CRESTWOOD – Hundreds of evangelical Christians from across Kentucky will arrive at Crestwood Baptist Church later today for a conference focusing on the legal and moral ramifications of recent court rulings on same-sex marriage.
More than 400 people have already registered for the 7 p.m. event and others will register at the door to hear from top Christian leaders, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler.
Those unable to attend the free event can watch live via the Internet at http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1379570/marriage.
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said church leaders need to be aware of measures they can take that may help them avoid being brought before a judge for refusing to perform or host gay and lesbian ceremonies, a scenario that he said has become “highly probable.”
“Just as a homosexual couple recently demanded a marriage license in Louisville and staged a sit-in when denied, a local church or church clergy may soon be the victim of a similar stunt and find themselves dragged into the courts,” Chitwood said. “We love people regardless of their involvement in any lifestyle the Bible characterizes as sinful but to ask the church to bless that lifestyle is beyond the pale.”
Some churches are updating their bylaws to reflect their view that the Bible restricts marriage only to one man and one woman. Others that currently rent out their facilities to the general public are rethinking that policy, fearing they could be legally liable for refusing to extend that service to gay couples.
Already there have been lawsuits in the wedding industry against businesses that refuse to serve gay couples, and many believe it’s only a matter of time until churches are targeted for refusing gay and lesbian marriages.
Chitwood said it’s important for churches to get their beliefs and policies in writing in advance of a legal challenge.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage.
The issue flared last year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. Justices ruled that law deprived gay couples of due process.
Since then, gay rights activists have won eight lower court cases across the country, and expectations are high that the nation’s highest court will eventually rule that gays can marry in every state.
Already, a federal judge in Kentucky signed an order directing officials in the state to immediately recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. That order was handed down in February.
“From the Supreme Court to the Bluegrass, recent court rulings are not only dismantling civilization’s only definition of marriage, these rulings also stand to threaten religious liberty in the U.S. and the rights of churches to carry out their most sacred tasks in keeping with their beliefs,” Chitwood said. “We are only one court ruling or one presidential executive order away from removing the tax exempt status of churches that refuse to conduct gay marriage or ordering churches and ministers, like florists and photographers, to participate in gay weddings.”
Chitwood has brought together a heavyweight lineup for the conference. Besides Mohler, Chitwood invited Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Bill Langley, pastor of Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown; Curtis Woods, KBC’s associate executive director for convention relations, and Augie Boto, attorney for the Southern Baptist Convention.
“This is such a serious issue facing our churches that I felt it important to bring in people who have the most to offer in terms of helping our churches navigate this complex issue,” Chitwood said. “Al Mohler leads one of the largest evangelical seminaries in the world and is widely recognized as one of the most influential voices in our culture. Bill Langley leads one of the oldest and largest Baptist churches in Kentucky. Andrew Walker and Augie Boto occupy very strategic roles serving the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Curtis Woods is among the brightest African Americans in the SBC. These individuals have tracked this issue over the years, understand the local church, and spend their lives dealing with the moral and cultural issues that impact the church.”