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150-plus evangelicals underscore SBC marriage stance as biblical

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention is not alone in holding forth the Bible’s teachings on marriage, according to an evangelical leader who has received more than 150 signatures of other leaders affirming the family statement adopted by the SBC at its annual meeting in June.
Dennis Rainey, executive director and co-founder of the FamilyLife ministry division of Campus Crusade for Christ, said “the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians would not only agree with (the SBC) statement, but embrace it unashamedly as the timeless truth of Scripture.”
First Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C., meanwhile, has garnered headlines, including The New York Times on July 26, for launching committee deliberations on ending all ties to the SBC over the family statement, adopted June 11 by messengers in Salt Lake City as an addition to the convention’s 1963 Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement. The possible congregational vote at First Baptist, Raleigh, essentially will be a formality, as the church had ended its giving to SBC causes and its use of SBC Sunday school literature long before the convention adopted its family statement.
The SBC statement describes marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” It also notes, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. … A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. … A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
Rainey, based in Little Rock, Ark., announced his initiative to affirm the SBC stance during the Christian Booksellers Association annual meeting in Dallas.
Rainey, in a news conference July 15, said the “intense firestorm” the SBC stance received in the national media prompted him to contact a cross-section of other evangelical leaders, both husbands and wives, to sign an affirmation: “I affirm the statement on the family issued by the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention.”
Among those signing the affirmation are evangelical authors and speakers Elisabeth Elliot and Kay Arthur; Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson and his wife, Patty; Campus Crusade founders Bill and Vonette Bright; Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney and his wife, Lyndi; Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet; and Christian counseling author Norman Wright and his wife, Joyce.
Rainey told Baptist Press July 27 only two leaders have refused to affirm the statement.
“Divorce is destroying the fabric of our society,” Rainey said in an interview. “As a result, we have become a culture of divorce, leaving a legacy of selfishness and deep, profound poverty of the soul.”
Describing “the issue of the marriage covenant” as one of the church’s urgent spiritual concerns at the outset of the 21st century, Rainey noted, “Children learn what it means to love, what it means to make a commitment and how to trust another person in a family. And the roots of those vital lessons are best taught when they’re observed by children seeing their parents model love, commitment and trust.”
With divorce rates in churches even surpassing those in society at large according to recent data from Christian pollster George Barna, Rainey said the Christian community “has allowed secular culture to dumb down the covenant, to where it virtually doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
“We’re in a battle for the soul of the family. If we don’t preach the Word and call people back to the Scriptures and the God who created family, then I don’t think we have
much to offer the world,” said Rainey, who has authored several books on the family, including, with his wife, Barbara, “Staying Close” and “Building Your Mate’s Self-Esteem.” Rainey also is heard on a 30-minute radio program, “FamilyLife Today,” aired on more than 400 outlets across the country each weekday and weekend.
Rainey, a member of a non-SBC church, Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, said the Southern Baptist Convention’s stance upholding the authority of Scripture has placed the SBC in a unique position to speak on moral issues.
“Ultimately, this is a battle over the interpretation of Scripture … letting the Scripture say what it says in black and white,” Rainey said. When critics of the SBC stance “start going back to the first century to say, ‘This was written for a different time and a different age, therefore we can’t say that it says this today’ — at that point, man becomes the ultimately authority over Scripture, as to what portions of it are applicable for today and which portions aren’t.”
Rainey added that the media, by debating the biblical call for a wife’s submission to her husband’s leadership, highlighted an issue “that has so dominated women over the past two decades, and that’s feminism,” which “at its very core, is at odds with the gospel. Feminism calls people to self rights and self-fulfillment. The gospel calls to self-denial and calls both men and women to submit to a higher authority.”
Rainey said FamilyLife ministry has entered into a partnership with Promise Keepers to distribute written marriage covenants at all Promise Keepers events this year and to call men to sign the covenants with their wives– “the most solemn, binding obligation between two people on this planet.”
In his news conference in Dallas, Rainey said, “During the latter half of the 20th century, the American culture has suffered an unrelenting decline. Although scientific and technological advances have created an outer veneer of prosperity and progress, our inner moral values and convictions have rapidly crumbled. Once, most Americans based their sense of right and wrong on Judeo-Christian principles, which provided them with a solid, biblical foundation for life. Today, a growing number of Americans see morality and ethics as relative and subjective and have developed their own version of morality with little regard to absolute standards.”
Thus, many Americans “have little or no concept of how to maintain a successful marriage and how to raise children to become responsible adults. In addition, a growing number of educators, politicians and members of the media are attacking and redefining the family, creating a vast amount of confusion about what a family is. Many people today proclaim that ‘family values’ are important, but the gradual shift to moral relativism has led to a great debate about what ‘family values’ ought to be.”
Quoting Abraham Lincoln’s words, “The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people,” Rainey said the family is “the backbone of the Christian church and of society as a whole. History shows that if any society wants to survive, it must uphold, strengthen and continue to build upon the biblical institutions of marriage and family.
“Today’s families,” Rainey said, “desperately need spiritual direction, moral guidance and a clear authoritative definition.”
As moms and dads begin sending their children back to school, Rainey reflected: “… unlike any other year preceding it in our nation’s history, these moms and dads are afraid because our schools are becoming killing fields for our children. Our president has asked what is the cause of these mass schoolyard murders. Mr. President, I respectfully say it is the breakdown of the family. All roads lead back home, where our children must learn right from wrong, respect for human life and whether male or female have to submit to authority.
“The real hope for our nation and civilization comes as each member of a family comes into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and lives by the standards of Scripture,” Rainey said. “We cannot sacrifice our marriages, our families and our children on the altar of political correctness. I would like to challenge critics to, instead of punishing Christians for taking a much-needed stand, call all citizens to fulfill their responsibility of keeping their covenants.”
At First Baptist, Raleigh, meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the SBC and its family stance is expressed, for example, by Carolyn Dickens, who chairs the church’s deacon body.
“I have an 18-year-old daughter,” she told The New York Times. “And how could I look at her and tell her that her opinion does not mean as much as some man’s?”
The 1,300-member church, founded in 1812, has been ordaining women deacons for more than 100 years, and its bylaws require that women comprise more than half the deacon body, according to a July 13 story in the Raleigh News & Observer.
The church’s pastor, Daniel Day, was quoted by the newspaper as describing the SBC family statement as “theologically abhorrent.”
“It clubs women and puts men in a position I do not think is consonant with biblical witness,” Day was quoted as saying.
“I think if wives want to submit, that’s their business,” 91-year-old church member Mabel Claire Maddrey told The New York Times. She said she objects to “a denomination that seeks to impose someone else’s standards and wishes upon the entire denomination. I’m a Democrat, but I don’t bring that to church with me.”
Bill Merrell, vice president for convention relations with the SBC Executive Committee, reacting to the church’s deliberations, was quoted by The Times as saying: “In my opinion, it is a statement of their integrity to finally say, ‘We don’t like the Southern Baptists, we don’t believe in what they’re doing, and we’re not going to keep holding on to the fiction that we are a Southern Baptist church.”