Saturday, October 25, 2014

Moore of the Same

Back in August, “This is Moore Better” was the title of my blog article about Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. I meant the positive things I said about him then.
But now I’m afraid I can’t be so positive about him. The upcoming ERLC national conference looks as if it is going to be more of the same old anti-gay rhetoric that has been so prevalent in Southern Baptist and other conservative evangelical churches.
The title of the Oct. 27-29 conference is “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The website for this gathering lists the speakers, many of whom are known conservatives and opponents of same-sex marriage or acceptance of gays/lesbians.
Among the many speakers in addition to Moore, who is the person mainly responsible for planning the conference, are the following:
    Rosaria Butterfield, author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith,” in which she tells about her transformation from a postmodern lesbian professor to a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother.
    Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family; while not as strident as his predecessor, James Dobson, he is still a strong opponent of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
    Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the best known and most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage and acceptance of gays/lesbians.
    David Platt, recently elected president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and as the others, strongly against gay/lesbian sexuality. His YouTube sermon “The Gospel and Homosexuality” has been accessed 37,300+ times, and many of the 450 comments are in agreement. But here is one of many negative comments: “Such hate in the name of Jesus, how many lives will be destroyed because of this preacher, how many will reject Jesus Christ, and His grace [because of his] hate.”
    Christopher Yuan, a pastor and co-author (with his mother) of “Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope” (2011); I have not read this book, but it seems to promote only celibacy for homosexuals.
While there are several other speakers, it seems quite clear that there will be little opportunity at Moore’s ERLC conference to hear from more than one side of the issue, which, of course, they see as the only correct position.
A promotional blurb for the conference includes this question, “Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America?”
In continues, “While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman.”
By contrast, there will be a “regional training conference” held in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6-8. That gathering will be “a prime networking opportunity for all Christians who want to advance the dignity of LGBT people.”
One keynote speaker will be my friend Dr. David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a lifelong Baptist. But his position on the gay/lesbian issue is quite different from that of Moore and the ERLC.
In addition, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists want to have dialogue with the ERLC conference people.
I wish that Moore and the ERLC were open to Gushee’s position and the AWAB leaders’ request. But I am afraid all they will consider is more of the same: rejection of LBGT people. What a shame!


  1. It's all very sad, Leroy. But, then, I remember in the 60s, the Southern Baptists resisting desegregation and opposing the anti-Vietnam War movement. So why should we expect a progressive attitude today?

    I've been reading a lot of exchanges among Catholics regarding the Pope's encouragement to talk about marriage, family, and lifestyle. Someone talked about how it must feel for gays and lesbians to watch people in authority debate over their worth, their morality, their respectability. You know, I'm a huge supporter of religion, but sometimes I have my doubts.

    1. Anton, thanks for your comments and for your reminder of some of the sad history of the Southern Baptist Convention 40-50 years ago. But even then there were some within the SBC, and well as many elsewhere, who were on the forefront of the movement for racial equality and against the war in Vietnam.

      And with regards to the current LBGT issue, there are churches and denominations, such as the UCC, that are on the forefront there also. David Gushee, whom I mentioned, is a Christian ethicist teaching at Mercer University, which says that it “remains committed to an educational environment that embraces the historic Baptist principles of intellectual and religious freedom, while affirming values that arise from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world.”

      Also, the regional training conference which I mentioned is being held in the National City Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ church that identifies itself as “an open and inclusive church.”
      So I don’t want to give up on Christianity or the church. Rather, I want to be involved in the segment of the church that seems to be more clearly aligned with the teachings of Jesus than the dominant conservative expression of the church.

  2. My son Keith, whom I am happy to say is also a Thinking Friend, made the following comments (and gave me permission to post them here):

    "The conference’s notion that the Bible has an 'unchanging picture' of marriage as one man and one woman is quite funny when thinking about all the biblical patriarchs and all their wives and consorts!

