Baptists in the news

Joe Phelps

Joe Phelps

With a few notable exceptions — for instance, Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas and Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth — the Baptist faith isn’t known for being very welcoming toward and affirming of LGBT people. But the times, they are a’changing, as these news items from the weekend show.

Wedding bells at Kentucky’s Highland Baptist

A Baptist church in Kentucky will host a same-sex wedding next May for two of its gay members, and a Baptist bishop who left her church in Detroit after revealing she had married a woman has started a new congregation in Maryland that is open to the LGBT community.

David Bannister Jr., 29, and Steven Carr, 25, have lived together for five years. For the last two-and-a-half years, the couple have been working to get their church, Highland Baptist in Louisville, Ky., to let them have their wedding ceremony there. Now the church has agreed.

Highland Baptist, with a membership of about 1,200, left the ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Convention about 20 years ago and is now affiliated with the more progressive Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship. In 1998, the church included a gay couple’s photo in the church directory, and afterward slowly began to become more welcoming to LGBT people. In 2012, Highland Baptist ordained openly minister the Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, who leads the church’s gay ministry.

The church formed a subgroup in February 2013 to study the issue of holding same-sex weddings after Bannister and Carr first approached Pastor Joe Phelps, but then postponed any decision. A new subgroup formed the past spring and in May decided unanimously that the church should hold same-sex weddings. Phelps said that church bylaws required the deacons to bring the question to the church membership for a vote. But to do so seemed wrong, he said. The church has posed a “fact sheet” here to “clarify” media reports.

Phelps said, “To vote on it is to basically ask the question, ‘Are gay people fully human like the rest of us?’ I think spiritually and morally, that’s a step we cannot take.”

As it stands right now, even though their church will host their wedding, Bannister and Carr will have to go elsewhere to be legally married, because Kentucky has a ban on same-sex marriage. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II recently overturned the ban and the state law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. But the judge also issued a stay on his ruling pending appeals.

Bishop Abrams’ new church

Baptist Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams, who resigned as pastor of Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit last October after announcing she had legally married another woman several months prior, has started a new congregation in Maryland. Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, a member of the Metropolitan Community Churches denomination, is an inclusive, welcoming congregation open to people of all backgrounds, Abrams has said.

Bishop Abrams

Bishop Allyson Abrams

Abrams, 43, was raised as a Baptist and was the first female pastor at Zion Progress church, serving there for five years. She was secretary of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity and was once a leader with the NAACP in Oakland County and president of the Oak Park school board.

Abrams was once married to a man and has three adult children. She had been divorced for several years when she met and fell in love with Diana Williams, a bishop emeritus with the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C. The two women were married in Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal, in March 2013. Abrams said that while she was not forced out of Zion Progress Baptist Church, news of her marriage had begun to cause discord in the congregation and she chose to resign.

Episcopal Anglican Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, pastored by Rev. Joan Beilstein, is allowing Abrams’ new church to use its facilities for meetings until Empowerment Liberation Cathedral can find its own facilities.

Abrams made news again last month when she officiated at the wedding of R&B singer Monifah Carter and her girlfriend, Terez Thorpe, which aired on the final episode of the reality TV show R&B Divas of Atlanta on TVOne.

—  Tammye Nash

AZ Lawmakers Totally Harshing On Westboro Baptist’s Protest Of 9-Year-Old’s Funeral

Hoping to beat the Supreme Court in screwing with the Westboro Baptist Church's travel plans, lawmakers in Arizona are rushing through a bill that would prevent protests within 300 feet of a funeral or burial service, from an hour before to an hour after the event, effectively barring the Phelps clan from demonstrating at 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green's service on Monday. Green was among those killed during Saturday's Safeway shooting, and Westboro quickly announced plans to escort her body into the ground. That said, the bill will only make it a misdemeanor to show up within the safety zone, and I think Shirley Phelps would be willing to become a semi-martyr for a community service conviction.

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