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On Opposition to the [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant

Thomas Whitley

The Associated Baptist Press has run an opinion piece by Luke Smith (pastor of Linden Heights Baptist Church in Staunton, VA) today in which he tells why he thinks the [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant is misguided. Smith is concerned that the conference is "merely expanding licit sexual intercourse beyond marriage" and he is further concerned that "this is a perversion of the scriptural witness to sexual intimacy." As a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Smith has every right to voice his concerns about this conference. My concern, though, is the grounds upon which his concerns rest.

Smith starts out by asserting that dialogue is bad and that those who support dialogue don't fully understand the situation.

Those advocating dialogue lack an appreciation for the potential costs associated with the loss of intimacy that is created by illicit sexual behavior.

It is quite disappointing that these words were penned (or, really, typed) by a CBF pastor.  Knowing many of those planning to be involved in the conference I am confident that they are away of the "potential costs associated with the loss of intimacy that is created by illicit sexual behavior." What seems to be at the base of Smith's problem with the conference, though, is his entrenched ideas of what constitutes licit sexual behavior. Further, while I imagine Smith has read the conference prospectus, his words indicate that he has not. The conference is by no means designed to push one perspective (Smith seems to think this is the "progressive" viewpoint), but rather to talk about numerous issues (ranging from societal trends, trends among Christians, changing understandings, the role of family, etc.) that we would more often than not rather ignore.

Smith continues his misrepresentation of the conference:

We would not consider pederasty a position that we ought to leave up to individual conscience. We would not consider adultery something possible to affirm even if the married couple agreed to an “open marriage.” We would not consider the patronage of prostitutes an acceptable practice even for individuals who have otherwise been unable to enter the covenant of marriage.

I use these examples because we recognize each of these kinds of behaviors as intrinsically exploitative.

First, Smith is projecting his specific 21st century worldview onto other times and place and onto other people that may or may not be shared. Further, how exactly is an "open marriage" exploitative if both members have fully agreed to it? To be sure, it does not always end well, but does that make it "exploitative"? Why has Smith chosen to include pederasty in his list? To what is he trying to subconsciously compare pederasty? And, further, pederasty seems "exploitative" from the perspective of many modern observers, but that certainly was not how it has always been viewed. Again, projecting one world view onto another and claiming that my ideals should also have been their ideals is naive at best and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how to read, view, and understand cultures and civilizations different than ours, at worst.

Finally, Smith resorts to saying that those voicing support for this conference are essentially rogue individuals that "have little or no influence in their local congregations." I guess he has missed that pastors, lay leaders, and denominational-level employees are all involved in this conference. I would not classify these individuals simply as people with an axe to grind that have been shunned by their local congregation and so are taking their fight elsewhere. Moreover, I don't understand why Smith has a problem with individuals expressing their opinions and beliefs on certain topics. The CBF has consistently been a place for individuals to come that may or may not be represented by a particular church in their geographic area or who may feel more closely aligned with the CBF than with some other organization(s) with which their church is aligned. The CBF made a conscious decision to move away from the top-down, hierarchical denominational model that ruled that day 50 years ago and that is becoming more oppressive among Southern Baptist churches today. It seems that Smith would prefer that model, as opposed to the cooperative model that the CBF is trying to implement (though, to be sure, not always succeeding).

So, because of this, Smith has to fall back on the tired slanderous technique that the views with which he disagrees aren't really supported by that many people or churches.

I suspect strongly that if the views expressed by the progressives were vetted in the local congregations and the discussion to be apportioned according to the decisions of the local churches there would be a significantly different weighting of this discussion.

Smith can suspect that everyone really agrees with him all day long, but that doesn't make it true. It seems to me that this is precisely part of the reason why a conference of this nature is so necessary. Many churches and CBF leaders have simply presumed that everyone views issues of sexuality one way (i.e. their "right" way) and have marginalized the (many) voices of dissent (see CBF's organizational policy statement on homosexuality for just one example of this marginalization).

I could be reading Smith completely wrong, but it seems that Smith has a very specifically defined view of what constitutes "right" sexual behavior and any attempt to discuss that is automatically a red flag, to him, that the CBF is heading in the wrong direction. His church's website has this to say to visitors:

Feel free to have a look around, make your self at home, and know that you are always welcome here at Linden Heights Baptist Church, The Church With Open Arms

Somehow after reading Smith's opinion piece I find that very hard to believe.