Christians often say "love the sinner, hate the sin" when expressing their stance on homosexuality. But the new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention wants to offer something different.
"Why don't we love the homosexual and hate OUR sin?" said Georgia pastor Johnny M. Hunt as he cited Jay Strack, founder of Student Leadership University.
When the public views Southern Baptists and how they deal with the issue of homosexuality, Hunt hopes people will see how they love the homosexual.
Hunt was elected last week to lead the largest Protestant denomination in the country. His election by nearly 53 percent of the votes of Southern Baptist messengers, or delegates, reflected a tide-turning moment for the denomination as it has begun to move away from bantering and toward encouragement.
"There seemed to be ... less of what we're fighting against and more of what we all stand for," said Sam Rainer, a pastor and president of Rainer Research, in his latest blog post, as he reflected on last week's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The 16 million-member convention is growing its ministry to help those in the gay and lesbian lifestyle and train churches in how to respond to homosexuality. Bob Stith, who heads SBC's Ministry to Homosexuals Task Force, says the ministry has received "tremendous support" from the denominational leadership. But he's having some trouble with the local SBC churches.
According to Stith, less than 8 percent of SBC churches have received training on the issue of homosexuality – training that encourages believers to reach out to those with same-sex attractions and give a compassionate yet biblical response to the matter.
Only 22 percent of SBC pastors believe Southern Baptists are sufficiently ministering to persons with same-sex attractions, indicating that most desire to reach out.
"I think the Christian faith has not done as good a job as we ought to of reacting redemptively toward people who are caught in the web of the homosexual lifestyle," said Dr. Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during an informal dialogue at the annual meeting. "These people are not beyond the grace of God and they need the grace of God. We need to reach out to them."
While reaching out, Southern Baptists continue to stand firm on the stance that homosexual behavior is a sin.
A recent survey by LifeWay Research showed that 100 percent of SBC pastors said they believe homosexual behavior is sinful. Among a small sample of SBC messengers at the annual meeting in Indianapolis, 91 percent agreed.
Their unified stance was also reflected when they overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that rejected the California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex "marriage." The resolution calls Southern Baptists to support a ballot initiative defending traditional marriage, encourages pastors to speak "strongly, prophetically and redemptively concerning the sinful nature of homosexuality," and reaffirms the denomination's "consistent support of the biblical definition of marriage as an exclusive union between a man and a woman."
Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., and chairman of the resolutions committee, praised the Southern Baptist Convention for its strong stance especially at a time when many Protestant groups are debating over whether homosexual behavior is sinful or not.
Still, Southern Baptists are distancing themselves from the view that homosexuality is the worst sin.
"I never preach against homosexuality [without also] saying 'let me talk to you heterosexuals that are violating God's principles,'" said SBC president Hunt.
"But I still think anyone that's in any type of sin is oftentimes a person in bondage that would like to be set free," he continued, "would like to know that someone can love them like they are but believe that God loves them so much that He's not willing to leave them like they are."