When voices of profound conscience rise to the occasion, something changes. If we didn't hear that voice or notice the change, it could be because that voice helped to dissipate the gathering darkness of a horror that might have been. Or maybe we just weren't in the right place at the right time, or didn't happen to be reading where the writing occurred. But it is important for the rest of us to try to always keep our ears open for such voices. It can make all of the difference.
Yesterday I stumbled on an eloquent, bellwether essay by Bill Leonard, a Professor of Church History at Wake Forest School of Divinity. He says he has always stuck to issues and has never been in the business of calling out fellow Baptists -- until now. He recognizes that the horrendous sermon of North Carolina Baptist pastor Charles Worley calling for concentration camps for LGTB people, is not merely a colorfully extreme statement by an obscure preacher who accidentally made national news. Leonard knows that Worley's sermon is stuff of which holocausts are made; that it must be addressed; and there is no going back.
Below is an excerpt: But I recommend reading the whole thing, even if reading essays by Baptist div-school profs is not your usual fare.
Pastor Worley said things that are repugnant in any Christian pulpit, that shame the name Baptist and undercut the gospel itself. Although I've sometime been embarrassed to be a Baptist, until now I've never really been ashamed.
I remain haunted by the courage of those early Baptists who, for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, looked beyond their historical context to the vision of a believers' church, uncoerced faith, freedom of conscience and transformation through Christ.
But tonight I am ashamed, because I heard a Baptist pastor say things so abhorrent to the gospel of Jesus that I could not keep conscience with my Baptist forebears and remain silent. In what appears to be a May 13 sermon, Charles Worley declared: "Build a great, big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there," Then he continues: "Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. Feed them, and you know what, in a few years, they'll die out. Do you know why? They can't reproduce!"
I've listened to those statements multiple times, each time hoping that I'm not hearing what I think I'm hearing. But I am.
That a person who serves a congregation calling itself Baptist would utilize such brutal words is not simply an affront to the men and women he wishes death upon, but to all who "name the name of Christ." So dastardly are those words and the sentiment behind them that those of us who value the Baptist tradition must demand repentance of this fallen Christian brother.
Indeed, repentance is the only way back. And anyone who stands with him in those words must also repent. Whatever one believes about culture-war controversies, to use the language of violence and death as this pastor did is a repudiation of the good news of Jesus.