'We love homosexuals,' James Merritt tells SBC
ST. LOUIS (BP)--Southern Baptists attending the convention's annual meeting in St. Louis were met with both pro- and anti-homosexual protestors who lined the sidewalk outside the America's Center.
Inside the center, SBC President James Merritt said to messengers, "We have several groups outside who are protesting us. God is not concerned so much how they act as he is with how we react.
"I believe this is a God-given opportunity for us to display to a watching world what the love of Christ is all about," said Merritt, who is pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville.
"Regardless of what you see or what you hear, I want you to respond with grace. I want you to respond with kindness. I want you to respond with love."
Merritt explained SBC officials had been warned that "some type of disruptive activity" might be fostered by the protesters.
"I want you to know that we are ready to handle that. ... Please do not take matters into your own hands. We have security that's available for that. ... That is their job." About 50 homosexual protesters were arrested by St. Louis police later in the morning.
Merritt told the crowd, "I want to make this statement, and I want to make it as plainly as I know how: We love homosexuals. God loves homosexuals."
Amid sustained applause, Merritt continued, "But he loves them too much to leave them homosexuals."
Merritt said he "had the privilege of leading two lesbians to Christ. We baptized one of them two weeks ago. I sat in their home and had one lesbian look at me with tears coming down her cheeks after she had prayed to receive Christ."
Merritt said she told him, "I just want you to know, Pastor, that my partner and I quit our lifestyle long before you even came back to tell me about Christ."
"I'd led the first partner to Christ about six months before," Merritt explained.
Merritt said the second former lesbian told him, "Our lives have been radically changed. Our desires have been radically changed. We even want to go and tell our friends and our neighbors who know what we have been, what we no longer are."
"I'm telling you, Christ has the power to change anybody," Merritt said to the applauding messengers. "And so I urge you never ever condemn a blind man because he cannot see.
"These people are lost. They need Christ. Except for the grace of God, it would be us," he said, referring to a Bible passage that says God's grace alone is why Christians are spared the consequences of sin.
"It would be my prayer that if anyone comes in and even tries to disrupt this meeting that they would get saved before they would ever get down to the front of this platform," he said.
"So would you just pray with me right now to that end?"
During Merritt's prayer, he said, "I pray for these who are protesting us outside. I pray, O Lord, that you would turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those of us who are sanctified by faith in you."
He also said, "If it is in your sovereign will for any type of disruption to take place, at that exact moment, give us the wisdom and discernment to know exactly how to handle it. Lord, all that I ask the rest of these two days -- may the Word of God be magnified, may the Son of God be glorified and may the church of God be edified. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen."