Today a Baptist minister who lived spreading a message of hatred and damnation to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities died. I do not rejoice in his death, nor do I feel particularly wont of publishing his name. I believe that the best thing to do with people like him – and with others who also have a message of hatred, such as a certain US Senator from Texas, a Governor from Arizona and others – is to retrain from publishing their names. After all, most of them are always looking for exposure. I prefer to publish the names of those who are working for justice and reconciliation…
As I reflected on how the media and even LGBTQI organizations continued publishing their reaction to his death, I decided to take a different approach. This approach is more consistent with my principles of inclusion and reconciliation. Today, I want to make public the work of a Baptist organization that is hard at work opening the doors of our communities to LGBTQI individuals. The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB) was born out of the need to proclaim a message of inclusion, celebration and integration of LGBTQI individuals in the life of Baptists communities of faith.
In 1997 I was a junior at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, and I was finally coming to accept my sexual orientation. As someone who grew up in a Baptist church, I could not imagine my life without a faith community. However, accepting my sexual orientation meant that there was no more room for me within the Baptist congregation in which I grew up. Although my childhood church was not proclaiming the same message of hatred as the recently deceased Baptist minister did, the truth was that there was not a message of inclusion either. The message of a God who rejected people with diverse sexual orientations was well ingrained in the overall message of my congregation.
This message of exclusion was so strong that many times I wanted to just disappear from this earth. I thought that I could just solve my problems by erasing myself from the picture. Several times I thought of ending my life, since there was no way that I could find comfort in the arms of a God who hated LGBTQI individuals.
It was at that moment, in 1997 during my junior year at the UPR-Mayagüez that I went to the library and started searching for answers. I clearly remember sitting in front of the computer and typing the words “gay” and “Christian” and “Baptist”. I had no idea of the surprise that awaited me! The first page that showed up on the search engine was that of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists.
Finding this organization helped me realized that I was not alone. I read the list of churches on that page and realized that, even though these churches were thousands of miles away from me – one of the earliest supporters of AWAB is the Church of Covenant in Palmer, Alaska, which is a few thousand miles away from Puerto Rico – there were people like me out there. Oh, what a joy! There were other gay Baptists out there! Not only that, but the page had their logo published, which at the time was the official logo of my denomination, the American Baptist Churches, USA, with the colors of the rainbow. I was so happy that I printed the logo and pasted it on my Bible. I have had that Bible with this logo for all these years… as a reminder of how AWAB saved my life and showed me that it is possible to be gay and Baptist.
This is my story. This is why today, instead of publishing the name of a Baptist minister who spent his life hating, I prefer to make public the name of the Baptist organization that helped me overcome my pain. I am glad that AWAB exists. I am glad that so many Baptist ministers have spoken out in favor of LGBTQI individuals, and that they have worked hard to include us the many Baptist communities of faith that joyfully welcome, affirm and celebrate the diversity of God’s creation!