Officials with the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday issued a statement saying they will reject any ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that affirms same-sex marriage.
“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,” said the joint statement by SBC President Rev. Ronnie Floyd as well as past presidents.
It added, “We will not recognize same-sex ‘marriages,’ our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.”
Southern Baptists are South Carolina’s largest denomination with more than 2,000 churches and 700,000 members in 2013, according to the national convention.
The statement was issued during the SBC’s national conference in Columbus, Ohio, at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage by the month’s end. Court watchers expect the court might rule in favor of legalizing same-sex unions across the nation.
The nine SBC pastors at the morning news conference made clear that the scripture’s teaching on marriage is not negotiable, and that, if necessary, they will be willing to break the law in order to follow their beliefs.
“It could come to that,” said Rev. Bryant Wright, a past SBC president and a pastor in Georgia. “In that case, we would have to obey God’s law versus man’s law.”
The Baptists acknowledged that the court seems likely to legalize same-sex marriage when it rules in the next two weeks, but leaders urged the faithful to stand fast and, indeed, lead the nation in opposition.
“We are in spiritual warfare,” Floyd said Tuesday night. “This is not a time for Southern Baptists to stand back.”
The church leader’s address comes just a week after Southern Baptists announced that membership declined in 2014 for the eighth year in a row. Baptisms also were down to the lowest number since 1947.
Floyd made it clear he thinks the 15.5-million-strong Nashville-based denomination is embattled, as are Christians everywhere. And he warned that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage could be a blow to religious liberties.
Floyd said the high court’s opinion, expected within two weeks, could mark the most significant religion-related court ruling since the 1973 abortion decision of Roe v. Wade. It could alter the nation’s structure of marriage and compromise religious liberty, he said. “It would add fuel, more fuel, to the already sweeping wildfire of sexual revolution and move it beyond all control,” he said.
Floyd said he has compassion for people whom he described as struggling with same-sex attraction, but he said it would be wrong to remain silent on the issue.
Many of their congregants, sensing the shifting cultural climate on gay marriage, feel defensive and afraid to publicly state their views, wary of being cast as bigots or hate-mongers.
Wright, the past president, acknowledged the difficulty of communicating that church members are not hateful or discriminatory against gays and lesbians, though Baptists do believe they are sinners. He noted that he preaches to teens who have sex outside of marriage, people who divorce and those who commit adultery. He loves them and hopes they find their way, he said.
Winston Taylor, a planner with Gospel Fellowship Church in northwest Atlanta, said he is fine with gay and lesbian spouses receiving legal benefits.
“Where I disagree is when they want to bring it into the church,” he said. “The church is a God thing, and God has said homosexuality and lesbianism is a sin.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm last week released a legal guide for churches that seeks to protect them from discrimination lawsuits by providing templates for things such as membership policies, facility use polices and employment criteria. It also contains cautionary tales, such as that of a Washington florist who was sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
Delegates passed a resolution Tuesday that calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to “uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman.”
The resolution also declares that “the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.