NASVHILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- The leadership of American Baptist College, a historically black college and longtime training ground for black Baptist ministers, faced harsh criticism with the announcement a married, lesbian bishop would address the school next week.
"For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman, to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical, and certainly displeasing to God," read a statement released by the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, a group affiliated with the National Baptist Convention, the oldest and largest African American religious convention.
Now conservative black preachers are demanding college president Forrest Harris rescind the invitation to Bishop Yvetter Flunder, pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, because they believe homosexuality is a sin.
Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and a prominent Southern Baptist African-American pastor was among those who signed the initial statement to Harris and among those who believe the Bible is clear on its teachings about homosexuality.
"It is so disappointing and disheartening that at the American Baptist College, where the land was bought and paid for by Baptists who took the Bible literally, their blood, sweat and tears are being trampled on," McKissick, said. "We believe the Bible and its teachings. We believe homosexuality - as a matter of fact all the Bible talks about as sin - is sin."
In a letter to lecture participants by Harris and released to Christian Examiner March 11, Harris said American Baptist College's "visionary roots began in 1924 by black and white Baptists to provide educational opportunities for gifted students" but steered clear of its founding purpose which has been historically described as to educate and train Black Baptist ministers for leadership. It was funded through the joint effort of the National Baptist Convention USA and the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 50 years. In 1996 ABC's assets were turned over to its board of trustees.
Now Harris and the college, which is closely tied to many leaders in the Civil Rights movement, claim its critics are using "idolatry of the Bible" to discriminate against homosexuals.
Citing Title III and IV federal funding which Harris said "encourages advocacy for the legal, civil and human rights of all persons and groups," he notes "we are bound by federal laws of civility to non-discrimination based on human differences."
Referencing the U.S. Department of Education, Harris said it is "increasingly requiring college's (sic) to document that students are being prepared and trained to be able to function competently in realistic employment situations, our educational paradigm is designed and intended to prepare our students for the various religious and vocational options that they may find in the church, the workplace or in the communities where they live, work, serve and worship."
Drawing on the religious nature of the lecture series, Harris said finally the 58th Garnett Nabrit Lecture Series remains an "annual opportunity for spiritually engaged homoletics, biblically based theology and free scholarly academic inquiry germane to liberation, justice and building God's beloved community through the ministry of the black church."
These "theological and biblical studies" should become more focused on an "liberal arts emphasis," he said.
In an interview with the Tennessean, Harris dismissed the concerns of pastors and leaders who have express disagreement over the second appearance of Flunger as a speaker for the lecture series.
"It's sad that people use religion and idolatry of the Bible to demoralize same-gender-loving people," Harris told the Tennessean. "When people say [the Bible] is synonymous with God and the truth. We can't be guided and dictated by a first-century worldview."
On Tuesday, Richard E. Jackson, vice president for administration, finance and legal affairs, told the Christian Post most in his circle have failed to understand the issue with Flunder.
"The reaction I have gotten is 'what's the controversy, what's the big deal?' You all are an educational institution," said Jackson.
Noting that Flunder's topic centers on her HIV and AIDS ministry he said, "I think that is completely compatible and consistent with the belief and philosophy of Christian people and Christian institutions to care for the least of us in any given society."
In addition to their statement, the Concerned Pastors group has launched a Change.org petition to document the number of community members "in disagreement with a lesbian preaching at ABC."
The petition notes Flunder is a lesbian who is legally married to Shirley Miller. Flunder in a YouTube video in 2013, spoke in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in support of California's Proposition 8 on same-sex marriage.
"We believe that President Forrest Harris should rescind the invitation for Bishop Yvette Flunder to speak at ABC, solely on the basis that she is a proud, practicing, and public advocate of same-sex marriage," the petition reads. "We are also requesting that in the future, no male or female involved in a same-sex marriage be invited to speak at ABC."