It's been interesting this week to follow, off and on, the goings-on in Nashville at a three-day conference entitled "The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage" sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention's Eithics and Religious Liberty Commission. More than a thousand delegates attended. Southern Baptists, some 16 million of them, form the largest protestant sect in the United States.
It was especially interesting to hear two of the men (vocal women are frowned upon by Southern Baptists) generally considered the denomination's principal spokesmen make mildly conciliatory noises concerning the topic of the conference, those gay folks stained doubly by sin. (In the Baptist universe, LGBT people are stained by original sin, then that basic level of wickedness is compounded by sexual orientation.)
The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the assembly for example that he repented of his lifelong denial that sexual orientation was innate --- original equipment; and of his insistence that it was a "choice" that could be changed by finding Jesus, prayer and/or therapy.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, encouraged Southern Baptists to refrain from bullying, stop throwing their gay children into the streets, refrain from shunning gay folks and to actually minister to homeless LGBT young people and others. He denounced what sometimes is called "ex-gay therapy" as "severely counterproductive."
This all was described by some of the religious media as "gracious." Grace, like many other attributes, is relative among Christians.
It's becoming clear that Southern Baptists and perhaps other protestant sects are about ready to move gradually toward the position generally favored these days by the Roman Catholic, Mormon and some other Christian hierarchies --- that sexual orientations other than heterosexual were devised by god merely to torture some of his children but are not sufficient cause cast us out of the kingdom entirely. Unless we touch each other, form relationships and, most dreadful of all, get married.
I'm grateful for this modest first step toward the moral high ground.
High ground is not a place where the Christian establishment ever goes willingly. It took the Holocaust to suggest that centuries of antisemitism were counterproductive, for example. And Southern Baptists waited until 1995 to apologize to black people for 150 years of racism, race-baiting, lynchings and other inconveniences.
So even baby steps should be applauded.