The recent conference hosted by our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, entitled “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” drew great attention to the issue of homosexuality and homosexual behavior. Coming out of the meeting, some in the news media began predicting a softening of our position regarding this issue. Some Southern Baptists, having read these stories, have wondered out loud if the Convention is in the process of changing our stance regarding homosexual behavior.
The ERLC conference demonstrated that while the ways in which we as Southern Baptists engage the culture may change as culture itself changes, our fundamental commitment to biblical ethics in regard to human sexuality has not, and will not, change.
Changes in Rhetoric
In the recent past, it was not uncommon to hear people speak in condescending ways, using statements such as, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” usually in a dismissive or derisive tone. These kinds of trite comments show a lack of careful thought and sensitivity to people who are truly struggling with their sexual identity or orientation.
The tone of the discussion has also changed. I rarely hear the vitriolic or nasty condemnation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The tone has changed to reflect a more Christ-like, grace-filled, compassionate conversation about real people who, for whatever reasons, identify themselves by their same-sex attractions or gender identities rather than by their biological sex. The ERLC conference did a wonderful job of helping change this rhetoric.
Unchanging Biblical Principles
With that being said, certain things remain the same. Southern Baptists have always believed that marriage is biblically defined as a man and a woman who are committed to each other as companions for life (see, for example, Genesis 2:20–24 and Jesus’s commentary on that text in Matthew 19:1–12).
Southern Baptists also believe that sexual intimacy is a gift from God that is to be experienced only within the confines of a biblically-sanctioned union or marriage. All other sexual expression is outside of the will of God.
In order to remain true to our Gospel mandate, Southern Baptists continue to call people to repent of their sins and trust in the atoning work of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation. We believe all sins, including sexual sins, must be pointed out as sinful, inappropriate, and hurtful. That is where Southern Baptists have stood since our inception and that is where we will continue to stand!
Yes, Southern Baptists will continue to be Christ-like to all people and treat all persons with dignity and compassion. But we will also “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We will continue to state that the Bible has set forth a clear understanding of marriage and of sexuality, and we will uphold those biblical principles. We will continue to identify all sexual sin as sin, and will fight against those who through “interpretive gymnastics” seek to change scriptural admonitions to fit their culturally-changeable frame of reference.
The Unchanging Word of God
In the twenty-first century, there is a massive emphasis upon individual rights. We understand this, but quickly counter and point out that individual rights stop where God’s Word takes a stand.
There is an objective truth in our universe and that objective truth is powerfully portrayed in God’s revelation through His Word. Southern Baptists have made very clear their stand regarding believing the Word. It is also incumbent upon us to practice that precious Word (James 1:19–26).
So, where does this lead us? We will continue to share the Gospel in a loving and kind way. We will pray for the salvation of all people. We will lift high the standards of God’s Word in marriage and sexuality. We will encourage that persons with same-sex attraction understand the reality of God’s Word and seek to avail themselves of the hope that is found in the Gospel. We will encourage churches to provide the loving help that is enjoined in 2 Timothy 2:22–26 and Jude 20–25. We will point people to the powerful transformation that can come through true salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I recognize that the issues are complicated. While some claim that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, others believe there is an innate predisposition or biologically-programmed orientation involved, who feel as if they are born with this particular orientation. Still others argue that the biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior such as that found in Romans 1 applies only to those involved in promiscuous sexuality.
To those who say these things, I say this. Scripture speaks of a “besetting” sin, “the sin” that so easily ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1). This “besetting” sin is not defined, for it varies from one person to the next.
Permit me to give a personal illustration. The Page family is beset with alcoholics. Several of my relatives have died of acute alcoholism. Perhaps there is a genetic predisposition in my family toward alcoholism or substance abuse. If that is true, does that in and of itself make me an alcoholic or substance abuser? As a child, I made a choice not to partake of alcohol. What would have happened if I had done so? I simply do not know.
Perhaps there is some genetic predisposition towards certain lifestyles. However, we still must recognize the reality of choice and the recognition that people are called upon to make mature decisions based on what Scripture declares to be truth and right. God’s Word is clear and His way is always right. This is where Southern Baptists stand!
Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee.