June 3, 2003
NASHVILLE (BP) – Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee are prepared for homosexual rights protesters who want to disrupt the SBC annual meeting for the fourth consecutive year.
|Soulforce protesters at the 2002 SBC meeting in St. Louis, MO|
A legal statement will be posted throughout the Phoenix Convention Center June 17-18, informing members of Soulforce, a pro-homosexual organization, that they have no right to interrupt a private meeting in a rented facility, said Jack Wilkerson, SBC convention manager.
Soulforce protesters have been arrested in 2000, 2001 and 2002, at Orlando, Fla., New Orleans and St. Louis, respectively.
Wilkerson said the SBC reserves the right to limit attendance to messengers and guests. Disruptive persons will face legal action, according to the SBC statement that will be posted. Security personnel will be on alert, Wilkerson said.
"We’re taking every avenue possible to see that the site and the facility are secure and that messengers have free access," Wilkerson said.
Soulforce has promised to hold vigils in front of the convention center. Those vigils ought to be ignored, Wilkerson said.
"You have two choices," he said. "You can either ignore them or engage them. We elect to ignore them because we feel they have no influence over the meeting whatsoever.
"They know our position. They continually come to change the minds of Southern Baptists and our position doesn’t change. God said what He meant and He meant what he said."
Article XV of 2000 The Baptist Faith and Message states that in the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.
In 2001, SBC President James Merritt wrote to the executive director of Soulforce, Mel White, about their irreconcilable beliefs and views.
"By the power of God," Merritt wrote White, "you can repent of your sinful lifestyle." The president also reminded White that the convention decided "a long time ago" that God has settled the issue of homosexuality in His Word.
Nothing of substance has changed since then, said Bill Merrell, vice president of convention relations.
"None of the presidents have thought it advisable to get in a correspondence game with Mel White," Merrell said. "Soulforce demands religious affirmation for a lifestyle that is essentially negative and sinful, and Southern Baptists refuse to accede to their demands."
A Southern Baptist task force on ministry to homosexuals has been developing strategies for assisting churches on how to conduct such a ministry, Merrell said.
"The task force demonstrates, and will demonstrate, contrary to the charge of homosexual activists such as Soulforce, that Southern Baptists do indeed love and care for homosexual persons," Merrell said. "Like all persons, they are made in the image of God. We believe it is our responsibility to effectively minister redemption to them."
For individual messengers who feel led to make a difference in Phoenix, one of the key issues is to speak without any hint of self-righteousness to the homosexual.
"Let’s turn down the heat on the issue and turn up the light," said Tim Wilkins, a former homosexual and founder of Cross Ministry, an organization that evangelizes homosexuals and helps them leave the lifestyle. "The issue is so politically charged, such a heated issue, that we need to actually back away a little bit in order to see clearly what the homosexual needs. The issue is discipleship."
A dozen Soulforce protesters were originally arrested on felony charges after they disrupted the 2002 SBC meeting by shouting from the convention floor during Merritt’s address. They were later released when the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Another 38 protesters were arrested outside the convention center after they tried to enter the building. That group, charged with two city ordinance violations, was released from jail after a few hours.