Southern Baptists and American Culture: Kingdom Vision or Mass Confusion?

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Someone is confused about last week’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. The only question is whether the confusion is that of Southern Baptists themselves, or their observers in the media. Some commentators have suggested that Southern Baptists left Phoenix in a desert whirlwind of self-contradiction about such issues as homosexuality, the family, and Jewish evangelism.

David Waters, a columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, writes from Phoenix that the Southern Baptists “amaze and confuse me.” Waters cites the “contradictory” messages he heard at the SBC, such as a resolution condemning both an American “divorce culture” and the scandalous state of marriage in Southern Baptist churches. He further cites SBC resolutions denouncing same-sex marriage and a message that the church must love and minister to homosexuals. He notes the SBC’s resolution denouncing anti-Semitism, along with Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler’s “contradictory” message that Christians should share the gospel with the Jewish people. He is confused.

Southern Baptists, however, see these facets of this year’s Convention as complementary,
not contradictory.

The same is true when it comes to the emphasis on “Kingdom families”. We are alarmed by an external culture that celebrates divorce. But we are even more alarmed when we see this divorce culture accepted-and sometimes even baptized-in our own churches. This is a key emphasis of Scripture itself. The apostle Paul chastised the Corinthian church for tolerating immorality within its membership, immorality “as is not even named among the Gentiles” (1 Cor 5:1, NKJV).

Southern Baptists believe Christ commands us to love all people-including homosexuals. That’s why the virulent Fred Phelps and his followers protest the SBC with signs proclaiming “God Hates Fags.”

We also believe loving someone means telling him the truth-the truth that homosexuality is a way that leads to death (Rom 1:27). That’s why the homosexual Mel White and his followers protest the SBC, singing “Just As I Am.”

The SBC resolution on same-sex marriage makes clear that the acceptance of these “unions” is dangerous, not only to society, but to homosexuals themselves. It also makes clear that the gospel offers complete forgiveness for any sin-including that of homosexuality-and that the gospel offers the promise of a new creation transformation to a new kind of life (1 Cor 6:9-11). For Southern Baptists, loving homosexuals means ministry to homosexuals-and ministry starts with the gospel of Christ.

Southern Baptists likewise don’t see any contradiction between a strong stance against anti-Semitism and a universal offer of the gospel. Neither does the New Testament. After all, the apostle Paul warns Gentile believers against haughtiness toward the Jewish people (Rom 11:20). The Jewish people are precious to God, he writes, because “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” and “from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:4-5, ESV). But it is precisely because of this love for the Jewish people that Paul cries out for the salvation of his kinsmen, that they might hear and believe that the Messiah has come (Rom 9:1-3). There is no contradiction there.

The confusion, for the watching world, basically comes down to the gospel itself. If the gospel is simply another “spiritual” lifestyle choice, along the lines of Yoga or aerobic breathing, then indeed it is “contradictory” and “confusing” to both love the world and to evangelize the world. But Southern Baptists don’t see love and the gospel as contradictory.

As a matter of fact, the youngest child in a Southern Baptist church Vacation Bible School this summer can share with an entire room of pundits and commentators the key to the Kingdom worldview behind all of this confusion: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB).

And there is nothing confusing about that.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).