The Baptists Talk About Sex

This week, Southern Baptist leaders convened at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for a leadership summit on sexuality. New England journalist Ruth Graham offers her perspective on Al Jazeera:

The group’s president, Russell Moore, took a gentler, less combative approach than his predecessor, Richard Land, who was known to make incendiary comments. (Just last week, Land suggested on a radio show that homosexuality is caused by childhood sexual abuse.) Most Southern Baptists, like other mainstream evangelicals, have given up talk of “reparative therapy” for gays in favor of love, grace and “peacemaking.” At this week’s summit, Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins called for an end to “redneck theology” and said, “We have to stop telling ‘Adam and Steve’ jokes.”

But the event was also a setting where the word “fornicators” was used without irony, and gay people were referred to as “homosexuals.” The meeting — with sessions such as “The Gospel and Homosexuality” — made clear that these evangelicals are not wavering in their stance on certain issues: Marriage is between a man and a woman, homosexual behavior is a sin, and church leaders must not condone it. And that raises the question: In a time of fast-growing embrace of gay rights, when more of their fellow Christians are insisting there’s room for debate on the issue, can conservatives maintain their vision of orthodoxy?

She goes on to describe the current evangelical crisis, along with Moore’s gatekeeper mentality that refuses the evangelical label entirely to “progressive” Christians:

Lydia Bean, a sociologist at Baylor University, said evangelicals are going to face mounting questions over whether there is room in their churches for a wider spectrum of views. “You’re going to see more and more of that conflict within evangelicalism over the next five to 10 years.” Bean’s forthcoming paper in the journal Sociology of Religion, based on national survey data, locates 24 percent of evangelicals in the “messy middle”: They remain opposed to homosexuality on moral grounds but still support civil unions.

As the “messy middle” grows, some argue that religious leaders will have to decide if condemning homosexuality is central to the definition of evangelical Christianity. Otherwise, they will face the possibility that their numbers and influence will shrink. But Moore rejects this premise and many of the poll numbers that support it: Many pollsters, he says, define “evangelical” too broadly. Few Southern Baptist millennials are wavering in their support for the church’s values, he told Al Jazeera “If we have to choose between church growth and Jesus, we choose Jesus, but I don’t think that’s a choice that has to be made.”

As I’ve documented here on the blog, the conservative/majority evangelicalism is indeed securing the borders – and, in the process, rolling the dice. The question is whether this “messy middle” trend of nuanced/progressive evangelicalism will grow among the current generations, essentially turning the conservative majority into a minority. Russell Moore and the SBC are playing the odds on their unflinching farewell policy.

In this case, may the odds be ever in the messy middle’s favor.

Some More On Progressive Evangelicals
Goldilocks Theology and God’s Power - Thomas Oord
I Believe the Light is Winning: a Sermon at MeetingPlace
We're Never Gonna Survive Unless...We Get a LOT More Jesus-Centered
About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is an author, preacher, and binge-watcher who writes and curates here at The Apocalypse Review. You can also catch him at his author blog,

  • Funsize

    Is there something wrong with calling a gay person homosexual? .~. I’m sorry, I’ve been using that term for a little while now, and I wasn’t aware that it was politically incorrect, I thought it was the official term :/

  • Joe

    Gay people stopped using it about 20-30 years ago – so some will claim it is now “offensive”. For many gay people it has the ring of “negro” about it (but it isn’t quite as provocative as that).

  • AJ

    The term “homosexual” is seen as clinical and too dismissive of the person as a whole, instead focusing on the act itself.

  • Al Cruise

    I think the conservative majority are the ones turning themselves into a minority, I am not sure the nuanced/progressives have any effect on them. People are just tired of the shallowness and move on in their journeys. Hunting down people and beating on them physically or verbally because they are different than themselves has not moved society into a more Christlike community. People seem to be wanting to practice the love Jesus showed and talked about and to do so they must leave the old way.

  • tsgIII

    Can there be any doubt that evangelicalism is going to decline quickly to a smaller, more chastened, less influential form? If those who decided this conference was a good idea had articulated the Gospel with any coherence, instead of their supposed summit positions on sex, then maybe I would change my comment about their decline. But do you see why at heart I really believe in their decline- it’s not the war they continue, it’s I doubt they have any clue about the truth of the inclusiveness of the Gospel.

  • ChuckQueen101

    Moore is going to choose Jesus over church growth. What makes Moore think that Jesus would be on the side of judging people for their sexual orientation. It seems to me that the only ones Jesus judged were people like Moore who made such judgments. Of course, in that culture different issues were involved that were tied to holiness codes and purity laws, but it’s the same premise and pattern. In the sacred tradition of Jesus passed on to us, Jesus says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Of course, neither Jesus nor anyone else in that day and time would have had any understanding of the complexity of sexual orientation. What is clear, however, is that Jesus moved in the direction of inclusion, not exclusion, over and over again welcoming to the table those that the “Russell Moores” of that age rejected. Oh yeah, I go with Jesus, but not Moore’s Jesus – the Jesus of our sacred tradition.

  • zhoag

    “The Jesus of our sacred tradition” – love that.

  • rob g

    “Jesus moved in the direction of inclusion, not exclusion, over and over again welcoming to the table those that the “Russell Moores” of that age rejected.”


  • Funsize

    Well, I feel kind of badly now for using the term, then. What about Queer, is that bad? I think with females it’s a bit easier, they made up the term Lesbian to fit their bill. I don’t really want to use the word “gay” because that’s used as an insult between heterosexuals (Is heterosexual bad, too? .-.), so is there a proper term to be used that isn’t offensive toward, um, the LGBT (?), that isn’t being used as an insult between people?

  • Nathaniel

    Gay is fine, so long as its being used as a descriptor of a person and not as an insult or slur. Queer can work too for those who want to claim that label.

  • Joe

    Don’t feel bad about having used it in past – it isn’t that offensive. What is annoying is when people continue to use it when they know that gay people don’t use it any more.

    I think “gay woman” is now more popular than lesbian.

    Gay can also mean lame – but it’s easy to tell when it’s being used as an insult.

    I’d wait to hear someone describe themselves as queer before applying it to them.

  • Funsize