Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Same sex partnerships

I stand firmly among those who consider undue attention and energy debating same sex marriage issues is a distraction from our primary missional mandate. Following a published article last week, however, I think it is necessary for me to clarify some things, with my own voice, especially whilst apart on sabbatical and apart from face-to-face conversations. I need to explain this merely reflects something of my own perspective and does not suggest anyone else, or body, is necessarily taking my own view.

The suggestion, which concerns me the most, is the following:

The West of England Baptist Association (WEBA) – one of 13 regional associations of the Baptist Union of Great Britain – has effectively challenged guidance issued by the Union which says each minister can make up its own mind on the issue of same sex marriage.

Not only am I a fully committed member of our Baptist family and take my responsibilities as a Regional Minister very seriously, but this comment is not true on two counts:

The Baptist Union has not issued any such guidelines. Although I can understand why this has been misunderstood, it remains a misunderstanding. As a Baptist Union we (please note) have made no changes to the disciplinary guidelines for Accredited Baptist Ministers, which proscribe any teaching or support of same sex relationships as acceptable alternatives to the traditional understanding of marriage and relationships. Any such support remains a matter for discipline under these guidelines, which are themselves administered by the Ministry Team in Baptist House. The comments made at last years Assembly, which I was present for, are on the BU website. As a Regional Minister, I share responsibiity as guardians of the covenant, which is at the heart of our associating together. 

Neither I, nor the Trustee body I am a part of, wish to contribute to anything towards the sensationalist suggestion of splitting our Baptist Union.

The particular presenting issue of same-sex marriage has arised, as a result of the changes in Government legislation regarding marriage.

Biblically, my own stance is to affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman. 

Historically, I do not believe it was ever intended decision making by any local Baptist church would be acceptable to other churches within our Baptist Union if at variance with the otherwise general understanding of Scripture. That is our Declaration of Principle includes the boundary lines 'our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures'. This is not the same thing as suggesting every church has a right to decide whatever it wishes.

Relationally, I wish to stand with the vast majority of British Christians who have opposed the same-sex marriage legislation as being unbiblical. We stand in unity, on this particular matter with brothers and sisters in Christ across the historic denominations, as well as the Evangelical Alliance.


Pastorally I shall continue to deal with people as I have always done; with grace and compassion, but with a willingness to address the boundary lines for those seeking to follow Jesus Christ.

3 comments:

Andy Goodliff said...

Nigel, hhe BU have made changes to disciplinary guidelines. The line you mention is no longer there in the March 2014 version on the BU website. And the statement last year said:

Upholding the liberty of a local church to determine its own mind on this matter, in accordance with our Declaration of Principle, we also recognise the freedom of a minister to respond to the wishes of their church, where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.

That is a change to what was previous.

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Ian Spence said...

Nigel, I can't help but feel a bit saddened by this post. There would seem to be an implication that those who would want to affirm same sex relationships within the union do so with a disregard to scripture and that somehow there is an agreed way of interpreting scripture with the union. My experience shows that all who have explored this issue within the union have done so with a high regard to scripture. The way we interpret scripture might differ but those who have come to an affirming position have done so through a committed approach to the Biblical text. There will be within our associations those who have done considerable amount of study/research and come to the conclusion that Same Sex Relationships are not inline with their understanding of scripture, but there will also be those in our associations who have done considerable amount of study/research and come to the conclusion that Same Sex Relationships can be inline with their understanding of scripture. What worries me more is those who have made up their mind without doing the study/research (to be clear, I am not accusing you of that). It would feel very un-baptistic and unhelpfully dividing to say "this is the way you should interpret scripture as a Baptist or as a Christian". I love that being a Baptist allows us to interpret scripture as communities and respect the fact that we won't always agree on everything. Q: How can WEBA respond to the challenge of supporting/empowering those who want to stand by those in same sex relationships as well as affirming the convictions of those who have the more "traditional view"... although I would want to question the term "traditional" in regard to scriptural understanding. What is a traditional understanding and in whose context?