Last week the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held a conference in Nashville on the topic of “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” Southern Baptists are well known for opposing the practice of homosexuality and gay marriage, so it took many by surprise when the Wall Street Journal printed an article with the headline, “Southern Baptists, Gay Community Break Bread at Conference: Baptists Strike New Tone on Homosexuality...”
Already, I have read some articles written by Southern Baptists questioning the accuracy of this headline, but I’m not so sure it’s that far off-base. To be certain, the ERLC conference made clear that Southern Baptists do not support gay marriage. However, it is also true that statements were made at the conference that do represent a softening of our position.
In particular, Russell Moore, the president of the ERLC, made the comment that while he would not attend a gay wedding, he would attend a gay wedding shower or reception. According to Moore, it would not be right to support the wedding vows, but it would be appropriate to show love and support for the couple at a corresponding event. Here, I find Moore’s “convictional kindness” to be both illogical and troubling. Can one really separate the reception from the wedding itself? Is one not a continuation of the other? Would Moore bring a gift for the couple to use in their new life together? Would he applaud as they fed each other cake and shared a kiss? If so, how could this not be seen as support for the union?
Moore was also posed the question of what a Christian family should do for the holidays if one of their own sought to bring a same-sex partner home with them. Should they be given a bedroom to share like any other couple? Moore answered this question by saying he would have no one to violate their conscience, but we also “ought not to have a strict rule” as to how each family handles this situation. To be honest, my jaw hit the floor on this reply. Have we reached the point where we’re afraid to say it’s wrong for a Christian family to allow a homosexual couple to share a bed under their roof? This is more than softening our tone. This is compromise.
I don’t mean to imply for one minute that our SBC leaders, including Moore, are supportive of homosexuality or gay marriage. Clearly they are not. Rather, my concern is that in a desire to be accepted by the culture (“Those Southern Baptists aren’t so mean after-all!”) that we are willing to compromise holiness. We need to be very careful here that we don’t send the message, “I disagree with your lifestyle, but to each his own. Live and let live.” This is not the gospel, and this is not love.
Moore will say his position is based on “convictional kindness.” He will say sentiments like mine are proof that he is right where he needs to be – that the gay community will think he is too judgmental, and the “Pharisees” will think he is too liberal. I get that. I think there’s even some validity to that line of thought. I’ve used it before myself. But I think Moore has overstepped on this particular topic. When we move from loving the sinner into giving legitimacy to the sin, we have gone too far.
In a broader sense, these remarks renew the debate about whether or not there should even be an ERLC. I have always had respect for Russell Moore. I agree with him on most things. He’s as sharp as they come. But it troubles me when one man has the authority to speak for an entire denomination on issues of public policy. (I felt the same way with the last administration.)
Someone at this juncture will say, “But SBC churches are autonomous! No one Baptist can speak for all Baptists!” Yes, and this is precisely my point. The national media, and the public at large, don’t understand Baptist polity. When Russell Moore speaks, the assumption is that he speaks for all Southern Baptists. The result is that we have “Southern Baptist positions” on immigration reform, environmentalism, and engaging the “gay community” that the majority of the rank and file in our local churches don’t support.
It is good for Southern Baptists to engage the culture. It is good for us to have theological discussions on the issues of the day, and even to address these issues in our doctrinal statement as needed. I would argue it is not necessary, or even Baptistic, to have one individual speak for all of our churches on public policy. No position in the SBC has as much influence and authority to speak for the entire denomination, with as little oversight or accountability, as the president of the ERLC.