Part of the regular backdrop of the regular meeting now is the annual protest staged by Soulforce, the homosexual advocacy group headed by Mel White, a former evangelical who once ghostwrote books for Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, among others.
Last year in St. Louis, they staged a peaceful demonstration outside the stadium claiming that Southern Baptists are engaging in "spiritual violence" by upholding the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior. I covered the event for the Christian television program I work for, which is well-known for being quite conservative. The mere mention of my affiliation drew more than a few raised eyebrows, though everyone from Soulforce treated me with nothing less than politeness, including their media director, who did an interview with us even while well knowing our viewpoint on the issue, which I again made clear to her before the interview so that there would be no misunderstanding.
Inside the meeting itself, they planted a number of people who popped up at various times during ougoing SBC president James Merritt's address to march up to the podium (or actually about 50 yards from it, which is about is close as they could get before being hauled off by security) and begin shouting at the speaker to "stop the spiritual terrorism," etc. In an arena filled with 20,000 people, it didn't appear that anybody really even noticed it except the folks in the front row.
The Arizona Republic printed a story a few days ago in anticipation of this year's Soulforce demonstration, which included this snippet:
Studebaker chuckled when asked how Jesus would handle the arrival of Soulforce at the convention. "I think he would have said there is no problem between us. I love you," he said. "I think he probably would have met us for coffee."Two things here (lousy theology aside). First, I spent several hours outside with their protest, and didn't hear anyone saying anything unkind. Granted, I was not on the lookout for disapproving headshakes, but the protesters were actually separated from the building by a closed street, with them being on one side and the vast majority of the convention "messengers" being on the other. Both sides were actually exceedingly polite (as the story accurately states). I have my doubts that anyone did what this fellow describes, but if they did, it couldn't have been more than one or two people out of 20,000. He's find more people in the secular world who would say much worse if he were to simply hold hands with another guy while walking down the street.
Studebaker attended the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis last year and remembers how some convention participants treated Soulforce members. The majority, he said, were very nice. "But some shook their heads very condescendingly. Some parents said to their children, 'They're gays and bad people and sinners.' The (hate) starts right there."
But secondly, I am just dying to know what was actually said in the spot where the Arizona Republic reporter wrote "hate" in parenthesis? Was it an obscenity? Was it a less strong word? Did the reporter supply her own editorial comment in the brackets? Or did Studebaker say something like "The stuff starts right there," to which the reporter asked him "what stuff?", to which he replied "the hate." In my opinion, this would be the only legitimate reason for inserting the word "hate" within that quote. But I suppose we'll never really know what he said. I looked for an email address in the news story, but there's none there.