A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
While the Southern Baptist Convention considers whether or not to denounce white supremacy and the “alt-right,” it apparently has no such equivocation over the place for LGBT Christians at its annual gathering: gays and those preaching tolerance for them are not welcome inside the Convention’s annual meeting.
At least, that’s the message sent loud and clear to a small group of activists who tell RD they were “forcibly removed” from the convention this morning in Phoenix, Arizona. All told, five people were removed and had their conference registrations revoked, allegedly without formal explanation. All of those removed are affiliated with Faith in America (FIA), a progressive nonprofit dedicated to “[moving] the needle forward on LGBTQ equality in the pews and in our legislation.”
Brandan Robertson, a 24-year-old bisexual cisgender man, and former SBC youth leader, told RDthat he and a colleague had noticed a plainclothes security officer following them around the conference center for roughly 10 minutes before that officer approached them, demanded their conference name tags, and escorted them off the property. Robertson said the officer claimed to be acting on behalf of SBC, and repeatedly declined to provide a reason for their removal. The officer allegedly told Robertson and his colleague, Tim Gold (husband of FIA co-founder Mitchell Gold), that he would call the police if they set foot on hotel property again.
For Robertson, whose nonprofit Nomad Partnership had teamed up with FIA to attend the annual SBC meeting, the pointed rejection felt familiar. Robertson attended SBC-affiliated schools and churches “off and on” for eight years, and was a youth group leader at baptist churches in Illinois and Maryland. In 2014, he was formally condemned by the SBC for his outspoken support for marriage equality in Time magazine. He says he was threatened with expulsion from Moody Bible Institute (which has deep connections to formal SBC structures) for what he describes as his “shifting opinions on marriage equality and because I confessed I had struggled with ‘same-sex attraction.” By 2015, he had lost a book deal with a Christian publisher for reasons he believes to be related to his LGBT identity and his refusal to condemn other LGBT people.
“I felt a rush of anger and shame,” Robertson said of his thoughts upon being removed from the conference. “I have been threatened with expulsion and exiled by so many conservative Christians because of my desire to build bridges and ask questions about what we believe and how we live. It was a familiar feeling of rejection because of who I was, and a clear indicator that I would never be welcome as an LGBT+ person in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Robertson contends that FIA had informed senior leadership at SBC, in writing, of its intent to attend the annual meeting and engage with participants about the “tangible harm” faith-based condemnation of LGBT people does, particularly to LGBT youth. He told RD that SBC leadership had responded and acknowledged FIA’s plans, and that during those exchanges, “we received no pushback.”
He stressed that when they were removed, none of the activists were engaged in any form of direct action, protest, or confrontation. In fact, as Robertson wrote on his Huffington Post blog about the incident, he was coming off a first day of the conference that was “filled with wonderful conversations with pastors of churches, large and small, which were eager to hear my story and I, theirs.” Robertson told RD that everyone affiliated with FIA had gone to great lengths to maintain warm, welcoming postures, and were not looking to be confrontational.
Robertson says that he, Mitchell and Tim Gold, and FIA interim executive director Robert Hoffman had been engaging in conversation with fellow attendees without incident, and members of their team handed out pamphlets, until they were all escorted off the premises shortly before noon on Wednesday.
“There was nothing about our time here that was aggressive, protest-like, or disruptive,” Robertson said. “We refrained from using words like ‘bigot’ intentionally. We were here as registered guests, participating like everyone else.”
“I was blown away by how afraid the SBC must be to engage in these important conversations, so much so that they would revoke our registration and force us to leave,” Robertson concluded. “I felt the full weight of their fear, and where there is such fear, we can be certain that there is no possibility of love.”
Update: On Wednesday June 14, 2017, after contentious debate, Southern Baptists passed a resolution expressing their opposition to the “alt-right.”
First published in Religion Dispatches, published by University of Southern California.
Sunnivie Brydum is a journalist and former managing editor of The Advocate, whose work has also appeared in Vox and Bustle. She writes about the politics of equality, and strives to elevate the voices of marginalized LGBT people.
Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, Phoenix Convention Center, June, 2017, Phoenix, Arizona (Photo courtesy, SBC media)