NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than a thousand evangelical pastors and others – gathered for a three-day conference to steel the resolve of Christians who preach that gay relationships are sinful – were asked a simple question: How many live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage?
Hands rose all across the convention hall.
“This moral revolution is happening at warp speed,” said the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “This is a real challenge to us on biblical authority.”
Speakers at the event said they understood they were on the losing end of the culture war on marriage. But they were prepared to be the voice of a moral minority because gay marriage is a “rejection of God’s law,” according to Mohler. He said evangelicals needed to have “a lot of agonizing conversations” about how to move forward.
The conference, called “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” is taking place not only against the backdrop of expanding gay marriage, but also amid a small but vocal movement of evangelicals who publicly advocate greater acceptance of gays.
Several of the advocates attended the conference and held behind-the-scenes meetings with evangelical leaders to seek common ground.
“My goal here is to meet as many people as I can who disagree with me and talk over coffee,” said Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network, during a break at the opening session Monday. His organization brings together Christians who differ over whether gays faithful to the Bible should remain celibate or can have same-sex relationships.
Southern Baptist leaders said they would be expressing their views in a way that was humble and compassionate, but rooted in the theological belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Each participant was given a bagful of books and pamphlets, with titles such as, “Love Into Light: The Gospel, The Homosexual and The Church,” and “Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor,” meant to help pastors articulate their stand against same-sex relationships.
Mohler, the most prominent Southern Baptist intellectual, said from the stage that he was wrong years ago when he said same-sex attraction could be changed.
The Rev. Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which organized the conference, drew applause when he condemned anti-gay bullying and called on Christians to address the problem of homelessness for gay and lesbian youth as “a human dignity issue.” He said parents shouldn’t shun their gay children.