With the new pope softening the church’s stance on gay marriage, are Baptists next?
The Episcopalians gave in several years ago – prompting a revolt as scores of congregations and entire dioceses attempted to exit the denomination. Despite pressure from liberal elements within their denominations, Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians have moved cautiously.
Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists are America’s two largest religious groups. With 78.2 million members, Catholics comprise 25 percent of America’s population. With 16 million faithful, Southern Baptists are second, and make up about 30 percent of America’s 52 million Protestants.
So, will the Baptists follow the Catholics – retreating in their condemnation of homosexuality and their centuries-old refusal to accept same-sex marriage?
In a word, “No,” says Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptists’ national ethics commission.
And Catholic officials find it amusing that the press has proclaimed Pope Francis as a champion of gay rights. “Did Pope Francis say homosexual behavior is OK?” asks Joshua Bowman on the website Catholic Vote. “Short answer: ‘No.’”
He explains: “Pope Francis made some impromptu remarks for reporters while returning from World Youth Day, and now headlines across the mainstream media blare that he made some kind of stunning reversal of Catholic teaching. What did Pope Francis actually say?”
“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.”
That’s not exactly an endorsement of gay marriage, says Bowman.
“First of all, the supposedly provocative line begins with the word, ‘if,’ and it’s a BIG IF,” he writes. “Some people with homosexual tendencies choose to accept the salvation of our Lord and maintain a life of chastity. This is the key to what Pope Francis is saying: people with homosexual desires who are able to exhibit this level of self-control should be welcomed as our brothers and given encouragement in their struggle.
“This is a very beautiful statement. However, it does not say anything about people who give in to carnal desires and live promiscuously – whether gay or straight. If you take his words at face value, he made a very powerful statement which encapsulates all of Catholic teaching on sexuality and chastity in a very simple and profound observation.
“He said exactly what he meant to say and nothing more. Liberal advocates of same-sex marriage—especially in the press—make a grave error by misinterpreting his words.”
And what about the Baptists? Reports of any retreat are inaccurate as well, writes Jon Ward for the Huffington Post. “Since becoming the political point man a year ago for the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore has more than once been interpreted as sounding a political and cultural retreat.”
After all, his predecessor, Richard Land, had come under fire for his stern refusal to budge and his denunciations of the “gay agenda.” With Moore at the helm, however, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page headline, "Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback from Politics, Culture Wars."
More recently, Moore attracted attention when he called the idea of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman "a politically ridiculous thing to talk about right now."
Such comments “have been seen by some as one of many signs that conservative Christians will stop talking about gay marriage and perhaps focus instead on less divisive issues such as human trafficking and immigration reform,” writes Ward.
“In a recent interview, Moore, 42, was eager to push back against that notion, as well as against the idea that he is advising anyone to stop advocating for traditional marriage. He also rejected the idea that conservative Christians should focus only on preserving rights of conscience and religious liberty, while ceding ground on the question of traditional marriage versus gay marriage.”
"When the prevailing cultural narrative is that people who believe that marriage is a man-woman union are the equivalent of white supremacists or segregationists,” Moore said, “then – that's not true, first of all. Second of all, we can't simply say, 'Well, let's just assume that we are and let's protect our religious liberty.'
"I think we have to work to protect our religious liberty while at the same time we are articulating why this is a reasonable view to have," Moore said.
“For a long time, evangelicals assumed that American culture was with us on the values question here, and that same-sex marriage was simply isolated, something that some elites on the coast held to,” says Moore.
“The argument we would often use is that any time it came to a vote in a state, the state always approved traditional marriage.
“It was only when a court has imposed it that we had same-sex marriage. And for a long time that was true, but it was ignoring the cultural efforts that same-sex marriage proponents were giving their energy to, and ignoring some of the legal undercurrents.
“Many evangelicals assumed that this was something that would be relatively easily fixed by electing a Republican president or Senate or House, and not understanding the cultural current and not understanding the legal current, thinking of this simply as a short-term political issue, rather than a much, much bigger cultural issue with a political component.”
How does Moore feel about homosexual rights to marry? Here’s what he recently posted on his personal blog Moore to the Point:
The Bible tells us that the king of Israel once wanted to hear from the prophets, as to whether he would be victorious over his enemies. All the court prophets told him exactly what he wanted to hear. Yet the king of Judah, wisely, asked whether there might be another voice to hear from, and Israel’s king said that, yes, there was, but that he hated this prophet “because he never prophesies good concerning me” (1 Kings 22:8).
Once found, this prophet refused to speak the consensus word the king wanted to hear. “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14). And, as it turned out, it was a hard word.
When it comes to what people want to hear, it seems to me that the church faces a similar situation as we look to the future of marriage in this country. Many want the sort of prophetic witness that will spin the situation to look favorable, regardless of whether that favor is from the Lord or in touch with reality.
Some people want a court of prophets who will take a surgeon’s scalpel to the Word of God. They want those who will say in light of what the Bible clearly calls immorality, “Has God really said?” Following the trajectory of every old liberalism of the past, they want to do with a Christian sexual ethic what the old liberals did with the virgin birth—claim that contemporary people just won’t have this, and if we want to rescue Christianity, this will have to go overboard. All the while they’ll tell us they’re doing it for the children (or for the Millennials).
This is infidelity to the gospel we’ve received. First of all, no one refusing to repent of sin—be it homosexuality or fornication or anything else—will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). This strategy leaves people in condemnation before the Judgment Seat of Christ, without reconciliation and without hope.
Second, it doesn’t even work. Look at the empty cathedrals of the Episcopal Church, the vacated pews of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and right down the line. Let me be clear. Even if embracing same-sex marriage—or any other endorsement of what the Bible calls sexual immorality—“worked” in church-building, we still wouldn’t do it. If we have to choose between Jesus and Millennials, we choose Jesus. But history shows us that those who want a different Jesus—the one who says, “Do whatever you want with your body, it’s okay by me”—don’t want Christianity at all.
But there will be those who want prophets who will say that the gospel doesn’t call for repentance, or at least not repentance from this sin. These prophets will apply a selective universalism that denies that judgment is coming, or that the blood of Christ is needed. But these prophets don’t speak for God. And, quite frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves since, for too long, too many of us have tolerated among us those who have substituted a cheap and easy false gospel for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many have been called gospel preachers who preach decision without faith, regeneration without repentance, justification without lordship, deliverance by walking an aisle but without carrying a cross. That gospel is different from the one Jesus and his apostles delivered to us.”
Publication date: May 23, 2014