As a millennial, an evangelical, and a Southern Baptist, I’m passionate about a vibrant civic pluralism. Our differences should not be ignored for the sake of false unity. But the fractured values divide in America can’t persist healthily at the rate we’re going. Now more than ever, we need courage, civility, and a commitment for the church to be the church, refusing to excise the purposes of sexuality from its message. Were we to ever do so, the evangelical church in America would cease to be both evangelical and a church.
Evangelicals are learning to model both grace and truth when discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Of the American constituencies said to have an acrimonious relationship, evangelical Christians and the LGBT movement may most embody the entrenchment of divided worldviews. In these two communities, fault lines emerge that reveal conflicting understandings of political authority, social stability, and human fulfillment.
In the present cultural moment, we must all honestly acknowledge the moral revolution in public sentiment, which has become increasingly libertine in its sensibility and, consequently, more affirming of homosexuality. It does the evangelical community and its mission no good to deny the present state of affairs.
Given this state of affairs, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened its first annual national conference, titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” With over 1,300 attendees, this late October conference was organized to help equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches.
The presenters left no stone unturned. Topics included everything: the state of sexuality in culture, strengthening marriage, accommodation of divorce, understanding millennial attitudes on marriage, religious liberty, and testimony from those grappling with same-sex attraction. A sampling of the conference program reveals the breadth and depth of the issues explored. (All of the resources from the conference are freely available at the ERLC’s YouTube channel; and we encourage you and your church to use them.)
As the nation’s largest protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention is often depicted as a bellwether for religious conservatism writ large in America, so the added significance of the ERLC focusing on these issues compounded the event’s importance on the American religious landscape. With over thirty credentialed press and 156 media stories written, the attention given to evangelicals and Southern Baptists discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage was significant. What lessons were learned from the ERLC conference that might serve as a guide in the days ahead?
Lessons from the Conference
On homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the conference stands alone, at least from my perspective, as an earnest first attempt to move evangelicals in a deliberate direction toward more loving, thoughtful engagement on issues that are deeply visceral and deeply divisive. The conference also highlighted the ongoing attempt to rehabilitate the institution of marriage in a same-sex marriage world.
Simply being against same-sex marriage is an insufficient apologetic for rebuilding marriage as a cultural fixture. When deviations from marriage—such as cohabitation, divorce, and promiscuity—become routine, same-sex marriage can seem intelligible and acceptable. In attempts to halt the dictatorship of sexual relativism, the ERLC is dedicated to helping undo the foundations of the sexual revolution that have chipped away at marriage, not just fixing its symptoms.
The conference also revealed that evangelicals are taking a play out of the pro-life handbook. With persuasion as its method and goal, the pro-life movement fought on two fronts. First, the movement made the intellectual argument for life. And second, a compassionate ministry to women with an unplanned pregnancy worked to make abortion an unnecessary alternative. The same approach is emerging on same-sex marriage and homosexuality.