Stereotypes. Sometimes we think all Baptists and Baptist churches are the same when it comes to their view of homosexuality. But Oakhurst Baptist in Decatur, GA is an exception. JoEllen Holmes recently wrote about her own journey in changing her thinking over the years about persons who are gay and their role in the church.
When I was a Senior at Jacksonville State University (Alabama), my Sociology teacher wanted to take our class for a multi-cultural field trip which included a visit to the premier gay bar in Atlanta. I wanted to go, but somehow, my conservative Baptist roots held me back after my Pastor warned me that going to such a place would be like visiting hell.
During my years at a Baptist Seminary, I know that I had many friends that were gay. As a student there, I am certain that they were not out of the closet, but retrospectively, I am aware that many were struggling with the issue and were not able to talk about it openly. Yet, I knew, and I didn’t know how to process it. Because even then, in what was then a progressive place of education, such discussion was not welcome.
Finally, after completing seminary, I was working on my Master of Social Work. One class, Cultural Diversity, gave us an assignment to visit a place that was not within our cultural comfort zone. I decided then, that my visit to the gay bar was long overdue.
My pastor’s warning did not seem to be based in reality. Instead of finding hell, I found a place where human beings existed. In fact, my escort for the evening were two gay friends from the local Baptist church that I began attending. From that experience, I learned that it really did not matter whether or not homosexuality was a sin or evil, but what mattered was that if God dwells among us now in human form, then God is a part of the lives all human beings, including gays and lesbians.
Today, I am a member of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, GA. Every year, our church is only one of few churches that march in the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade. We are in fact, the only Baptist Church. Our church gathers every year on the weekend, putting together a float on the back of a flat bed truck. Some 30 – 40 members of Oakhurst walk together, children, adults, parents of LGBT friends, straight, black, and conservative lookin white people get together to celebrate the goodness of our diversity. We receive jeers from some who have been scarred by the abuses of the church. We see weeping from others who long for a church that they can call home. We hear jeers from the conservative churches in the crowd cursing and damning us into hell for our beliefs. We also hear applause and cheers from those who are thankful that we are there.I am very thankful for my brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian. They have enriched my life, and have become a part of the fabric of my world. Thanks be to God.