My friend excitedly shared how much he’d enjoyed Dr. Dobson’s September 1999 letter. “Though I support Focus on the Family’s work,” I responded, “I strongly disagreed with one point Dr. Dobson raised in that letter. I am not encouraged by increased support shown in evangelical circles for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Statement on the Family.” My friend stared. He could not understand how any Christian could object.
Dobson states that over 100 Christian leaders have signed their support for the SBC resolution, including Denver-based Promise Keepers, Colorado Springs’ Navigators and Focus on the Family, and many other organizations. Dr. Dobson adds that Family Life Ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ have also adopted an expanded version of the SBC statement.
How can this be bad news? Isn’t the unity among Christians praiseworthy? Why should I be concerned? I thought about how to answer my friend, and here’s what I concluded:
1) The SBC statement presents a hierarchical view of marriage as the only acceptable model for Christians. However, many Christians around the world support an egalitarian model for marriage. The “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality” statement drafted by CBE some years ago states that husbands and wives are “bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility.” Space does not permit me to offer the reasons why we support an egalitarian rather than a hierarchical model for marriage. The Colorado chapters of CBE (as well as the headquarters CBE office) have a number of fine books and tapes available that address this subject at length, comparing and contrasting the two models of marriage and their respective uses of Scripture. I particularly recommend the relevant tapes by Denver CBE members Jim and Ginny Beck and Doug and Becca Groothuis.
2) The SBC statement supports an inflated view of the family in the Christian life. Most recorded statements we have of Jesus’ teaching, de-emphasizes human family ties in comparison to the importance of serving the Kingdom of God (see Matt. 10:34–39, 19:29; Mark 10:29–31; Luke 2:48–50, 9:61–62; 12:51–53). When this is not the case, Jesus uses family ties to teach lessons about faith (e.g. Matt. 15:3–6; Mark 7:9–13). While there are a few instances where Jesus directly taught about family relationships (e.g. Mt. 18:19–21), concern about the family is not central to the Gospels. And, in the Epistles, family and household codes are provided almost incidentally, and always in the context of the family of faith. Blood and marriage ties are mentioned primarily with the larger discussion of relationships between believers (Eph. 5:17–6:9; Col. 3:1–4:1; 1 Tim. 5:1–6:2; Heb. 13:17–7; 1 John 4:10-20), or believers and non- believers (1 Cor. 7; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet. 2:11–3:16). Consider how many epistles do not discuss family ties or home life: Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, James, 1 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Jude. The New Testament places far greater importance on the community of believers as being central to the faith than it does on the family.
Given this emphasis in the Bible, it is troubling that singles who choose to remain celibate are not mentioned in the SBC statement. The Scriptures mention those who forego marriage and family to better serve the church (Matt. 19:12, 1 Cor. 7:7, 8), and in fact we are encouraged to emulate them as God gives us grace. But this calling is nowhere found in the SBC statement.
Neither are other singles, the divorced, nor the widowed given any consideration. No acknowledgement is made of their existence or of their inclusion in the life of the institution of the church (contrary to the example given to us in 1 Tim. 5 and other Scriptures). But God himself, “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,” has promised he “will place the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5, 6). In Christ all of us are now members of the family of faith, brothers and sisters to one another (2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 3:26–29).
3) The SBC statement implies God is male. I am indebted to the Rev. Lamar Wadsworth, a CBE member in Maryland, for the following observations, “I wish more had been said about the most insidious aspect of this amendment—the underlying assumption that God is male. Few Southern Baptists would go as far as independent Baptist patriarch John R. Rice who taught that only males bear the image of God—but I think most of the SBC leadership today, if pressed on the issue, would say that males bear the image of God to a greater degree than females do... Buried down in the committee’s rationale for presenting this amendment is the statement that men and women each bear the image of God, but in different ways. To me that is even more scary than the one-sided understanding of submission. The erroneous understanding of submission could not survive apart from the implicit assumption that men by virtue of their gender are more like God than women are.”
4) Endorsement of the SBC statement by an increasing number of Christian organizations means dissenters are excluded as this becomes a confessional issue—where fellowship is not extended to those Christians who disagree, no matter how carefully they have sought God on this issue. After praying for more endorsers, Dobson states: “Now is the time for Christian people to identify themselves unreservedly with the truths of the Bible, whether popular or not.” Thus, those choosing not to adopt and endorse the SBC Statement on the Family by implication either disavow the Bible’s truths, or affirm some of its truths and not others, or buckle in response to popular opinion. But I will not accept these implied insults. I did not become an egalitarian to gain popularity. Contrary to what Dobson and others may suggest, I hold the Scriptures in high regard in their entirety. One reason I and many others have been attracted to CBE, after all, is the “B” in its name—it emphasizes the Biblical basis for our egalitarian beliefs. The CBE Statement of Faith says: “We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.”
I do not know whether these four reasons are enough to convince my friend. Still, as a result of our discussion we have begun dialogue on these issues, and he is listening to egalitarian material. In this regard, I am encouraged— because the SBC Statement on the Family, and the controversy around this statement, have provided many opportunities for new conversations. Take advantage of these opportunities—and thank God for them!
Reprinted from the October 1999 issue of The Equalizer, a newsletter published by the Colorado Chapters of Christians for Biblical Equality.