Earlier this month there was a bit of an uproar within the National Baptist Convention in general and around American Baptist College in particular. American Baptist College was founded in 1924 for the purpose of training African-American ministers. Located in Nashville, the school has a rich connection to civil rights issues. It is a historically black college and has an all-black faculty. But none of that really has anything to do with the uproar mentioned above.
The problem arose when the college invited a married, lesbian bishop to speak at the school. Some conservative black preachers called on the school to withdraw the invitation because the Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin. The bishop in question, Yvette Flunder, was not scheduled to address anything associated with homosexuality. Instead, she was to speak at the school’s annual Garnett Nabrit Lecture Series “about her work advocating for the rights and needs of people suffering from HIV and AIDS,” according to The Tennessean.
The Tennessean went on to report that the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors stated the following in a news release calling for the invitation to be rescinded: “For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman, to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical, and certainly displeasing to God.”
In response, American Baptist College President Forrest Harris said, “I think they have misappropriated the theology of the National Baptist Convention which says that churches and individuals can hold their own theological beliefs about what they think is right and wrong. It’s tragic these conservative pastors are in opposition to what education ought to be about, to expose students to critical moral thinkers and a broad education.” Harris may have been able to make a legitimate claim for the second part of the statement, because students do need to be exposed to critical moral thinkers. Still, there are plenty of critical moral thinkers who are not practicing homosexuals, and the invitation clearly implies an acceptance of Flunder’s lifestyle choice. Far more troubling is the assertion that the National Baptist Convention says that churches and individuals can “hold their own theological beliefs about what they think is right and wrong.” I do not know if the NBC teaches that or not, but if it does, it is a heretical organization. no where does the Bible allow churches or individuals to decide what they believe is right or wrong. Are there areas on which the Bible is not explicitly clear and about which individuals and even churches can decide they hold certain convictions? Absolutely. But the Bible is explicitly clear about what is right and wrong in many areas, and when the Bible is explicitly clear there is no other alternative.
That Harris is not much concerned about what the Bible has to say about the matter is clear in another statement he made, which has been reported in a variety of news outlets. “It’s sad that people use religion and idolatry of the Bible to demoralize same-gender-loving people,” Harris said. He then said “idolatry of the Bible” occurs “when people say (the Bible) is synonymous with God and the truth.” He continued, “We can’t be guided and dictated by a first-century world view.”
I beg your pardon, Mr. Harris, but saying that the Bible is synonymous with God and with truth is not idolatry; it is exactly what the Bible says it is. I am certainly not advocating a first-century worldview. Rather, I am advocating a biblical worldview. That the New Testament was written in the first century does not at all mean that it delivers a first-century worldview. All that means is that the first century is when God chose, in His sovereignty, to reveal His Word.
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that John 1:1 says the Bible is synonymous with God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is breathed out by God. I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that the Bible is synonymous with God and truth. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I am not sure Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that if it was true in the first century it is still true today; there is no expiration date on biblical truth. Romans 8:14 says that all those who are led by the Spirit of God are the Sons of God. That same Spirit of God inspired the authors of Scripture way back in the first century. I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that we must be guided by that worldview.
May we never be ashamed of holding fast to the Word of God!