Marriage panel: Biblical answers, kindness needed as culture descends

HOUSTON—That the Supreme Court would attempt to define marriage is “unbridled chutzpah,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told a breakfast crowd gathered to discuss the growing societal confusion over marriage and family.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, under the leadership of new president Russell Moore, hosted the “Marriage on the Line” breakfast and panel discussion during this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Houston.

Among the panelists were pastors David Platt and J.D. Greear, as well as Patterson and Susie Hawkins, a Criswell College trustee and wife of Guidestone Financial Resource President O.S. Hawkins. Moore sat on the panel and moderated the hour-long discussion.

Moore directed the first question to Patterson, referencing the upcoming announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to either uphold or strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). When asked if he thought Southern Baptists were prepared to deal with a decision that would do away with DOMA, Patterson expressed both regret and encouragement.

“The answer is, tragically, ‘No.’ For the Supreme Court to define marriage, when it is already defined in the first chapters of Genesis, is unbridled chutzpah,” Patterson said.

“We’re dealing with [this issue] as never before,” he continued. “There are two things we have to do in our churches: the first is to teach people to be kind. We must teach our churches to be kind and Christlike in dealing with these issues, just as Christ did when dealing with the woman at the well. And two, we must help them understand that this isn’t, if it ever was, Christian America,” Patterson explained. “We have to adjust to that.”

The next question was pointed toward Platt, who pastors The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. Moore asked how he would pastorally respond to a situation in which a married homosexual couple with children expressed a desire to be saved and join the church.

Platt’s response emphasized the necessity of repentance and a recognition of the biblical definition of marriage—both what it is and what it isn’t. He also called on the local church to show Christian love and grace to those involved, offering to help in any way possible in a time of what would undoubtedly be significant emotional turmoil and transition.

Hawkins responded to a question on how churches should continue to address the practical question of homosexuality within a church culture growing increasingly receptive to such behavior.

“The question is always hate the sin, love the sinner. I think we have to be really strong but listen,” Hawkins explained. “We often hear this in a culture—a 14- or 15-year-old says ‘I have same-sex attraction’ and we just assume this person is going to be gay. We need some strong leadership in this area—not harsh, but strong. Especially among our youth leaders,” she said.

“You can often hear testimonies about and hear from people who struggle with this and come out on the other end just fine. We need to devote more resources, have more people on our church staffs, to pay attention to that one person,” she continued. “We need to model this with love instead of just offering platitudes from a pulpit or a Bible study lectern.”

Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., emphasized the need for congregations to put hands and feet to the gospel by intentionally loving those who struggle with same-sex attraction, especially those who might have occasion to visit Southern Baptist churches with a heart that is spiritually searching.

“There was a day in America when you just didn’t talk about these things growing up. I think that day is over,” Patterson said as the panel wrapped up their conversation on homosexuality.

“If you’re pastoring a church, you must deal with these issues on a biblical basis, not what you think or what you feel about an issue. Children need to get [spiritual training] from the father and from the mother, but they particularly need to get it in the home, with the father, exegeted at the kitchen table,” he said. “If they grow up hearing the Word of God and what that means, it means they’re in a better position to deal with those questions when they come up.”

The latter half of the panel turned to an assessment of what Southern Baptists have done right in the past, and what they can do better in the future to set a standard for biblical marriage. Moore’s evaluation of the “divorce culture” maintained in America and within the church over the last half-century was a particular point of contrition.

“It’s little wonder that the world looks at us and sees us as hypocrites,” Moore said, referring to the disparity between the church’s stated biblical standard for marriage and the stark reality of the divorce rates inside Southern Baptist churches.

“It’s easy in a congregation right now in south Georgia to denounce homosexuality in very fiery terms, and the people to walk out and say, ‘Well, he preaches really hard against sin.’ But when the same pastor preaches on divorce, he does it in really therapeutic terms,” Moore explained. “I think that’s because he has more out-of-the-closet divorcees in his church than out-of-the-closet homosexuals.”

Hawkins emphasized the need for churches to promote a culture that values marriage and its inherent value for everyone, even those called to singleness or not yet married.

“A single will flourish in a culture that honors marriage more than in one that doesn’t,” she said. “Marriage was once seen as a covenant of community and we need to work hard, really hard, to recover that.”

Patterson’s closing remarks reminded those at the panel that the challenges facing churches via the family and the home are not new.

“The first-century church, when our Lord created it, was in a hostile culture—and yet they flourished. I think the world around us is collapsing in many ways and it gives us a unique opportunity to speak out against sin while preaching the love of God. I think the community is ripe to hear the Word of the Lord,” Patterson said. “The culture knows deep down that it doesn’t have ultimate answers. And we do.”

Moore closed the panel with an optimistic tone, spurring those attending toward an ever-increasing focus on the gospel.

“If marriage is as resilient as we see it being in Genesis 1 and 2, then the Supreme Court cannot legislate it,” he said. “The marriages in your church are gospel tracts. And we need to make sure that those marriages are displaying the gospel.”



TEXAN Correspondent
Rob Collingsworth
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