By Bob Perkins
ATLANTA – A Conference on Sexuality and Covenant, co-sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, has been scheduled for April 19-21, 2012, at First Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.
Organized by CBF’s Missional Congregations Initiative and Mercer’s Center for Theology and Public Life, the conference seeks to broaden the conversation begun during last year’s “A Family Conversation about Same-Sex Orientation” at the CBF General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C. The three-day conference is being designed to offer context for a comprehensive reflection on Christian sexual ethics in a changing cultural environment. The prospectus for the event is available online at http://www.thefellowship.info/Documents/PROSPECTUS%20Baptist%20Sexuality%20Conference.pdf.
“Many people and congregations lack good models and useful tools to respectfully engage this conversation,” said Rick Bennett, director of missional congregations for the Fellowship. “We will attempt to provide both. I think it’s important for us to gather in worship, pray the questions, communicate with one another, listen deeply to everyone and be ever mindful that none of us has all the truth.”
As resource providers for local congregations, the conference will center on providing a model for conversation that churches can use as a resource. The worshipful attitude and Scriptural approach is in keeping with the Fellowship’s core values and the goals of Mercer’s Center for Theology and Public Life.
“Any Christian community feels pressure to deal with these questions, and I think it will be a good partnership with CBF,” said Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life.
“We will have the opportunity of listening to voices of all generations, of anyone who has life experience, and sharing their sorrows and joys. People in their 20s will have the opportunity to learn something from people in their 60s, and people in their 50s will hopefully learn something from people in their 30s,” Dr. Gushee said.
Ideas to be explored during the conference include the following:
• Cultural trends demeaning sex as a bodily function rather than a gift from God.
• The erosion of marriage as an institution.
• Changing cultural attitudes about the morality of premarital sex.
• A consistently high divorce rate resulting in millions of sexually experienced single adults (many of them church members) who still long for the intimacy and sexual expression that they have already experienced earlier in their adult lives.
• The growing percentage of adult Americans that cohabit for extended periods of time without plans of marrying.
• Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals who seek religiously – and culturally – sanctioned forms of sexual expression, and the question of whether there can be any morally legitimate same sex expression within God’s will divides Christian congregations, denominations and the Church as a whole.
• Generational differences in sexual attitudes. For example, polls indicate that people under 30 are far more accepting of gay and lesbian church members, and cohabitating unmarried singles.
“We are on the cutting edge of the issues this generation is facing,” said Dr. Gushee, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses and has observed the generational attitudes about sex firsthand. “The questions young adults are raising about what has been the traditional Christian sexual ethic are, in a sense, unavoidable. And it’s our responsibility to create a space for conversation about these issues.”
Gushee said it should be clear to potential attendees that the conversation will be focused on “how we should live as followers of Christ” and not on declaring a position on any issue.
“We are not proposing to create a document or getting involved in public policy or the political arguments,” Gushee said. “We are not looking for grandstanding diatribes. We believe that people are most likely to have legitimate, honest conversations in small groups. So after plenary testimonies and presentations, we will divide attendees into groups to discuss what they’ve heard. We want to foster a deliberate, thoughtful conversation.”
The conference will cost $50 and $25 for students from CBF-partner theology schools. Online registration will be open in June at www.thefellowship.info/conference. Hotel information will be available in July.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.
The Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University promotes public dialogue, research, and constructive solutions related to important issues to which theology and ethical reflection can make a significant contribution.