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.