Despite the existence of myriad Bible verses that warn against judging others, delegates gathered at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual convening in Baltimore earlier this week took the time to pass a resolution condemning the trans community. While the SBC’s Resolution on Transgender Identity indisputably attempts to paint trans people as mentally ill—it bemoans the American Psychological Association’s removal of “gender identity disorder” from its list of illnesses—it also attacks trans allies.
The Southern Baptist Convention spends a great deal of time deciding exactly how to condemn the LGBTQ community and its allies. In fact, the SBC has passed more than 40 similar resolutions dealing directly or indirectly with homosexuality since 1976. The Defense of Marriage Act? Resolution. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Resolution. Hate crimes legislation? Resolution. While some respond to genuinely significant issues, others are almost laughably trivial: The SBC felt the urgent need to draft, present, and vote on a 471-word resolution condemning President Bill Clinton’s declaration of gay and lesbian pride month in June 1999; they also took the time to denounce Disney’s gay-friendly domestic partner benefits not once, but twice—during meetings in 1996 and 1997.
On the surface, the list of resolutions can be used to measure LGBTQ accomplishments over the years. Most of the qualms raised by the SBC have eventually given way to gay rights victories. But the underlying principles have sometimes been disastrous for gay people. In 1988, for example, the SBC passed a resolution on homosexuality that included stomach-churning statements designed to further alienate the gay community at the height of the AIDS crisis. “Homosexual activity is the primary cause of the introduction and spread of AIDS in the United States which has not only affected those of the homosexual community, but also many innocent victims,” reads one particularly cringe-worthy line. It goes on to state that Southern Baptists as a group “deplore homosexuality as a perversion of divine standards and as a violation of nature and natural affections.” At least it clarified that God loves everyone.
But harsh resolutions would soon give way to a new language of compassionate bigotry. More and more frequently, the SBC’s anti-gay resolutions have been peppered with declarations of love for LGBTQ individuals and, notably, disclaimers against anti-LGBTQ violence. Until 1993, SBC resolutions regarding homosexuality made no mention of violence committed against the LGBTQ community. Even then, the statement condemning anti-gay violence first made note of “acts of hatred or violence committed by homosexuals against those who take a stand for traditional morality.” The SBC first mentioned the trans community in a 2007 resolution condemning hate crimes legislation. Instead of justice for victims of bias crimes, the SBC stated “we urge all Americans to avoid acts of hatred and violence toward homosexuals and transgendered people,” continuing, “we encourage all believers to love and show compassion toward homosexuals and transgendered persons, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is able to bring true freedom from error.” It is unclear what “error” the SBC was referencing, but given their recent judgments on trans people, it would seem to imply that questioning gender identity is some sort of mistake.
This week’s resolution states that Southern Baptists “regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.” While this sentiment is very welcome, the statement and others like it read like some sort of legal disclaimer. By acknowledging that violence is perpetrated against the LGBTQ community the SBC seems to show that it is aware of the direct harm caused to the LGBTQ community by church members. The logical conclusion would be that the Baptists in question were influenced by such hateful resolutions. The shift in rhetoric may be a direct result of such an acknowledgement.
While one solution is to stress compassion and love for others (the language has shifted from “God loves you” to “we love you,”), the simplest way to stop trans rights advocates from succeeding is to attack allies for their support of equality. “[W]e continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any governing official or body to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy. … [W]e oppose all cultural efforts to validate claims to transgender identity,” reads this week’s resolution. Ultimately, SBC resolutions are almost always aimed at U.S. lawmakers, mobilizing the church’s enormous political clout—particularly across the South—as a means to hamper LGBTQ equality.
“Hate the sin, not the sinner!” is 2014’s “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” A blanket statement used to shoot down legitimate discussions and critical reasoning among churchgoers, this mentality repackages hate as compassion. And while members of the LGBTQ community are still in the crosshairs of hatred, the Southern Baptist Convention has now turned the guns on congregants who support the LGBTQ community. Speaking up for your gay son or trans daughter is not only discouraged—it’s condemned. In other words, trans people are not the problem—they’re merely unwitting victims of a culture war—but allies are enabling their deviant behavior. Recognizing just how many of these allies are sitting in the pews each Sunday, the Southern Baptist Convention has started to change its tune.