Christian ministry in America’s sexual culture calls for both grace and truth, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and pastor Jimmy Scroggins said in a conference for Virginia church leaders.
Pastors and other leaders “must be separated from sin, but we can never be separated from sinners,” Moore told an audience April 19 at the Empowered Conference sponsored by the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). “But it is easier in ministry to do the reverse.”
Christians must be willing to endure criticism for spending time with transgender and other sexually broken people “in order to speak with truth and with grace, with conviction and with kindness” to them, said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
In this way, pastors and others must speak “with the confidence that you are on mission with Christ so you are not afraid of the lost people who are offended by what it is you are saying and you are not afraid of the religious critics who are upset that you are having those conversations with those lost people,” he said.
Screen capture from YouTube
Russell Moore addresses Virginia church leaders at the Empowered Conference sponsored by the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV).
Scroggins, lead pastor of the Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., told the leaders they have “to be saturated with the grace of God” as they teach on sexuality, gender and marriage.
“Teaching on this stuff in this culture with a really hard edge, slicing people to ribbons with the gospel machete, that’s not going to help,” he said.
Moore and Scroggins were the keynote speakers for the annual conference, which was held this year at Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg. They addressed the theme – “The Gospel, Morality and Marriage” – in separate messages and a question-and-answer session.
Basing his message on the John 4 account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, Moore said a faithful church “has to be the kind of church that earns the respect of the people around us by speaking and telling the truth. Our neighbors can read texts. They understand what our scriptures teach.”
What non-Christians want to know is, Moore told the conference attendees, “Do you really believe this, and do you believe this enough that you are willing to lose my esteem because you hold to these things?”
“If you and I are going to equip people to be able to minister in a world that has much confusion when it comes to issues of relationships and sexuality and marriage, we must be willing to undergo the controversy of being assumed to be bigots, being assumed to be hateful, being assumed to be people who don’t get it when we speak of a vision of sexuality,” he said.
During the question-and-answer session, Scroggins was asked how to apply grace and truth to ministry to convicted sex offenders or child molesters.
They should be called to repent of their sins and believe the gospel, then pursue God’s design, Scroggins said. They will have a “high level of accountability” in the church, however, including separation from the nursery and children’s ministry, he told attendees. The church should separate the offenders from temptation and children from potential dangers, Scroggins said.
Moore said a church should have “an absolute, zero-tolerance policy” and “never, never, never cover up anything that even approaches the abuse of a child or a vulnerable person.”
Civil authorities, as well as church authorities, should be involved in every possible situation of abuse, Moore said. “And you cannot substitute one for the other.”
“One of the worst and most egregious things” regarding the cause of the body of Christ has occurred when people “have had their entire lives destroyed by predators within churches and within ministries, and those things have been covered over because people didn’t want to deal with them,” he said. “That is not just wrong; that is an abomination before God, and we have to be the people who make sure it doesn’t happen.”
During his remarks based on 2 Cor. 5:17-21, Scroggins told the audience “one of the best ways that we can be ambassadors” of reconciliation between God and human beings “is what we do with our gender, our sexuality and our families.”
“One of the best ways to be an ambassador is just to have a healthy marriage,” he said.
Scroggins offered various ideas for church leaders to consider when training others and speaking about sexuality, gender and family structure, including:
Remember it is an ongoing conversation, not just a sermon.
Continually connect sexuality to God’s design in marriage.
Make it clear but not crude.
Encourage, don’t condemn.
Focus on stewarding the gift of sexuality rather than a once-for-all triumphalism over lust.
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd addressed conference attendees by video, encouraging pastors to preach the Bible, rely on its authority and address moral issues truthfully and lovingly.