A revolution "surrounding sexuality and marriage is happening across America, creating new and challenging questions for Christians and churches," said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noting that the Bible "presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the Gospel through the union of one man and one woman."
"Our desire at the ERLC is to equip faithful Christians on the importance of looking to Scripture, not the ever-changing culture, as our guide," Moore said.
The ERLC announced Monday (April 7) a national conference to help with that goal. The event, titled "The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage," will be held Oct. 27-29 in Nashville.
The announcement of the conference came as same-sex marriage experiences unmatched popularity in polls and unprecedented gains in courts and legislatures. And it came as evangelical pastors and churches seem increasingly to be seeking ways to evangelize those who identify as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons, while also helping Christians struggling with same-sex attraction.
Public opinion surveys in March demonstrated the dramatic shift in favor of gay marriage in recent years:
-- 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent oppose it, according to a poll by The Washington Post and ABC News. The result was nearly the exact opposite of the same poll in March 2004, when only 38 percent favored legalizing gay marriage and 59 percent opposed it.
-- 50 percent said the U.S. Constitution protects the right of homosexuals to marry, while 41 percent disagreed in The Post-ABC poll in March.
-- 69 percent of American adults under 30 years old support legalizing same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center. Among those 18 to 29 years of age who identify themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, 61 percent agree with legalizing gay marriage. Meanwhile, the same survey shows overall 54 percent of Americans and 39 percent of Republicans, or those who lean toward the GOP, support same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage's advance in the United States has been even more pronounced in courts and legislatures.
In the first three months of 2014, federal judges struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. A judge in Utah issued a ruling invalidating that state's ban in December. Those decisions have yet to be enforced while the cases go through the appeal process.
Also this year, federal judges in Kentucky and Tennessee have issued opinions requiring those states -- in spite of their bans -- to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. A federal judge in Ohio has said he will issue a ruling in mid-April to require the state to recognize gay marriages entered into legally in other states.
Apart from those recent court decisions, the same-sex marriage movement had its best year yet in 2013, when eight states legalized gay unions. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
These kinds of developments indicate "irrefutable momentum for the freedom to marry," gay marriage advocate Evan Wolfson told reporters in a phone conference call Tuesday (April 8). Wolfson is president of Freedom to Marry.
In this cultural setting, the ERLC says it hopes to address at its October conference such issues as ministering to homosexuals; equipping Christians with same-sex attractions to be sexually faithful; developing a healthy marriage culture in churches; providing pastoral counseling to same-sex couples who seek to join churches; and talking to children about sex.
In addition to Moore, others speakers will include Rosaria Butterfield, author of "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert," which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ; Sherif Girgis, co-author of "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense"; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
Registration for the conference, which will be at the Opryland Hotel, will begin June 1. Information on the event may be accessed at erlc.com/conference.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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