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Marriage declaration joins effort for constitutional action

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A public forum on the biblical definition of marriage in Kansas City, Mo., culminated with the Nov. 12 signing of a Kansas City Declaration of Marriage, the first of its kind in Southern Baptist history.

Following a chapel address by Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the crowd moved to the seminary’s north campus for a panel discussion moderated by Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Seminary, who had initiated the day’s events.

The seven panelists were asked to give a brief statement regarding the declaration of marriage; a question-and-answer session followed.

Claude Rhea, an attorney and chief development officer for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, speaking from a legal perspective, said marriage has been forced into the battlefield of legal trends and that same-sex “marriage” is being pushed through the judicial system. Rhea applauded the grassroots effort to defend traditional marriage through a proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. Rhea agreed it will involve a lengthy process but said its passage is not impossible.

“To date, 37 states have passed a Defense of Marriage Act,” Rhea said. “As believers, we must understand the urgency and the implications of defending marriage.”

Rhea said that Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada have passed laws that prohibit even speaking against homosexuality, with such dialogue labeled as hate speech.

“Dr. Land’s sermon this morning in chapel would be considered hate speech,” Rhea said. “As a result, our freedom of speech is compromised.”

Speaking from a pastor’s perspective, Terry Fox of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., called for preachers to stand on the Word of God.

Many churches are afraid to take a stand and understandably so, Fox said. As an outspoken opponent of homosexual marriage, he and his church have been targets of demonstrations and physical harassment.

“The local church is in the front of the battle,” Fox said. “Pastors must stand and preach the Word of God. Each Christian must be counted in this cultural war.

“God blesses us when we take a godly stand,” the pastor said.

Cindy Province, assistant director of the Bioethics Center of St. Louis, said many Christians have lost the true meaning of marriage as a covenant relationship between two people of the opposite sex, and not a contract that can be broken without any consequences.

The idea of no-fault divorce originally was designed to help women get out of bad situations, Province noted, but, if anything, it has hurt women. Single mothers are the hardest-hit by poverty and children often are put at risk, she said.

As the only female on the panel, Province said she was asked to give a feminine perspective. She said she typically does not do this because it implies a feminist viewpoint. “The feminist movement has been most destructive to the family,” she said. “They don’t understand the biblical definition of submission. We have to have less ‘rights’ talk and take on more responsibility.”

Another enemy of marriage is the media, particularly television, Province said.

“Young people are getting their idea of marriage from television which sets unrealistic expectations,” she said.

But there is hope, Province said. The first step that must be taken, she said, is to dispel myths about homosexuality — that families are fluid, that sex roles are undefined and that homosexuals can’t change.

Daniel Heimbach, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, expounded on this thought when he explained the three arguments typically made by those in favor of homosexual unions.

“Their first argument is that opposition to homosexual marriages is immoral,” Heimbach said. “Their claim is that homosexuality only affects those involved.”

The second argument, he said, is that it is unjust to treat homosexuals differently; the third argument, that such opposition is irrational, because what takes place between two consenting adults is no one else’s business.

Heimbach answered the arguments with the same objections.

“It is immoral to accept homosexual unions,” he said. “It is bad for everyone. God made man and woman. Homosexuality is unnatural — physiologically, reproductively and genetically.”

Secondly, it is unjust to accept such unions, Heimbach said, as justice requires giving equal treatment to that which is the same. Homosexual unions are not the same as heterosexual marriages.

Lastly, Heimbach said that it is irrational to accept these unions because they threaten the very fabric of American society.

“We are at an intersection,” he said. “If Christians act, we can make a difference.”

“We will not win this battle without pastors,” Land said. “Pastors are the calcium in the backbone of the church.”

Along with pastors, churches must act in order for the Federal Marriage Amendment to pass, Land said. He encouraged everyone to write their congressional representatives. Land said the amendment must pass by a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representative and the Senate. It then will need ratification by 38 states to be enacted.

Opening the floor to questions, the panelists were asked how getting involved in the political process could affect their churches’ not-for-profit status. Panelists agreed it would have very little effect, because homosexuality is an issue, not a candidate.

Land said that while churches are not allowed to endorse candidates, they are allowed provide voter education.

“You can take a public stand on a moral issue,” Heimach said, adding that it is the responsibility of the church to take such a stand.

“What if [taking a stand] did change your status?” Heimbach asked. “So what? Speak the truth. We’ll survive.”

Midwestern student Micah Fries asked that panel to what extent Christians can hold the world to biblical standards.

Land said that most people will obey the law, even if they do not agree with the law. “Laws can only change actions, not beliefs,” he said. “Only the Gospel can do that.”

Land cited the civil rights struggle as an example. While people’s actions changed after civil rights laws were passed, he said segregation remained widespread throughout the country.

Even though advancements have been made over the years, Land said, the most segregated day of the week is Sunday in the nation’s churches, because it is a voluntary matter.

“Where does the declaration go from here?” David Tolliver, president of the Missouri Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, Mo., asked.

“Get the word out,” Land said. He encouraged everyone to give copies of the declaration to their pastors and to persuade newspaper editors to print the declaration.

“We need as wide a dissemination as possible,” he said.

Roberts encouraged everyone in attendance to write their state representatives.

“It is time for the church to make crystal clear its position on marriage and to do so both in the church and to the general public. Hopefully this document will achieve that end,” Roberts said.

“We have a small window of opportunity [for passage of the marriage amendment],” Heinbach noted. “The next generation may be too late.”

Barrett Duke, ERLC vice president for public policy, after the meeting described it as “a wonderful success. There was impressive attendance at the chapel service, as well as the panel discussion that followed. There was an energy during the entire forum you could literally feel.

“It is obvious that the issue of homosexual marriage has stirred the great Christian army to action,” Duke said. “The document that we produced is both concise and comprehensive in its statements on the biblical model of marriage. I believe that the Kansas City Declaration on Marriage will become the foundational evangelical document in the debate about homosexual marriage. I look forward to hearing that the fruits of our labors at this marriage forum are producing significant results in the church’s efforts to maintain and strengthen the biblical model of marriage in our culture.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DECLARING FOR MARRIAGE and UNITING FOR MARRIAGE.

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  • Susan Reed