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SBC’s Family Stance: Still Counter-Cultural

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) hasn’t even held its 2003 meeting in Phoenix, but the group is already causing a stir with this year’s emphasis on the family.

An Internet satire site files a parody news report, datelined Phoenix, announcing that an SBC resolution calls for the “utter and complete servitude of women to men, in all things domestic and spiritual, with no qualifications.” The “news story”-using vulgar language for women-claims that SBC commandos immediately moved into position across the globe arresting female missionaries and forcing them into detention.

If only such a skewed viewpoint were limited to parody sites. Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets and some religious groups seem to have a similar caricature of the SBC’s understanding of the family.

For example, one liberal Baptist ethicist has offered a scoffing editorial targeting a book by Tom Elliff, the chair of the SBC’s Council on Family Life. Parham ridicules Elliff’s treatment of sexuality in his book, Unbreakable:The Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family.  Why?  Elliff suggests that a healthy sex life in marriage is related to the spiritual condition of the couple.

“In a sex-saturated society, Elliff has added daily Bible reading to the list of pharmaceuticals and techniques that promise to improve the sex life of married couples,” the Baptist Center for Ethics’ Robert Parham writes. “Now really, can Southern Baptist fundamentalists get any goofier?”

Most Southern Baptists might wonder what is “goofy” about Elliff’s contention that a man’s relationship with his wife is dependent on his relationship with His Creator.  After all, the apostle Peter warns men that failure to love and honor their wives will actually hinder their prayers (1 Pet 5:7).  Moreover, the apostle Paul warns couples that inattention to their sexual relationship opens the door to satanic temptation (1 Cor 7:5). Paul tells the church at Ephesus that the marriage relationship mirrors the communion between Christ and His church (Eph 5:25-33).

It is here that the SBC’s emerging emphasis on the Kingdom of God is so crucial.  As Elliff understands, salvation is not some gnostic escape from creation.  Instead, redemption restores the created order, directing it toward its goal. That means that one cannot sever one’s “spiritual” convictions from one’s family responsibilities. This is why Jesus points out the spiritual vacuity of the Pharisees precisely in their financial treatment of their parents (Mark 7:11).  It is also why so much of the Old and New Testament Scriptures are devoted to defining the believer’s responsibility to his family.  Family is not simply a sociological matter. It is a profoundly spiritual issue–even in the bedroom.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.

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About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project.

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