Written by Connie Larkman
He doesn't even play baseball. But pastors of three churches in Saint Clair, Mo., have decided that the Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell plays for the wrong team.
When the pastors of the Bethel Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church and Liberty Baptist Church learned that Darnell, pastor of the St. John United Church of Christ, is bisexual, they decided their Christian league teams could no longer compete against the UCC church team. Bisexual, the pastors said, is unbiblical.
In response, the St. John's UCC team pulled out of the league to avoid causing further controversy. But its pastor is already seeing the support of the UCC.
"I'm proud of Pastor Darnell and the church for standing up, sharing their story and working for inclusion and justice in their community," said Michael Schuenemeyer, the United Church of Christ's executive for its Office for Health and Wholeness Advocacy.
"As someone who grew up just down the road from St. Clair in Union, Mo., I'm surprised at the inhospitable actions of these church leaders," Schuenemeyer said. "The people of the Missouri heartland are not mean-spirited, even though this is typically a more conservative part of the country. But the actions which forced St. John's UCC from the church softball league are mean-spirited and judgmental."
"We believe that God's word speaks clearly about boundaries, and that lifestyle is outside of those boundaries," the Rev. Ben Kingston, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We call ourselves a Christian softball league, and if we call ourselves that, we want to be that."
Darnell, who completed his seminary training in Washington, D.C., thought that his open sexual orientation might cause "some difficulty," but did not think it would prompt a boycott.
"It's very different than the nation's capital, but I certainly didn't expect this," he said. "I don't feel that anyone's sexual orientation has anything to do with how they play softball or [how they] enjoy each other's company during a game."
Darnell pulled the UCC team because he did not want to ruin the league for the rest, even though the church had fielded a team for the past 12 years. He has reached out to other UCC congregations, and already has heard from eight churches in the area willing to form their own softball league, or at least play in a tournament.
"I'm feeling really positive about the direction this is going, and appreciate the response from my fellow UCC churches," Darnell said. He also is hoping that churches from other denominations will join in.
"It's amazing the response this has gotten. The issue is ridiculous, but I'm very happy," Darnell said. "Glad light is being shed on it." He doesn't want anyone to think it's all right to get away with this sort of exclusion.
Schuenemeyer said, "We are much better served by focusing on the generosity of God's love and the inherent dignity and worth God has bestowed on all of us."