Moderate Baptists: The Road Less Traveled & Cliffs Ahead!

“This conference, announced with such fanfare, may well prove to be the undoing of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  I have no doubt that other sexual ethics topics will be addressed, but homosexuality will be THE topic which garners the most dialogue and discussion.” (CBF, Sexual Ethics & Muddled Baptists, June 1, 2011)

I wish I could say that I was wrong when I wrote the above statement last June. But, if Baptist Press’ reporting is any indication, those words proved all-too prescient. In a BP article entitled, “Gay issue major theme of CBF sponsored conf,” the opening paragraph sums up what was a far-too easy prediction:

Despite conference organizers’ best attempts to keep the Baptist Conference on Sexuality & Covenant focused on broader issues April 19-21, the conversation often centered on the topic of homosexuality.

In many ways, Moderate Baptists — including those who separated from the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990’s to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — have been following a different path than their more conservative theological brethren. In no area is the divergent road seen more clearly than in the realm of sexual ethics, namely homosexuality. In the aftermath of this recent conference, co-sponsored by the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University and the CBF, it is becoming clearer that some Moderate Baptists would love to drive down the theological road which fully embraces homosexuality as compatible with a Biblical, Christian ethic. That one of these Moderate Baptists is the man who taught my wife and I Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-1990’s makes this post all the more difficult to write.

In “Moderate Baptists: The Road Less Traveled,” a post that was published on August 4, 2010, I wrote this about Dr. David Gushee:

We can only speak from our own experience, but neither of us ever heard Dr. Gushee say anything that could have been construed as anything other than theologically conservative.  Dr. Gushee was (and I assume still is) a kind and thoughtful Christian educator who loves the Lord and loves his students. I do not presume to know how Dr. Gushee has arrived at the place where he is on his spiritual pilgrimage, but his writings today reflect the view of a different kind of Baptist.  Certainly different from what he taught in his Ethics classes at Southern.  Perhaps different from what he taught at Union University, serving under Dr. David Dockery, my former Theology Professor at Southern.  I do not begrudge Dr. Gushee or anyone else from choosing to follow the moderate Baptist road, but we need to understand where this road leads, both doctrinally and practically.

In that post, I took issue with Dr. Gushee’s characterization that an ordination service  — officiated by a female pastor and two female associate pastors, wherein the ordination candidate was also female — was “a classic ordination” and “very traditional.” I believe that the Bible teaches that the church offices of Pastor and Deacon are to be filled by only those who meet specific qualifications as set forth in Scripture. One of those qualifications, which, in my opinion, has not been nullified, is that candidates for these two offices be men. I am fully aware that there are women who have served or are currently serving as Pastors of Baptist churches. While some view Baptist churches with women pastors as so “heretical” that these churches have to be immediately disfellowshipped from associations without extending grace or due process, I do not choose to view it that way. I may disagree with a church who has called a woman as Pastor, but it certainly does not rise to the level of heresy for those churches which have called openly gay clergy to serve as Pastors.

Which leads us down the road less traveled with our Moderate Baptist brethren. In my earlier post, I shared another prediction that seems to be coming true:

However, far too often, it seems, the moderate road leads to more and more dangerous, and in some cases, heretical views.  First, women pastors.  Next, a struggle over practicing homosexuals as members of the church.

For all intents and purposes, it would appear that the “struggle” is over in the CBF. There maybe a few leaders and a few prominent churches who still hold to a Biblically conservative sexual ethic when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, but many Moderate Baptists are headed for the precipice over the full inclusion of practicing gay, lesbian, and transgendered folk within the Church. Singing the old hymn, “Just As I Am,” takes on a more literal meaning in affirming churches. There is apparently nothing to change in regards to sexual behavior outside of a husband (man) and wife (woman) marital relationship because Jesus will accept you just as you are. This would certainly seem to contradict 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 where the Apostle Paul reveals that those within the Corinthian church who had engaged in certain sinful behavior — among which was homosexuality — had been cleansed and washed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How have Moderate Baptists, including my former Ethics Professor, Dr. Gushee, gotten to the point where they either fail to speak clearly that homosexual behavior is sinful and therefore incompatible with a Biblical Christian ethic or actually embrace the gay lifestyle as fully compatible with a Biblical Christian Ethic? The short answer is that they allow experience, biology, genetics, sociology, psychology, and a whole host of other “sciences” to radically reinterpret Scripture. How else to explain Dr. Gushee’s use of “covenant language” to broker an understanding of how homosexuality fits within a Christian sexual ethic? Said Gushee:

“I have thought from the beginning that the very important thing we could talk about would be the issue of covenant. I believe that covenant is a, if not the, single best way that has emerged in the Christian theological ethic-ecclesial tradition to talk about what we are supposed to with our sexuality, and for that matter, our relationality.”

I would agree that marriage is a covenant that a man and a woman enters into in the presence of God and assembled witnesses. Marriage is more than a contract. It is a covenant obligation that God intends to last for life — “until death do us part.” However, one cannot simply use the concept of “covenant” to allow for any and all types of “committed relationships,” particularly if you are talking about sexual relationships outside of the Biblical mandate of “one man and one woman” (at one time). That only one speaker at this CBF-sponsored conference was willing to espouse a Biblical view of marriage and sexual ethics during the discussions on homosexuality is disturbing. But, even more disturbing is the lack of clarity by Dr. Gushee when it comes to who is eligible to enter into “covenant relationships.” Dr. Gushee was unwilling to state any clearly defined boundaries:

Gushee, though, stopped short of addressing who ought to be eligible for entry into such covenants and encouraged attendees to embrace the concept of “covenant” before it disappears. “I don’t think our main issue is the fierce and tedious fighting on the boundaries about which categories of people ought to be viewed as eligible to make covenants.”

What “fierce and tedious fighting on the boundaries” is Dr. Gushee speaking? Does he mean the tedious fighting over the legalization and normalization of same-sex marriage? Does he mean the fierce attacks of the radical homosexual lobby against churches who believe in traditional (i.e., “Biblical”) marriage between one man and one woman? Of course the main issue is who should be viewed as eligible to make covenants, particularly the covenant of marriage.

That a Baptist Ethics Professor — one who has taught at Southern Seminary, Union University, and now at Mercer, a former Baptist university — would be unable or unwilling to address “who ought to be eligible for entry into such covenants” gives us a pretty good indication of where on the less traveled road some of our Moderate Baptist brethren are. It’s not looking good. The question remains will any Moderate Baptists jump out of the car before it goes over the cliff and crashes on the rocks of heresy below? If this latest conference is any indication, I would predict a solid “NO” on that one.

 

 

 

3 comments for “Moderate Baptists: The Road Less Traveled & Cliffs Ahead!

  1. April 24, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    The CBF has certainly followed a different path. The SBC chose to stand on faithfulness to scripture and what it clearly teaches whereas the Cooperate_with_anyone Baptist Fellowship, well, it doesn’t matter what you believe and they’ll accept you.

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