No matter what's happening politically with same-sex marriage, he says, Baptist beliefs about homosexuality haven't changed. “There’s space in Southern Baptist churches for people who are same-sex attracted, but who are chaste, and who are repentant. There is not space in Southern Baptist churches for someone who is unrepentantly engaged in homosexual conduct.”
Moore isn't saying anything new; evangelical Christians have long used this language to describe their views on marriage and sexuality. It's his job to articulate the public-policy views of the Southern Baptist Convention, and part of that is taking stock of where congregations stand. Theologically, Southern Baptists are not "softening" their views, he says—in fact, many Christians are immersing themselves in what he describes as a sexual "counterculture."
“Right now, there is much cultural confusion about morality and about marriage—whether marriage is even a good thing, much less the definition of what it is," he says. “One of the most counter-cultural things we can say is that we believe in sin."
He qualified this in an interesting way: Testifying to belief, even fundamental views about sexuality and marriage, can be civil. "Because we are a missionary people, we believe in calling sin what it is, but we don’t believe in making fun of people—you don’t ridicule people into the kingdom," he says.
It's tempting to look for cracks in the evangelical worldview in this acknowledgment. It's even more tempting to look for signs of a total "culture war" victory, especially considering the recent sweep of same-sex marriage legalizations. But there are a few problems with trying to detect these kinds of trends among Christian denominations, and particularly Baptists. For one thing, the Southern Baptist Convention is only a loose network of members and congregations. Although roughly 50,000 churches are affiliated, and some send delegates to the organization's conventions and help with the selection of its leaders, the Baptist community is fairly diffuse. One pastor in Florida may be taking a stand against "Adam and Steve" jokes, but it's hard to tell what that means for any other church—or the overall denomination.
And the bigger issue is the concept of a "culture war" itself. It provides vivid imagery: Warriors on behalf of two world views, fundamentally opposed, shouting at each other across a giant gulf of values and judgement. Historically, Southern Baptists have been pegged as the prototypical culture warriors, and preachers like Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson were a big part of the rise of the Christian right and the Moral Majority in 1980s American politics. But as mores on sexuality have loosened, and especially as the landscape of same-sex marriage has changed, that "majority" is changing, too. It's easy to revert to the framework of a culture war and claim that evangelicals are losing, especially because Baptist communities are struggling to maintain their membership rates.