The Church and the New Civil Rights Movement (Ode to Dick Brogan)

Blog, Columns, Democracy, Essays, Family — By on May 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

Richard “Dick” Brogan was a personal friend, and he was one of my heroes.

Dick was a white Mississippi Baptist minister who worked tirelessly to build relationships between whites and blacks during segregation and even up until he passed away last year. Not so long ago, Dick was followed, harassed, threatened, and derided as a “nigger-lover” because he not only dared speak against segregation, but he dared to act as if in Christ there really was no Jew nor Greek and no black nor white.

Shortly before he died, Dick, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, said that Gay Rights is today’s Gospel movement. I believe he was right.

Just consider the role of black churches in leading the Civil Rights movement, and the role of white churches resisting it (isn’t anyone disturbed that we still have to have “black churches” and “white churches”?).

Though Martin Luther King Jr. and other black ministers found liberation and hope in the Bible, some white preachers remained silent while many others openly preached segregation and racial inequality as biblically sound.

Red birds do not fly with blue birds,” white Christians smugly joked, emphasizing “it’s just the natural order of things.”

With a clear conscience, white church deacons and Sunday School teachers witnessed (and some participated in) lynchings, cross burnings, bombings, and mob violence against marchers and sit-in participants. Stories abound in Mississippi of deacons at white churches armed with guns protecting the dignity of worship for the white folks within. They were, after all, defending “the way God intended things to be.” After all, black people were tolerated just fine as long as “they stayed in their place.”

A Baptist Broadman Commentary from 1970 reminds us that “The people of God are called to renewal in each successive era of their existence.”

In the 1950s and 1960s Baptist preachers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Dick Brogan followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit and called the people of God to renewal in a new era of their existence. Through them, God was transforming the religious life of His people, often meeting the greatest resistance through the “guardians” of the Truth and the Faith.

Jesus pleaded with the religious establishment of his day, according to the Broadman Commentary, to “open the life of Israel to the power of the work of the Holy Spirit …”

The larger religious community’s response to Jesus was his crucifixion.

And so King, Brogan and others made the same plea. The response to them were death threats, violence, exile, and for King, assassination.

We are in the midst of another renewal; we are in the midst of another set of leaders pleading with the guardians of the Christian establishment to open the life of the Church to the power of the Holy Spirit already at work; and some of the same words are being exchanged and variations of the same expressions of hatred are emerging in response.

There are a growing number of “gay churches” and welcoming and affirming groups pleading with the larger Christian community to recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit among the Gay & Lesbian community. And, many of the long-standing insitutionalized “straight churches” are actively resisting the work of God among those whom the “religious guardians” insist are not worthy. (One day, our grandchildren may sigh and ask why there have to be “gay churches” and “straight churches”).

They want their children to go to school with our children! They want to live in the neighborhood we live in! They want the same rights we have!”

God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” straight Christians smugly joke, “it’s just the natural order of things.”

And with clear consciences, good church-goers will openly bully, harass, and tease their gay neighbors – trying to get the gays back in the closet (“to keep them in their place”).

Despite what almost every single church sign says, openly LGBT people are NOT welcomed in most churches across the South and across America. There may not be deacons armed with guns to keep them out and to protect the dignity of the worship service for the righteous folks within, but Sunday School lessons, book studies, and sermons bully them to either stay in the closet or stay out of the church.

When bullying leads to suicide, the church at large – at best – sits in silence. At worst, it leads the attack. Too many Baptist pastors are pressured to stay quiet on the issue, while other Baptist pastors continue to verbally terrorize LGBT people sitting quietly in their pews, living quietly in their families, and working quietly in their communities.

I am sometimes asked why I continue to write and speak about being a gay-friendly Baptist minister. Then a fellow Baptist pastor answers for me by making national news acting like a 1950s Southern governor justifying racial segregation (most recently, it’s a brother in North Carolina preaching what some have labeled a “beat-the-gay-away” sermon – instructing parents how to deal with boys and girls who may not be masculine enough or feminine enough, respectfully).

And like Dick Brogan, deep in my heart, I do believe, that blacks and whites and gays and straights will walk hand-in-hand some day

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  • EmilyTimbol says:

    This was wonderful Bert, thank you!

  • I find myself in the middle, offending pretty much everyone I know, when it comes to this topic. I am ashamed of the way I have treated and/or talked about gays in my past. I’ve been pretty mean, and un-Christ-like, and it saddens me that similar (and much worse) behaviors are still being exhibited by those calling themselves Christians. And this is one reason why I think so highly of Emily, despite our pronounced difference of opinion. She has a gift and a ministry to show the love of God to the LBGT community.

    On the other hand, I am convinced that same-sex sex is sin, and God typically calls things sin for a reason. So it strikes me that it is unloving to simply affirm a professing Christian’s sinful sexual activities, whether it’s a guy shacking up with his girlfriend, a man viewing porn, or someone engaging in homosexual relations. One can surely love such a person without excusing the behavior.

