Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are seeking to mobilize the denomination in a war against what they call “the homosexual agenda.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, announced Monday that his agency and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary would co-sponsor a forum on “Marriage: What It Is and What It Is Not” Nov. 12 at the seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

A “Kansas City Declaration on Marriage” will be released after the forum, which features speakers including Land, Randy Singer of the North American Mission Board, ethics professors from two SBC seminaries and others.

Land told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the convention is engaged in a “cultural war and a spiritual war” over gay marriage.

“The homosexual activists are out to normalize and affirm their lifestyle and to marginalize those of us who believe it’s unnatural and unholy,” Land told the AP. “When we get attacked, we fight back. They want a war for the high ground of this culture, they got it, and we intend to win it.”

Opposition to homosexuality is nothing new for Southern Baptists, who have adopted 11 resolutions on the topic in the last 23 years, including a boycott of Disney for extending spousal employee benefits to same-sex couples.

But recent developments–including this summer’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that sodomy laws are unconstitutional and moves in some states toward recognition of gay civil unions–have made the stakes even higher for many conservative Christians.

A number of groups are calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as being limited to the union of a man and woman. Some view the issue as a bonanza for galvanizing conservative voters in the next election.

“It’s becoming a bigger issue by the day,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the Washington Post. “It’s going to have a big impact on this election cycle. And we’re going to help it become a front-burner issue at the state and national level, if it doesn’t become one on its own.”

President Bush has said he opposes extending marriage rights to homosexuals, but the White House hasn’t determined if a constitutional amendment is needed.

SBC leaders this week endorsed a Web site that is seeking to get 50,000 pastors to sign a petition opposing civil recognition of unions between members of the same sex.

Jimmy Draper, head of the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources, encouraged employees of the publishing house to buy copies of a new book, The Homosexual Agenda, offering discounted copies for $5—the regular price is $14.99—after weekly chapel services on Oct. 10 and Oct. 17.

“Buy several and give copies to your pastor, Christian teachers in your children’s schools; anyone who professes Christianity but has acquiesced because they think, ‘there’s nothing we can do about it,'” Draper wrote in a memo to employees Oct. 9.

The book, by authors Alan Sears and Craig Osten, claims homosexual activists have used the entertainment industry, education system and government to transform America from a nation that once frowned on homosexuality to one that is coming to embrace it, according to a story featuring the book in Baptist Press.

“The homosexual activists have the ball on our 10-yard line, and it’s first and goal,” the story quotes from the book’s introduction. “We can either put up a brave defensive stand, or we can let them cross the goal line unhindered.”

“If believers choose to do nothing,” the authors contend, “there may be a day that people of faith will have to tell their children and grandchildren, ‘I’m sorry, I did nothing to protect your religious freedom and now it’s gone.'”

Such messages strike some as being at odds with a tone set at the most recent SBC annual meeting, when denominational leaders launched a new emphasis aimed at encountering gays in more constructive ways.

“What we’re trying to do is to build … a safe atmosphere where people can say, ‘This [homosexuality] is something I deal with,” Tim Wilkins, a member of a Southern Baptist task force on ministry to homosexuals, told reporters this summer. “Move the conversation now to where we can discuss it, because that is where healing comes about.”

“We need to help our churches understand the resources that are available and the grace that is available, [and to] not be afraid of homosexuals,” Draper said this June at the convention in Phoenix.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Southern Baptist leaders earlier this year seemed to be shifting toward “a less hateful tone” about homosexuality, but now have “taken a U-turn, heading back to the Fred Phelps approach toward homosexuals.”

Phelps, pastor of the independent Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., is best known for picketing the funeral of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 murder prompted a nationwide call for hate-crimes legislation.

Phelps recently made news when he sought to set up a monument in a public park in Casper, Wyo., stating that Shepard entered hell after his murder. Phelps said he picked the site because Casper is where Shepard learned it is “OK to be gay.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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