The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

An update on Baptist Conversations

 
During the recent Baptist Assembly a short presentation in the Annual General Meeting gave an update on our Union’s conversations around our response to sexuality and relationships. We recognise this is an emotive and sensitive conversation, and present the following in the spirit of ensuring our position is open and clear.
 
The presentation was given by the Revd Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, and the full text of his address, giving the surrounding context, can be seen here. He explained that the conversations have been encouraged in light of the government introducing the The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. 
 
They were initiated at last year’s Baptist Assembly in Blackpool, and have taken place in churches, Associations, Colleges and in gatherings of ministers. Throughout this time an email address talkingtogether@mail.com has been active to enable people to share their views.
 
The conversations have affirmed the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our Union; celebrated our ecclesiology and the responsibility of ministry; and recognised diversity. A breadth of opinion has been expressed – we are a diverse Union of evangelical churches! - and we celebrate our diversity in many ways.
 
As a result of these conversations, earlier this year our Union’s leadership team - the Baptist Steering Group - attempted to reflect back what we have learned so far and understand to be the mind of our churches on this matter. This expression of four key points was considered during the March meeting of Baptist Union Council; and revised at the April meeting of the BSG.
 
This expression was subsequently included in Mr Keyworth’s Assembly address, and published on the Baptists Together website on Monday. It can be read in full here:
 
As a union of churches in covenant together we will respect the differences on this issue which both enrich us and potentially could divide as we seek to live in fellowship under the direction of our Declaration of Principle ‘That 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, and that each church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His Laws.’
 
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.
 
We affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman, as the continuing foundation of belief in our Baptist Churches.
 
A Baptist minister is required to live and work within the guidelines adopted by the Baptist Union of Great Britain regarding sexuality and the ministry that include ‘a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage (as defined between a man and a woman) is deemed conduct unbecoming for a minister’.
 
Our expression affirms the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as the continuing foundation of belief in our Baptist Churches.
 
Our expression recognises that there are differences on this issue that both enrich us and could potentially divide, and we have re-emphasised our Declaration of Principle in seeking a way forward. This is central to our covenant relationship and responsibility which has served us well in the past, through many challenges and difficult times. Amidst the diverse responses, the overwhelming majority have expressed the clear desire that we should remain together.
 
Our expression makes clear we are not a Church, we are a Union of Churches – and re-confirms our historic belief that such decisions are the responsibility of the local Church Meeting.
 
We have recognised that some of our ministerial rules have been open to being interpreted as forbidding full and open discussion. In light of this BU Council did make some amendments to those rules in March. They recognise the freedom of a minister to respond to the wishes of their church, where their conscience permits. This is in the context of the Church Meeting: Baptists have a longstanding belief in the theological significance of the Church Meeting as a place where Christian believers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, discern together the mind of Christ.
  
This expression is not intended as our last word, but it’s something of where we are. It’s making a determined effort to keep the unity of our Union, which is founded on the person of Christ. It seeks to be true to our Declaration of Principle, and our ecclesiology.
 
Unhelpful publicity over the last week has led to misunderstandings, and we ask that the four points of our expression, which were carefully worded, be read as a whole.
 
We recognise there remain many matters to be thought through and discussed: it’s a stage in a long and ongoing conversation. But the clear message we have heard throughout the conversations is the commitment to hold diversity together and not see it as a reason for division. The expression will form a backdrop to our continuing conversations.
 
Please get in touch: talkingtogether@mail.com
 
 
 

Baptists Together, 16/05/2014

 
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