The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission wrapped up a conference in Nashville this week outlining the denomination’s posture toward cultural changes and challenges on issues of marriage and sexuality.
In a brief, 48-hour span, dozens of speakers led 1,300 attendees and 10,000 live-stream viewers through ethical, theological and pastoral considerations of evangelical teaching on sexual ethics.
And while Southern Baptists seem to be moving past same-sex marriage as a culture war issue, they’re not moving past their opposition to homosexuality. Among the various speakers, there were certainly mixed messages.
Yet the conference was remarkable for two notable shifts: a change in tone — call it a kinder, gentler opposition to homosexuality — and a pragmatic concession that the fight over gay marriage is largely lost.
Though Southern Baptists do not believe civil law should recognize gay or lesbian unions as marriage, the conference acknowledged that there are many, graver threats to marriage and family life in America than same-sex marriage.
They clearly reiterated their belief that gays and lesbians must abstain from engaging in sexual expression if they seek to live as faithful Christians, yet speakers emphasized that everyone — straight and gay — experiences sexual temptation. Though sin is universal, they proclaimed that God can help all believers resist sexual activity outside of marriage.
The tone at the conference was more gracious than seen in previous generations. Most speakers tried to be as conciliatory as their worldviews allow. There was surprisingly little talk of hellfire-and-brimstone.