(BOSTON) Only a few dozen worshippers attend Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church on a typical Sunday, but the historic church was once so prominent that legendary preacher Dwight L. Moody called it “America’s pulpit.” This week, however, Tremont’s massive auditorium played host to influence again when 1300 Christian leaders gathered for the Q conference to discuss the most pressing issues facing their faith.
While the annual gathering had no official theme, attendees would be excused for assuming it was sexuality and gay marriage. Plenary speakers addressed topics ranging from the connection between spirituality and sexuality to Americans’ attitudes on religious freedom laws. A breakout session focused on transgender issues.
Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., even discussed his organization’s controversial decision to hire people in same-sex relationships and their abrupt reversal of that policy. Stearns claimed “World Vision never changed our view of biblical marriages” but was merely trying to find common ground on a divisive issue.
Even when the speakers weren’t discussing sexuality, they seemed to be discussing sexuality. Andrew Sullivan, a gay writer who formerly blogged at “The Dish,” spoke on how intellectual diversity makes us better. Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College who created controversy when he reaffirmed his university’s conservative stance on homosexuality, delivered a talk titled, “Do We Have to Agree?”
A pre-conference survey found that almost half of those in attendance were church leaders and 53 percent held graduate degrees. Thirty-one percent self-identified as “conservative,” 8 percent as “liberal,” and 59 percent as either “independent” or “moderate.”
While at least three other Christian conferences during the past year focused on same sex debates, this is the only one that featured both pro-gay speakers and those who oppose gay marriage and relationships.
“The aim of Q is to create space for learning and conversation and we think the best way to do that is exposure,” said Q’s founder Gabe Lyons. “These are conversations that most of America is having, and they are not going away.”
Tension rose during two discussions moderated by Lyons that pitted one side against the other. One explored whether the church’s historical teaching on the matter was reliable. For this, California pastor Dan Kimball argued the traditional position across from Dr. David Gushee, a prominent evangelical ethicist who recently announced he had changed his mind and is LGBT affirming.