    I am not inclined to agree, Bert, that it’s a civil rights issue, but surely it’s a complex one. Anyone, regardless of viewpoint, who who tries to make it out to be a simple one is not paying attention.

    • James,

      Don’t think about the sex. Otherwise we’ve got to deal with all sex acts – heterosexual orgies, sex shops, how often and how healthy married couples sex lives are … etc etc etc.

      I don’t try to imagine what my heterosexual friends do – but I do worry about rape, abuse, mistreatment, selfish using, etc.

      I quit looking at my gay friends and imagining a particular act. I see couples caring for and loving each other.

      I can worry about rape, abuse, mistreatment, selfish using, etc., all around without denying the strong faith-filled relationships I have witnessed and grown to respect in my friends. And really, talk to a gay couple — they’re having about as much sex as any married couple… which could be good and it could be bad.

      Plus, there’s a whole lot more to sex than “laying with a man as with a woman.”

      Once I quit worrying about one act the way I don’t worry about one act (or many acts) between hetero friends, and I saw real people ….

      everything changed.

      And I’m convinced now more than ever that it is a civil rights issue. Unless you’re willing to begin policing and denying benefits to all people who are not celibate outside of marriage and deying them to people living together or whatever — which would never happen — then extend benefits to all couples.

      I appreciate your thoughts, James. I really do. But get to really know and be good friends with a gay Christian couple. It changes everything.

    • Bert, I’m not here to debate homosexuality with you. Not sure such a thing can or should be argued on the internet. I’m actually supporting your, at least partially.
      That said, I’m not “worrying” about anything. Not sure what you meant with that word choice.

      One thing I will clarify, though: getting to know a gay couple will not change anything. Or more correctly: if knowing a couple who’s engaged in sin changes your view about what’s sin, then you have a weak view of Scripture. Scripture is God’s word. If he has said something-anything-is wrong, and I choose to take the word of a man (or in this case, a loving, committed gay couple) and let it override what I understand that God has said, then my faith in God is very small indeed.

      I may be wrong about homosexuality. I concede that. But if I am wrong, it’s not because some people who disagree with me are nice, sincere people.

      For the record, I have two gay Facebook friends, one professing Christian, and the other I have known since 5th grade. I had a gay boss for 7 years, best boss I ever had; I think highly of him. These truths do not have the ability to change my mind about what God has said, nor should they.

      And I would hope that when some of my friends catch me in some sin, they will love me enough to say something to me.

    • Nathan Bubna says:

      Bert, we *do* have to deal with all sexual sin. Sex shops, orgies, you name it. We actually have to deal with all sin: pride, hate, faithlessness, violence, cruelty, you name it.

      We are all born broken and bent in this fallen world. The fall of man corrupted everything, not just our souls, but our planet and our very genes. We’re not as we should be. Those who prefer to be arrogant, judgmental and cruel to being kind, gracious and loving are in sin. Those who embrace things that were not meant to be are embracing the fall and in sin. Often, maybe even typically, the former are in deeper spiritual trouble than the latter, but we would not be loving either if we said, “that is good”. We need to say, “do not fear, Christ loves you, bears with you and even though your anger or hate or sexual urges may never be completely gone and even if you never fully agree that they are wrong, if you love Christ and seek Him and His Way, you are my brother, my sister, my friend.”

      Grace, steadfast love, kindness, gentleness and truth to all. That is what Christ modeled for us. That is how we should be. He challenged rich and poor, male and female, in-crowd and outcast to follow Him, to sin no more, and He did it first and foremost out of passionate love for them, each, as individuals, not an idealistic zeal for opposing sin or seeking justice. He values those too, but only within and through and because of His love for each person.

  • jeff says:

    Equating ethnicity with sexuality is inappropriate and offensive. Waving the bloody flag of the civil rights movement over a special interest group that has undergone nothing remotely comparable to the wholesale subjugation of African’s who were kidnapped, enslaved, and subjugated; trivializes the labors of civil rights workers and the abolitionists who went before them

    Trotting out the straw-man-stereotypes of Baptistic culture does nothing to help the conversation-the honest wrestling of bringing our sexual sin under God’s control. Homosexual practice is sin. (As are adultery, fornication, porn, etc.) The Holy Spirit is not pleading with the guardians of the Christian establishment (whoever they are…) to condone and affirm sin; He is pleading with His bride to remain pure until the Bridegroom returns.

  • Jeff, black people don’t own the civil rights movement. No one owns the civil rights movement. That is, in fact, the point.

    The feminist movement. Universal suffrage. Labour unions. Race marches. The Stonewall riots. These are all parts of a broader whole, and that whole is the civil rights movement.


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