By Bob Allen
The Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral concerns voiced support for the Sept. 23 ouster of a California congregation found guilty of affirming homosexuality, and disputed the argument that conservative Christians already embrace a “third way” when it comes to divorce.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a commentary Sept. 24 there is some validity to the charge that evangelicals who oppose same-sex marriage are being hypocritical, because “so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.”
“I’ve argued for years and repeatedly that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are slow-motion sexual revolutionaries, embracing elements of the sexual revolution 20 or 30 years behind the rest of the culture,” Moore said. “This is to our shame, and the divorce culture is the number-one indicator of this capitulation.”
Moore said preaching on divorce has been muted for several reasons, including the facts that pastors don’t want to anger church members who are divorced or have family members who are and that divorce has become so common in culture that “it doesn’t shock us anymore.” While many churches need to recover “a Christian ethic of marriage,” Moore said, it has no bearing on the debate about same-sex marriage.
Moore, a former seminary professor with a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said if a couple wanting to repent of an unbiblical divorce and remarriage asked to be received by a local church, most churches would not demand they repeat the same “sinful action” by abandoning and divorcing one another.
“In most cases, the church recognizes that they should acknowledge their past sin and resolve to be faithful from now on to one another,” he said. “Why is this the case? It’s because their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages.”
Moore said even unbiblical marriages “signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).”
“Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel,” Moore said. “The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11).”
Moore described Tuesday’s vote by the SBC Executive Committee to withdraw fellowship from New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., a “sad but necessary move.”
Earlier this year the congregation attempted to resolve a dispute over homosexuality by adopting a “Third Way” approach described in a recent book titled A Letter to My Congregation written by Vineyard Church pastor Ken Wilson.
The book, released through ReadTheSpirit Publishing, includes an introduction from Phyllis Tickle and foreword by Mercer University ethicist David Gushee, who serves moderate Baptists in various roles including senior columnist for ABPnews/Herald and theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Wilson, the founding pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote in the book that there was a time when he answered questions on the “gay issue” with the traditional view that same-sex orientation is not sinful but any sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is.
Wilson said he didn’t realize that what that meant to a gay, lesbian or transgender person is: “You can’t be baptized or receive communion or become a member or serve in this or that capacity here.”
Over time, Wilson said he came to reject the “binary choice” summarized in code phrases between “open and affirming” and “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“For too long, our controversies seem to boil down to conservatives and liberals (or, if you prefer, traditionalists and progressives) talking past each other for the benefit of stirring up their loyalists, as partisans do in the primary campaigns of electoral politics. The rest of us are expected to line up for our team just as soon as they show their colors.”
Wilson proposed a “Third Way” solution to the impasse to “err on the side of acceptance” and “let God sort it out in his time.”
“All exclusionary practices aimed at same-sex covenanted couples — including categorical disqualification from leadership roles — should be suspended,” Wilson wrote in a Huffington Post blog June 6. “Pastors should be allowed to make their best pastoral discernment about participating in blessing same-sex couples who seek to be faithful to each other through a lifetime of thick and thin — much as we currently handle the disputable matter of remarriage after divorce.”
“Those who believe all gay relationships are sinful are likewise accepted,” he continued. “Men and women with same-sex attraction who decide to live celibate or marry those of the opposite sex are supported, their choices honored as decisions made ‘unto the Lord.’ In other words, we retain our own convictions and respect the convictions of others, while leaving judgment (and exclusion of any kind is a form of judgment) to God. Those who hold the traditional view yield their right to insist on any exclusionary practice in local church communities, as they do for many other matters regarded as sinful.”
Moments before the SBC Executive Committee voted to expel New Heart Community Church, Moore said in a report to the body that a lot of the focus during his first year on the job at the ERLC has been preparing for a major conference scheduled Oct. 27-29 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.”
“We want to equip Southern Baptist churches to be able to speak to these issues of sexuality, these issues of marriage, so that Southern Baptists are not caught flat-footed the way that we were with Roe versus Wade,” Moore said, “so that we will be able to speak a message of the whole counsel of God of truth and of grace into a culture that is very, very quickly moving away from us on these things.”