Evangelical Christians need to change their approach to the hot-button issues of homosexuality and marriage, thinking with a gospel focus and practicing gospel community, participants in a national conference were told Oct. 28.
Southern Baptist leaders, former practicing homosexuals and others provided guidance to a crowd of about 1,300 registrants on the second day of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) first national conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.” The event at Opryland Retreat and Conference Center concluded Oct. 29.
Evangelicals cannot repeat the “same old mistakes” in which they “slowly adapted to a sexual revolution that is now ravaging our churches and our culture,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the ERLC.
Instead, “we contend for marriage and we contend for family and we contend for holiness, but we do this in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. If evangelicals make the same mistakes, Moore told attendees, “we won’t just lose a marriage culture; we will lose the gospel itself.”
Poet Jackie Hill-Perry, who came to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle, said a church that “is gospel-centered with gospel-centered people” is what has helped her the most in following Jesus. “My greatest growth has been in being connected to a community,” she said.
Russell Moore talks with Rosaria Butterfield on “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.”
Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian and now a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother, said, “One of the first things that we can commit ourselves to doing is being a community of believers who share the gift of repentance unto life in a way that other people can see.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if just this week all of your unsaved neighbors actually knew that church membership was a vital, life-giving gift to you,” she said.
David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, pointed attendees to the missiological implications of marriage and singleness. Both portray the gospel, he said. “The purpose of marriage is for the display of the gospel and a demonstration of the glory of our God,” Platt said.
“Today’s cultural climate provides a huge opportunity for gospel witness,” he said.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, urged the audience to follow the New Testament directives for Christians to love and act kindly toward those who oppose them on the marriage issue.
“If you want to fight the culture, you’re not going to win the culture. You’ve got to persuade the culture,” he said.
“We are soaked in an ocean of His grace, and we don’t want to give a cup to anybody.”
Moore said, “If we are responding to those who disagree with us with vented outrage and shock and horror and condemnation, what we are revealing is a lack of confidence in the gospel, in our mission, in our Christ.”
The Oct. 28 addresses and panel discussions continued a recurring theme in the three-day event of calling Christians to preach and live out faithfulness to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and marriage while also reaching out graciously to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as advocates for same-sex marriage.
Evangelicals did not fare well in the last battle over marriage, which resulted in a divorce culture, Moore said. He pointed to four reasons that happened:
“We unintentionally accepted the view of marriage of the culture without ever even knowing that we were doing so.
“We were often cowardly and fearful.
“The divorce culture happened because it became normal to us.
“The reason we adapted to this is because the preaching on this issue was often so genuinely condemnable,” not calling for repentance and not offering reconciliation through Christ.
Of the church’s cowardice, Moore said, “If we are simply standing up and editing the Word of God when it comes to our own sins, if we are willing to preach the gospel except for the very thing that is ravaging our churches at that moment, we are not preaching the gospel at all; we are simply selling indulgences.”
The family values evangelicals assumed the rest of culture shared with them “are no longer there,” Moore told attendees, adding in a reference to John 3. “We cannot go back to the Nicodemus culture of superficial religion.
“Baptizing lost people and teaching them how to vote Republican is not a revival.”
The current upheaval in culture may mean some churches will become unfaithful, while “there are many other congregations that will become authentically counter-cultural communities that stand with the gospel no matter what,” Moore said. “That will mean that we will be uncomfortable with American culture, and we always should have been uncomfortable in American culture.”
Platt drew four missiological conclusions from foundational truths found in Gen. 1-3:
“We must flee sexual immorality for the sake of God’s glory in the world.
“We must defend and display sexual complementarity in marriage for the spread of God’s gospel in the world.
“We must work for justice in the world in order to exalt the judge of the world.
“We must spend our singleness and our marriages pursuing peoples still unreached by God’s redeeming love.”
Platt said, “Our bodies have been created not just by God. Our bodies have been created for God.” This culture “screams at every turn, ‘Please your body.’ The Bible shouts at every turn, ‘Please God,’” he said.
In a question-and-answer session with Moore, Butterfield told about God’s salvation of her out of “serially monogamous lesbian relationships” over 10 years. She said of the pastor who, along with his wife, patiently cared for and shared the gospel with her, “I never felt like a project, because Ken Smith always realized that the big sin in my life was unbelief, and everything else would get worked out in the wash.”
The author of the book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert said “People are not different. Original sin is the great leveling playing field. It democratizes everything. “
In addition to the ministry of other Christians, Hill-Perry, who was married earlier this year, cited two other truths that can help Christians struggling with same-sex attraction: (1) Christians are new creations, and (2) Jesus is “not only Savior from sin but in temptation.”
British pastor Sam Allberry, who has acknowledged he deals with same-sex attraction, commented on the charge that Christians who teach the biblical message on homosexuality harm same-sex-attracted young people:
“We’re not the ones saying that sex is everything. And my concern is that a culture that says, ‘You are your sexuality; sexual fulfillment is the key to human fulfillment,’ I want to turn around and say, ‘Actually, I think that is putting more pressure on young minds and lives than anything we’re saying.’”
Christopher Yuan, a former practicing homosexual who now teaches at Moody Bible Institute, counseled parents to love their LGBT children, which is what his father and mother did.
“I think the last thing is to kick them out of the home,” Yuan said.
“There’s a total war going on,” he said. “And if we push or let go, you’re just pushing them into the world, into the arms of an embracing world. We’ve got to show them what real love is like.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)