NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination on Tuesday vowed never to officiate at a same-sex union, and the Southern Baptist Convention called on the U.S. Supreme Court not to declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Pastor Ronnie Floyd was speaking to delegates at the convention's annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. But he said his message was also for the U.S. Supreme Court — which is expected to rule within days on same-sex marriage — and for all of America.
Floyd said he has compassion for people whom he described as struggling with same-sex attraction, but he said it would be wrong to remain silent on the issue.
"America: We stand believing that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in a covenant commitment for a lifetime," Floyd said to a standing ovation from the 5,000 people in attendance. "We do not need to redefine what God himself has defined already."
The theme of Floyd's address was "now is the time to lead," a refrain he repeated several times. In addition to marriage, Floyd asked Southern Baptists to lead opposition to abortion, saying, "Even though reports state that abortion rates are down some, we do not need to become content in or callous to this deplorable issue."
A recent Associated Press survey found that abortions have declined since 2010 not only in states where new laws make it harder to have them, but also in states where abortion rights are protected.
Floyd also called upon Christians to "decry all racism and prejudice, denouncing it as sin against God and sin against one another."
But Floyd was especially fervent about marriage, saying: "This could be a watershed moment in our history, possibly changing the trajectory of our nation unlike anything we've seen since 1973 in the Roe vs. Wade decision."
The church leader's address comes just a week after Southern Baptists announced that membership declined in 2014 for the eighth year in a row. Baptisms also were down to the lowest number since 1947.
Floyd made it clear he thinks the 15.5-million-strong Nashville-based denomination is embattled, as are Christians everywhere. And he warned that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage could be a blow to religious liberties.
Speaking later in the meeting, Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran told the story of how he was fired after giving subordinates a book that he wrote in which he described homosexuality as a perversion.
"There are worldly consequences for standing for Christ and standing for biblical truth," he told the group.
The Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm last week released a legal guide for churches that seeks to protect them from discrimination lawsuits by providing templates for things such as membership policies, facility use polices and employment criteria. It also contains cautionary tales, such as that of a Washington florist who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
Delegates later passed a resolution that calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to "uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman."
The resolution also declares that "the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage."