By Bob Allen
While speakers at this week’s conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will likely present a united “message of both truth and grace” on issues like gay marriage, they won’t be preaching entirely to the choir.
Pro-LGBT groups including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality and Soulforce all announced plans to show up at the Oct. 27-29 conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., in order to inject an alternative view.
AWAB, a network of about 100 gay-friendly Baptist churches formed in 1993 during a conversation about LGBT inclusion in American Baptist Churches USA, planned a press conference at noon today to publicly call leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention into dialogue on the topic of marriage.
Scheduled speakers include AWAB Executive Director Robin Lunn, who is a lesbian, and Jason Crosby, pastor of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., a congregation recently kicked out of the Kentucky Baptist Convention for adopting a welcoming-and-affirming stance toward gays.
Brandan Robertson, a Christian writer, activist and speaker and spokesman for the recently formed Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, announced Oct. 24 in the Huffington Post he’ll be there, with support of 1,000 evangelicals who signed on online statement supporting legal marriage for same-sex couples, regardless of whether or not in one’s religious views homosexuality is a sin.
“Our organization, in its few weeks of existence, has already been on the receiving end of strong criticism from the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Robertson, who changed his mind on the issue of gay marriage through encounters LGBT Christians in Chicago while attending Moody Bible Institute.
“At this week’s conference, I hope to engage in meaningful conversations with evangelical leaders about our points of disagreement,” Robertson said. “I believe that when we are face to face, true transformation can occur because we are no longer disembodied names and ideas but real, flesh and blood human beings who both love God and are trying to be as faithful to Jesus as possible.”
Soulforce, a social-justice advocacy group founded by Mel White, a former ghost writer for evangelical authors including Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson before coming out as a gay man in 1994, responded to the ERLC conference with a Sunday afternoon conference in Nashville titled “Embodying Nonviolence.”
The group plans a Monday Candelight Vigil at Opryland, singing with the Rainbow Choir of Glendale Baptist Church, a Nashville congregation kicked out of the Tennessee Baptist Convention over homosexuality in 2003, and a clergy sign-on letter.
Soulforce has a history with the Southern Baptists that includes the arrest of 34 members at the 2001 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans for non-violent protest of teachings they consider harmful to gays.
In 2002, a dozen Soulforce protestors infiltrated America’s Center in St. Louis demanding to speak after convention officials refused a meeting. They were arrested, along with 38 others detained while trying to enter the building.
In 2011, Soulforce joined five other pro-gay groups to collect 10,000 signatures on a petition asking the Southern Baptist Convention to issue an apology to gays similar to one they drafted to African-Americans in 1995.
Protesters were invited inside the convention hall in Phoenix to meet with SBC President Bryant Wright, who told the delegation he was “certainly glad to hear of your concerns,” but in the end they must agree to disagree.
In 2008 Soulforce Q, a division of young adults that each summer plans an outreach bus tour of campuses of religious colleges called the “Equality Ride,” included a stop at Union University, a Tennessee Baptist Convention school located in Jackson, Tenn. School officials told the group they weren’t allowed on campus, but offered to let them meet with students at an off-campus site.
Three protestors were arrested on trespassing charges when they crossed a line on the edge of campus where they were permitted to stand vigil manned by campus police.
Next week pro-gay evangelicals will gather in the nation’s capital for a regional training conference sponsored by the Reformation Project, a non-profit organized last year by Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian.
Keynote speakers include Allyson Robinson, a transgender Baptist minister currently serving as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, and David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.
Gushee, also a senior columnist for Baptist News Global (formerly ABPnews/Herald) and for the current year theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, gave an advance copy of his prepared address to Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service and son of former SBC President James Merritt.
In the speech, Merritt reported Oct. 24, Gushee plans to announce that he will now advocate on behalf of LGBT equality, citing his own evolving views on homosexuality stemming in part from the experience of his sister, who has struggled with depression since coming out as a lesbian in 2008. Gushee says it made him realize that “traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it.”