By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COLUMBUS, Ohio – With the decision of the United States Supreme Court on whether all states must recognize same-sex marriage still to come, Southern Baptists have made it clear where they stand.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus passed a resolution June 16 that declared that “no matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage.”
The following day (June 17) all 17 former living SBC presidents since 1980 issued a statement on marriage and religious liberty. The signers included Bobby Welch, associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, who served as president in 2005-06 while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Prior to reading the statement during a press conference, SBC President Ronnie Floyd stressed that the former presidents were speaking for themselves, not the convention.
He noted the idea for the joint statement was born during the recent National Day of Prayer while he was in Washington with Texas pastor Jack Graham, a former SBC president himself. Graham took the lead in getting the statement drafted and approved by the former presidents, Floyd said.
“No one needs to wonder where we stand as Christians in these days,” Graham said. “We are responding to what many believe is the most critical issue of our times – religious freedom and the definition of marriage.”
The statement reads in full:
“As Southern Baptist Christians, we are committed to Biblical faith and ethics. As a result, this body of Believers stands on the authority of Scripture and God’s Truth as central to our lives.
“What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
“Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex “marriages”, our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.
“While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction, we cannot and will not affirm the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior or any behavior that deviates from God’s design for marriage. We also believe religious freedom is at stake within this critical issue – that our first duty is to love and obey God, not man.
“Therefore, we strongly encourage all Southern Baptist pastors, leaders, educators, and churches to openly reject any mandated legal definition of marriage and to use their influence to affirm God’s design for life and relationships. As the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination with over 16 million members, we stake our very lives and future on the Truth of God’s Word.
“We also join together to support those who stand for natural marriage in the corporate world, the marketplace, education, entertainment, media and elsewhere with our prayers and influence, and resources.”
Floyd observed that some denominations have not taken a strong stand on biblical marriage. “Today we are willing to stand (on biblical truth) and may all evangelicals, America, and the world know it. May the Lord be praised.”
In response to questions raised during the press conference, former presidents stressed that churches must be prepared for the challenges – including legal challenges – that will come should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, urged churches and Southern Baptist entities to make sure they are clear in their bylaws and operational manuals on what they deem acceptable.
“Right now, that will sustain you in most courts of law,” he said. “We see a time when that may not be true,” he added.
Patterson encouraged smaller churches especially to get prepared. Many small churches have never thought about a constitution and bylaws, he observed. Patterson predicted that when challenges come from same-sex marriage proponents, they may come to the smaller churches because they will be the least prepared. Churches need to get ready for this by getting polices in place, he said. The presidents noted that the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission is prepared to help with advising churches related to those matters, and churches should contact the ERLC for more information.
The former presidents also stressed pastors and churches must support their members who already face challenges in the corporate world and elsewhere.
Floyd made a final observation about the joint statement and the resolution approved by SBC messengers.
“The Southern Baptist Convention has not moved. The culture has moved. We stand on the Word of God that abides forever,” he said.