Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Southern Baptist Convention Hosting Summit on Sexuality

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host a summit on sex and sexuality this spring. The Associated Press reports that the ERLC Leadership Summit will take place on April 21-23 at the Southern Baptist Convention center in Nashville, Tennessee. According to the summit website, the event is intended to teach religious leaders about the Gospel's stance on human sexuality, including ways that scripture "sets free those who are held captive to sin’s bondage." A glance at the conference lineup, however, suggests a gathering where the conversation on sexuality will be incomplete.

Workshop titles and the language surrounding the event suggest that the ERLC Leadership Summit will approach sex through the lens of sin and purity. "From broken marriages to pornography to homosexuality, sexual confusion and sexual brokenness has ravaged our culture and can deteriorate the integrity of our churches," the summit website asserts. Keynotes and workshop offerings include the following:

  • The Gospel and the Pastor’s Purity
  • Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity
  • Ministering in a Sex-saturated Society
  • Marriage Matters: Contemporary Threats to Biblical Marriage
  • Mending Fences: The Gospel and Pastoral Care for Sexual Sin
  • Resisting Lips that Drip Honey: Wisdom on Sexuality from Proverbs

Other workshops will focus on talking to young people about sex, "Biblical" manhood and womanhood, marital sexuality, pornography, and trafficking. Conspicuously absent were workshops on sexual health, reproductive issues, or sexual violence (save for two workshops on sex trafficking). Considering the many sexual abuse scandals that have plagued Baptist communities, I'm surprised that the summit will not include workshops on pastoral misconduct or sexual abuse prevention. To boot, since sexual victimization is frighteningly common, I'm disappointed that the summit is not discussing sexual violence topics such as intimate partner sexual assault, consent, supportive congregational responses, or healing from sexual trauma. While sex trafficking is a devastating problem that must be addressed, it is not the only form of sexual violence afflicting society.

Also conspicuously absent was respectful acknowledgement of sexual diversity. The summit website spoke of homosexuality in pathological terms as a manifestation of "sexual brokenness" in society. The only workshop remotely related to sexual diversity was a panel discussion on "The Gospel and Homosexuality", but given the SBC's stance on LGBTQ issues, I do not expect the workshop to be LGBTQ-affirming. The presence of Mark Regnerus (the researcher behind a controversial study on same-sex parenting) on the list of speakers also suggests an incomplete approach to LGBTQ issues. Affirming voices do exist in the Baptist community, and I lament that these voices were not included in the summit.

Finally, with the exception of one woman of color, the summit speaker lineup consists entirely of white men. How can the summit have a robust discussion of sexuality and faith without including diverse voices? Sexuality is a rich and complex topic, one deserving of commentary from male voices, female voices, racially diverse voices, straight voices, LGBTQ voices, survivor voices, medical voices, activist voices, and many more.

While I am pleased that the SBC is openly discussing sexuality and social issues such as trafficking, they need the expand the discussion. Limiting the discussion to sin, purity, and heterosexuality fails to capture the breadth of sexual matters facing modern society. Baptist congregations include trauma survivors, LGBTQ people, people with sexual health concerns, and people seeking sexual flourishing. The SBC has a responsibility to address these issues in a respectful, nuanced manner with congregants, so as to include body, mind, and spirit in pastoral care.


  1. yeesh. this is not at all surprising to me in any way whatsoever, but it;s still troubling to see it laid out like that.

    1. Novák -- It troubles me too. The SBC really needs to evolve when it comes to sexuality.

  2. Conspicuously absent were workshops on sexual health, reproductive issues, or sexual violence.....Also conspicuously absent was respectful acknowledgement of sexual diversity. The summit website spoke of homosexuality in pathological terms.....

    Well, of course. An SBC summit on sexuality is congenitally incapable of approaching the subject except via a religious frame of reference which doesn't fit. It's like a human-rights summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. You'd get a lot of Procrustean warping of reality but nothing sane or useful.

    1. Infidel -- I know I shouldn't be surprised, given the SBC stance on so many issues, but it still disappoints me that the topic offerings are so narrow. A belief system shouldn't be a set of manacles.


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