UPDATED, May 7, 2015
NASHVILLE (BP) — The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will hold a conference to equip pastors and churches for the legal and cultural landscape in place after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage.
The ERLC will conduct the event, Equip Austin, July 29 at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, the SBC entity announced Monday (May 4). The conference — sponsored in partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — will be held about a month after the Supreme Court is expected to rule on gay marriage.
The justices heard oral arguments April 28 to decide whether same-sex marriage will be legal throughout the country or states will retain the authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The high court is expected to issue a closely decided opinion by the end of its term in late June or early July.
The Supreme Court’s decision likely will have major implications for religious liberty and Christian ministry in America. Austin’s event speakers will try to equip followers of Christ and their churches to engage a “post-marriage society” with Gospel faithfulness, according to the ERLC.
Russell Moore, the ERLC’s president, called it “a watershed moment in our nation’s history.”
“[R]egardless of whether our land’s highest court recognizes the unchangeable or not, we will hold steadfast,” he said in a news release. “Even more, regardless of the decision, the church will have to learn to engage a culture with the Gospel in which we cannot assume people share our same understanding of marriage. As we seek to equip churches for this task I’m thrilled to partner with this exceptional band of leaders at this event to think through what Gospel faithfulness looks like in our ever-changing culture.”
In addition to Moore, the speakers for “The Gospel and Same-sex Marriage: Equipping the Church for a Post-marriage Culture,” will include:
— Rosaria Butterfield, author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert,” which describes her journey from a lesbian lifestyle to Christ.
— Matt Carter, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church.
— Matt Chandler, lead pastor for teaching of the Village Church in the Dallas metropolitan area.
— Jackie Hill Perry, a poet who came to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle.
— Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
— Mike Goeke, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco.
Registration is available for attendance at the event, which will be from 6 to 9:30 p.m., but it also will be live streamed online.
This year’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting also will focus on preparation for ministry after the Supreme Court’s decision. Panelists during the June 17 afternoon session will include Moore; Butterfield; Carter; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Ryan Blackwell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco. SBC President Ronnie Floyd, who invited the panelists, will lead the discussion.
“We must respond to the issue and toward those who may have differing opinions in a way that would represent our Lord Jesus Christ in the highest manner,” Floyd wrote April 26 in a first-person piece for Baptist Press. “Unquestionably, things are changing, and the way we address this issue must be done with the truth of God in one hand and the love of God in the other hand.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. The state total has nearly tripled from the 13 states where gay marriage was legal in mid-2013.
The expansion of same-sex marriage has resulted in a growing clash between the rights of gay couples and the religious freedom of individuals and organizations. Florists, bakers, photographers and other business owners who have conscientious objections to providing their services for same-sex ceremonies have been penalized or are facing penalties for their refusal. The potential threat to institutions arose in the April 28 arguments at the Supreme Court when U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the tax-exempt status of universities and colleges that oppose gay marriage would be an issue.
In October, a book originating from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary titled “Ministry in the New Marriage Culture” from B&H Publishers will provide readers with practical answers to difficult questions related to local church ministry in contexts in which same-sex marriage is legal. Key contributors include Golden Gate President Jeff Iorg and Paul Wegner (writing on Ministry Foundations in the Old Testament), Rick Melick (Ministry Foundations in the New Testament), Christopher Morgan (Gospel Confidence in the New Marriage Culture), Tony Merida (Preaching on Marriage Today), Heath Lambert (Counseling Persons about Same-Sex Marriage), and Brad Dacus (Navigating Legal Challenges to Churches).
Registration and information on the ERLC Equip Austin conference is available online at erlc.com/equipaustin. Live streaming of the event will be at live.erlc.com.