    "I was just reading that wise Solomon apparently had 700 wives and hundreds more consorts, and apparently wasn’t even limited to them!"

  3. As a traditional Christian living in a fallen world (and former Southern Baptist like you), I would start where Jesus did - "as it was in the beginning..." He only knocked those looking to abuse others, but he also was very pointed to those living wrongly - "go your way, and sin no more". With cultural acceptance of all kinds of civil marriage, and the APA statement that there is nothing inherently wrong with any form of sexuality (including pedophelia or with animals), I have considered proposing to my wife that we have our civil marriage annulled (since that no longer means anything but a tax deduction), and instead enter into the spiritual mystery of matrimony in the traditional Church, which actually means something within Christendom.
    As Christians, we do need to reach out in love to those with whom we do not agree. I have several friends who are LGBT (and 3 who left that for traditional marriage). Jesus did let people self-exclude themselves from himself - and many did. His call to follow was not easy. But neither were his four "love" commandments.

    Pope Francis attempted to broach the topic with his cardinals, which may yet produce another schism in the Catholic church between cultural and traditional Catholicism. He would have been wise to pursue an ecumenical council for this one issue. A schism is already in the making within the global Anglican church.

    Can there be compromise? Can there be flexibility? How tightly is unity of the faith (practice) connected to unity of the Spirit? Can there ever be a holy catholic Church again? Maybe we are all forever damned and God should just start again - as he did in the days of Noah.

    1. In reference to just a small part of the above comments, note that in October of last year the American Psychological Association (APA) posted this clear statement about pedophilia:

      "The American Psychological Association maintains that pedophilia is a mental disorder; that sex between adults and children is always wrong; and that acting on pedophilic impulses is and should be a criminal act. The American Psychological Association has worked for many years to prevent child sexual abuse and will continue to do so."

    2. Moreover, in their current position statements, the American Psychological Association makes no statement that considers bestiality to be alternative sexual orientation.

  4. PS - I don't understand the hostility toward celibacy. I considered it seriously before marriage, and if I lost my wife, I would give it serious consideration again.

    1. Since I don't know how to respond to the main comments by 1sojourner, I will at least reply to this P.S.

      There is no hostility toward celibacy when it is freely chosen. It is a commendable thing that has been chosen by some homosexual and by many heterosexual people (such as the many Catholic priests who are true to their vows).

      The "hostility" is toward heterosexuals insisting that celibacy is the only legitimate position for homosexual persons to whom same-sex marriage is denied.

    2. There were a couple of points in 1sojourner's post that I feel I can respond to as a layperson. As an accountant and married taxpayer, I would point out that dual income couples may have a marriage tax penalty rather than tax deduction. The higher the dual incomes, the higher the penalty. My guess is homosexual couples dislike being unrecognized by their government, similar to non income tax paying citizens being told they do not deserve representation.

      Since it has been 26 years since I recited my wedding vows, I searched the web and found the following Christian sample vows.

      In the name of Jesus, I ___ take you, ___, to be my (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

      I fail to see what part of those vows apply only to heterosexuals. Reciting those vows and filing the required paperwork enter a couple into a binding civil contract that can only be dissolved by another civil action (divorce). It seems to me the vows are the Christian part, which homosexuals can already do. They are currently blocked from filing the paperwork that documents the legal contract to which the vows commit them.

      The legal contract entitles a couple with benefits such as a tax deduction (only a benefit for some), inheritance direction in lieu of a will, and ability to visit a spouse in the hospital in all cases. 1sojourner may want to check hospital policies in his area and make sure both of them have their wills up to date before dissolving his marriage.

      Obviously churches will still have the right not to oversee vows between couples with whom they do not wish to support, but I see no reason as a nation to continue to discriminate against committed couples. I also think we can use the extra tax revenue.

    3. Dennis, thanks so much for posting your significant comments. I hope many of my negative blog readers will consider well what you wrote.

