I infiltrated the Southern Baptist Convention's "Future of Marriage" conference

Prior to the Sixth Circuit ruling a couple weeks ago, most of us would say it’s been several good months for LGBT rights, particularly with regards to the expansion of marriage equality. Now we can legally marry in thirty-two states and the District of Columbia. And even if the Supreme Court’s inaction on several appeals rulings might have disappointed us, we might have considered it a draw. Any progress is progress, as same sex marriages were allowed to proceed in those five states.

And I’d be squarely in the same camp. Until I attended the first day of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference. This year it was titled: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.”

When I first heard about this, I went all Jerry Maguire over the inevitable slippery slopes such a gathering of biblical literalists would allow me to slide down, again and again and—you get the picture.

But let me bookend that day’s proceedings for you.

As the conference began, we attendees were instructed to make sure we had our lanyards on our persons at all times. This was necessary so “only the people who are scheduled to be here, are here.” There were chuckles throughout the crowd. One man behind me joked to his buddy, “Yeah, to find out the imposters.”

Then Albert Mohler, the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave an address titled: “Aftermath: Ministering in a Post-Marriage Culture.”

There was a quick Q&A—How many of us live in a state where same sex marriage is legal? (not too many hands); How many of us know someone who is gay or lesbian? (a majority of hands)—then Mohler segued to the Supreme Court’s inaction, arguing that the rapid advance of marriage equality in the U.S. has placed our culture on “a historical precipice,” and that this advance is “happening at warp speed” (as an aside, none in the audience split between youngish, surprisingly hipsterish men and the elderly missed that Star Trek reference, which is progress from my experiences growing up around a lot of Baptists).

The crux of Mohler’s address was that evangelicals “are here out of a sense of desperation.” Of course, this desperation does not stem from an uncertainty in terms of the Truth. No, this desperation stems from the need to develop and promulgate the best response to a culture that is consistently moving away from their worldview. Other things that contribute to this desperation, could be found in Mohler’s statements that Evangelicals of his ilk must get used to being “a cognitive minority” and about “facing the reality that all across America [they are] speaking with a loss of credibility, a loss of authority.”

Nine-and-a-half hours later, the day ended with a panel discussion titled, “The State of Marriage in American Churches.” After the irony of “being on the wrong side of history” was brought up for at least the third time, panelist Heath Lambert stated: “We got to be sure we’re not listening to people who are going to Hell.” The crowd applauded; some “Oohed.” In a moment of backpedaling about as sincere as any politician’s apology regarding people misinterpreting their comments’ literal meanings, Lambert added, “And I’m not saying that to drop a bomb on anyone,” before he continued his first line of thought.

Between the opening address and that last panel, the concerns that were raised ran from a rebuke of divorce culture, to the damaging effects of pornography on children and adults alike; to the increasing fluidity of gender roles and identity; to the bill of goods Feminism sold women, a bill that has further destabilized marriage and worsened their relationships with men; to the real victims of the ongoing culture wars: Christians such as those who swallowed everything this conference baited out—hook, line, and sinker.

It surprised me, too. Who knew that we lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered persons are the true bullies? I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear how that dastardly “Gay Agenda” (thank you Betty Bowers) was victimizing the nation’s religious supermajority. To aid me in my re-education, Erik Stanley and Kristen Waggoner of The Alliance Defending Freedom championed this wholesale subversion of logic and facts.

Stanley argued, “the endgame of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent,” per Kirk and Madsen’s 1987 book, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s [sic]. Stanley referenced Kirk and Madsen’s “Playbook” as if he were the sole inventor of the Enigma Machine finally revealing the enemy’s master plan.

Slides slid across the mega-church-sized screens, the second of which read:

Step Two: “Portray gays as victims, and not as aggressive challengers,” and “give homosexual protectors a ‘just’ cause.” [Note: Stanley is combining steps two and three from Kirk and Madsen’s book.]

He continued, saying off-handedly: “Think of the narrative of the Matthew Shepherd crime, which has been debunked as a homosexual hate crime.” Yes, that brutal hate crime was merely a co-opted means to an end that has enabled the popularity of shows like Modern Family.

Kristen Waggoner tagged in to this match without opponents who weren’t tied to a fence and left to die, continuing their side’s narrative that LGBT non-discrimination laws have resulted in “unprecedented” and “not isolated attacks,” whose sole purpose is to force Christians who only want to live their biblical values (in public businesses, mind you) “to cower in silence.”

The cliché “Preaching to the choir” had never seemed more apropos as when Waggoner’s narrative used Barronelle Stutzman as an exemplar. Stutzman is a baker who is facing a lawsuit for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, one of whom she had known and served for years. She received a standing ovation when Waggoner and Stanley welcomed her to the stage. “It’s me today,” a nervous Stutzman told the crowd, “but it could be you tomorrow.”

Now, this may seem like an abrupt transition, but bear with me: the last solo speaker, Sherif Girgis, re-appropriated Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign while discussing how a friend of his told him he was going to come out after seeing those videos. He said this was a failure of the church, for “the Gospel is the original It Gets Better campaign.”

Much like Girgis, it seems the far right Evangelical movement is re-appropriating something they have long accused us of playing: the victim card.




graphic via NBC News video

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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