Sex-saturated culture addressed at summit
In addresses during the three-day conference, speakers challenged participants with messages designed to equip church leaders and other Christians to live with purity while aiding people inside and outside the church who are captive to a sexualized society. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sponsored its inaugural ERLC Leadership Summit in sessions April 21-23 at the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville.
As sexualized as American culture is, it does not appear to be at the saturation point, ERLC President Russell D. Moore said.
"In terms of the entire society, I don't think we're there yet, because I think that what's happening is that technology is making the sexual revolution more and more elastic," Moore said during a panel discussion on ministry in a sex-permeated culture.
He suspects that "what we are going to find is there are a lot of people who have been promised a kind of easy gospel of sexual freedom who are going to be asking, 'What now? What's after this?' And so I think we need to be the sort of church and the sort of people who can be ready" to welcome and help them, Moore said.
The summit, titled "The Gospel and Human Sexuality," dealt with such issues as moral purity, marital sexuality, pastoral care for sexual immorality, pornography, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, sex trafficking, discussing sex with children and young people, and biblical manhood and womanhood.
J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh/Durham (N.C.) area, said presenting the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus is vital in dealing with sexuality and sexual sin.
"The problem is not that our desire for sex is so strong but that our love for God is so weak," he said in a keynote speech on pastoral care for sexual sin.
"[O]ur message cannot simply be, 'Stop having sex.' Our message has to be, 'Behold your God,'" Greear told the audience, which consisted of 205 registrants.
"What you have to do is to be consumed with a God and His work so much that it breaks the craving" for sex, he said.
Various speakers pointed to the need for pastors to preach systematically through the Bible, and some pointed to the damage that preaching to address felt needs has done among evangelicals in recent decades.
"The generational effect of felt-needs preaching, the generational effect of preaching what we think people want to hear and not exalting the unique person and unique work of Jesus Christ has caused irreparable harm in the church world," said Kevin Smith, assistant professor of preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
"It's easy to scapegoat gay people," he said. "It's easy to scapegoat the culture war without proclaiming the Word of God from the pulpit to the people sitting in your congregation looking at your face."
Evangelicals should make certain they are speaking biblically and factually while befriending gays and lesbians when addressing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, speakers noted.
"The point is not homosexuality; the point is the Lordship of Jesus," Greear said.
"God doesn't send people to hell for homosexuality. He sends people to hell for self-rule and self-righteousness," he said.
Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor of First Baptist church in West Palm Beach, Fla., said Christians should "reject redneck theology in all its forms," including jokes about "Adam and Steve."
The summit addressed the pervasiveness of pornography, especially among church leaders and other Christians.
Pornography "represents the greatest moral crisis in the history of the church," said Heath Lambert, executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary.
While there are all sorts of moral problems, "porn is something evangelicals can do in a dark room behind a shut door after they have railed against homosexual marriage," he said during his keynote speech.
"I think the greatest threat to the church today is the Christian pastor, the Christian school teacher, the Christian college and seminary student who exalts sound theology, who points to the Bible and then retreats to the basement computer" for an hour of pornography, Lambert told the audience.
The average age of a boy's first experience with hard-core pornography is 12, Lambert said. "We don't know what it is like to have a nation of men who are addicted to pornography," he said.
David Prince, pastor of preaching at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and associate professor of preaching at Southern Seminary, said he is convinced pornography is "devastating the spiritual vitality of our churches."
Pastor and seminary professor Tony Merida said Christians can battle sex trafficking by halting their consumption of pornography.
"I would go so far as to say if you are viewing pornography you are perpetuating the sex trafficking industry," said Merida, founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Pastors need to be accountable to others regarding pornography and to address their churches, Lambert said. While practical strategies are needed, "[t]here is no grasp of porn that is so tight that the grace of Jesus cannot break it," he said.
Evangelicals need to awaken the culture to the problem, Lambert said. "[W]e need to dedicate ourselves to a decades-long fight to end this."
While discussion of pornography focused on the need of males to be on guard, Trillia Newbell said women should not be forgotten by pastors when they address the issue of pornography and other sexual sins.
Research from 2007 showed about 13 million women go to online porn sites each month, said Newbell, an author and the ERLC's consultant for women's initiatives. About one-third of visitors to adult entertainment websites are females, Newbell reported.
"There is a stereotype and a really, really, really bad rumor that women don't struggle with sexual sin. Or so it appears," she said.
All Scripture is useful, "and therefore those [biblical] texts aren't meant for only men," but for women also, Newbell said.
The problem of pornography among evangelicals was reflected in research data presented by Mark Regnerus, an author and associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin. He cited research showing:
-- 25 percent of evangelical men report using pornography in the past week.
-- 14 percent of evangelical men report porn usage in the past day.
Regnerus also reported that more than 48 percent of evangelicals report having premarital sex with their spouse.
Prince pointed to the Gospel in a keynote address about helping parents address their children's sexuality.
"We are to have a distinctive, Christ-centered view of everything, including sexuality," he said.
"Our approach can't be, 'Just say no.' That is not Christian sexuality. We want them to have a comprehensively, Christ-centered view of sexuality."
Among his recommendations, Prince encouraged parents to recognize sex education as an important part of Gospel education, to answer questions without hesitation when asked by their children and to be the first to explain sexual intercourse to their children.
Smith said pastors and other Christians should address sexuality but with the "tone of Scripture" and "in ways that reflect God's glory."
"[W]e must realize the over-sexualization of our society can't lead to the a-sexualization of the church," he said. "[W]e can't get to a place where the church" doesn't talk about sex.
He urged the audience -- some who were watching by live-stream -- to avoid vulgarity and "ways that remove the mystery of the special intimacy between a husband and wife."
"I'm tired of preachers bragging about their hot wife," he said. "No. 1, hot is an objectifying term. There is nothing good, profitable or godly about calling your wife hot in public. All it does is set up an examination" of your wife.
"We're trying to heighten the conversation," Smith said. "We're not trying to make sex less dramatic. We're trying to make sex more dramatic."
Videos of the summit sessions are available online at http://erlc.com/summit/videos
Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington Bureau chief. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).