PHOENIX (BP)--A coalition of homosexual leaders and their allies met for more than 30 minutes June 15 with Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, with the leaders demanding an apology from the SBC and Wright refusing to budge, saying that Scripture is clear on the issue.
The remarkable meeting -- cordial the entire time -- took place between the morning and afternoon sessions of the SBC in Wright's annual meeting office at the Phoenix Convention Center.
The nine-person coalition included representatives of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Faith in America and Truth Wins Out. They protested outside the convention hall and requested to deliver petitions to Wright, who decided to turn the event into a dialogue. Several members of the media also attended.
"We're a coalition of groups asking the SBC to acknowledge and apologize for the damage that the convention has done to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," Jack McKinney, a heterosexual married man told Wright at the beginning of the meeting. McKinney is a spokesperson for Faith in America and a former Southern Baptist minister. McKinney and the other leaders repeatedly made parallels between racism and a stance against homosexuality. Sixteen years ago to the day, McKinney said, Southern Baptists passed a resolution apologizing for past racism.
"We feel like the convention is making the same mistake in the way it has demonized LGBT people," said McKinney, who handed Wright a packet of 10,000 signatures. "We come today to ask for an apology for that and for a pledge that those kinds of teachings would come to an end."
Wright, sitting at a roundtable with McKinney and four of the other leaders, rejected the parallels.
"Obviously, we don't feel that there can be an apology for teaching sexual purity," Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said. "As followers of Christ, our only authority for practicing our faith is Scripture, is the Word of God.... As followers of Christ it would be very difficult for us to betray our faith by ignoring what God says about sexual purity."
The Bible condemns both homosexual sex and heterosexual sex that is outside the bonds of marriage, Wright said.
"When I teach from the pulpit about adultery, I don't hate adulterers," Wright said. "Just as we have people attending our local church that are engaging in homosexual activity, we have people attending our church who are engaging in adultery. I don't hate those people when I speak about adultery. I am just, hopefully, loving them enough to speak the truth about what God desires for the best for that person."
Similarly, when Wright preaches about the Bible's prohibition on premarital sex, that doesn't "mean we hate teenagers," he said.
Mitchell Gold, Faith in America's founder, then spoke.
"I remember during the 1960s similar words justifying a position against integration and justifying a whole attitude toward black people. Part of what we are saying to you is, you really made a big mistake before and you apologized for it, you recognized it," Gold said.
"There's an enormous amount of harm" done to teens by the SBC's stance, Gold said, handing Wright a book written by Gold, "Crisis," that details stories of people who grew up homosexual.
Although some of the leaders said ex-gay ministries were harmful, Wright disagreed, saying "there really have been" people who have left homosexuality through the various ministries.
"The standard of Scripture for heterosexual single adults" and for homosexual single adults is "no different," Wright said. Both groups are, he said, to abstain from sex.
Wayne Besen, a leading homosexual activist and a former Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, interjected, "You're asking for people to surrender their humanity. ... It's very unrealistic."
Wright drew the conversation back to his Christian faith.
"Jesus Christ came to die for all of our sins, whether it's heterosexual sin or whether it's homosexual sin.... For a society to come along at this stage in history and all of a sudden say that one of the ... areas that Christ has no power" over is "homosexual behavior is really elevating the importance of that behavior above the power of Christ."
Robin Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, told Wright that the two sides needed to have an "honest, respectful, humble dialogue."
"In the same way that you feel convicted about homosexuality from your interpretation of Scripture ... I would say that we feel equally convicted, and perhaps the moment is here where we need to just sit together to be in dialogue instead of standing off to the side from one another and pointing our fingers at one another," Lunn said. "... It's a moment of conversation that, I believe, the Holy Spirit is begging for us to engage in. And I would ask anybody -- yourself ... to contact me and contact us so we can begin this dialogue."
Wright responded, "When the Scripture is so clear about sexual purity, for us to compromise ... that is just something that we're not going to be able to do."
"What I am hearing you say," Lunn said, "is that you are not willing to even be in dialogue."
Said Wright, "I think we're in dialogue right now. I think we're having this meeting today because you have expressed a concern and we're seeking to respect you and hear your concerns. ... I would just encourage you all to not elevate homosexual behavior above all other sexual behavior."
Scripture, Wright emphasized again, calls all sex outside of marriage sinful. Lunn urged him to back "gay marriage," but Wright declined. Gold said he believed the SBC one day would reverse its position, but Wright said if the denomination stuck to clear biblical teachings, it would not.
"If we're going to be true to what God's Word says, we're not going to be able to come to common ground," Wright said. "If we were to ignore what God's Word is saying about sexual purity, yes, possibly, we could come to common ground. But looking at sexual purity from Scripture, we're not going to be able to come to common ground. ... I hope you all would respect that we're just seeking to follow Jesus according to the authority that He's given us, and that's the written Word of God. I would just ask you to respect us for that."
Wright then offered the leaders a hypothetical illustration to demonstrate his point.
"Let's say one of my sons comes to me and tells me he's engaged in a homosexual lifestyle," Wright said. "I hope I'm going to continue to show love, but that doesn't mean I'm going to agree with the behavior. And, if he came to the point to engage in that lifestyle and wanted me to affirm the relationship, it would be like a heterosexual son coming home from college and saying, 'I've been living with this girl. Why can't we stay together when we're in your home?' ... That would be condoning sinful behavior. It's really no different."
Besen then said, "We don't see it as behavior. We see it as an integral part of who we are. It's certainly not a choice."
Wright responded, "I recognize those desires may always be there, but still, Christ, though God's Word, does give us clear guidance that through the power of the cross and what He has done, He not only offers forgiveness but He offers a transforming power where we are able to resist those temptations. It doesn't mean we're not going to be tempted, but we're able to resist."
Wright began drawing the meeting to a close with a personal plea.
"Christ loves you Wayne, He loves you Mitchell, He loves Robin, He loves me in spite of my incredible amount of sin," Wright said. "... But He does not desire for us to continue to engage in sinful behavior that He very clearly says is not good."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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