audience. These are well known exceptions to the idea and principle of “free speech.”
Likewise, there are limits and parameters that contextually a Baptist college speaker must honor, respect and not violate. Prostitution is legal in certain cities in Nevada. Yet, it would be inappropriate to affirm prostitution on a Baptist College campus. Payday lending loans that carry exorbitant interest rates are legal in many states, and some are owned by Black investors. But, it would be inappropriate to affirm payday lending loans in a message at a Baptist College, with young impressionable minds having to sort through the pros and cons of such a loan. Consenting sexual relations between an adult male and a sixteen year old male is legal in some states. Again, it would be inappropriate to affirm that “legal” act in a speech at a Baptist college. Same-sex marriage is currently illegal in the state of Tennessee. It is inappropriate to affirm same-sex marriage that’s in violation of the laws of Tennessee. Currently, on the NBC website, chaplains are only authorized to perform heterosexual marriages. You get the point. Even on a college campus all “free exchanges of ideas” are simply not wise or appropriate. I’m sure that you would agree with me on this.
Dr. Coates, you are correct that National Baptists permit a wide range of views on many different doctrinal topics, to repeat some that you’ve named: “Speaking in tongues…whether women can be deacons or ordained to preach, the return of Christ, whether there should be Baptist Bishops; the list goes on and on.” Honestly, I love the diversity of theological views permitted by National Baptists. I find this compelling and attractive, more so than any other existing Baptist denomination that I am aware of. However, we don’t offer a “range of views” on the applicability of the Ten Commandments, the Deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Jesus, the sinless life, the bodily resurrection, and the return of Christ. We don’t offer a “range of views” on “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Historically, we have not offered “wide range of views” on the sanctity of marriage, and marriage is a union between one man and one woman. The same holds true for each individual Commandment. There is no wide range of views regarding “Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not lie. Thou shall not covet. Thou shall not commit adultery.” Dr. Coates, it is simply not true that National Baptists offer a “range of views” on any and all theological subject matters. And when it comes to same-sex marriage, you know and I know, National Baptists have offered only one view…just as there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:6).
Dr. Coates, you are right again: the autonomy of the local church is a cherished Baptist freedom. American Baptist College is an institution whose charter clearly indicates that its Board of Trustees is to be appointed by the NBC and her President. Therefore, ABC should reflect the beliefs of the NBC.
If National Baptists allow any and all theological viewpoints, as your letter suggests, that literally means that a National Baptist pastor and church could embrace polytheism and bigamy; and based on your argument, the NBC should tolerate such a pastor based on local church autonomy, and the four “freedoms” referenced in your letter. Dr. Martin Luther King said “Freedom must always be within the framework of destiny.” What you are arguing for is an abuse of freedom in the name of Baptist autonomy.
With regard to the NBFCP not addressing other sins that clergy sometimes commit, my question to you is this: Of all the distinguished lecturers in the history of the Garnett-Nabrit Lecture Series, which one has publicly announced their sin, affirmatively preached their sins, and the congregation applauded their sin? I submit to you, Bishop Flunder is the only one that has come in and “worn her sin as a badge of honor,” to borrow language from Dr. Randy Vaughn. But to this extent I agree with you; when or if a lecturer comes to ABC and wear their sin “as a badge of honor” the NBFCP will be compelled to address that sin with the same tenacity that we’ve addressed Bishop Flunder’s. Please notify us if that happens, and we’ll get right on it.
At the heart of what it means to be an evangelical is to believe that the Bible is inspired and infallible. In my judgment, it is impossible for one to label himself or herself an evangelical while rejecting Matthew 19:4-6, where Jesus clearly taught the exclusivity of marriage between a man and a woman.
I don’t quiver or disagree with your distinctions regarding “civil law” and church law as it relates to marriage. In a Democratic society—as we see unveiling before our very eyes—indeed the democratic, legislative, and judicial processes may eventually redefine marriage in every state in the Union. It’s at that point that for the believer, God’s laws ought to trump man’s laws (Acts 5:29). There is a moral law for the believer that should supersede man’s law. And what you consider to be “marriage equality” the Bible would consider that to be moral insanity and gender identity confusion (Romans 1:14-32). It is baffling to me why preachers would quote and cite the Constitution in juxtaposition to the Bible.
Finally, “there may be indeed strong perspectives on all sides,” but ultimately the Word of God does not bow to contemporary culture; contemporary culture must bow to the Word of God.
I do not question whether or not one can be a Christian, and because of civil law, affirm same-sex marriage. I do question whether or not one can be an evangelical, and hold to a belief in same-sex marriage.
Regardless, though, I receive you as a Christian brother, I respect your success as a pastor, and your scholarship achievements. I respect your preaching/teaching gift. One of my members heard you deliver two messages at the ABC Lecture Series and was greatly impressed. She placed you in the tradition of C.A.W. Clark, E.K. Bailey and other great lecturer/preachers who’ve lectured at ABC.
I also humbly submit this reply in hopes that it will engender open dialogue and reflection. Compassionate faith and understanding are important traits for believers. I share your quest for these traits. If at any point that Bishop Flunder and/or yourself wish to dialogue further, I will gladly host. Dr. McMickle has offered to do the same at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. I’m in Arlington, TX, in the DFW Metroplex. I will even provide first class hotel accommodations and meals, if you all travel here for a one-two day dialogue. We know going in, none of us are going to change our minds; but the understanding, love, “exchange of ideas” and various understanding of text, would certainly be informative. And I believe that we all are committed to mutual respect and compassion.
By the way, Bishop Flunder boldly stated that the press conference held by the NBFCP was “paid for by people who do not have our community’s best interest at heart.” For the record, Black pastors and Black Christians who want to preserve the sanctity of marriage in the Black community as being between one man and one woman, have paid for all expenses in total related to the travel, press conference and public relations firm. I would appreciate it if Bishop Flunder would retract this totally untrue misrepresentation.
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