Columbus, Ohio—A coalition of all living former Southern Baptist Convention presidents since 1980 issued a joint statement declaring they will stand on the biblical truths concerning marriage despite anticipated legal and civil changes to the definition. Pastor Jack Graham called it “the most critical issue of our times—religious freedom and the very definition of marriage itself.”
Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd led the press conference and was joined on the platform by former SBC presidents Jimmy Draper, Bailey Smith, Paige Patterson, James Merritt, Jack Graham, Frank Page, Bryant Wright and Fred Luter.
Reading from the statement, Graham said, “The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. We will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court.”
The statement, signed by 16 former presidents, was not issued on behalf of the SBC but issued to the SBC, evangelicals and the nation, Graham said.
The statement reiterates the long-established SBC stand on homosexuality and same-sex marriage but was issued as a proactive response to the impending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage expected by the end of the month. The 2015 National Day of Prayer served as the impetus for the statement. Floyd said he felt the weight of the nation’s burdens at that event and asked Graham, coordinator of the prayer event, to spearhead the drafting of the statement.
Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said the document was written from the heart of pastors and with a spirit of brokenness and boldness. He said, “No one needs to wonder where we stand as Christians in these days.”
James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Ga., said the issue at hand is not who can get married but what marriage is. As the culture lunges toward a historically unprecedented alteration of the definition, pastors, religious institutions, ministries, and individual Christians will face spiritual and legal challenges for standing on the biblical truth about marriage.
And the pastors repeatedly emphasized Christians must be prepared.
“This is coming and it’s coming now. And the trajectory of this issue is at breakneck speed,” Graham told Baptist Press.
If the Supreme Court declares marriage a constitutional right and affords gays and lesbians protected class status—as the Civil Rights Act afforded the same status to blacks—refusing to marry same-sex couples or affirm homosexuality in the workplace could come with fines, taxes, and, as demonstrated in one case in Idaho, threats of incarceration.
Frank Page, president of the SBC executive committee, said, “Many churches live on a razor-thin edge of finance and it well could be catastrophic to many churches. Even more than the tax-exempt status are the fines levied against churches” for failure to comply with local, state, or national regulations.
“Soon and very soon, it’s coming. The pastors will be held accountable for what they say in their pulpits on this issue,” Graham said, citing the subpoenaing of five Houston pastors in a lawsuit against the city and mayor.
The pastors offered advice on how pastors and leaders of religious institutions can insulate themselves, to a degree, against the legal tide flowing against them.
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said these institutions must have well-documented policies clearly defining marriage and the policies grounded in that definition.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said, “We are urging every college, university and seminary to be crystal clear in their bylaws and in their operational manuals about what is and is not acceptable. We never saw this day coming but we are urging all to be very, very clear.”
Patterson said his greatest concern is for the small churches who have not thought through their bylaws. One of the most important reasons for issuing this statement, he said, is, “you need to get ready for this. You need to be prepared for this.”
The document was signed by Bailey Smith, 1981-82; Morris Chapman, 1991-92; James Draper Jr., 1983-84; Charles Stanley, 1985-86; Jerry Vines, 1989-1990; Edwin Young, 1993-94; James Henry, 1995-96; Tom Elliff, 1997-98; Paige Patterson, 1999-2000; James Merritt, 2001-02; Jack Graham, 2004-04; Bobby Welch, 2005-06; Frank Page, 2007-08; Johnny Hunt, 2009-10; Bryant Wright, 2011-12; Fred Luter, 2013-14; and Ronnie Floyd, 2015-16. (BP)