Southern Baptist leaders are seeking a "softer approach on homosexuality," reports National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." While noting that "the country's largest protestant (sic) group ... still preaches that marriage can only be between one man and one woman," NPR points to a recent, vaguely identified meeting of pastors to back up its headline:
The Southern Baptist Convention held a gathering of pastors at its Nashville headquarters in April. For an organization that has previously used opposition to gay marriage as a rallying point, statements here from church leaders, like Kevin Smith of Kentucky, shocked the auditorium of pastors into silence.
"If you spent 20 years and you've never said anything about divorce in the church culture, then shut up about gay marriage," Smith said.
Pastor Jimmy Scroggins of Florida went even further.
"We're all in agreement that the cultural war is over when it comes to homosexuality, especially when it comes to gay marriage," Scroggins told the pastors.
A quick aside: As noted previously by GetReligion, Southern Baptists passed a resolution in 2010 on "The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce," so Smith isn't exactly the first Baptist to bring up that subject.
Another quick aside: Did all those "silenced" pastors lose their voices for as long as Zechariah? Otherwise, it would have been nice to hear their direct reaction to what was said.
But back to the main point: Hang on to your keyboards, tablets and smartphones and swallow any coffee or other hot liquids before considering this next broad statement of fact by NPR:
Officially, Southern Baptists aren't backing down from their belief that homosexuality is sinful. Gays and lesbians are still barred from church membership without first repenting. But Scroggins says they're sitting in his pews and shouldn't be the butt of preacher humor. He calls that "redneck theology."
Does that mean that "unofficially," Southern Baptists are backing down from their belief that homosexuality in sinful? Seriously, NPR? This story certainly provides no evidence of that dramatic change in doctrine. (I have written about a similar effort in my own fellowship — Churches of Christ — that aims to change approach, not doctrine.)
If Southern Baptist pastors were to tout a more loving approach toward Christian men who struggle with viewing images of naked women online, would NPR write, "Officially, Southern Baptists aren't backing down from their belief that pornography is sinful." Or would the difference in tone and doctrine be clear?
Let's keep reading:
This kind of approach is different from what gay people who were raised Southern Baptist used to hear on Sunday mornings.
"The belief was always that this was a choice people made and something that Christians needed to stand up against," says Justin Lee, of Raleigh, N.C., who had to leave the church because he is openly gay. "So that was how I saw it growing up."
Lee now leads the Gay Christian Network, and applauds what he's hearing from Baptist leaders.
"I think it's a wonderful step forward," he says. "I don't think that it is where we want to end up."
Lee says he wouldn't expect Baptists to suddenly change the way they've always read the Bible on homosexuality.
Then a critic:
Still, what Lee sees as progress, religious conservatives view as backsliding. Radio host Janet Mefferd of Dallas has taken to the airwaves on her syndicated talk show.
"You see more pastors caving and muddling and getting more and more mealy mouthed about the issue, and 'Oh, let's have a dialogue. Let's have a conversation,' " Mefferd said. "It is a time of rapid loss of courage."
What's missing from this story (besides a basic understanding of doctrine)?
The NPR piece lacks any kind of reasonable voice in the middle — a Baptist leader or scholar who believes homosexuality is a sin but also believes Baptists could be more loving toward those they consider sinners. The report makes a lot of overreaching statements and assumptions and fails to provide the kind of nuance desperately needed.