LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Christians must submit themselves to the authority of the Lord Jesus and the Bible if they are to help revive an America marked by decay and death at the end of the 20th century, speakers said at the 50th anniversary seminar of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission.
Meeting on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where the Christian Life Commission became a funded SBC agency in 1947, participants heard general session speakers address various issues the commission has dealt with across its history, such as racism, pornography, gambling, religious liberty, abortion and other sanctity of human life concerns.
Several speakers expressed a similar theme: American culture continues in the grip of sinful choices, and the only hope for breaking free of such bondage is spiritual. While government can play a role in societal renewal, proper public policy alone is insufficient, some said during the March 3-5 seminar in Louisville, Ky.
The “hope of a culture and its survival lies not so much in what we do under the dome of a state capitol or a national capitol, but rather under the steeples of the churches that are supposed to be God’s voice,” said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
CLC President Richard Land said racism “is at its foundation a spiritual problem and will be vanquished ultimately only by spiritual means. It is a sin problem, a spiritual plague that has been one of the major challenges in the first 50 years of the Christian Life Commission’s history.
“The salt of the law can change actions,” Land said, “but it is only the light of the gospel that can change hearts.”
America has slid into a culture of death, and “we must get our own house in order” to salvage it, said Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Christians “must recover our own moral authority,” Mohler said, “which can only come when we are submitted to our Savior’s moral authority, to the Lord’s moral authority.”
The church must understand it is “a cognitive minority standing out in our minority status against a majoritarian decadence,” Mohler said. In contrast to a culture characterized by abortion, the rise and acceptance of divorce, homosexuality, violence and a general revolt against authority, Mohler said, “The church must be a culture of life, contending for life at every level — in the womb and in the nursing home, in the hospital ward, on the streets, in the schools, everywhere. Our mode must not be to turn entirely inward but instead to engage the culture in such a way that we bear open witness to life, even calling for the life of the culture.”
Christian apologist and youth speaker Josh McDowell warned American culture will be dramatically different in three to four years, primarily because tolerance has become the country’s top virtue.
Almost every student in the country is being conditioned with a new definition of tolerance, which grants equal status to every person’s beliefs, McDowell said.
As a result of this new meaning for tolerance and its elevation as a virtue, the virtues of justice and Christian love will not be able to coexist with tolerance, he said.
“Tolerance says I must be indifferent,” McDowell said. “Christian love says I must speak and act the truth in love.”
Robert Casey, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and a leading pro-life voice in a party which endorses abortion rights, said abortion has destroyed the “heart and soul” of the Democratic Party and it is “headed for oblivion.”
While he believes the “ground is shifting under our feet” on the abortion issue, the “work ahead is difficult,” Casey said. Americans must pass laws to protect unborn children but also minister to women with crisis pregnancies, he said.
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist pastor and a former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, said America needs courageous leaders.
“I’m afraid that there are far too many people in leadership positions who are content with the idea of taking a political poll or feeling the pulse of the people” and adjusting one way or the other, Huckabee said.
Christians have allowed “our pulpits to become little more than instruments, like thermometers, so fearful we might offend, and yet every time I read, whether it’s the Old or New Testament, the pulpit always offended,” he said. “It always challenged. It never allowed culture to move away from God without confrontation.”
Gambling “is an excellent expression of contemporary idolatry,” Mississippi Christian Action Commission Executive Director Paul Jones said, adding, “Gambling violates the biblical principles of stewardship with regard to property and its use.”
The church has stumbled as an effective voice against gambling, Jones said. The rapid growth of gaming in the United States is a strong indication “the church has failed to assume its prophetic role and evangelistic witness to a culture that invites the church to conform to its pattern.”
The fires of Christian persecution have been fueled by the shocking indifference of believers and government leaders in the United States, lamented Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program on Religious Freedom.
“It is shocking that so few Americans know about the worldwide global persecution of Christians,” said Shea, an international lawyer. “Our government is indifferent, even hostile, to the plight of these persecuted Christians.”
While Christians should celebrate some advances in genetic technology, others should be resisted, said Southern Baptist ethicist Ben Mitchell.
“We must resist the eugenic impetus of modern genetics,” Mitchell added. “Children are to be treated as God’s creation, not be to chosen from some menu of designer characteristics. … When abortion advocacy is wedded to genetics, a malevolent science results.”
David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said the SBC needs the CLC’s help.
“The SBC needs you to guide us through the challenging issues that arise within our contemporary, corrupt culture. … The evangelical world needs your prophetic voice to remain constant and faithful during a time of growing tolerance and laxness among professing Christians and churchgoing people,” Dockery said of the CLC.
“The SBC needs the CLC to be a prophetic voice as we enter a new century. Beyond that, we need you to be a priestly ear and responsive heart to help us hear and interpret and understand the modern, even postmodern, world in which we live.”
Total attendance at the seminar was 347.
Other general session speakers were Judith Reisman, a researcher/author specializing in the effects of pornography; Daniel Akin, dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology; Lamar Cooper, academic dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ron Collymore, assistant professor of biblical literature and language at Taylor University; James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga.; and Barrett Duke, the CLC’s director of denominational relations.
Workshops on such topics as ministering to homosexuals, dealing with the media, same-sex marriage, domestic violence and preaching on moral issues also were held.
Dwayne Hastings, David Porter, James A. Smith and Jeff Carter contributed to this article.