Dallas’ gay-affirming Royal Lane Baptist Church honors 97-year-old civil rights pioneer Bruce Lowe with special Sunday service, scholarship
LOGAN CARVER | Contributing Writer
But those often ostracized by the church — gays, lesbians, blacks and women — have an unlikely ally in a 97-year-old Baptist pastor named Bruce Lowe, as well as the members of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas.
Lowe dedicated his life to ensuring everyone had a place at the table, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
His “Letter to Louise,” a painstakingly researched treatise detailing the Bible’s affirmation of homosexuality, has been online for more than 10 years, has given hope to countless questioning Christians and continues to receive more than 50,000 page views annually.
Lowe pushed for women in clergy and even left the pulpit for a career in civil rights during the 1960s after his Southern Baptist congregation expressed displeasure over his support for racial integration.
This Sunday, Sept. 16, Royal Lane Baptist Church — a welcoming and affirming congregation — will hold a special service to honor Lowe and his wife Anna Marie for their lifetime of advocacy.
“For me, these two saints are my greatest heroes,” said Nancy Ferrell, a friend of Lowe’s for more than 30 years. “I’ve never met anyone who could match them in kindness, faithfulness and courage.”
An unlikely ally
Lowe is kind, intelligent and epitomizes what a gentlemen is and should be; but he is fierce when it comes to civil rights, Ferrell said.
After standing up for women and blacks in the church, Lowe turned his focus toward the acceptance of gays and lesbians around 2002. He admittedly harbored some prejudice against the LGBT community until a friend, distraught over the belief her brother was going to hell for being gay, prompted him to research what the Bible actually says about homosexuality.
The result was “A Letter to Louise: A Biblical Affirmation of Homosexuality,” which can be found at GodMadeMeGay.com. The academically structured letter is a thoroughly sourced, reasoned and scripturally supported call for acceptance and inclusion of gays and lesbians.
“Our churches need to change, for the churches ought to be havens for gays and lesbians from the insufferable burdens they bear constantly,” Lowe’s letter states. “But when the world believes that churches despise and condemn homosexuals, those who hate them find encouragement.”
Ferrell said even though Lowe was retired, he became an online chaplain to people who emailed him after reading “A Letter to Louise.” He counseled parents who were trying to come to grips with the identity of their gay children, as well as adult gays who were struggling with their own identity and faith.
David Chapman, a former Royal Lane member now living in Austin, who set up GodMadeMeGay.com as way for Lowe to publish
“A Letter to Louise,” said that until recently, Lowe personally handled all the emails in response to the website.
“I know that he has saved lives, there’s no question,” Chapman said. “How many? I don’t think you could pry it out of him.”
Lowe, who graduated Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1946, read more than 40 books and pored over scripture before coming to the conclusions contained in “A Letter to Louise.”
He wrote that the people who vote against affirming homosexuals are the people who have never studied it and are basing their decisions solely on prejudice.
“Now I know that gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation, for they are created by God, in his image with an unchangeable orientation which is good and with a God-given purpose,” Lowe wrote. “I know the love between gays and between lesbians is no less than that of others. I am convinced the Bible supports their loving, committed relationships, that there is no moral evil in such and that society and our churches should affirm them fully.”
It’s no surprise that Lowe would write with such conviction about equality, given his background, Chapman said.
Lowe was the pastor of a church in Louisiana during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Southern Baptists weren’t supportive and Lowe couldn’t stand it. Lowe’s congregation went so far as to hold a vote of confidence to determine whether he could remain pastor despite his stance on civil rights. He survived the vote, but immediately flew to Washington and convinced the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, to hire him in its office for civil rights.
Lowe thought he could have a greater impact and do more good working for equality than he could in the pastorate.
The department put him to work the next day and he worked for civil rights until his retirement at age 79.
“What he’s done with regard to gay and lesbian issues is just a continuing pattern for Bruce’s life,” Chapman said.
Progress in practice
It’s also no surprise that Lowe would find his church home at Royal Lane.
The historically progressive North Dallas church was early to integrate and to ordain women and was kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 2010 over the church’s acceptance of openly gay deacons.
Harry Wooten, minister of worship at Royal Lane, said the break from the state’s largest Baptist group wasn’t the result of anything radical.
A committee was formed to rewrite the church’s mission statement, and with a longstanding history of diversity, including openly gay members serving as deacons for more than a decade, the committee felt inclusive language was necessary to accurately reflect the congregation’s philosophy and makeup.
The church describes itself as a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations and denominational backgrounds.
“That’s been true for the 15 years that I’ve been here and it was true some years before that,” Wooten said.
Apparently the powers that be in the BGCT never read “A Letter to Louise,” and in May 2010 voted to no longer accept funds from Royal Lane.
More than two years later, Royal Lane remains strong and will gather Sunday to honor one of its most progressive members — a determined voice for equality ahead of his time.
Royal Lane deacons last week approved the establishment of a scholarship in Bruce and Anna Marie’s name. The Bruce and Anna Marie Lowe Scholarship allows the church to tell the Lowe’s story each year when the scholarship is awarded and keeps alive the name of the man who touched so many lives.
“He’s challenged us to be better than we were,” Ferrell said.
Bruce Lowe Day
A service honoring Bruce Lowe and his wife Anna Marie for their lifetime of advocacy will begin at 10:55 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, in the Royal Lane Baptist Church sanctuary, at 6707 Royal Lane in Dallas.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2012.