By Tom Strode
BALTIMORE (BP) — Questions from churches about the transgender issue and the tide of culture pointed to the need for Southern Baptists to address the topic during their annual meeting, the convention’s lead ethicist said.
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution on transgender identity Tuesday (June 10), marking the first time the SBC has addressed the issue in a stand-alone measure. After what appeared to be a unanimous vote on the convention floor, Russell D. Moore explained to reporters some reasons for the resolution.
On a recent day, he received three phone calls from pastors or church leaders who were dealing with the issue, said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Meanwhile, the transgender movement has made progress in the wider culture.
“The cultural mindset is that gender is something that is constructed by the individual,” Moore said at a news conference after the vote. “So it’s disconnected from how the person is created.
“And that’s one of the reasons why I think this resolution … was so wise, because it spoke to what the Bible teaches about what gender means in the first place, about how God’s design is good,” Moore said, “and then talked about the fact that we’re living in a world that is fallen, in which there is a great deal of confusion in what it means to address that.”
Moore told reporters, “Right now we’re living in a situation where Time magazine just two weeks ago talked about the transgender issue as the new civil rights movement, the new frontier of the civil rights movement…. e have to be prepared to give a witness and to give an answer from the Scripture on that.”
David Dykes, chairman of the Resolutions Committee and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, pointed reporters to a clause in the resolution that noted a 2011 survey showed about 700,000 Americans consider their gender to be different than their biological sex.
“To this point we had not spoken on this issue, so there was a need for clarity” on the SBC’s position, Dykes said.
Time’s cover story reflected advances made by advocates for transgender recognition and normalization, such as:
— A review board of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruled May 30 that people receiving Medicare may no longer be automatically rejected for coverage of sex reassignment surgery.
— 15 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that provide explicit protections for transgender people.
— California enacted a law in August making it the first state to enable students to use the restrooms and play on the athletic teams of the gender they identify with, regardless of their biological sex. Public schools in New York City and other localities have issued guidelines that permit students to participate in sports and physical education in accordance with their gender identity, not their biology.
The SBC resolution adopted June 10 affirmed “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”
It expressed “love and compassion” to people who deal with conflict between their biology and their gender identity. The statement invited all transgender people to put their faith in Jesus and welcomed them “to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership.” It also recognized transgender people as image-bearers of God and denounced abuse and bullying toward them.
In addition, the resolution opposed attempts to change a person’s “bodily identity” through such treatments as gender reassignment surgery.
Moore said the resolution “spoke with conviction about the issue — very clear biblically about God’s design for gender, for sexuality — but also didn’t just speak about transgender persons. It spoke to transgender persons with the message of the redeeming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I think the committee has spoken with a great deal of wisdom and a great deal of pastoral sensitivity to this issue,” Moore said. “I think it is a great sign of the Southern Baptist Convention taking seriously what it means to minister to a changing culture by addressing this issue at all.”
The original resolution was submitted jointly by Denny Burk, associate professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., and Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies.
Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, described the resolution as “thorough, straightforward and redemptive. It stresses God’s design and intent as well as hope and compassion.”
“It took courage to tackle an issue which will almost certainly be misrepresented and misunderstood even though it is factually accurate and ultimately more compassionate than those who would oppose it,” Stith said in a statement to Baptist Press. “It is always a more loving way to point to God’s plan for His creation. The author of confusion has from the beginning sought to cast doubt on God’s intentions, and the massive sexual disorientation rampant in our world today demonstrates that this tactic is still effective.
Stith noted that the key challenge related to the resolution “will be getting churches to really think through it and understand how to implement it in that same spirit of compassion and steadfastness. Will our churches be equally courageous in preparing our people for this brave new world?
“We cannot continue to ignore these issues or issue occasional comments in sermons and think that this will prepare Christians for these challenges,” Stith said. “I pray that our churches will study this resolution carefully and seek wise counsel in helping to prepare our members to adequately defend these truths in the marketplace of ideas.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. BP editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.