Liberal Christians often champion themselves as facilitators of deep, authentic dialogue about the cultural issues facing America's faithful. But when the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission gathered yesterday for their first-ever leadership summit to genuinely discuss a myriad of sexual morality topics - including same-sex marriage and sexuality, the premier cultural conundrum facing the Church - unexpected kickback erupted on social media.
Unsurprisingly, non-Christians and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) community was less than nice in their commentary surrounding the ERLC's biblical perspective on God's design for marriage between one man and one woman. What the ERLC didn't anticipate was women's rather off base resentments launched at the summit and its mission.
Ladies in the Twitterverse had this to say about the summit:
Hannah Lewis @hishtaphel: @pr3130girl @SBCvoices I was raised Baptist. They're not all like this. This #erlcsummit is like all the Baptist Stupid put in one room.
Rachel Held Evans @rachelheldevans: Since it probably won't be said at #erlcsummit: Abuse at church *must* be reported to authorities, not just handled "in house."
dana @thedanasmith: i once lived that hell. i was once a product of your air of superiority and hatefulness. i am so grateful to be free from it #erlcsummit
Hannah Wright @wrightinthecity: I'm doing my best to ignore the #erlcsummit tweets because the stuff being quoted? Absolute insanity. Lord help us.
Hannah Lewis @hishtaphel: If you are at the #erlcsummit and you are a woman, you don't have to live in shame or fear or guilt about your body. U are not the problem.
Thank you, Hannah for your concern. But as a 20-something single working woman who was in attendance at yesterday's summit (the first day of a three day event, mind you), I witnessed neither patriarchal superiority, insanity, avoidance of abuse, nor hatefulness. Nor did I feel shamed or guilty for wearing a hemline above the knee without a blazer and pantyhose.
If I had witnessed "hatefulness" or male oppression and privilege, then I'd be the first to publicly address my outrage. But relying on tired stereotypes instead of thoughtful analysis and participation is not exactly the communication strategy we should be implementing to make our female voices heard.
Choosing to "lean in" and participate, I didn't hear patriarchy and oppression. Instead, I heard keynote speaker Heath Lambert, professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, say, "I am praying for a movement among the church to fight for and protect women from being consumed" by pornography.
Believe it or not, same-sex marriage was not the focal point of yesterday's discussions. Pornography in the church was the first topic addressed by Heath Lambert. Raising the question, "What type of young men are we creating?" Lambert noted that twelve is the average young boy's age when first exposed to pornography.
During a breakout session, Pastor Scroggins talked with youth ministry leaders, including myself, about how to talk honestly with teenagers about sexuality and marriage, not just same-sex dispositions.
"Sexual information is pursuing your kids. It's everywhere," said Scroggins. But he also addressed why the culture (including many within the church) "view marriage as a capstone, instead of a cornerstone." Next he talked about how 60 percent of evangelical kids are having sex before graduating high school. Finally, Scroggins highlighted the effects of a radical autonomous ethos and divorce among Generation X and Millenials. In other words, he discussed all present-day concerns that everyone in the church should be talking about, not just the self-appointed progressives.
Actually, the tone from keynote speakers regarding sexual immorality of all types is noticeably different than even I expected. "We have to reject redneck theology in all of its forms," reminded Pastor Jimmy Scroggins during a panel discussion on homosexuality and the Gospel. "No Adam and Steve jokes."
In the past Southern Baptists have not always gotten it right. But they appear to be working to rebuild trust and respect with non-Christians. "We need to take the courageous gospel message of love to a broken culture and proclaim freedom from sin!" proclaimed Lambert.
While I would have appreciated more female voices within the panel discussions and breakout sessions, it cannot be disputed that the ERLC's tone is shifting in a genuine attempt to mirror the Gospel and balance a message of grace, respect for all women and men, repentance and reconciliation in a troubled post-modern world.
Christian women whose theology doesn't completely align with the SBC should not dismiss their brothers and sisters in Christ so quickly and harshly.
If evangelical women want their voice to be represented louder at SBC events such as the ERLC Summit, perhaps next year my fellow sisters in Christ can step away from the Twitter feed, choose not to dismiss an event because it is labeled "Baptist," and join in the authentic face to face dialogue.
These are hard discussions, but the brokenness of humanity should drive every Christ-following woman and man to engage when it is not convenient nor easy. As Heath Lambert said well, "It is not hateful to call people to repent. It is not loving to let people exist in their sin."