WASHINGTON (BP) -- A government that criminalizes homosexual behavior "has overstepped its bounds drastically and unjustly," say two leading Southern Baptist ethicists.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the same entity, wrote in a March 3 essay they remain aligned with the Bible's view of sexuality while also contending homosexuals should not be targeted by the law.
They believe, Moore and Walker said, what the church has affirmed traditionally and universally -- "that sexuality is to be expressed only within the one-flesh union of the marriage of a man to a woman. Anything else is a sin against God. The church has believed this, and will always believe this, because the Bible teaches it.
"At the same time, we believe laws criminalizing homosexual activity to be unjust and an affront to the image of God embedded in all persons," they wrote in the commentary, which was posted at the ERLC's "Canon & Culture" blog channel.
The comments from Moore and Walker came in the wake of additional countries criminalizing homosexual activity.
Uganda enacted a law Feb. 24 that includes life sentences for people convicted of repeated homosexual activity and imprisonment for "aiding and abetting" homosexuality, according to a March 7 article by The Christian Science Monitor. In January, Nigeria approved a similar measure that authorizes 10-year prison sentences for same-sex couples observed kissing publicly and people visiting a gay club, the newspaper reported.
The United Nations (U.N.) reports 78 countries either have laws that criminalize homosexual behavior or have prosecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people under other laws. Seven regimes -- mostly Islamic states in Africa and the Middle East -- have authorized capital punishment for homosexual conduct, according to the U.N.
Their principal reason for opposing such laws is the Gospel of Jesus, said Moore and Walker, who wrote, "Not everything that is sinful should be a crime."
"Yes, we believe that all sexual activity outside of marriage (defined by Jesus, not by the Supreme Court) is wrong," they said. "We also believe that the answer to this sin is found not in some police state, but in the good news that God reconciles sinners like us to himself through the shed blood and the ongoing life of Jesus Christ."
The mission of Christians "is not to imprison and persecute those who are walking contrary to the Scriptures, but instead our mission is to love and to persuade," Moore and Walker wrote.
"Our mission is to be ambassadors of reconciliation -- a mission that necessitates both defining sin and offering mercy (2 Cor. 5:18-19). That cannot be done by coercion or threats of a police state, but only by the persuasive power of the conviction of the Holy Spirit."
Moore and Walker also said, "[T]he American 'spirituality' that pretends as though sexual immorality has no spiritual consequences isn't recognizably Christian at all. The jailing and execution of people for consensual sexual immorality, in contexts like we see in many places around the world, isn't Christian, either.
"That's why the global Body of Christ should stand faithful both to a biblical vision of sexuality and at the same time decry laws ... that would mistreat homosexual persons."
Their opposition to prison sentences and execution for homosexuals, Moore and Walker wrote, is not based on the view "that governments have no interest in the stability of the family."
Instead, they "believe a nation can teach a positive truth in its laws about marriage and sexuality without prohibiting and targeting its opposite," they said. "For example, we believe the role of the state should be to promote the stability of families and to provide appropriate incentives for children to be welcomed into homes with both a mother and a father."
The United States and other governments, however, have "too often ignored this function of the state," Moore and Walker wrote.
God has given authority to the government, according to the Bible, to "maintain public safety and order according to principles of public justice," they said. "Everywhere in the New Testament, the mission of confronting personal sin is given to the church, not to the state," they wrote, but the church "does not have the coercive power of the sword."
The church is to "confront the sexual immorality of those inside" its body, Moore and Walker said, adding, "[E]ven in the worst case of such immorality the ultimate step is excommunication, not the setting up of a police state to execute."
They strongly oppose, however, government compulsion of those who disagree with same-sex marriage. The expanding legalization of gay marriage has resulted in the loss of freedom to exercise religious beliefs by people who provide wedding services, including photographers, florists and bakers.
"[W]e sharply dissent from the use of state power, as we've seen in American life in recent days, to coerce the consciences of persons -- whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or what have you -- to participate in weddings or celebrations of unions we believe to be violations of our consciences," they wrote.
Of all groups, Baptists should be "in support of limiting the power of government to see itself as a theological broker," Moore and Walker said.
"As Baptist Christians, our own history has shown us what injustice can happen when a state applies the Old Testament Mosaic code -- a code designed to mark out the nation of Israel in redemptive history until the coming of Israel's Messiah -- to the civil state," they wrote. "Our ancestors were whipped, beaten, and exiled from Old England and from New England for refusing to sprinkle infants or to pay taxes for Anglican preaching."
The essay by Moore and Walker is available online at http://www.canonandculture.com/what-should-christians-think-of-governments-that-criminalize-homosexuality/.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington bureau chief. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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