Capital View Baptist Church, which has been operating in the same Northeast Washington neighborhood since 1927, adopted a revised church constitution last year that says, “shaming and shunning are acceptable Christian responses” to homosexuality, bisexuality, attempts to change one’s sex, and any other form of “ungodly behavior.”
In a development that has raised eyebrows among some in the city’s faith community, the church submitted a copy of its recently revised constitution to the D.C. Superior Court as part of its response to separate lawsuits filed against the church by 15 former members and by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
The lawsuit filed by the former members accuses the church of illegally revoking their membership in the church in an internal church dispute. Racine’s lawsuit called on the court to order the church to obey a subpoena the Attorney General’s Office served on the church last year requesting a series of financial documents and information related to its status as a nonprofit corporation under D.C. law.
A Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered the church to turn over the documents that Racine said were needed for an investigation by his office into a complaint by a citizen that the church was violating the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act by allegedly engaging in financial improprieties.
An attorney representing the church stated in a letter to Racine’s office in February that the complaint appeared to have been made by one of the “disgruntled former members” whom the church legally and properly expelled and whose allegations about financial improprieties are baseless.
The Washington Blade obtained a copy of the church’s constitution from the public court records after someone who saw it alerted the Blade to its provision on “shaming and shunning.”
That provision is part of one of 10 “articles” of the constitution that address a wide range of issues, including the church’s governing structure, by-laws, membership rules, and its spiritual beliefs and rites.
The language supporting “shaming and shunning” falls under the constitution’s Article VII, which consists of the church’s Christian Code of Conduct.
“Every Member, Attendee and Participant at Church Events should be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity while on church premises,” the article states. “Hateful, harassing, intimidating, mocking behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual or group of individuals at Church Events is to be repudiated and is not considered in accord with Scripture nor the Doctrines of the Church,” the article says.
“Yet, Shaming and Shunning are acceptable Christian responses to the outward practice of any form of ungodly behavior such as sexual immorality (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, transgender, or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, and/or engagement in any other such) described in the Bible as sinful, and are considered offensive to God and man,” the constitution’s article states.
It adds, “All persons employed by the Church and serving the Church in any capacity, as Members, Volunteers, Interns, Apprentices, etc., should agree with the Christian Code of Conduct and conduct themselves accordingly.”
The article concludes by declaring that the church believes “marriage to be a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a human being (homo sapien), husband or wife.”
It says marriages “outside these parameters” will not be performed by a minister affiliated with the church or on church property and any person who “knowingly participates in such a rite shall be dismissed forthwith.”
Rev. Dr. John T. Fowler, Capital View Baptist Church’s pastor since 2003, did not respond to a phone message and email from the Blade seeking comment on the church’s policies on shaming LGBT people.
Attempts to reach the attorney representing the church in its defense against the two lawsuits were unsuccessful.
However, that attorney, H. Robert Showers, argued in a letter in February to the D.C. Attorney General’s Office that the church is exempt from the jurisdiction of the court in both the Attorney General’s case and the lawsuit by the former members. He said the exemption stems from the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which protects religious institutions on matters involving internal church affairs.
“We respectfully submit that the Office of the Attorney General should recognize that the government does not have the legal authority to take up the fight of the church’s former members,” Showers stated in his letter. “The Free Exercise Clause of the Frist Amendment prohibits it.”
Racine’s office disputed that assessment in its court filings, saying the Constitution’s religious freedom provisions don’t cover a church’s obligations on civil matters such as its status as a non-profit corporation.
Rev. Abena McCray-Peters, pastor of D.C.’s Unity Fellowship Church, which has a mostly LGBT membership; and Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which also has a largely LGBT congregation, didn’t respond to a Blade request for comment on Capital View Baptist Church’s shaming policy.
Veteran D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who has described herself as a person of faith, said she was deeply troubled upon learning of Capital View Baptist Church’s endorsement of the practice of shaming.
“I mean to know that they, meaning their incorporators, agreed that it would be alright to shame someone who is a part of the transgender or gay community is sad,” Budd said.
Noting that she realizes that pastors often speak out about homosexuality, Budd added, “But I never in my dark dreams thought that someone would incorporate this type of hatred into their articles and have a church practicing under these criteria – sad, sad, sad.”
Earl Fowlkes, executive director of the D.C.-based national LGBT group Center for Black Equity, said he too was troubled over the church’s shaming policy.
“I am not the least bit surprised that a church would institutionalize their homophobia, bigotry and intolerance within the framework of their constitution,” Fowlkes said. “This is a classic case of inhospitality towards members of the LGBT community,” he said.
“Prayerfully, I hope there are no LGBTQ men and women who attend Capital View Baptist Church therefore avoiding this spiritually and emotionally damaging form of ‘Christianity,’” he said.
On its website, Capital View Baptist Church, located at 5201 Ames Street, N.E., one block off of East Capitol Street, describes itself as a ministry founded on biblical principles.
“We serve in the spirit of excellence with integrity and compassion for our community, our nation and our world,” a message on its website says. “We have established a reputation for reaching the lost and broken and to minister and serve them with the upmost level of dignity and respect.”