Church & sexuality focus of conference

by Maggie Walsh/The Alabama Baptist , posted Wednesday, March 02, 2016 (one year ago)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) -- The sexual revolution in which our society finds itself has been a long time coming, said Timothy George, dean of Samford University's Beeson Divinity School, in his keynote address, "The Biblical Truth About Sexuality in a Morally Relative Age."

Rick Lance, left, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions Executive Director, moderates a panel discussion with Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizen's Action Program, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on "Religious Liberty in a Culture of Moral Decline."
Photo from The Alabama Baptist
The speech kicked off The Church and Sexuality Conference on Feb. 29 at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, Ala.

"It's tempting to think that this just came out of the blue, but it's been in the making for a long, long time," George said. It's important to understand that there have been centuries of groundwork so that we can know why the "ground began to shake beneath our feet" so quickly, referring to the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014.

Some may wonder, "What is the church to do?"

George urged participants to stay faithful to the ethics revealed in Scripture, preach the whole counsel of God, rightly divide the Word of God and let the church be the hermeneutic of the Gospel.

"We are to reach out in Jesus' name and in the love of Christ to sexual sinners everywhere and of every kind. We are all broken," George said.

But Christians must live life on "that thin edge of nausea and sweetness" to love sinners enough to push past our own discomfort or lack of understanding to share Jesus Christ and "be engaged with all the wisdom and humility we can muster," he said.

Building off of George's message, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions Executive Director Rick Lance moderated a panel discussion on "Religious Liberty in a Culture of Moral Decline."

On the panel was Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizen's Action Program, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Lance said, "Religious liberty is an issue we're going to have to get more and more familiarized with," opening the discussion that ranged from involvement with government to engaging the culture in which we live.

Godfrey said there has to be a balance between compassion and love and speaking out against issues of morality. "We have to be prophets of God and at the same time show compassion."

And we can do that, Moore said, by engaging people in a long-term conversation about what each side believes. We need to separate from the sin but never be afraid to be near sinners, but many times in the church we do the reverse, he said.

Godfrey noted Christians will continue to be marginalized on the issue of same-sex marriage. "It's a matter of putting us on the periphery of society so that we don't have any more of an influence," he said.

Christians can combat the changing culture by seeing people in terms of "the long-term sweep of their lives," Moore said. "Spend time dealing with people as people and not merely as issues."

In the afternoon session, Moore returned to deliver the second keynote address on "Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel."

Speaking on Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well in John 4:4–19, Moore focused on verse 16 where Jesus says, "Go get your husband and come here."

Jesus points out the very thing that the woman is trying to hide, Moore said, and is willing to confront her at the place she is most trying to avoid.

"If we are a Gospel people, then that means that our articulation of a sexual ethic ... is not a matter of our choosing," he said. "It is a mandate that Jesus has given us."

We have to speak with confidence that can only come from God's design and His Gospel message -- that is how we will become a church for refugees from the sexual revolution, Moore said. But we cannot give easy answers for why people grapple with certain temptations. We must be among them, engaging them and trying to know them, he said.

"We cannot be afraid to be among people who are sinful and fallen," Moore said "... [Because in ministering to them] we have a Gospel opportunity to be a John 3:16 people in a John 4:16 world."

After participants attended 1 of 9 breakout sessions dealing with various issues relating to sexuality in culture, Lance moderated a second panel discussion on "Taking This Back to My Church."

Panelist Jim Graham, pastor of Coosada Baptist Church in Coosada, Ala., said, "The key is loving people and trying to help people see that balance that Jesus was full of grace and truth.... We have to embrace the tension."

Kathy Litton, national director of ministry to pastors' wives for the North American Mission Board, noted that Christians have to intensify their discipleship efforts and be transparent and real with those they are discipling.

"We need to love our neighbor as ourselves," Litton said. "You can love someone better when you understand them more ... and we've got to show grace and we've got to be informed."

Travis Coleman, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Prattville, and president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, added that intentionality is needed, especially where church leadership is concerned. That pertains to church policies, religious liberty and discipleship, he said.

For resources, link, video and audio recordings and information from The Church and Sexuality Conference, visit alsbom.org/cas16.

Maggie Walsh writes for The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.
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