“Scout,” said Atticus, “n*gger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything – like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain – ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”
“You aren’t really a n*gger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes – baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”
Last night KSDK in St. Louis, Missouri shared a story that reminded me of this passage from To Kill A Mockingbird, only now, “n*gger lover” has been replaced with “f*ggot lover.” Oh, no one’s said it outright, at least not on camera. But three churches in St. Clair, Missouri may as well have when they refused to play softball with the St. John United Church of Christ softball team because their pastor, Reverend James Semmelroth Darnell, is bisexual.
More from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Darnell, fresh out of seminary in Washington, came to St. John to replace its previous pastor in October, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that the Rev. Johnny Dover, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and the league’s commissioner, heard a rumor that Darnell was gay.
“I called their coach and asked if it was true,” Dover said.
Dover, Kingston, and the Rev. Wyatt Otten, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, decided their teams could no longer play against a congregation that had deliberately called an openly bisexual man to be their pastor.
What’s puzzling is that the ordination of LGBT people is nothing new for the UCC. The denomination has long supported LGBT inclusion. In fact, the 40th anniversary of the UCC’s first ordination of an openly gay pastor is coming up next month. The fundamentalist churches that acted like fourth graders (no offense, fourth graders) and refused to play ball most certainly disagree with the UCC’s stance on abortion, female pastors, and a host of other issues.
So why now, after twelve years in the league, have Rev. Johnny Dover of Friendship Baptist Church, Rev. Wyatt Otten of Liberty Baptist Church, and Rev. Ben Kingston of Bethel Baptist Church suddenly taken issue with the inclusion of a UCC team in the six- (now five-) team league? Because it became impossible to ignore the fact that the UCC loves and ordains LGBT –in this case bisexual– people.
The good news is that according to Rev. Semmelroth Darnell, nearby UCC churches have stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and will be playing the St. John softball team.
So what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Our reading this morning from St. John says “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ Jesus tells us that we are obedient to him, that we abide in his love, when we love one another as he has loved us. The commandment is not to judge others or to marginalize those not like you, but to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Frankly, I think some of our brothers and sisters in St. Clair have forgotten this. It seems that they would rather take on the role of judging who is right and who is wrong. But nowhere does Jesus say “Love one another as long as you believe and act the same way.” By the exclusion of our team from this league love is certainly not being shown, but blatant bigotry and discrimination. But I am glad to say that others are responding with love and grace. St. Martin’s UCC in Dittmer has offered to play us in pick-up games on Thursdays. Friedens UCC in St. Charles, St. Lucas UCC in South County and Parkway UCC in Town & Country are each interested in a tournament. Ebenezer UCC in Augusta and St. Peter’s UCC in Owensville are looking into forming teams as well. Our sister congregations in the United Church of Christ are responding to this act of exclusion, by reaching out to us in Christ’s love. They are ready to stand by us.
But I have to say, as wonderful as that is, it doesn’t repair the damage. Not the damage to a softball team, Rev. Semmelroth Darnell, or even the members of St. John UCC. I have faith that their community will uphold and strengthen them in a difficult time like this.
No, I’m talking about the damage to the people at the three ironically named Baptist Churches behind this mess. Their pastors have shown them exactly what will happen if anyone finds out they support LGBT people. Worse, the pastors have left it to the imaginations of LGBT kids, teens, and closeted adults what horrible fate awaits them if someone finds out they’re actually LGBT themselves.
Because in these pastors’ minds, the only thing worse than being a f*ggot lover is being a f*ggot.