  5. Having a particular point of view and holding a conference with like-minded souls is something "both" sides do, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I say. But to reach out and create or participate in a civil dialogue with folks who believe differently — that is hard and that is rare. And not just on LGBTQIA issues . . . I just helped host a conference on abolishing Capital Punishment in Kansas, and we only invited like-minded speakers, but it was worthwhile, to an extent.

    1. Your point is well taken, Phil. Perhaps it would be expecting too much for for the sponsors of a conservative religious ethics conference to consider the position of serious ethicists who did not agree with them.

      If you are going to host a conference for the purpose of taking some specific action, inviting only speakers that agree with that action is certainly understandable.

      But if the conference is to consider deeply the ethical position on contemporary issues, perhaps planning for some variety in the position of the speakers would not be too outrageous a thing to do.

    2. With a couple of exceptions, I have found the UCC to be vicious and mean, and ,although I don't agree with them in practice, the MCC to be genuinely friendly and loving. Give me the latter for a friend and dialogue. Interestingly, I was permitted to work with the UCC, but not the MCC. The other two groups I found to be the most vicious were St. Paul's seminary in KC and the ACLU - groups above dialogue and never to be trusted (both twice). I am deeply grateful to a MCC pastor and friend who stepped in to shield me from the ACLU once, and Methodist pastor stepping in as cover from St. Paul's (twice) - two groups who were looking to cause trouble and trying to find it. Say what you want about "Justice" Christians, but I would choose hell over the hostile Christianity that I have seen them portray. Given the vicious outcomes, I would say the Southern Poverty Law Center is another group to avoid at all costs. Sadly, I have learned the corollary of that famous saying, "Cheat me once, shame on you, cheat me twice, shame on me."

      I would avoid the conference unless I was with some friends I completely trusted to have my back. Beware of the moderator who is on the offense. Keep the setting small. Keep any lawyers or legal organizations out of the mix. Be willing to humbly walk out if trouble is brewing and you're out-numbered, OR be willing to go to the death for what you believe.

      So the question is, how does one find dialogue among people of both sides who cannot be trusted? Probably the only answer is in the friendships we stumble into with good people who live and believe differently.

      Thank you for trying, Pip!

  6. Not being a workaholic, I missed making a comment on the last posting, but this one is on a subject I cannot let pass. My Sunday School class is currently working our way through Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion." His basic argument is that we make moral judgments based on deep intuitions which we then rationalize as best we can. His basic metaphor is to compare the human mind to a rider and an elephant. The rider does the rationalizing, and the elephant does the intuiting. Guess which one rules!

    What this means in practice is that while we may comfortably agree with someone on one subject, we may be jarred by a radical disagreement on the next. Further, none of us are all that good at explaining our positions, and even less so at persuading others. This leads to a lot of frustration and recriminations all around. Case in point, homosexuality. While there has been a lot of shifting in public opinion in our lifetimes, little of that has been due to rational discourse. Mostly it has been elephants changing their intuitions, which is a slow, cumbersome and confusing process. Sort of like the election cycle we are now all enduring. We should expect sharp disagreement on matters of morality, not be surprised by it.

    We have not finished Haight's book, and I am not at all sure about some parts of his presentation, especially his suggestions for improving political arguments. However, I was impressed by his moral taste sensors analogy, pointing out the "tastes" we use to identify moral issues. These he defines first as five: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. He then explains why he later subdivided fairness/cheating into fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression. Basically, liberals were concerned more with equality, while conservatives were more concerned with proportionality. I am waiting to see if he does any more subdivisions before the end of the book.

    He contends that liberals rely mostly on care and fairness, while conservatives use all six. This is the point where I am most skeptical. As a liberal, I am very concerned about authority, but it is with the authority of science and experience, but not so much the authority of a Pope or church tradition, especially when they directly conflict. In a similar way, I strongly related to his sense of sanctity/degradation, except more as it applies to nature and to people, less so as it applies to symbols and locations. Think about it, both liberals and conservatives are very concerned about "polluting the earth." We just have radically different ways of defining the phrase. Liberals are talking about clean air and clean water. Conservatives are talking about homosexuality. Until we can clearly see both the similarity and the difference, we will have a hard time talking to each other.

