Southern Baptist Convention president Jack Graham says he is “certain” there will be a “strong statement of support” for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage at next week’s annual convention meeting in Indianapolis.
That could set the stage for confrontation with protesters from the gay-rights religious group Soulforce, who are planning a presence at the SBC annual meeting for the fifth straight year.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, Graham also said President George W. Bush has been invited to address the convention for the third consecutive year. Though it is not yet confirmed, Graham said he anticipates Bush will speak to the SBC live via satellite.
The published schedule for the June 15-16 gathering at the Indiana Convention Center allots 30 minutes for a “Special Guest Address” at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Soulforce, a national interfaith movement founded by former evangelical ghostwriter Mel White, sharply criticized President Bush in February for belatedly supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and woman. A press release said it would turn gays and lesbians into second-class citizens.
Southern Baptists adopted a resolution opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage last year in Phoenix. More recently, SBC leaders including Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Richard Land have been vocal in their support for a federal marriage amendment.
In his AP interview, Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said he opposes same-sex marriage and is for a federal amendment because judges in America “want to restructure society and redefine marriage.”
“It should not be decided in the courts,” Graham said. “It should be decided among the people. And the only way to do that is through the marriage amendment. So I’m certain there will be a strong statement of support at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.”
An “alert” this week on the Soulforce Web site said about 100 individuals have registered to participate in this year’s SBC protest. While previous demonstrations led to arrests, the alert said no acts of civil disobedience that would result in arrest are planned at this time.
Soulforce has sought dialogue with SBC leaders the last five years to address what the pro-gay group says are misguided beliefs about homosexuality. While the SBC has hardened its anti-gay rhetoric in recent years, the convention has adopted 13 resolutions against homosexuality dating back to 1976.
This year Soulforce targeted its efforts on a 10-member Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, formed in response to a convention motion in 2001, which promotes a strategy of inviting homosexuals into churches and then persuading them they can be changed through “reparative” therapy and “ex-gay” ministries.
Soulforce says Southern Baptist teachings ignore that homosexuality is an orientation rather than just an attraction or behavior. The problem is not that homosexuals need to change, they say, but in society’s refusal to accept them as they are.
Once gays, lesbians and trans-gendered persons come to terms with their sexual orientation, Soulforce believes, many lead happy and healthy lives. They also claim that careful study of the Scripture reveals it is possible to be both gay and a Christian.
That is a view sharply at odds with the SBC, which a decade ago amended its own constitution to forbid member churches that endorse, affirm or condone homosexuals.
President Bush addressed last year’s SBC annual meeting in Phoenix on videotape, making him the first sitting president to speak to the convention two years in a row. The year before, in 2002, Bush spoke to the convention in St. Louis live via satellite.
Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, also addressed the SBC during his presidency, in 1991.
Vice President Dan Quayle spoke the last time the SBC met in Indianapolis, in 1993.
Though both attended Southern Baptist churches, neither Democratic President Bill Clinton nor Vice President Al Gore was invited during their two terms in the White House. Clinton frequently was targeted for criticism in SBC resolutions, often for policies friendly toward gays.
In the AP interview, Graham said the upcoming presidential election between President Bush and Democrat Sen. John Kerry is “critical” in determining America’s future direction.
“For me and most Southern Baptists, it’s not an issue of Republican or Democrat,” he said. “It’s an issue of biblical values versus secular values and values that we share as opposed to values that we do not share.
“Whether it be the marriage amendment or whether it be abortion, we’re interested as Christians—as conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical Christians—we’re interested in the moral issue of abortion and marriage and the family. So we have heightened the awareness of our congregations of the issues at stake—and therefore have challenged our people…to vote their principles and not their political parties.”
Asked by AP reporter Bobby Ross Jr. if that meant voting for Bush, Graham responded: “That means that people are going to have to make up their mind based on their values. I think it’s a well-known fact that evangelicals, not just Southern Baptists, are very fond of this president, and we believe he best represents what we believe and where we want to see America go in the days ahead.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.