When Southern Baptists convened a national conference here this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.
Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.
No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”
“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.
“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”
For now, at least, some gay groups seem willing to give the other side the benefit of the doubt.
The conference brought together a “who’s who” within contemporary conversations on homosexuality and evangelicalism, including ERLC President Russell Moore and Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley, who attended the conference of 1,300 with a group of other pastors from his nondenominational North Point Community Church.
The interactions were largely friendly, with none of the hostility seen from both sides in recent years. Inside the ballroom and out in the hallway, LGBT activists mingled with Southern Baptist leaders. From the crowd, gay advocates tweeted responses to the speakers on stage, at times seeming to overtake the conference’s Twitter hashtag.
While the substance remained much the same, the evangelicals’ shift in tone was noticeable. Moore regularly referred to people who are gay — not merely people who are sexual sinners in need of redemption — and denounced so-called “ex-gay” therapy as “severely counterproductive.”
Even the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., the veteran culture warrior and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., seemed to have a change in tune, if not an outright change of heart.
“Early in this controversy, I felt it quite necessary, in order to make clear the gospel, to deny anything like a sexual orientation,” Mohler told the crowd. “I repent of that.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey