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?