The Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest denomination in North America (behind only the Catholic Church), just elected its new president at its annual conference. Those who voted were given two choices: Ken Hemphill, a seasoned pastor and a strong conservative, and J.D. Greear, a young charismatic pastor with a strong social media presence and a large following among millennials.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Convention went with Greear (shown in the photo above taken by Matt Miller), by an overwhelming 68-32 margin. This may prove to be a fateful, even fatal, choice for the SBC.
The reason is simple: Greear is soft and simplistic on the number one cultural and spiritual issue of our time – homosexuality. Another prominent SBC leader, Russell Moore, who is the head of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has been sending accommodating messages on homosexuality for years. Perhaps it’s also no surprise that Russell Moore once served as chief of staff for a Democrat in Congress before taking his position at the ERLC.
Here is an excerpt from a sermon Greear delivered at the 2014 annual meeting of the ERLC, which represents the new and improved and softer view of homosexuality that appears to be slowly taking over the SBC. His view is fine until you begin to parse it and break it down. (Emphasis mine throughout.)
We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexual morality, which means that our relationship with them must not be contingent upon their agreeing with us about sexuality. It means that when they don't agree with us we still don't push them away.
The posture of many Christians in our churches is more characterized by anger than by compassion, by judgment rather than by friendship. I am NOT saying that we would ever compromise our position or fail to state it, just that even when they disagree with it, we do not cut them off – we draw them close. We say yes, this issue is important. I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right. And so even if you don't see things my way, I'm going to keep bringing you close, and I'm going to remain committed to you.
In the cross of Jesus Christ, he shows us the right way to relate to the gay and the lesbian community – clarity about God's righteousness, compassion that would give up its own life to draw them close.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the first statement above: “We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexual morality.” This is confusing at best and quite dangerous at worst.
Of course, we never should push sinners away but always seek to draw them close. Observers should know we are Christians by our love.
But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.
If we tell our husbands, for example, to love their wives more than they love their golf, there are going to be times when they are going to have to give up a round of golf in order to love their wives. Choosing Option A means that, when the chips are down, you dump Option B.
He says much the same thing a bit later when he says, “I love you more than I love being right.” This sounds good, even pious, on the surface, but when you actually start thinking about the statement rather than just feeling about it, it likewise is a potentially lethal statement. For the clear implication is that, if my position on an issue is right and biblical and grounded in God’s word but interferes with my relationship with a homosexual, then I’ve got to dump being right.
Greear talks about the importance of not pushing them away but instead drawing them close. Again, the statement is fine until you start to press on it a little. The question that Greear does not deal with is this one: What if they push us away? What if they don’t want to let us draw them close? Greear creates the impression that if homosexual sinners reject us and say hurtful and hateful things to us and about us, it must be because we have done something wrong. In some way, it must be our fault.
To turn Greear’s statement around, the reality is that many homosexuals love their position on homosexuality more than they love their Christian neighbors. They love their idea of Christians being wrong more than they love us, and they are not prepared to change their position on homosexuality in order to love us or let us draw them close.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:16 that the mark of maturity, the mark of Christlikeness, is to “speak the truth in love.” We do not discard either truth or love, we hold tightly to them both and hold them in a delicate tension. Then we draw close everyone who responds to the truth. Remember the example of Jesus with the woman at the well. He was kind to her and befriended her, and they had a very pleasant chat. But then Jesus confronted her sexual sin head-on. “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). Fortunately, by God’s grace, she responded to the truth rather than pushing it away, and soon an entire village was impacted by the gospel.
Now if the SBC gets in trouble by following J.D. Greear’s leadership, it will be a slow drift, not a plunge. It will happen almost imperceptibly as they follow a softer, gentler, nicer-than-Jesus form of the gospel. Then one day SBCers will realize that the shore is no longer in sight.
This is how mainline denominations wind up with lesbian bishops who believe that Jesus was a bigot. They didn’t start out there, they wound up there.
Let’s never forget that Jesus said, “If you abide (i.e., stay, remain, lodge) in my word...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).