Churches urged to prepare for marriage issues

HOUSTON (BP) -- Pastors and churches need to be prepared to address same-sex marriage in biblically faithful, Christ-like ways, new ethics entity head Russell D. Moore and other panelists said at a discussion preceding the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, moderated the "Marriage on the Line" breakfast panel June 11. The panelists addressed the issue during the same month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to release decisions in two cases related to same-sex marriage. The event also came in a year when the number of states legalizing homosexual marriage has reached 12, plus the District of Columbia.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches are not ready -- "tragically so," he said -- for a legal redefinition of marriage or what appears to be the growing cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Churches must teach Christians "to be kind and gentle and generous" and to understand there is no "Christian America," if there ever was one, Patterson told the audience of about 300 at the ERLC-sponsored discussion.

"We are now living in a foreign environment, and so we have to adjust to that. We have to be a minority opinion that is a solid biblical opinion," while "at the same time we respond to people in a Christ-like way," Patterson said.

J.D. Greear, senior pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, said there is a danger of Christians either under-reacting or over-reacting.

Some Christians, especially younger ones, say, "We just need to kind of recognize that [homosexuals] should have equality even if we don't agree with it," Greear said of those who under-react.

Government's recognition and promotion of marriage "has been a great blessing to our society. And so to simply watch that go, I think, is going to have devastating consequences," Greear said.

A "sense of love of neighbor" provides motivation for Christians to defend the biblical definition of marriage if they "really believe that the state doesn't define marriage," Moore said.

"[W]e would say the state can't redefine [marriage], and if it tries to, what we're going to end up with is a sense of something that is morally wrong but something that is deeply disappointing for the people who want it," Moore said.

At the opposite end of those who under-react, Greear said, are some Christians who "tend to over-react as if this one thing signals the end."

The church has a "unique opportunity" as the "world around us is collapsing" in many ways, Patterson said. "We just have to be sure that we speak about sinfulness and rebellion against God in ways that make it clear that we're not angry at the people involved."

Moore asked David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., how he would respond to a married, same-sex couple with an adopted child who told him they believe the Gospel and want to know what it means for them to follow Jesus.

A shepherding process would ensue that would include the call for repentance by the couple, Platt said.

Regarding marriage, "[W]hat we are saying is, 'Biblically, no matter what the government says, this is not marriage," Platt said. The question that would follow, he said, is: "[O]K, how can we work toward either a picture of singleness that is glorifying to God or a picture of marriage that is glorifying to God? And neither one of those are in this circumstance."

Repentance, Platt said, would mean the two people would need to acknowledge "what we have said is marriage is not marriage."

Moore said he thinks "everybody in this room is going to face that very soon."

"[W]hat we have to say is, 'Take up your cross and follow Me, which means that you have to acknowledge part of what it means to repent of sin is to acknowledge what God as Creator has created me to be, which this is not it,'" Moore said . "'This is not the picture of the Gospel, which means that we have to separate and we have to start living out a life under the discipleship and accountability of the local congregation and to acknowledge that this is going to be difficult.'"

Churches also must restore a culture of biblical marriage, panelists said.

Bible teacher and women's ministry leader Susie Hawkins said Christians have lost "the whole big picture of the beauty of the institution of marriage and what it brings to a culture and a church." Years ago, marriage was understood "as a covenant of the community and of the church body to promote" that marriage and home, she said.

Moore said churches need to establish "congregations that hold one another accountable for marriages that actually reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ."


Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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