I did not attend the ERLC National Conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. In money, in time away from work, and in time away from family, the cost exceeded my budget for October. Although I did not occupy a seat in Nashville, I did participate in the conference as an Internet event, both by consuming the live feed and by engaging in online conversation with other participants. I offer a few observations about the event itself, the Internet event surrounding the event, and the national landscape it addressed.
The conference threaded the needle. The requirements of scripture tightly constrain Christians. Just as He did, Jesus expects us to treat people with love and respect. Just as He did, Jesus expects us to call sin sin, not with the intent to drive sinners away, but with the intent to call them away from their sin to something better.
From what I saw, the only major substantive objection toward the conference voiced by those who opposed it was that, whatever other niceties it offered, it continued to treat sex between two men or between two women as a sin. Although it included gay men and lesbian women on the conference platform, they were all people who consider sex between two men or between to women to be a sin (therefore, they're not "really" gay or lesbian, some alleged). Although the conference decried parental behavior that contributes to gay teen homelessness, it didn't budge on the sin question. Although the conference called for civility and love toward all people, the conference's detractors questioned whether there can be such a thing as civility and love without abandoning the idea that sex between men or between women is a sin.
Christianity cannot embrace same-sex marriage without contradicting the words of Jesus. The ERLC National Conference represents Christians moving as far as we can on these questions without moving beyond the Savior into something else. That the conference managed to go that far without going any further is a strong evaluation in its favor, I think.
The distance between us and the culture is gargantuan. Gender-related questions are only the tip of the iceberg. In a Twitter discussion I had with a number of the conference's detractors, we started out with the question of whether gay or lesbian sex is a sin. We moved pretty quickly to other questions and discovered that A LOT of ethical questions separated us when it came to sex. I think pornography is bad; my interlocutors did not. I think monogamy is good; they were only willing to concede that there might be some forms of non-monogamy that are bad. Of course, this is not that surprising, since there are undeniable connections between homosexuality and non-monogamy.
In the immediate future, Christians are going to face increasing pressure from society (and from some people who call themselves Christians) to cave in on "the sin question" with regard to gay and lesbian sex, ostensibly with the promise that you'll fit in with society better if you compromise in just this one way. Don't fall for it. Even if you sell out on that question, you'll still be miles and miles apart from where that movement really wants to take you. You'll be no closer to the culture; you'll just be further away from Christ.
We see church differently. That's nowhere more evident than in the article "Why HRC Attended [the] Southern Baptist Convention's National Conference." Consider the following quote, which constitutes a significant portion of this brief article. After acknowledging that often "coming out" leads people out of one church and into another, the article considers the other reality:
But often the experience is so demoralizing that they leave religion altogether and lose the community that comes with it. It's this community that they once relied on in times of need - the first to respond to a natural disaster, to the loss of a loved one, to a factory shutdown. LGBT people of faith deserve to be part of these communities - helping tend to an ailing neighbor or, when the time comes, having that fellow churchgoer deliver a hot casserole in a time of loss.
While not everyone holds a particular faith tradition or practices a religion, for those of us who seek it out for moral guidance, for comfort and for community, we have a responsibility to help that community be the best it can. That responsibility doesn't stop if you're LGBT.
The HRC's rationale makes perfect sense if the church exists to connect people in a "community." Indeed, in every aspect of my life that DOES actually exist for that purpose (civic clubs, workplace, neighborhood, etc.), I'm in favor of acceptance and inclusion. I've attended school trips and swimming parties with my gay and lesbian friends. I've spent long hours working with gay colleagues on projects in the secular jobs I've held down through the years, including a respected gay friend whom our family business employed, promoted, and highly valued. I want to be in community with my gay and lesbian friends.
We don't see "community" differently; we see "church" differently.
Church may create community, but the purpose of the church is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The "community" created at church is a community of disciples who covenant together to bring their lives into submission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex is for marriage alone. The New Testament ideal for sexuality and marriage is consistent and clear. A real church has no "moral guidance" to offer that contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ. The only "comfort" to be found in a real church is the comfort offered by Jesus. Real churches offer community first with Jesus Christ—and on His terms, not ours—which then leads to community with others who have made the same commitment.
If this kind of "moral guidance, comfort, and community" is not "the best" a church can be, then churches ought to pass out of existence and give way to something else. But if the teachings of Jesus Christ represent the best plan for humanity, then churches ought to offer the moral guidance, comfort, and community of the gospel without apology and without compromise to the whims of decadent culture.
I wish I could've attended the conference. I look forward to future ERLC offerings. If this conference is a bellwether of things to come, I'm very optimistic. But no resolution of the differences between Christian sexual ethics and pagan sexual ethics presented itself in the early Roman culture that gave birth to the church, and we're not going to find one in this epoch, either.