NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) National Conference made an emphasis on two major topics that are affecting today’s culture and concerning churches—the state of marriage and the awareness of homosexuality.

More than 1,300 attendees came to the Opryland Conference Center, Oct. 27-29, to hear Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders, ethics specialists and legal experts address the event’s title issue, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.” Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC executive vice president, told Baptist Press that there was a “surge in interest” in this year’s conference and the ERLC was “pleasantly surprised by the great turnout.”

/// Mohler: Church needs to be active, humble

Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, summarized how the “post-marriage culture” began. He said it involved a three-point process: 1) What is celebrated is condemned. He referred to the process of divorce affecting the state of marriage. 2) What is condemned is celebrated. He pointed out the acceptance of same-sex marriage. 3) Those who refuse to celebrate are now condemned. Mohler noted the multiple issues where Christians have been under attack for not approving same-sex marriage in social settings.

Knowing that the evangelical church is under attack for its stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Mohler said it has to prepare itself for a new era of moral view.

“We know what the Bible says, but we want to know what do we do now?” said Mohler. “It’s going to take an awful lot of Christian thinking. It’s going to take an awful lot of prayer. It’s going to take a lot of agonizing conversations—the kind of conversations that take place in the middle of an emergency.”

/// Panels provide perspectives

Conference sessions featured five panel discussions, addressing “The State of Marriage in American Culture,” “Millennials and Marriage,” “The State of Marriage in American Churches,” “Is it OK to Be Gay?” and “Preparing Next Generation Leaders for a Post-Marriage Culture.”

Attendees heard panel members address issues that included current events, religious liberty, Christians and churches making public decisions about homosexuality, how culture views marriage, how the church should relate to the LGBT community and the future of marriage.

“Throughout the conference, I heard a theme of the importance of being in, or reclaiming, biblical community to reach and engage the LGBT community,” said Keith Burkhart, family and men’s ministry specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

Different panels emphasized that the church needs to be involved with young adults, by modeling as well as involving them with ministry. One panel stressed that young adults, or Millennials, are challenged with the culture neglecting marriage or having a low perspective of marriage.

“How do we help them believe in marriage? By example,” said Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University. “If we don’t model and talk about marriage, we have harmed the family long before the same-sex revolution.”

Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, elaborated on the church’s involvement with single adults today.

“If the culture reveals that single is the norm, not the exception, what will it take to bring them into the (church)? Ministry can’t be ministering to singles but alongside singles. There needs to be a better integration,” Wax said.

/// ‘An Unlikely Convert’

Rosaria Butterfield, author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert participated in a discussion with Moore, who asked Butterfield to share her story of leaving a lesbian lifestyle and turning to Christ.

Butterfield emphasized relationships, and how it took a pastor she described as an “ordinary Christian” who recognized the “big sin” in her life was not homosexuality, but unbelief.

“She referred to her pastor, Ken Smith, (as) her neighbor,” said Burkhart. “His home became a place of learning, having that kind of community where we build those relationships.”

/// From prisoner to professor

Christopher Yuan, who co-wrote Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God with his mother, shared how he was arrested for drug dealing, served prison time and was diagnosed with HIV. Yet, his mother remained faithful in praying for him. The book they co-wrote shares their memoirs of their experiences through this dark time.

By sharing his story, Yuan hopes to encourage parents who have gay children.

“Parents (of gay children) often feel alone and wracked with guilt. If this is you, I want to tell you it is not your fault,” he said. “Perfect parenting does not guarantee perfect children. The job of Christian parents is not to produce godly children, but to be godly parents. Without my parents living out the Gospel, I wouldn’t be where I am. Let us come alongside our parents—and their gay children—who often feel isolated.”

Yuan is now a professor of biblical studies at Moody Bible Institute. He ended his speaking time praying for parents and loved ones with LGBT family members.

/// Moore on Ministering

Moore’s final address at the conference involved the example of Jesus and the Woman at the Well in John 4, pointing out how Christ knew of the women’s infidelity, yet still ministered to her.

“If we are going to move forward, we have to do what Jesus does, which is to call to repentance by gently pointing out the issue,” Moore said. “(He said,)‘Woman go and get your husband,’ but we cannot end there. Notice what Jesus adds. ‘Go and get your husband and come here.’

“Jesus is not disgusted by this woman. Jesus is not repulsed by this woman. Jesus does not respond to this woman with a commendation. And Jesus does not respond to this woman with condemnation. If we are going to be the people Jesus has called us to be, we cannot repeat the same old mistakes that we have been making over the years. We have to be reminded that we are not ministers of condemnation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation.”

“The conference made clear the church needs to reset a vision for healthy biblical marriage,” Burkhart said. “The church believes in marriage; we just haven’t created a culture in which we champion, train and equip students, teenagers, singles and couples to know what healthy marriage looks like. We need to have a Gospel-centered view of marriage, or high view of marriage, like we traditionally have had of God’s Word.

“One of the best things the church can do in times like this is to send couples into culture as missionaries to a broken world that is broken and in confusion about one of God’s greatest institutions.”