Through a variety of channels, Southern Baptists are attempting to uphold traditional marriage in America following President Obama’s announcement in May that he supports “gay marriage.”
The president’s announcement, which came during an interview with ABC News, made him the first sitting US president to affirm “gay marriage” publicly and drew reactions from Southern Baptist leaders.
“It is very depressing news when the president of the United States uses his power of influence to endorse same-sex marriage,” SBC president Bryant Wright said. “. . . Scripture is very clear that from the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. It is important for us who are followers of Jesus to uphold the sacredness of marriage according to Scripture.”
Yet in addition to speaking prophetically about the evils of “gay marriage,” Southern Baptists also are delivering a message of hope and redemption to those trapped in the sin of homosexuality.
Lobbying in Washington and state houses across the country, hosting conferences for people tempted toward homosexuality, and training churches how to minister to homosexuals are just a few of the ways Southern Baptists support traditional marriage—as they have long done.
More than one hundred years ago, the SBC passed its first resolution calling the government to defend Judeo-Christian standards of marriage. A 1901 resolution “On Divorce” lamented that “the laws of our States, with a few exceptions, permit divorces for many and often trivial cases.” It urged “the Legislatures of the States represented in this Convention” to “discourage this great and growing evil by more stringent laws regulating” divorce.
Thirty-six years later another SBC resolution “deplore[d] the laxity and inadequacy of existing statutes in the several states for the regulation of marriage.” Strong laws regulating marriage are “one of our best safeguards against . . . the growing divorce evil,” according to the resolution.
In all, SBC resolutions have addressed the subjects of marriage or homosexuality at least twenty-eight times. The most recent instance was a 2011 resolution calling on the Obama administration to enforce the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.
C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, said Southern Baptists have good reason for defending traditional marriage: it has been a foundation of every civilized society in history.
“The one-man, one-woman, one-flesh union for life has been the pillar of Western civilization with respect to the family,” Mitchell, a consultant for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said. “And we can chronicle the fact that every aberration of that one-man, one-woman in a one-flesh relationship for life perspective . . . has resulted in human trauma.”
In cultures where the biblical standard has eroded, “so has human happiness and so has human society,” he said, adding that the so-called “revolution” to legalize “gay marriage” is actually a “devolution back to a less civilized and less stable culture.”
David Krueger, pastor of First Baptist Church in Linn, Missouri, agrees that “gay marriage” is harmful to society. That is why he urges his congregation to stand up for biblical values in the political arena.
As salt and light, Christians “have a definite responsibility to do what we can to communicate biblical, scriptural values of faith and family to the society in which we live,” Krueger said. “The idea that Christians are not to be involved in politics” represents “the proverbial ostrich with his head in the sand mentality. Jesus said the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. The idea there is that the gates of hell are actually cowering against the onslaught of the church in this world.”
As chairman of the Missouri Christian Life Commission, Krueger participated in a recent worldview conference cosponsored by the state CLC and the Pathway, Missouri’s state Baptist newspaper. The conference helped educate believers about their responsibility to let their values inform their voting in the upcoming presidential election, including their values regarding marriage.
Krueger noted that Baptists who support the Cooperative Program help employ advocates for biblical values in their state governments and in Washington, DC. In Missouri, for example, the CP-funded CLC employs a lobbyist at the state capital in Jefferson City. At the national level, the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has an office in Washington that communicates the Convention’s views to Congress.
“Through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists support these very important ministries that represent us to the legislators,” Krueger said.
If Southern Baptists fail to stand up for traditional marriage in the political realm, the consequences for families could be severe, he said.
“‘Gay marriage’ is detrimental to children just as divorce is detrimental to children,” Krueger said. “Anything that does not support or magnify traditional marriage is detrimental to children.”
In addition to their efforts to defend traditional marriage in government, Southern Baptists are ministering to homosexuals on a personal level, teaching them about a better way to live under the lordship of Christ.
Bob Stith, the SBC’s national strategist for gender issues, offers training for churches, associations, and state conventions on ministering to homosexuals and combating popular arguments used to justify same-sex unions. He works in conjunction with the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
“We need to educate [Southern Baptists] biblically,” Stith said. “I think we need to educate them on the cultural claims of genetics. I don’t think we’re really equipped as well as we could be or should be.”
He hopes more Southern Baptists will take advantage of the training opportunities offered by the Convention to help them respond to homosexual activists and minister to gay men and women. Training can be scheduled by contacting Stith through the SBC’s website dedicated to gender issues (www.sbcthewayout.com).
A one-day seminar involves two keynote addresses—one on the roots and development of homosexuality and the other on the church’s response to homosexuality—and breakout sessions on issues such as how to raise “gender-healthy” children and how to minister to someone who struggles with homosexuality.
“This is a crucial social issue,” he said, “and we cannot afford to just continue to write about the issue . . . if we’re not going to do something positively to help our people.”
One church Stith cited as having a strong ministry to homosexuals is Stonegate Fellowship in Midland, Texas, which hosts an annual conference for married couples in which one or both partners struggle with same-sex attraction.
“We hosted 176 people here this year from all over the country (and world, really) who are fighting for their marriages, and who know the reality of forgiveness and humility and surrender and godly submission,” Mike Goeke, Stonegate’s spiritual formations pastor, said. “We believe that these marriages can not only survive, but can thrive as God creates, even in their brokenness, a reflection of the sacrificial love and forgiveness and submission that characterizes the relationship between Christ and the church.”
Goeke said Stonegate’s efforts to uphold marriage focus more on preserving specific marriages than just defending the institution of marriage in the abstract.
“We encourage honesty and openness and vulnerability about our marriages in an effort to guide people to help for troubled marriages,” he said. “We encourage healthy marriages to be more and all that God wants them to be. We do extensive pre-marital work with people wanting to get married. In some ways, we make it hard for people to get married under our covering because we want to do all we can to stress the magnitude of the marital relationship.”
According to Stith, Southern Baptists in the twenty-first century must both teach God’s plan for the family and demand that political leaders uphold traditional marriage. Failing to act in either the public square or the realm of private ministry will result in societal deterioration, he said.
“We really have to get back to, not in a condemning sense, but to really determining our view on God’s plan for the home, God’s purpose for the home,” Stith said.
David Roach is editorial associate for SBC LIFE and is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky.