Month: July 2015

ERLC panelists: Christian response to same-sex marriage must be convictional kindness, biblical community

AUSTIN—In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Christians and churches must respond by speaking with confidence, conviction and kindness while also creating biblical community, speakers at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty’s inaugural Equip gathering, said, July 29.  

“We have been called to be a people of both truth and grace, of both conviction and kindness, in a world that is often fearful and angry,” said ERLC President Russell Moore during his opening message, based on 2 Timothy 2:22-26.

Moore admitted that Christians often associate kindness with weakness or cowering to the culture, but sitting back silently while the world celebrates perversion of God’s design for sexuality is “not an option,” he said.

“If we capitulate or if we are silent about what the Scripture teaches about marriage and sexuality, we are not just avoiding a social issue or a moral issue—we are avoiding a gospel issue,” Moore said.

“The church now has the opportunity to articulate a distinctively Christian witness to marriage and sexuality.”

Moore went on to say that the church must learn to teach a biblical theology of marriage and singleness while recognizing that every member of the church is involved in the issue.

“We need the entire body of Christ together in the articulation, not only in what to avoid—“flee youthful passions”—but also what to pursue—love, peace, righteousness—and embodying that within our own congregations,” Moore said.

Paul’s admonishment to Timothy to “patiently endure evil” means Christians must be confident in their convictions but speak truth “with a Christian accent,” he added.

“People don’t change their minds because of a pile of arguments … (or) because we humiliate them,” Moore said. “People have hearts changed when they encounter the risen Christ, who calls them by name.”

Moore concluded his message by calling churches to reach “refugees from the sexual revolution,” those who have followed after lustful passions and found their promises empty and damaging. Those who are best able to reach these hurting individuals will be those who are confident in the truth and gracious in their offer of the gospel.

The three-hour event, titled “The Gospel & Same-Sex Marriage,” featured pastors and formerly gay Christians and addressed how churches and Christians should respond to the issue. The event, which was hosted by The Austin Stone Community Church and funded by a grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was simulcast live over the Internet to homes and churches across the country.

A common theme throughout the evening was that churches needed to cultivate gospel community, which involves intentional life-on-life relationships.

Mike Goeke shared his testimony of separating from his wife to pursue a homosexual lifestyle before repenting and returning to his marriage. Goeke has a unique opportunity to reach those struggling with same-sex attraction in the church and warned that the solution is not in programs or special ministries but simply “for the church to be the church.”

Goeke, now associate pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco, said the primary reason many who are saved by Christ out of homosexuality often return to the lifestyle is because of loneliness. Several speakers noted that the LGBT community thrives on networks of close, personal relationships.

Churches, then, must model biblical community.

“When a gay person walks away from their entire world, when they walk away from their sexual identity and possibly their whole identity, when they walk away from their community to pursue Jesus, they often find no one in the church to walk alongside them,” Goeke said.

“Shiny, well-scrubbed, secret-bearing Christianity will never foster anything except more secrets. We need to pull community out of a list of programs and graft it into the DNA of our church.”

Healing community, Goeke said, is messy and inconvenient, but it is also life changing for every member in the church.

Rosaria Butterfield, a former English professor at Syracuse University who abandoned her life as a lesbian and gay activist when she converted to Christ, echoed Goeke’s plea for churches to display gospel community. Her own testimony includes a pastor and his wife who befriended her and welcomed her into their lives as they demonstrated and discussed the gospel with her.

Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, stressed that just like every person who repents and believe in Christ, those coming out of homosexuality are exchanging their old identity for a new identity in Christ, yet this transition is not simple.

Jackie Hill Perry, who also was a lesbian before coming to Christ, explained that the gospel creates community, saving individuals into communities of people called local churches. For this reason, she encouraged Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction to pursue friendships in the church.

“If God has said and created people with roles that will equip us and mature us,” Perry said, “then those of us who are struggling can’t decide, ‘I’m going to grow apart from the way God taught me to grow.’ We have to go to a local body because that’s where these roles are expressed.

“We need people to help us, and I know it’s scary, but fear is a great place to trust God.”

At the same time, Perry challenged churches to get beyond conferences and programs on the topic and to simply be the body of Christ.

“Most of us may not be able to empathize or understand the struggle with a specific sin such as homosexuality, but I believe that all people can empathize with sin as a whole,” Perry said. “I think that’s even more crucial to why the church should actually exemplify community.

“The thing about the gay community is that it actually is a community—you feel safe, you feel listened to, you feel heard, you feel understood. So I think it’s a problem when those who are unbelievers feel way more safe in a room full of unregenerates than they do people whom God knows.”

Matt Carter, pastor of preaching at The Austin Stone, admitted in a panel discussion at the end of the evening that it’s often easy for churches to stand for truth but more difficult for them to offer grace. He seeks in his preaching to “unashamedly preach the gospel in a loving way,” and by God’s grace, they have seen people drawn to Jesus as a result.

Carter encourages his church members to “look at people in this community the same way you would anybody that needs the love of Christ.” At the same time, Carter said, he has been asking himself and his church, “How can we be a family to these people whom we are calling to repentance? We’re calling these folks out of the only family they may have, and how can we be a real, genuine, authentic, biblical community for them?”

Butterfield said she appreciates this approach, and added, “We are calling people to lose a community, and of all people, Christians ought to be able to step into loneliness.”

ERLC plans to post sessions from the Equip event on its website in the coming weeks.

Singles in the Age of the Home Run

Home run. Long ball. Dinger. Moonshot. Bomb. Going yard.

For baseball lovers, the home run in one of the most exciting feats in America’s pastime. My family loves baseball, and our hometown team is the Texas Rangers. Every time a Rangers player crushes a towering shot over the outfield wall, fireworks erupt above the scoreboard and speakers blare the theme from the classic baseball film, “The Natural.”

Everyone loves the home run. It can give a team the added boost they need and turn the momentum of a game around completely. 

Some teams live and die by the long ball, as they say. Their lineups are loaded with players who either hit it out of the ballpark or strike out. While this strategy certainly provides entertainment and a few of these teams have experienced periods of success, most clubs would prefer players who maintain a high batting average, consistently hitting singles and doubles, because this ultimately generates more runs in a game and more wins during the season.

There’s nothing really exciting about hitting singles, but a steady string of them can prove more powerful than a home run. In more recent years, teams have executed this style of play—called “small ball”—with great success. This was clearly seen with the last season’s Kansas City Royals.

We live in a culture that thrives on fireworks, huge changes, big plays and momentous occasions. We like to be entertained. Major League Baseball’s All-Star Weekend features a Home Run Derby, not a Batting Average Derby. 

Often, I’ve heard people refer to sermons with baseball language. Church members remark that their pastor hit a “home run” on Sunday. Pastors languish over the fact that a sermon didn’t live up to their expectations, and they feel like they’ve struck out.

One of the best pieces of ministry advice I’ve received has been to focus on hitting singles and doubles rather than home runs. Just like baseball experts would say, if you try to hit a home run every time at the plate, you’ll usually strike out, but if you focus on putting the ball in play, you’ll actually increase your chances of hitting one over the wall. It’s more about patience than power. 

Long-term, consistently biblical preaching will better produce healthier disciples and churches. In this way, fruitfulness becomes a byproduct of faithfulness, not flashiness.

This advice reduces the weekly stress of producing buzz-worthy sermons with tweetable lines and humorous illustrations. It encourages pastors to prioritize explaining and applying the text of Scripture. Pastors begin to realize it’s more important to feed the sheep than to wow them with your wit. Church members leave each week with a better understanding of God and what it looks like to follow him. These singles and doubles help “advance the runners” toward spiritual maturity.

This not only applies to preaching but also to a myriad of other avenues of the Christian life. In the church, do we judge the value of our worship services by whether the Lord “moved powerfully and visibly” or whether the gospel was faithfully preached and Christ was exalted and worshipped? Are we more excited about a great week of VBS or youth camp than we are at the consistent disciple-making of children and teenagers? 

Certainly we pray for visible demonstrations of the Lord’s power, such as revival, but Jesus’ Parable of the Sower explains that it’s more desirable to have good soil that produces fruit with patience than rocky soil that generates quick growth with no root (Luke 8:4-15).

Consistency and faithfulness find value not only in the local church but also in our everyday lives, at work and home. It’s more important to demonstrate daily, sacrificial love toward your spouse than just springing for an expensive date or gift every once in a while. Likewise, epic family vacations have some value, but the week-in, week-out time spent talking with and discipling your children will bear more fruit in the long run.

In your own quiet times with the Lord, focus on a steady diet of the Word and prayer rather than being discouraged if you don’t have an epiphany every time you turn the page. Often times, this consistency tills the soil in our hearts that ultimately produces the greatest spiritual growth.

Life and faith truly are more about hitting singles and doubles. With this as our focus, we’ll strike out less and see more fruit over the long haul. And who knows, as we are faithful in the small things, we’ll likely experience a moonshot or two along the way.

Should you apply to a seminary?

When someone is fired up by God and actively involved in church ministry, people often say, “Since you are blessed so much, you should go to a seminary.” I’ve heard this before. It is true that sometimes, because of such encouragement, some ended up attending a seminary. But there are several misunderstandings involved here. One is an incorrect perception of dedication. The second stems from the misjudgment of the role of a seminary. These misunderstandings also contribute toward distorting Christianity.

We commonly think that ministry work is only for seminary graduates, unless we understand the spirit of New Testament church. Because of this reason, in most churches, laymen are not allowed to do meaningful ministries such as counseling, visiting church members or leading Bible studies. In this situation, these individuals want to do such work so much because of their love and dedication toward God, so they decide to go to a seminary. However, a seminary is not a place to take these dedicated people of God and increase their faith, build their character and belief, and develop their gift of teaching and make them pastors.

A seminary is rather a place to train a mature person of faith and character who is confirmed by the church and requested by the church to be a pastor and to do ministry work. That is why sometimes a seminary shakes up a person’s faith rather than advancing it. Therefore, there are cases where a person with faith goes to a seminary and ends up losing it. Sometimes a person who is not meant to be a pastor becomes one and experiences hardships for himself and also for his congregation.

These days, we need devoted laymen who display faithful Christian lives in the world. In my mother country Korea and many other countries, because of the custom of making devoted laymen into pastors, many pastors cannot find churches in which to serve. At this very hour, there are churches on every street, and there are too many seminary graduates, but it is difficult to find devoted laymen.

According to the Bible, laymen are allowed to do ministry work (Ephesians 4:11-12). Based on this guideline, laymen should be trained to work on every facet of ministry work. Serving then becomes second nature as they learn to love and have compassion toward others and their characters are better built. 

Through these activities, they discover their God-given gifts or find the right place for them to lead Bible studies. Sometimes, it is possible for them to be trained to be a professional counselor or a full-time ministry worker. At that point, the church should send the person to a seminary for training. Actually, for this reason, seminaries typically require recommendations of congregations (not of the pastors) for the applicants.

In my church, small group leaders appear to be totally dedicated, especially to people who are outside of our church. Therefore, sometimes, they hear a suggestion to go to a seminary. I tell them to remember that a seminary is not a place to increase your faith, and I tell them unless the call of God is very clearly displayed in the church, please do not listen to these suggestions.  

Sookwan Lee is pastor of Seoul Baptist Church in Houston and serves as vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. 

Do the mentally disabled go to heaven when they die?

For those of us who are parents of children with profound mental disabilities, one nagging question often lingers in our consciousness: What will happen to our child when we die? We know that so long as we are living, our child will be loved and nurtured with the greatest of care. Once we are gone, however, our child will be dependent on those whose care, while well-intentioned, could never match that of a parent’s love. So, we do our best not to worry about the future. We make financial plans as best we can, and make very sure that our life insurance is current. We remind the siblings of our special needs child that one day they may be called upon to be a caregiver, and we pray.

As a Christian and a pastor, another question lingers: What will happen to my profoundly mentally disabled child when she dies? The question of accountability is one that Christians in general and Baptists in particular have debated for centuries. In recent years the phrase “age of accountability” has given way to the more appropriately termed “state of accountability.” This change makes room for those of all ages with childlike cognitive ability. The truth is that the Bible has very little to say about what becomes of the souls of infants and children who die and even less to say about what becomes of the souls of the mentally disabled. 

Some Baptists have appealed to the natural innocence of children and the mentally disabled as grounds for their entrance into heaven. In my opinion, there are two fundamental problems with that view. First, our experience with even very young children is that they sin. They lie. They steal. They have unjustified anger. In short, they behave like their parents. 

The second, and more significant problem with the innocence view, is that it would seem to come in conflict with Scripture. In Romans 5:12 the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

Many Baptists have historically affirmed the concept of imputed sin. The idea is that all humanity is guilty because of our relationship with our federal head, Adam. In fact, some of the oldest Baptist confessions included overt affirmations of this doctrine. The first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary J.P. Boyce affirmed the doctrine of imputed sin. He wrote, 

 … at the very moment of birth, the presence and possession of such a nature shows that even the infant sons of Adam are born under all the penalties which befell their ancestor in the day of his sin. Actual transgression subsequently adds new guilt to guilt already existing, but does not substitute a state of guilt for one of innocence.

So, if children and the mentally disabled are not naturally innocent but go to heaven when they die—and every Baptist I know believes that they do—what is the basis for such salvation? Many Baptists throughout our history have based the belief in the salvation of children and the mentally disabled on the mercy of God.

As Charles Spurgeon wrote, any other belief would be “utterly inconsistent with the known character of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We know that it was the Lord who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven.” The answer that has been most satisfactory to me, the father of a profoundly mentally disabled child, is that those who die outside of the state of accountability go to heaven based on the election, redemption, regeneration and mercy provided by God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. In short, I am much more confident of God’s mercy than I am of my children’s innocence. I know this because I know their Dad, and he is a sinner in need of grace.  

—Keith Sanders is pastor of First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas.

Collegiate internship spurs evangelism, discipleship & passion for ministry

Almost every day of the week, the students who comprise the collegiate ministry at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth gather in groups to share the gospel at seven different college campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. During the past two semesters, the flames of this effort have been fanned into a glowing fire with the addition of a collegiate intern, funded by a grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

 The grant program, which launched during the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters, supplied funding for an intern of the church’s choosing with a two-fold goal: (1) spur college students to share the gospel and disciple fellow students and (2) ignite a passion for local church ministry in those the Lord calls to his service.

Birchman hired Josh Owens, a recent graduate of the College at Southwestern, as their collegiate intern. Joey Tombrella, the church’s minister to young adults, said the decision to apply for the grant and hire an intern was an obvious and simple choice.

“Who wouldn’t want to have more focused help with ministry, especially when the goal is evangelism on the campuses? That is the greatest need,” Tombrella said. “The whole body of Christ benefits and is spurred on when evangelism is full force. People begin to say, ‘Hey, I want that!’ When one group starts sharing, others begin to start sharing and taking risks. Evangelism is contagious!”

Owens said “part of living gospel-centered lives is to work side by side for the faith of that gospel,” referencing Philippians 1:27. As a growing Christian and even more so in his leadership role within the college ministry, that has been Owens’ chief aim.

“My main roles are to catalyze our students to share the gospel and make disciples on their own campuses and to mobilize the rest of our college ministry to come alongside and encourage each other in the task,” Owens said. “We have students at seven campuses, and at each we want to spur them toward sharing the gospel. We also have a large number of seminary students, and we want to deploy them alongside our students onto these mission fields. We desire to be intentional in the contexts where God has placed us. That will look seven different ways on seven different campuses, but the goal remains the same: to mobilize our students to exhaust their lives on the mission fields God’s given them.”

Birchman’s pastor, Bob Pearle, shares Owens’ sentiments and sees the collegiate intern grant program as a win-win for the interns chosen to serve and the world of lost people those interns are working to reach with fellow students.

“The millennial generation—one of our largest generations—needs to be reached for Christ, and this is a great tool to help [college ministries] reach their generation for Christ,” Pearle said. “The internships are very beneficial because they are helping to guide a young adult into ministry, and they can see first-hand what all it takes in service to our Lord.”

Sometimes “what it takes” is faithful, relentless sharing and perseverance, even when responses to the gospel seem few and hearts icy toward the gospel seem abundant. Tombrella recalled an instance that painted such a picture well.

“Last spring, Josh and another student went out on the Texas Christian University campus to share the gospel,” Tombrella said. “They met a student by ‘chance’ (divine appointment), and shared the gospel with him. Although he didn’t receive the gospel, they ran into him other times on the campus that spring. During spring break, our group went to South Padre for Beach Reach, and Josh met him there by ‘chance.’ He would later pray to receive Christ.”

Pearle says it is stories just like this that cause the work the Lord is doing through the college ministry of a church to spill out into the rest of the congregation, often spurring people of all ages to be bold in their witness for Christ. 

“I whole-heartedly recommend this to a church because it encourages the older adults to see what God is doing in the lives of these younger adults,” Pearle said.

Owens says that the time he has spent working alongside Tombrella has done more than help him be a better mobilizer of people; it has has spurred him to follow Christ all the more closely, the natural outpouring of that being a desire to see others do the same.

“By his life and words, Joey teaches us to treasure Jesus above all else, and to recognize Christ’s preeminence in all,” Owens said. “These are ancient words, and foundational not just for a gospel conversation but for life. It’s not that Joey never taught me anything more, but he never taught less; and these twin truths are joy sufficient to proclaim Christ to our seven campuses and the 7 billion people they represent.”

Jacksonville College ranked fourth-best two-year college in Texas has released its ranking of the 25 best two-year colleges in Texas for 2015, and Jacksonville College ranked fourth in the state. Schools were evaluated based on performance indicators like acceptance, retention, graduation and enrollment rates. Ratings were calculated using the latest information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and College Navigator databases. Both sources of information are maintained by the U.S. Department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

In its ranking, highlighted academic and financial strengths of Jacksonville College: “Offering terminal associate degrees and transfer programs to four-year schools, Jacksonville was recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education as the second most affordable private community college in the nation.” The ranking also noted that Jacksonville College offers student housing, which is unusual for a two-year school.

“I’m not surprised that Jacksonville College is ranked among the top junior colleges in Texas,” said JC President Mike Smith. “We have an excellent academic program, including an honors program, and we now offer online degrees. We make student success our priority, and our low student-to-instructor ratio offers students easy access to caring Christian instructors.”  


With the addition of more online courses to allow students to earn degrees online, Jacksonville College experienced record enrollment this summer. In order to help more area students attend the College, JC created a new Commuter Scholarship, which offers free tuition and fees for qualifying students beginning in Fall 2015.

In addition to a strong academic program, Jacksonville College also offers opportunities to be involved in vocal and instrumental music groups, as well as theater. Theater productions are now being held in the new Mary S. Lewis Theater on the College’s Joe Wright campus.

The JC athletic program offers men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, tennis, and golf; and athletes will soon be able to take advantage of the new fitness facility on the Joe Wright property.

Jacksonville College is owned and operated by the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. For more information about the college, visit

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Hands-on metal work teaches boys spiritual lessons

NEWTON, Texas—Deep in the East Texas Pineywoods, more than 200 elementary-age boys worked with their hands and were “forged” into followers of Christ during the third annual East Texas Baptist Encampment (ETBE) Boys Camp, June 7-10. Keeping with this year’s theme, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” 1st-6th grade boys learned skills of the trade from master blacksmiths, certified welders, and professional knife makers as they hammered out a sword on an anvil, welded pieces of metal, and fashioned their own knives.

“We have a master blacksmith that is teaching them how when iron is heated, it can be shaped and sharpened, which goes along with our theme,” Jason Glenn, pastor of Call Junction Baptist Church in Kirbyville and director of the four-day camp, told the TEXAN.

“And God molds us that way. He molds us by all kinds of fires that we go through, and we’re tried by fire. It gives (boys) an opportunity to use a hammer and an opportunity to do something cool. They’re going to fool with fire, and they can see how things are shaped. And, hopefully, we can teach them that they’re going to be shaped in the same way.”

Glenn, a former farrier and electrician, said God laid on his heart several years ago a desire to teach boys spiritual principles through hands-on activities. The first ETBE boys camp focused on Jesus as fully God and fully man, while boys learned about Jesus’ life as a carpenter. Last year’s theme was “Fishers of Men,” where boys learned to make lures and competed in a fishing tournament in addition to being challenged to be disciples and make disciples as they share their faith.

“I wanted a time where we could spend with just boys and men and not be in a co-ed situation—not that it’s wrong, but I just wanted to be able to talk to the boys without the things of the world on their minds,” Glenn said.

“Boys have an attitude … and men do too … where we don’t want to learn from each other. We try to do it independently; we don’t learn from the experiences of others. And this being a mentor-type camp, they’re going to have to work shoulder-to-shoulder with these men and learn their experiences.”

Glenn said the camp gives boys a chance to unplug from technology and other distractions, opening the door for meaningful conversations about Christ.

“We want to do our part so we don’t lose this generation,” Glenn said. “We’re wanting them to be men, and God wants us to raise men. In our world today, the line is all mixed up on what makes a man a man. … We’ve seen kids get exited about experiencing things that some of us grew up doing, but they never get a chance to do it.”

When ETBE Executive Director Andy Narramore came on to manage the encampment in 2011, he recognized that their girls camp was thriving but their boys camp had died four years earlier. As he began to pray and share his vision to revive the boys camp with area churches, Glenn came along and said he would direct the camp. The numbers have grown each year, and boys are accepting Christ and growing in their relationship with God.

“The neat thing about it is that the men are here—all ages, from young daddies to high school and college kids that want to be good role models to grandfathers—doing men’s stuff, and the boys love it,” Narramore said.

This influence of men in the lives of boys is a primary emphasis at the camp, so much so that they intentionally schedule it for four days beginning on the weekend so men only have to take a couple of days off work.

“We want (the men) to be involved, to get in there with those kids,” Glenn said. “It’s not a vacation time; we want you with them, teaching them all the time.”

The added benefit comes as these relationships between men and boys continue in churches throughout the year. Glenn and others are currently writing a discipleship curriculum called Apprenticeship of the Master to aid churches in this process.

“Years ago, let’s say a master wagon-maker, would take a young boy on and teach him how to build wagons. And then when that master would get old and could no longer handle it, the young boy would take over and take care of that older man. In the same way, we as children of God need to do that. That will bridge the gap between (generations) in the church. With these older folks investing in these kids and the kids seeing ‘that old man is cool, we can hang out with him,’ then we can bridge those gaps, and that’s what we’re working toward.”

Throughout the week, boys hammered on a sword that the blacksmith fashioned into a show sword to mount on a wall at the camp. They also learned about welding techniques and safety, which led to discussions about the unbreakable bond Christians have with one another in Christ. A knife maker from Henry Brothers Knife Company in Kirbyville continued the week’s theme, explaining how to make a knife and the proper way to sharpen it.

“We’re about trying to transfer the faith any way we can,” Glenn said.

Next year’s theme will involve leatherworking, and boys will be taught that as Christians, they are marked by God and must represent him well in the world.

Unity in Troubled Times

The news across our nation is ominous. Changes in attitudes and changes in laws have brought our communities to a point of moral crisis. Even in the Southern Baptist Convention, many of our measures of health are lagging or moving the wrong direction. Our cooperative ministry is being challenged from within and without.

Instead of withdrawing to a myopic existence or drawing our circles of fellowship tighter, we must reach out with others. Everyone needs encouragement. We can do much more standing together. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has a broad tent of styles, preferences and methodologies. The SBTC has a defined parameter doctrinally in the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Amos 3:3 asks the question how can two walk together unless they agree. We can be together in these challenging times because we share a common conviction about biblical truth.  

Churches will find inspiration and information Nov. 9-10 at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston. SBTC President Jimmy Pritchard has led a “praying across Texas” emphasis this year. He, Ted Elmore and I have joined with pastors, staff and laypersons crying out for spiritual awakening in all 18 ministry zones of the SBTC. At the convention we will join our hearts in asking God for a fresh breath from heaven. 

A new format for the annual meeting will allow focused worship times, while most business will be concentrated in one session. During our time together, we will celebrate what God is doing in Texas and beyond as we hear testimonies of people being saved, lives being touched and churches-honoring Jesus.

A special highlight during one session will be a panel discussion on one of the most pressing topics facing local church ministry. Stay tuned for the topic and participants in a future announcement. 

I’m also excited about a significant historical event that will take place Tuesday night of the annual meeting—the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas will join the SBTC for an evening of worship. The BMAT and Convention Baptists parted ways about 100 years ago. The BMAT and the SBTC remain separate ministries, yet for the first time in almost a century messengers of the churches will jointly worship. Two reasons make this event possible. One is basic doctrinal agreement. We are both Baptist in every true sense of the word. Second, we recognize we are partners in the gospel not competitors. We are working together without compromising truth.

The joint worship service fits well with our theme for the annual meeting: “Walking in Unity” (Ephesians 4:1-3). It is more than a catch phrase. Being united during these difficult days is vital, and our unity is found in a confessional fellowship. What we believe cannot be negotiated away. 

Let’s pray for God to use us in our state, nation and world. Join me at Champion Forest this November. I need you. We need one another. The world needs the gospel! 

It couldn”t happen here …

Now and again, someone talks in public as though only his friends can hear him. That happened in Atlantic Monthly as a staff writer applied the Obergefell case on same-sex marriage to the possibility of legalized polygamy. Staff Writer Conor Friedersdorf was attempting to refute that claims of Fredrik de Boer that the legalization of same-sex marriage opened (and should open) the door for multiple-partner, legally recognized, civil unions. More on de Boer’s assertions later, but here’s where Mr. Friedersdorf seemed to forget that we were watching. His first argument against de Boer was that the battle for same-sex equality is not yet over. Fredrik de Boer had acknowledged that advocates for polygamous or polyamorous unions had stayed quiet to avoid giving ammo to conservatives who would assert a slippery slope toward any kind of union under the sun. De Boer’s point being that this is completely true and now it is safe for advocates to say so without endangering same-sex marriage. 

Here’s the good part, Friedersdorf says that one argument against polygamy is that same-sex marriage is still not the law in all places—advocates for multiple unions should remain quiet to avoid agreeing with conservatives. To be fair, Friedersdorf disagrees with polygamy for additional reasons. In doing so, he takes the role of “conservative” in this discussion. 

He argues that state-recognized polygamy is not a human right, for example. Well okay, many of us remember when abortion was not a human right and neither was same-sex marriage. One might make the case that we only need to wait until the president’s views evolve a little more and Justice Kennedy becomes sympathetic to the suffering of polygamous people—presto-change-o, human rights!

He also argues that polygamy is patriarchal and thus victimizes women and children. If we’re going to consider polygamy, let’s wait until our society is thoroughly egalitarian. This is not an argument against polygamy but rather one against polygamy right now. He is also saying that we need to make sure that the more powerless members of our society must be protected from likely and possible negative consequences of taking such a big step. Is the impact of institutionalized same-sex marriage more certain? How about the impact of same-sex parents? If 40 or even 30 percent of Americans believe our nation’s embrace of new models of marriage and family will have victims, what evidence answers their assertion? Look at the religious and regional make-up of the court (Justice Scalia made this point in his dissent) and tell me that evangelicals in Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas or anywhere between the Alleghenies and the Rockies had a voice. We believe, a majority in fly-over states, that same-sex marriage will not serve the common good—that it will have victims. We must grimace when same-sex advocates argue against polygamy because it will harm the helpless. 

The arguments continue but this is enough to see what I’m saying. Both sides of this argument are monumentally wrong, but one side has a more valid point. The Supreme Court, in a series of decisions culminating in Obergefell, has removed moral arguments (what Justice Kennedy calls “bigotry”) for defining marriage and family. Conservatives are not being hysterical when we say that laws even liberals this week consider negative are now imaginable, even a logical extension of what’s already the law. 

What was illegal then, unimaginable a decade before, is now the law of the land in our country. If there is no moral reasoning behind our laws, then all will be decided by what can be made practical or popular.

In the name of compassion and fairness another organization argues against the status quo because adults have a fundamental right “to sexual self-determination,” adding that “criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo.” Society is deemed cruel in this report, echoing Justice Kennedy’s rhetoric, by pointing out that this minority was being blackmailed, kept from their children and forced to live in secret to avoid society’s scorn. These points are made in the report of the German Ethics Council on incest. Their recommendation is that the possible negatives of those relationships are outweighed by the happiness of those who wish to openly and legally marry siblings. While Germany has not legalized incest, the report was written by employed social scientists who were not hooted out of the room. The “reasoning” in this report is not dissimilar to the discussion of same-sex marriage in our country over the past 10 years. What was illegal then, unimaginable a decade before, is now the law of the land in our country. If there is no moral reasoning behind our laws, then all will be decided by what can be made practical or popular. That kind of change apparently takes a decade or so. The barriers are down. 

I’m not trying to be unfair. Multiple-partner relationships or the marriage of siblings will not be legally recognized anytime soon, unless public sympathies, unencumbered by reason or analysis, move that direction. When the more populous regions of our country do find polygamist or incestuous relationships romantic, the courts of that day will find an appropriate right to support that in the U.S. Constitution. There is no reason for them to say “no.” And people will march in the streets and praise them as wise and compassionate, even if they now cannot imagine such a thing. When you willfully flatten all the fences, you really have no say over what passes in or out of your former boundaries. Safety in that place is an illusion.