On November 11 Kentucky’s Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly at their annual state meeting to sever ties with the historically important Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville citing the church’s unequivocal commitment to LGBT inclusion. They did so in spite of Crescent Hill’s plea that the church be allowed to remain a part of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
In 2013 Crescent Hill, after a process of congregational discernment, announced that sexual orientation would not be a factor in future considerations about who they will ordain, hire, or perform a wedding ceremony for. Crescent Hill Baptist Church also voted in 2013 to join AWAB, the national Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. The church is preparing to host their first same-sex marriage next month.
The 106-year-old Crescent Hill congregation is adjacent to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and before the fundamentalist takeover of the seminary in the early 1990s Crescent Hill was the spiritual home for many students, staff, and distinguished professors.
Today the 800-member church is a diverse community of faith including people of various races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, and world-views. Refugees and immigrants compose roughly one-third of the congregation. The church is heavily invested in a wide array of social ministries in the Commonwealth, the U.S., and the world.
Below are excerpts from a conversation with the young, intelligent, and energetic pastor Jason Crosby.
What was the process like that led Crescent Hill to adopt an unequivocal commitment to LGBT inclusion?
I’ve been at Crescent Hill seven years. I came about the time that folks from Burma began arriving in large numbers and uniting in membership with Crescent Hill, and much of my time in those early years was spent trying to figure out how in the world we might be able to be a unified body that includes people who don’t speak English, who have a completely foreign background and cultural experience.
It took a lot of hard work but we reached a place a number of years ago where, while things are far from perfect, things work. We have learned how to be in community with others who are radically different from us. About three years ago we realized that in order to be authentic to gay and lesbian individuals in the pews and in our community we needed to clarify how we were going to be in relationship with these folks.
I found that because we had in the previous years learned how to be in relationship, one that is fully welcoming and affirming of folks who are so radically different from us, that really helped us have conversations about how we were going to be in conversation with people who were already long-standing members of our church and in leadership positions and loved and had modeled Christ for us and who happened to be gay and lesbian.
So the coming of folks from Burma and their incorporation, and our incorporation into them, their incorporation into us so that we might be one church, laid the groundwork for us and it paved the way.
When we began to have some conversations and began to discern how we were going to be in relationship with LGBT folks in spring of 2013 it became evident to me, and I think to others, that it was a pretty simple move to make. We studied the Bible, we prayed, and we heard testimonies from those who were gay and lesbian in our church and beyond our church about how church had helped or hurt them in their journey. All around that was the fact that if we can do what we had done with folks from Burma then this is not a difficult step for us to make.
How would you characterize your conversation with Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders leading up to Crescent Hill’s expulsion from the KBC?
Although not extensive, we did have a fair amount of communication with Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders in the month that led up to the vote to dismiss us. Those conversations were cordial. They were not heated. They were pragmatic in nature and I appreciate that there was a clear channel of communication between those leaders and us.
How has your church family taken this ending of a 100+ year relationship?
With mixed emotions, as you can imagine. So many folks at Crescent Hill are like me. They grew up in Southern Baptist churches and it was in those places we were first taught the Bible. Those teachings have brought many of us at Crescent Hill to where we are regarding this matter today. There’s genuine sadness, for me and many others, but at same time we are delighted and greatly encouraged by the fact that so many people are reaching out to us and want to learn more about this matter and about how we got to the place where we are. There also is gladness for the opportunity to forge new relationships and to do new ministry that articulates the love of God.
Listening to you it seems fair to say that Crescent Hill does not see itself as an activist church on this issue.
I think Crescent Hill sees itself as Crescent Hill and this is wholly consistent with the DNA of Crescent Hill that’s been in place since at least 1926 when Southern Baptist Seminary moved from Broadway downtown to the hill on which it is currently situated. Crescent Hill was formed in 1908. I feel confident in saying that this is who we are and this is pretty much who we always have been. It doesn’t feel very activist to us. It really just feels like being honest.
This report from Religion Dispatches notes a trend away from conservative Christians making a schismatic breakaway from a liberal parent body (such as, say, ACNA from The Episcopal Church in the U.S).
Here we have a Kentucky Baptist congregation being severed from the Kentucky Baptist Convention – because of its liberal openness to the LGBT community among its local membership! Here is the defining paragraph in this report:
“The 106-year-old Crescent Hill congregation is adjacent to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and before the fundamentalist takeover of the seminary in the early 1990s Crescent Hill was the spiritual home for many students, staff, and distinguished professors.”
The movement towards the inclusion of LGBT people has come out of this congregation’s inclusion of other ethnic, cultural and sociological minorities that have become part of the local Baptist congregation. As Pastor Jason Crosby remarks:
“I think Crescent Hill sees itself as Crescent Hill and this is wholly consistent with the DNA of Crescent Hill that’s been in place since at least 1926 when Southern Baptist Seminary moved from Broadway downtown to the hill on which it is currently situated. Crescent Hill was formed in 1908. I feel confident in saying that this is who we are and this is pretty much who we always have been. It doesn’t feel very activist to us. It really just feels like being honest. –
That sounds just about right – and consonant with Gospel Inclusivity – and certainly in line with the new outlook of the Southern Baptist Convention!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand