LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A newspaper column lampooning Southern Baptists, calling the group "the crazy old paranoid uncle of evangelical Christians," is causing quite a stir in a Kentucky city and put a pastor's job in jeopardy.
The column was written by Angela Thomas, the wife of Bill Thomas, an assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church in Madisonville. Her column was done in response to the Southern Baptist Convention's opposition to a new Boy Scouts of America policy that welcomes gay members.
"Sexuality doesn't come up and isn't relative to typical scouting activities but now, thanks to Southern Baptists, the parents of little innocent scouts everywhere are having to have The Talk," she wrote June 19 in The Madisonville Messenger. She writes a weekly humor column for the community paper, which publishes daily.
In the weeks since, the status of Bill Thomas' job with the church has become unclear. The First Baptist pastor said he had accepted Thomas' resignation, but Thomas' wrote in a letter obtained by the newspaper he had not quit.
Thomas has worked at the church for 10 years and was also its musical director.
Bill and Angela Thomas declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday. But he previously told the newspaper he agreed with what his wife wrote.
The column said Southern Baptists have become "raging Shiite Baptists" after drifting "to the right" for the past four decades.
"Santa and the Easter bunny are simply the devil in disguise and cable television and the Internet are his playground. The Boy Scouts are his evil minions," she wrote.
Madisonville is a city of about 19,000 in the western part of the state, about 115 miles southwest of Louisville.
First Baptist Church Pastor Joe Leonard said the opinion piece was not the cause of Bill Thomas' departure.
"That's what people have made it out to be," Leonard said. "That column precipitated some conversation with (Thomas), but that is not the reason he resigned. And because of confidentiality I can't divulge the conversation and what went on."
Leonard said he had accepted Thomas' resignation and Thomas was not fired. Thomas wrote in a letter he had not resigned and had no intention of stepping down.
The Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he was surprised the "shockingly sarcastic tone" of the column came from the spouse of a church employee. It's not clear whether Angela Thomas also attended First Baptist.
"I didn't find the column to be the sort of lighthearted poking that one would typically find in satire," Moore said. "I found it instead to be more of a screed from someone who's very hostile to where most Baptists stand."
Moore said the column also mischaracterized the convention's stance on the Boy Scout policy.
The Southern Baptist Convention's action last month "was a very balanced resolution that didn't denounce the Boy Scouts," Moore said. "We expressed disappointment, but didn't speak in harsh terms and also did not direct churches as to how they should respond."
The Southern Baptist Convention believes in marriage between a man and a woman and condemns homosexuality as a sin.
Many churches around the country, including some Baptist, have protested the Boy Scouts' policy by cutting ties with their local chapters.
First Baptist member Larry Wilson said Bill Thomas was accused of "intolerable insubordination" by a staff committee and was told to submit a letter of resignation.
"To me, it sounds more like a termination or a forced resignation than a resignation," said Wilson, who is also a Hopkins County magistrate.
Wilson said he believed Bill Thomas ran afoul of some church leadership before the column was published by supporting an openly gay church member. Wilson said Thomas was told to prevent the member from joining the choir, but Thomas declined to do so.
The church offered Thomas a severance package — contingent on him not making public statements about the details of his departure, Wilson said. According to church policy, staff terminations must be approved by the congregation, and church leaders wanted to avoid that step, Wilson said.
Wilson said he enjoyed reading Angela Thomas' column.
"There were points in it that I thought were hilarious, it was funny, thought provoking," he said. "Maybe we are Shiite Baptists."