Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sneaking a drink with an ex-Southern Baptist boy.

2/1, evening.
Sneaking a drink with an ex-Southern Baptist boy.

I have just come from another terrific religious liberty seminar and another on the criminal justice system and have some time to kill before the evening event. I have headed to the bar at the Smith and Wollinsky joint across from the convention center.

A sweet-faced young man wearing a fedora takes the bar stool next to me. I see what appears to be a convention badge peaking out from under his coat and ask him if he is attending the convention and about the drink in his hand (Baptists, by and large, do not drink).

This leads to a long a delightful conversation about Michael leaving the Southern Baptists and how now, though he is enrolled in a seminary (it is a nondenominational progressive one --Vanderbilt), he has come to think of religion as mythology – to the consternation of his parents, who are also having to deal with the fact that his sister has just come out.

Baptists believe they gayness is a choice made as a consequence of being reared without sufficient religious instruction, so the parents are more than a little distressed. Is this their fault?

Michael is refreshingly curious about the world and ideas and wants to teach theology one day – not preach. He tells me of the pain and incredible fear instilled in those growing up in Southern Baptist churches. Both he and many of his friends experience this.

A college friend borrowed a friend’s class notes for a marketing class and nine months later, he says, the friend was still sleepless and terrified he had sinned. He went to the teacher and confessed and she was flummoxed; there is nothing wrong with sharing notes. He is describing scores of other such cases with many, including him, experiencing random, free-floating terror – attached to no particular thing. Just constant fear.

He explains that the fear stems from the substantial caveat to the Baptist doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Apparently, the slightest thing can work to unsave the person and send them hurtling to hell. Even Michael lives with that fear, but he is getting over it.

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