On Monday, July 2, the Louisville Courier-Journal featured a front-page story about Highland’s ministry among the LGBTQ community by telling the story of Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard. Recently ordained to the gospel ministry by Highland, Bojangles leads the True Colors Ministry Group, an LGBTQ-affirming ministry of Highland that began in January 2011. Bojangles’ journey of faith is a beautiful story of God’s redemptive work towards wholeness that brings peace, justice, and reconciliation to the oppressed.
Pastor Joe Phelps wrote a recent reflection on the Courier-Journal story:
By now most of our congregation has read the front-page Courier Journal story on Bojangles’ May ordination to ministry at Highland. Reactions will vary, as with all public recognitions of our church. The writer is a University of Florida student intern with little or no background about Baptists and how we work. In all, it’s an excellent article about a person called to ministry, one I’m proud we’ve ordained to the work of Christ. He did an admirable job trying to interpret the nuances of our Baptist life and how local churches work.
Yet a number of points require correction or explanation.
1. Bojangles was ordained to the gospel ministry by Highland, but is not a minister of Highland. Baptist churches ordain people for ministries that happen inside and outside of the church, but only those approved and/or hired by the church as ministers of that church are considered such.
2. Highland’s decision to end its 120-year relationship with the local and state Baptist organizations was unrelated to Bojangles’ ordination. The question of our relationship to these groups has been discussed for years. In the past year it became clear that integrity required Highland to end our relationship with these groups. This decision was made prior to any decision about Bojangles, simply because Highland no longer accurately represents these organizations well, nor do they represent us on a wide array of issues and positions. It was time to part, with no animosity.
3. Highland did not ordain Bojangles in order to gain new members, but rather because we believe it was the right and faithful course of action, whatever the outcome might be. Spiritual decisions aren’t made by popularity but by how they conform to the purposes of God we see in scripture.
4. It was never our intention to use Bojangles’ ordination to garner attention, nor to cast a negative light on those who hold a different view on the matter. Now that this action has become more publicly known we hope it can be a catalyst for loving dialogue as well as a welcome to those who have felt estranged.