KNOXVILLE – Community reports of a changing attitude on the part of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding homosexuality are baseless according to a report released to day from the Southern Baptist Press.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988, has come forward with an explicit denial of rumors that the SBC position toward the issue had softened in the wake of the recent Nashville convention.
The report further speculated that the story make have its roots in the changes that actually did take place last week in Nashville with regard to the end of the Disney boycott, move away from a mandate to remove member’s children from public schools, and the inclusion in convention programming of a documentary focusing on the issue that included statements from Mike Haley, an “ex-gay” who is now a Focus on the Family staff member, and Alan Chambers, executive director of Exodus International.
Dr. William Schiell, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Knoxville sees things a bit differently.
“For the past 27 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has been out of touch with mainstream churches such as First Baptist in Knoxville. They have engaged in a culture war isolating abortion and homosexuality as the only ills plaguing our society. They have typically downplayed other issues such as poverty, violence, crime, injustice, envy, hatred, adultery, greed, materialism, and lying because they blame all of societies’ problems on the other two,” asserts Dr. Shiell.
The First Baptist Church of Knoxville has a dual affiliation with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Dr. Shiell helps to further clarify the distinction in the following statement.
“Our church partners with both the Southern Baptist Convention and a renewal movement called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Our kind of baptists seek to emphasize that everyone is equal in God’s eyes – all in need of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness no matter what our faults. We have emphasized a different kind of tone in the rhetoric for a long time,” explains Shiell.
Knoxville readers may be familiar with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship through association with the Samaritan Ministries of the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. Wayne Smith, the program’s director, heads Samaritan Ministries, a ministry to persons with HIV and AIDS . He is a welcome and familiar figure at local community events.