PHOENIX (BP)–I was first drawn to Richard Pulley by his sign that read, “Love and Untruth Cannot Co-exist.” Pulley, a homosexual man in his early 20s from Lynchburg, Va., spent four days protesting outside the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix. As a member of a homosexual advocacy group, his goal was to tell Southern Baptists that they misrepresent the Bible when they declare homosexuality to be a sin.
One of the first things Pulley told me was that he protests at the SBC because he knows “the truth” and wants to communicate it. “The truth,” according to Pulley, is that God loves homosexuals just the way they are and would never call on them to change. Southern Baptists, he said, are guilty of “spiritual violence,” which he defines as “using the Scripture to tell us we’re bad people.” He particularly objects to people using biblical texts like Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 to tell him that homosexuals must repent of their sin and turn to Christ for salvation.
Perhaps the most alarming fact about Richard Pulley, though, is how he learned this “truth.” Interestingly, he did not believe that homosexuality was a biblically sanctioned behavior until he came under the influence of a network of purported “preachers and teachers of the Gospel.”
Consider the following:
— One of first people who learned of Pulley’s homosexuality was his pastor at a Southern Baptist church in Virginia. Pulley said the pastor told him, “God loves you, and you’re accepted no matter what.” Pulley said the pastor stressed that he should not change his lifestyle because God was pleased with him as a homosexual.
–Shortly after coming out as a homosexual, Pulley came under the influence of a homosexual advocacy group, Soulforce, and its leader, Mel White. In a booklet titled, “What the Bible Says — and Doesn’t Say — about Homosexuality,” White wrote, “I earned my master’s and doctoral degrees at a conservative Biblical seminary to better equip myself to ‘rightly divide the word of truth.'” White continued on to say, “We are reminded that Jesus, the Jewish prophets and even Paul never even comment on the responsible love a gay man or lesbian feels for another.” Today Pulley agrees with White that the Bible never condemns homosexuality.
–Upon coming to Phoenix, Pulley began to work with local Soulforce leaders like Charles Coppinger, a former Southern Baptist on staff at Community Church of Hope who uses his ministry to teach that homosexuals and their behavior are acceptable in the sight of the Lord. “My faith is precious to me…. I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin,” Coppinger said, according to an Arizona Republic article on June 14.
–One hundred and two Phoenix-area pastors reinforced Pulley’s beliefs by signing the “Phoenix Declaration,” which states, “We affirm that GLBT [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender] persons are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God.”
As one preparing to be a preacher of the Gospel myself, few moments at this convention have been more sobering to me than the story of Richard Pulley and those “preachers” who influenced him. I do not know all of the details of how Pulley came to believe that God sanctions his homosexual lifestyle, but I can confidently speculate that without the approval of these ministers, he would not be protesting in front of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers,” James 3:1 counsels in Scripture, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
The Richard Pulleys of the world should remind Southern Baptists that there are young men and women who really want to know truth and that those men and women look to their ministers for that truth. They also should remind us of the influence pastors have over young lives. Finally, they should remind us of the crucial nature of sound doctrine.
As I leave Phoenix this week, I leave with Richard Pulley in my prayers and with the reminder that one day Pulley’s pastor in Virginia, Mel White, Charles Coppinger, 102 Phoenix-area pastors and I will all give account to the One who said: “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:18).
David Roach is a newswriter at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.