The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity convened a national conference Monday afternoon in Nashville with the goal of helping a capacity crowd of more than 1,300 people bolster marriage within the church and protect marriage outside it.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) kicked off the event – titled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” – by considering in the opening address how Christians are to minister in a “post-marriage culture.” The conference, which continues through Oct. 29, comes at a difficult time for the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and a woman:
The percentage of American adults who have never married is at an all-time high.
Court rulings have set the stage for same-sex marriage to be legal in 35 states.
Cohabitation and divorce plague the culture and sometimes the church.
The ERLC’s hope for the conference “is that attendees will be equipped to defend marriage in the culture and strengthen marriage in the church,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the entity’s executive vice president. “We want to motivate them to see marriage as a part of God’s good design that is worth fighting for in a culture that is shifting all around us.”
The speeches and panel discussions will address such topics as:
Building healthy marriages.
Evangelizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Helping Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction.
Resolving the clash between religious liberty and “sexual freedom.”
Christians will not escape dealing with these issues, said ERLC President Russell D. Moore.
“[I]n reality, every single church, every single family will need to equip the next generation to be able to think through these questions from a framework of the Bible and gospel,” Moore said in a video previewing the conference.
The “strategic conversation” represented by the event “simply needs to take place,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a pre-conference video.
“It’s really important that we gather to think clearly so that we will think faithfully, so that we will minister authentically as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler, who gave the opening address, said.
Many pastors and other Christians clearly agreed about the importance of the conference. After initially booking a venue that would have handled 700 people, the ERLC moved the event to the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in response to the “surge in interest,” Bethancourt told Baptist Press in an email interview. He said the ERLC is “pleasantly surprised by the great turnout.”
The interest is understandable, he said.
“This conference resonates with people because marriage challenges are not an abstract issue,” Bethancourt said. “They are ministering to marriages in crisis in their communities and in their churches all the time. People also want to understand how to apply the gospel to issues related to same-sex marriage.”
In addition to Moore and Mohler, speakers at the conference include David Platt, new president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board; Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Sherif Girgis, co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife; Sam Allberry, British pastor and author of Is God Anti-Gay?; Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation; and poet Jackie Hill-Perry.
The conference is being live streamed online at http://live.erlc.com/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)