Color me stunned, but out there in Kentucky, a Baptist church, the Highland Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, in fact, has agreed to marry two of its gay members, making it the first same-sex wedding for the congregation.
Those two members, David Bannister Jr. and Steven Carr II, have been together for six years and became engaged last summer in Washington DC weeks after the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Then they returned home to Kentucky and took a deep breath and asked the pastor of their church, Joe Phelps, to marry them and he said he would.
"It takes courage to step out into the unknown. It's taking us courage to be one of the first churches to do this." — Pastor Phelps
Phelps says that when he first came to Highland Baptist in the late 1990s, there was a kind of ‘doesn’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding gay church members. But, that very next year, a gay couple's photograph appeared in the church directory and since then there has been a slow, but steady march to acknowledge and accept LGBT members, and their families, into the church. In fact, Highland Baptist ordained its first openly gay minister, Maurice Blanchard in 2012, and now Blanchard leads a gay ministry at the church.
"Inch by inch, it sort of begins to dawn on us. Over time, we've come to the realization that led us to today." — Pastor Phelps
In February 2013, a group of church deacons began to study the idea of allowing the pastor to perform same-sex ceremonies, but the group never came to any agreement. Then, in May 2014, a new group chosen to once again study the idea instantly, and unanimously, recommended the church begin offering same-sex weddings. Actually, you could only all it a unanimous decision because no one in the church every voted on the idea; Pastor Phelps said it wouldn’t be right to pass judgment that way.
"To vote on it is to basically ask the question, 'Are gay people fully human like the rest of us?' I think spiritually and morally, that's a step we cannot take." — Pastor Phelps
And so, when David and Steven asked Pastor Phelps to officiate at their wedding, he was able to say yes, making Highland one of the first Baptist churches in Kentucky to hold a same-sex wedding.
And again. Baptist Church. Kentucky. Let that sink in for a spell.
And so David and Steven have set a wedding date for next May, and though they don’t see themselves as activists, they have hope that their wedding will make a statement.
"If people don't get the shades pulled back on LGBT people's lives, they won't learn. They won't see. So the onus is on us and our friends to talk with those around us. It would be very sad to us if we weren't able to have our church involved." — David Bannister
And in light of the fact that this past week a judge struck down Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages — a stay has been granted — David and Steven hope that by the time they marry, same –sex weddings in Kentucky, even at Baptist churches, will just be weddings at Baptists churches.
Still, what a wonderful stop for the Baptist church, and Kentucky.