BALTIMORE (AP) — The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention said Wednesday that the denomination won't relax its position on same-sex marriage and transgender identity, even as courts across the country strike down gay marriage bans and the group tries to bolster membership.
Also on Wednesday, the president of a seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, offered a tearful apology for his controversial decision to admit a Muslim student.
Southern Baptist Convention President-elect Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, told The Associated Press that although America's attitude toward gay and transgender individuals is rapidly changing, the convention does not intend to alter its position that gender identity cannot be different from biological sex and that homosexuality is immoral.
"We stand strong on what the Scripture says about marriage between a man and a woman. At the same time we do know that we have this issue facing our culture," Floyd said. "But due to the situation today, we must hold the word of God in one hand and the love of God in the other, and have compassion and love to bring people into the fellowship."
On Tuesday, the convention approved a resolution opposing efforts by governments to "validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy" at its annual convention. The resolution and meeting come as the group attempts reverse declining membership and baptisms.
Floyd said the SBC's stance reflects the denomination's adherence to the Bible and will not be compromised. Earlier this month, a Southern California SBC church decided to stop condemning homosexuality as sinful and instead embraced a "third way." Floyd said Wednesday that in relaxing its views on gay members, the church and its pastor had "chosen to disassociate itself with the Southern Baptist Convention" and that the denomination "does not support or condone" such action.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the nation, with 15.7 million members, according to a recent report by the denomination's publishing arm, Lifeway Christian Resources.
Later on Wednesday, just before the convention wrapped up, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson apologized for admitting a Muslim student to the seminary's Ph.D. program. That decision has inspired harsh criticism and debate at this year's meeting.
"I owe the convention an apology," Patterson said, "particularly to those of you to whom I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow."
Patterson told members that the student, a Palestinian man who worked on an archaeological dig the school runs in Israel, is a "cultural Muslim" who is "very open to the gospel of Jesus Christ." The seminary's board of trustees plans to meet in the fall to discuss the decision.
He then quoted a passage from the Bible in which God tells Ezekiel that if he does not warn a sinful person from his wicked ways to save his life, the man's blood will be on Ezekiel's hands.
Although Patterson acknowledged violating the school's policy, as well as the SBC charter, he said he "did the best I knew how."
"When I stand before God I will say God, I violated a policy," Patterson told the convention with tears in his eyes, "but I didn't want to stand before you with blood on my hands."