Holiness vs. Compassion

The recent resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention can be plotted along the lines of some New Testament scholarship of the 1980s in which the Politics of Holiness was challenged by Jesus with the Politics of Compassion.

Is this the culture war? What is the strategy? What happens when Holiness comes into conflict with Compassion?

Here, then, is the Politics of Holiness:

In a news conference following the convention’s adoption of the resolution, Lemke emphasized that the resolution was not against boys, but was intended to express concern with the direction of the Boy Scouts.

“Frankly, we feel like the membership decision is a first step, because they’ve already announced their interest in having leadership in that direction,” Lemke said. “Our concern is about the direction and the orientation, the trajectory of the Boy Scouts. They seem to be going in a way that politicizes the whole membership question. It also brings a sexual dimension that wasn’t there before.”

The Boy Scouts were a popular topic among Southern Baptists during their Houston meeting. A motion made from the floor on Tuesday requesting that the SBC Executive Committee appoint a task force to look into alternative or substitute programs for the Boy Scouts was referred to the Executive Committee for consideration.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the Boy Scouts made a decision they believed to be “some sort of compromise that has really pleased no one in any place in American culture.”

“I don’t think it’s going to stay there,” Moore said about the policy decision. “I think instead what you are going to see is a further evolution into another step, and congregations are going to have to be ready to address that.”

Moore emphasized that Southern Baptist churches are not saying that the Boy Scouts should exclude boys with same-sex attractions. “That was never the case before. We’re not saying that should be the case going forward,” Moore said.

“What we’re saying is that the Boy Scouts previously had an understanding of sexuality that was geared toward expression in marriage,” Moore continued. “That has changed, and that is a momentous change. This isn’t an organization like any other community organization. It’s an organization that says, ‘We’re teaching and training boys what it means to be men and what it means to live virtuous lives.’

“Once you take sexuality and the expression of sexuality and politicize it in the way the Boy Scouts have done, you change the nature of that moral education in a way that Southern Baptists, most of us, have grave concerns about.”

Here, then, is the Politics of Compassion:

While the resolution expresses “love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation,” its condemnation of the Scouts only serves to further alienate those outside the Church from the gospel and to perpetuate the already dysfunctional and unhealthy culture of secrecy, fear, and shame within the conservative evangelical church as it relates to homosexuality. 

The fact is, boy scouts are already forbidden from engaging in sexual activity—heterosexual or homosexual—and so the change in policy simply addresses sexual orientation. In other words, being attracted to the same sex does not automatically disqualify a boy from becoming a scout.

Is this really a move to condemn? Would a Southern Baptist Church forbid a child from attending Sunday School based solely on his or her sexual orientation? Even among those who count homosexual behavior as a sin, there is usually at least some room in the fellowship for people attracted to the same sex. So why hold the Boy Scouts to more legalistic standards than many SBC churches? This resolution goes beyond the typical condemnation of homosexual behavior from the SBC to condemn homosexual orientation.

It also raises some important questions: Does the SBC plan to disassociate from any group that might have gay members? Will Alcoholics Anonymous be banned from meeting in the church basement because some of its members might be gay? Will children be asked about their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents before being enrolled in Vacation Bible School? 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Keaton Brownstead

    The fundamentalist emperors wear no clothes. Soon the SBC will see itself on the wrong side of history, but it will be too late because it will then have alienated all outsiders. The harder they fight to maintain the status quo, and the more they silence dissenters from within with labels like heretic and liberal, the more they will lose their relevance. I hate to sound crass, but at this juncture it seems like the SBC has nothing new to add to a national discussion. They have articulated their point and we know it will never change. Situations like this just give them opportunities to exploit the zeitgeist to sound their broken record.

  • Susan Gerard

    The SBC has made adopted some pretty strange anti-gay resolutions, like boycotting Disney. Didn’t they also pass a resolution in 2012 that condemned “any form or gay-bashing, whether disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions.” It was a resolution that opposed language equating gay rights with civil rights. But, yes, this Boy Scout resolution made major headlines, and will undoubtedly alienate people, promoting culture wars.

  • Damien

    The resolution plainly states that they “express our continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy”.

    Now, since the only change was that ” boys with same-sex attractions” can now join the Boy Scouts, I don’t see how the resolution doesn’t call for gays to be excluded from the Boy Scouts. If you want the old policy to be reinstated, then you are in favor of gay boys being excluded. There’s no way around that.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the only spiritual requirement for leaders that they be believers of some sort? If you want the Boy Scouts to be a “good Christian” club, shouldn’t this be a bigger issue than their sexual orientation? Is there any corner of Christianity where it’s a bigger deal if a leader is an “avowed homosexual” than, say, a Hindu or a Muslim?

  • Dan Martin

    This is great Scot. The SBC, and Baptists in general are well known for their doctrinal efficiency, but they are not well known for building relationships with the outside world. Jesus did not come to condemn the world…why does the SBC? Why do we treat homosexuality as the darkest of sins? I’m happy that those with sexuality questions are able to join the boy scouts. I’m even happier when they come to the church! Then they can be around the rest of us sinners that are just trying to get closer to God.

  • Marshall

    “They seem to be going in a way that politicizes …”

    Politicization is the thing The Other Guys do? No, politics is the life of the polis, the urbis. Learn to grow vegetables, I say.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Compassion is holiness.

  • Merv Olsen

    “What we’re saying is that the Boy Scouts previously had an understanding of sexuality that was geared toward expression in marriage,” Moore continued. “That has changed,and that is a momentous change. This isn’t an organization like any other community organization. It’s an organization that says, ‘We’re teaching and
    training boys what it means to be men and what it means to live virtuous
    lives.’

    “Once you take sexuality and the expression of sexuality and politicize it in the way the Boy Scouts have done, you change the nature of that moral education in a way
    that Southern Baptists, most of us, have grave concerns about.”

    Don’t the facts enshrined in the 2 paragraphs above matter to anti SBC folk?

  • Tom F.

    I think the basic disagreement is around what is thought to be “moral education” and “training boys what it means to be men and to live virtuous lives”. If the clear majority of those experiencing homosexual feelings are not likely to be able to change those feelings, than “educating” them along the lines of what the SBC is talking about is likely to be shaming.

    And hey, sometimes a (little!) healthy shame is good, when people can actually change (granted: for some, behaviors can be shut down, but core feelings are not likely to be amenable to change) or grow into a different direction. But shame about aspects of self that can’t be changed is pretty damaging stuff.

    Edit: I added the part conceding that behaviors can change.


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