    So where does this leave us? Well, I read concerning an earlier election cycle, something like, "Republicans want a victory, and Democrats want a divorce." Sounds true enough, but, in the long run, probably neither party will get what it wants. I have laid out Haidt's ideas hoping they might give us some tools moving forward to improve the debate.

    1. Craig, I still appreciate you wise and timely insight. I hope we can meet someday!

    2. Craig, thanks for posting thoughtful comments, as usual.

      A couple of years ago I read some of Haidt's book, but I failed to keep the notes I made on it. Thanks for calling it to my (and my blog readers') attention. I want to take a look at it again soon.

  7. Also, glad to hear that the APA has changed. I remember the other side from my days of professional study. Also from my days in another profession, I can tell you that pedophilia is not pretty and needs nothing but the harshest sentencing (some have gotten off way too lightly and shown up again in my experience). Some say that this is not a same sex issue - but in my experience it almost always is, and is still way to common.

    1. In a country with out-of-control imprisonment, I am reluctant to call for "harshest sentencing" for anyone, even child abusers. Having said that, let me qualify it by saying that I think we need much more intelligent laws and punishments all around, including for child abuse. I see far too many cases in the news about arrests of young children for overly enthusiastic hugs, and of dating high school students of slightly different, but legally significant, ages. College students get labelled sex offenders for drunken fraternity stupidity. (I speak here not of rape, but lesser actions such as "mooning," etc.) We need a carefully, scientifically graded scale for sorting out both victims and perpetrators for both age and culpability. Then we can talk about strict punishment where warranted. As it is, many states have so many registered sex offenders that the list is virtually worthless, even as they have publicly lumped a number of minor offenders in with some very dangerous people.

      On another point, while it may or may not be true that most child abuse involves same-sex cases, only a small minority of either heterosexuals or homosexuals commit child abuse. In either case, the perpetrators should be prosecuted vigorously.

      Something I learned early in the Catholic priest sex scandal, after an arrested priest was brutally murdered in his cell by another prisoner, was that a significant percentage of prisoners were victims of child abuse, and frequently seek revenge for that on any convicted or even charged child abuser who happens to end up in the same place with them. Then some years later Clint Eastwood directed a movie on a similar theme in "Mystic River" where the whole plot revolves around the killing of a child molester caught in the act by a still-traumatized man who had himself once himself been a victim. See link here:

      Jesus, who said, "Let the children come to me . . ." also said something about millstones and drowning concerning those who would hurt children. (Matthew 18:1-7) While the point of his teaching was aimed at the metaphorical children of faith, he illustrated the point by calling an actual child to his side. The metaphor only works because hurting children is terribly wrong. Psalm 137 begins with the haunting words "By the rivers of Babylon--there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion." It ends with a cry for revenge, "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" Even in revenge, it is hard to think of anything worse than hurting children.

      Revenge also takes us out of the narrow world of child sexual and physical abuse into the wider realm of other types of abuse. What of an America where large numbers of children live in substandard housing, or none at all, live with insufficient food, or sometimes none at all, poor quality schools, and indifferent or even dangerously hostile police forces? Thousands of children are new orphans in west Africa because they committed the crime of being born in countries with very poor healthcare systems. More girls have been kidnapped in Nigeria. Ten of thousands of children have fled violence in central America, only to be met by fierce calls from upright Americans to ship them all back immediately. Is Jesus measuring us all for our millstones?

    2. Thanks also, Craig, for these powerful comments.

      Your last paragraph is particularly good and important.

  8. Perhaps there is going to be more dialogue between those with opposing viewpoints at the ERLC conference than I thought. Check out this article: