By Mike Glover
As one of recently few attendees who is — and intends to remain — traditionalist in my ethic of sexuality, I found last weekend’s [Baptist] Covenant on Sexuality and Covenant a unique experience.
I heard many speakers tell stories and make challenges to the Baptist world, claiming that a massive rethinking and retooling of our sexual ethic must take place in order to remain relevant and compassionate in our sexually confusing culture. I heard heart-wrenching stories of men and women who, when they needed a community of faith in the midst of deep questions about their sexuality, were shown the door in the name of congregational and denominational purity.
While I experienced much at this conference, what I did not experience was the presence of other traditionalist ministers. Where was their voice? Why were they not represented?
In our break-out and plenary sessions I heard Christians calling for greater compassion to unmarried adults, divorced persons, sex-trafficking victims and those in the LGBTQ community. What I did not hear were many traditionalist voices speaking to these same realities. Of speakers who presented on the matter of LGBTQ inclusion, I heard only two openly claim that they believe sex must occur within the context of heterosexual marriage.
There was a lot of informal conversation about why more conservative clergy and laity were not there. Some had felt the matter was decided and conversation was unnecessary. Some desired to come, but their congregations didn’t approve. Others may have felt that even attending a conference like this was acquiescing to the culture in too real and dangerous a way.
And, maybe, some hesitant pastors thought their traditionalist ethic would be shouted down in a sea of liberal policy making. While I cannot speak for everyone, I never felt judged or condemned for my more conservative beliefs about sexuality.
I openly and honestly admitted my opinions and my desire to hear and understand those of others. This was met not with the defensive posture of an “angry agenda,” but rather an open embrace of love and gratitude. Once we as “liberals” and “conservatives” stepped beyond the framework of trying to convert each other, real conversation began to take place. Real stories were shared. Real friendships were forged.
In all honesty, these are the conversations that need to be occurring across the Baptist landscape regardless of theological conviction or denominational identity. Even if we as ministers feel “the homosexuality issue” has been settled, the uncomfortable truth is that for many in our congregations, it is not.
Perhaps what is needed is a safe place for everyone — conservative or liberal, gay or straight — to be heard; not to be fixed, but merely understood. We must admit that if the issue is real for our congregations, it is real for us as well.
My hope and dream for the future of Baptists (both SBC and CBF), is that conversations like (but not limited to) this will continue, but that they will continue with an equal desire among conservatives and progressives to share the burdens and testimonies of one another.
There was a time when conservative and liberal Baptists worked together within the holy bonds of covenant, pledging that despite their disagreements and divergence, they were bound together in oneness by God as the body of Christ. Perhaps it is fitting that at a conference on sexuality and covenant, the Scripture that passed through my mind continuously was “what God had joined together, let no man [or woman] separate.”