I had the privilege to attend the ERLC National Conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage,” on October 27-29, 2014 held at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. I was also honored to be on a pastor’s panel on “Facing the Biggest Challenges to Marriage in the Church Today.” The goal of the conference was “to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches” (http://erlc.com/conference).
Activists on the Christian left, like Rachel Held Evans, roundly criticized the conference for talking about the LGBT but not talking to them. These theologically liberal critics define talking to the LGBT community as giving advocates a platform to share their views as presenters at the conference. But to the chagrin of Rachel Held Evans and other LGBT biblical revisionists, the purpose of the conference was not to debate the Christian permissibility of homosexual behavior—it is sexual immorality. The conference was designed to help equip Christians and churches to respond to the sin of homosexual behavior and the cultural legalization of same-sex marriage with a thoroughgoing gospel-centeredness.
Nevertheless, the charge that the conference was talking about but not to the LGBT conference is false. Thankfully, there were quite a few people from the LGBT community in attendance at the conference. The ERLC conference presented an unapologetic message on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the reality of gospel hope, but it also provided a venue where people created in the image of God could look one another in the eye and have genuine personal conversations about these vital matters. One LGBT activist, Brandan Robertson, explained to the Christian Post:
My favorite and the most valuable part of the conference, for me, was the over 20 conversations I had with Southern Baptist leaders and laypeople alike. The ability to see each other, face to face, as fellow Christians who disagree on these issues, opened the door for relationship and further conversation that I am confident will extend well beyond the conference.
What I find stunning is not the predictable response of Rachel Held Evans and other gay rights activists to the conference, nothing short of abandoning a biblical sexual ethic will be interpreted as kind or loving by them. What has bewildered me is that a few conservative evangelicals have interpreted having face-to-face convictional conversations with people as compromise. It seems to me that some self-professed biblicists have removed the NT Gospels from their Bible.
.@albertmohler Hey Brother, you plan to address the ERLC "breaking bread w/ homosexuals" conference? Folks are seeing it as compromise.
— Fredman (@Fred_Butler) November 3, 2014
That is not the first time that objection has been raised to followers of Christ:
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13).
Years ago, I remember hearing John MacArthur talk about Pat Robertson’s desire to start a Christian anti-defamation league. MacArthur quoted Robertson as saying “You’ve called us fools so we’ll call you bigots. Christians are tired of being stepped on and the time has come to stand up for Christians’ rights.” MacArthur went on to explain:
Well, some commentators coming out of that meeting said that Pat Robertson stood up and declared war on non-Christians. That’s a strange perspective, isn’t it? Are non-Christians the enemy or are they the mission field? They’re not the enemy. They’re not to be hated. They’re not to be fought. They’re not to be belittled. They’re not to be demeaned. They’re not to be assaulted. They’re not to be attacked. They are the very people that we have been called to reach.
What happens in this environment is all of a sudden the mission field becomes the enemy and you start to engender hostility toward people who are not Christians. (Grace to You).
It is a strange evangelical culture when face-to-face conversations clarifying sin and the gospel are considered compromise and abstract, impersonal blog posts and social media barbs are considered courageous and convictional. Brad Paisley sang, “I’m so much cooler online” and I am afraid that some evangelicals are much more courageous online. Those who compromise biblical truth in an attempt to accommodate its message to modern culture end up losing the Christian gospel altogether. But the gospel can be forsaken in the opposite direction as well. Those who look at other sinners merely as enemies to be defeated in a culture war have forsaken the Christian gospel mission. After all, victory for us is not the defeat of our cultural opponents but their rescue.