A response from the Rev. Susan B.W. Johnson

The following response is from the Reverend Susan B.W. Johnson, Senior Minister at Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago, IL. 


8 August 2014

Dear Ms. Gravely and members of OneEastern:

As the pastor of a Welcoming and Affirming American Baptist church, I feel I must respond to the actions of my colleague, Dr. Robert Duffett, in his support of the right of religious educational institutions to discriminate against the LGBT community. To support discrimination against another human being is reprehensible, but to support the right of others to discriminate against them — based on the separation of church and state — is to make a pharisaical game out of our precious religious freedoms for the sake of the same outcome. To do this in the name of the gamely pursuit of federal education dollars which are reserved for institutions that do not discriminate against others is morally bankrupt.

Over a decade ago, Dr. Duffett and I taught together at another Baptist institution, one which has also taken stands against the LGBT community. At that time, I appreciated how Dr. Duffett, though more conservative in his personal views than I was in mine, acted in the larger body in ways much more generous, conciliatory, humble, and insightful than his recent actions suggest.

I am dismayed that in the name of Christ some American churches readily participate in efforts to discriminate against other human beings, making them miserable and causing them real harm. This while the American church makes little effort to deal with the most consequential issues of our day — poverty, violence, environmental stewardship and the welfare of children. I am dismayed that American Christianity is making itself irrelevant by ignoring the significance of profound advances of scientific, medical and social research in favor of un-refreshed human interpretations of a divine text.

But that’s only part of my point. We all toe a fine line when it comes to our freedom as Baptists, for we know that with those freedoms comes the reality that we will sometimes be found wrong — not only in the sight of others, but truly wrong in the sight of God. We learned this historically over slavery, but the application of this lesson has not gone very far. To claim that Eastern itself will not discriminate against the LGBT community, and yet to sign on to another institution’s efforts to do so, is to stand for nothing at all and to make a mockery of the social and theological issues which were once at stake in our Baptist history, and still are.

With heedless finesse, Dr. Duffett has supported a religious freedom to discriminate against other human beings and has put his (and Eastern’s) name to it. I dearly hope that he will rescind his support of this poorly disguised effort to twist a Baptist freedom in pursuit of the resources and accreditation accorded to those who do not act with prejudice against their own fellow citizens.

Rev. Susan B.W. Johnson
Senior Minister

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