Are Southern Baptists “Shiite Baptists?” One assistant pastor’s wife seems to think so, especially regarding their stance on the recent Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay young men participate in scouting. Or were the words of Angela Thomas just satire?
The Associated Press reported (via Yahoo News) July 10 that an assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church in Madisonville, Ky., has found himself in a bit of hot water with said church over a column written by his wife for the local newspaper. Some members of the church say Bill Thomas has resigned his pastorship, but a letter to the paper from Thomas says otherwise. Some say the resignation has nothing to do with the column; some say it does.
But what isn’t in question is what Angela Thomas wrote.
Thomas writes a weekly humor column for the local daily paper. In a column where she took on the Southern Baptist Convention’s response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to welcome gay members into the organization, she noted how “raging Shiite Baptists” had moved increasingly “to the right” over the past forty years.
“Sexuality doesn’t come up and isn’t relative to typical scouting activities but now,” she wrote in The Madisonville Messenger on June 19, “thanks to Southern Baptists, the parents of little innocent scouts everywhere are having to have The Talk.”
Further on, she wrote, “Santa and the Easter bunny are simply the devil in disguise and cable television and the Internet are his playground. The Boy Scouts are his evil minions.”
Although Bill and Angela Thomas were approached by the Associated Press for an interview, they refused. However, the pastor said in an earlier encounter that he agreed with his wife’s words.
Bill Thomas has worked at the First Baptist Church for a decade and is also the church’s musical director. Still, his job seems to be in jeopardy.
First Baptist Church Pastor Joe Leonard claims Thomas resigned for another reason that he was not at liberty to disclose (because of confidentiality issues) but people had conflated the controversy over Angela Thomas’ column and the resignation, now contending that one caused the other. He said he accepted Thomas’ letter of resignation (the one Thomas later said he never submitted, nor had he any intent of stepping down as assistant pastor at First Baptist Church).
As for the content of Angela Thomas column in The Madisonville Messenger, the Southern Baptist Convention’s head of public policy, Rev. Russell Moore, said he thought she used a “shockingly sarcastic tone” in her piece and was surprised that she was a church member’s spouse.
“I didn’t find the column to be the sort of lighthearted poking that one would typically find in satire,” Moore said. “I found it instead to be more of a screed from someone who’s very hostile to where most Baptists stand.”
Perhaps Rev. Moore should brush up on his sarcasm and satire, because, historically speaking, satire can run from the subtle to the blatant, from flippant to eviscerating. All one has to do is take a look at “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and “The Colbert Report” to see the range of satire.
But Moore said Thomas mischaracterized the Southern Baptist Convention’s position on the Boy Scouts decision to allow gays to participate (except as scoutmasters). He said it was “balanced resolution” where: “We expressed disappointment, but didn’t speak in harsh terms and also did not direct churches as to how they should respond.”
The Southern Baptist position on homosexuality is that it is a sin. According to the website: “Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.'” The belief is that homosexuality is not an “unforgivable sin” and that gay men and women can be redeemed through faith.
At the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, according to Reuters (via Yahoo News), the gathering approved a non-binding resolution opposing the Boy Scouts of America’s policy change toward allowing gay members. The resolution noted that homosexual conduct is contrary to a the Boy Scout oath to do his duty to God.
But Angela Thomas’ words might have been only a humorous dig at the Southern Baptists seeming antiquated concerns. Even if the humor column and the “Shiite Baptists” comment had nothing to do with her husband’s problems with the church, as Leonard claimed, homosexuality still may have been at the center of those problems.
Larry Miller, a member at First Baptist, told the Associated Press that Bill Thomas had gotten on the wrong side of the church leadership and a staff committee had told him to resign. It had all stemmed from Thomas being told to tell a gay church member that he couldn’t join the choir, which he refused to do. Thomas was then accused of “intolerable insubordination.”
Miller said terminations like Thomas’ had to be approved by the congregation, but church leadership had moved to circumvent that step by offering Thomas a severance package with a nondisclosure agreement.
As for Angela Thomas’ column?
“There were points in it that I thought were hilarious, it was funny, thought provoking,” he said. “Maybe we are Shiite Baptists.”