An advocacy group seeking to have homosexuality and transgenderism "removed from the sin list" has announced plans to "politely disrupt" the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.
Faith in America (FIA) hopes to persuade the nation's largest Protestant denomination to change its interpretation of Scripture, FIA said in a press release accusing the SBC of marginalizing and harming lesbian, gay, homosexual and transgender (LGBT) children in particular by discouraging sexual sin.
FIA requested a Phoenix meeting with SBC leaders, who offered instead to receive FIA representatives in Nashville after the Phoenix convention. A full schedule of SBC business already comprises the two-day event.
Offering to meet with FIA representatives in Nashville is not an indication of compromise, but rather an opportunity to share the Gospel, SBC executive Frank S. Page told Baptist Press.
"I am always delighted to share the truths of the Gospel with anyone who wishes to meet with me," said Page, CEO and president of the SBC Executive Committee. "Scripture predicts a time when people will stray from biblical truth. We are saddened when we encounter erroneous teaching and pray for a return to biblical faithfulness."
In written comments, the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) reiterated that Christians are encouraged to share Christ's love with all human beings including LGBT youth and adults.
"As Gospel Christians who believe that every human being is made in the image of God. Southern Baptists have stood for the dignity of all human persons for decades," said ERLC President Russell Moore. "At the same time, we cannot and we will not ignore the teachings of Jesus himself, as some would wish Southern Baptists and others to do.
"To minimize or adjust a Christian sexual ethic would be to abandon the very message Jesus handed to us, and we have no authority to do this," Moore said. "As Baptists, we want to be the first to be known by our love and compassion to those in the world around us, but we also must hold fast to the 'faith which was once for all delivered to the saints' (Jude 1:3)."
FIA, in a May 31 press release, announced details of its Phoenix plans. Medical professionals, clergy, homosexual country music performer Ty Herndon, founders of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and others plan to engage SBC messengers in conversations about the plight of LGBT children, FIA said. Billboard advertising "throughout Phoenix" will proclaim FIA messages and "a robust social media campaign" will take place throughout the annual meeting, FIA said.
"This is an historic moment and we, at Faith in America, are taking action," FIA Co-founder and Co-chair Mitchell Gold said in the press release. "This is not about conflict and division. It is about speaking the truth, and standing up for our kids and teens being hurt. It is also about finding common ground around our children and youth."
SBC Executive Committee representative Roger S. Oldham expressed optimism that the FIA activities will be conducted lawfully and its representatives responded to cordially.
"We anticipate representatives of FIA will abide by the city of Phoenix's guidelines for their planned assembly," said Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations of the SBC Executive Committee. "We also anticipate that messengers to the SBC annual meeting who choose to participate in conversations with representatives of FIA will do so with the same cordial spirit of Christian witness they have shown in similar settings in times past."
Pro-LGBT advocacy groups have protested at previous SBC annual meetings, including outcries in 2000–2002, and in 2011 when the event was last held in Phoenix.
Southern Baptists have affirmed in many resolutions the application of Scripture regarding homosexual lifestyles and the church's proper treatment of those who engage in LGBT lifestyles.
"Southern Baptists are on record opposing bullying of any kind, including those who struggle with sexual identity issues," Oldham said. "We believe all people bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. We also believe God's image in us has been marred by sin and is only restored when we enter a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord."
Most recently, SBC messengers stated those beliefs in a resolution "On Biblical Sexuality And The Freedom Of Conscience," approved at the 2016 SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Mo.
Among the resolution's many affirmations are "we reiterate our love for our neighbors who identify as transgender, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches, and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership (2 Corinthians 5:18–20; Galatians 5:14)," and "we applaud and encourage our brothers and sisters who struggle with gender identity or same sex attraction, but who have chosen holiness and God's design instead (Romans 3:23; 1 Corinthians 6:11)." Additionally, a 2014 SBC resolution condemns "acts of abuse or bullying committed against" transgender individuals in particular.
FIA markets itself as a non-profit group founded in 2006 "to end decades and centuries of using religious teachings to justify marginalizing and discriminating against others," and is "dedicated to influencing media and faith community narratives on religion and sexuality."