Monday 1 September 2014

Submission to Baptist Union Working Party

Yesterday I (Martin) scrambled to put together a submission for the Baptist Union, and thought I would put it up here for a few church friends to see.

The Union appointed a working party to discuss their position on same-sex marriage and the constitutional questions arising from their initial attempts to set a position.  Their website was little help in finding more info about submissions, but Google directed me to GayNZ who had a helpful article.

Heather reminded me on Saturday that Sunday was the deadline, for which she paid the price of being kept up late as I tapped it out.  Even as I went to sleep I was thinking of things I might have said better, but such is life.

Here is my submission:

I neither support nor oppose the current Assembly positions in relation to same-sex relationships and marriage.

While some discussion of these questions was facilitated by the Union in recent years, I am concerned that what I encountered was focussed on Biblical ideals and failed to address how these should be applied in the real world.  For example, at the 'Carey Conversation' of September 2012, there seemed to be a reflexive expectation that we should advocate legislation which mirrors Biblical ideals.  While legislation is longer at issue, those whose views are consistent with the general consensus at that Conversation remain faced by many pastoral questions.

How important is this issue, on its own or ranked against others that we face?  How is it similar or dissimilar to other relationship issues?  (If we are so concerned about the proper form of marriage, how should we discipline pastors who marry heterosexual couples that have been living together for years but now want to have children?) Is it better to be in a long-term relationship than to be "aflame with passion", or is that just locking in a sinful situation?  What does it even mean to exclude people from 'leadership' in a small, congregationally led church?

On an individual note, I have found the question of remarriage after divorce arising at several points in my own reflections.  It is both prohibited and permitted in scripture, was until recently scandalous in Baptist circles, but I do not recall a single sermon about what is now commonplace.  Intriguingly, I sense that many people expect the burden of celibacy to weigh more heavily on divorced persons than on homosexuals or single women.

There have been some excellent resources created, such as the 2011 Sexuality Paper commissioned by Assembly Council which raised many excellent questions.  Overall, however, I feel that this discussion has neither engaged a large proportion of the membership base in deep reflection nor progressed beyond ideals.  I accept that I share responsibility in that, having missed the opportunity to initiate discussion at my church.

Until there has been a fuller debate, any positions adopted permanently will suffer reduced legitimacy.

I support the freedom of each individual church to decide for themselves to not hold or to hold same-­sex marriages, at least for the present time.

I recognise that these questions have raised significant questions of a constitutional nature, which were probably due for consideration.

I believe that Baptist church members and adherents come from diverse backgrounds and often attach little significance to their church's Baptist identity.  Denominationalism seems to be losing mindshare over time, particularly as Christians recognise our minority position in modern NZ, which is probably a good thing overall.  Even if one could definitively assert a single, historical Baptist identity, it would not be wise to re-impose that onto a community so diverged from that point.  Rather, a new consensus and identity will require to be formed.  This will take time.

I also object to any suggestion that homosexuality ranks alongside the six existing statements of belief*.  Even in regard to sexuality, I feel that a general approach would not raise this single issue to the prominence it currently has.  We have lost out to a huge cultural shift, and need to address that underlying change not just defend the last remnants of the old order (which is also the first time in the sexual revolution to request that we play a formal role).

Finally, I strongly support congregational decision making and autonomy as historical Baptist principles.  They may have weakened in our time, and can be re-examined, but this should not be rushed.

Although this issue has had little direct impact on my life, I am increasingly conscious of the wrenching urgency of the broader questions for many in (or excluded from) our community.  I regret that our Church has met this urgency with complacency and an abstract consideration of issues distant from our personal experience.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make a submission.  I pray for you each in this challenging service, and thank you for it.

* Wish I'd found this page while drafting the submission, not the blog!

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