My initial strong and vocal opposition (not just on the blog I also discussed this publicly and privately at a BU pastors conference last year) to excluding baptist churches and/or pastors who affirmed SSM was triggered by two factors, 1) a desire to see us defined positively around issues of unity rather than negatively around those we exclude, 2) a lack of principled rationale on why this issue should be a defining one for our movement.
The concern for legal protection and denominatinal reputation are pragmatic secular reasons and while worthy of some attention should not be the driving force for our actions. Especially when it comes to something as drastic as dis-fellowshipping a church. The principles on which we act need to be theological - doing the right thing is always the right thing whether or not it is prudent in the secular scheme of things. Lyndon Drake in a baptist magazine article has also articulated a pastoral concern, however censuring pastors of other churches who teach something that we may be detrimental to the health of our flock is hardly practical, and so again we are making a special case for homosexual marriage without showing our working.
I haven't changed my mind about any of that, and I'm deeply opposed to making such major decisions based on fear or pragmatism. Instead I've realised that those like Rhett who want to see a more confessional unity in our movement are right, even if I haven't been satisfied by their reasons. What I can't accept is that such confessional unity would be around a single issue and especially not this one.
To my mind there are some deep questions that are currently not being addressed in our back and forth on the issue and that we need to find answers to in order to proceed to a solution.
- Why do we make this the issue we divide over when no registered pastor has to take an exam on their understanding of the Trinity? There is no good answer to this that I can find.
- Women in leadership is just as significant an exegetical and theological issue and affects a larger number of people. So if we are going to start excluding churches for one thing, why not the other?
- What I have found really distressing as I've followed the debate is how little understanding of the theological and biblical reasoning behind previous policy changes there is. How is it possible that many in our denomination allow women in leadership and divorced people to remarry when they clearly are under the impression this is forbidden by biblical teaching?
Sexual ethics have historically been important boundary markers for the church and the church was birthed in a culture when homosexual love between men (though not women) was accepted, affirmed and even honoured at least by some parts of society. In some ways the world has gone full circle and the need for clear boundaries is more important than ever. In todays climate of over sexualisation of just about everything and everyone, a distinctive Christian ethic needs to be well worked out, not just a jumbled collage of knee-jerk reactions. For theological, missional and pastoral reasons clarity and certainty in sexual ethics are becoming increasingly important.
I think we do need a greater and stricter confessional unity in the Baptist Union. But I would not be able to support one that is solely based around the issue homosexual marriage. So I would argue we need to start from the foundations. Develop a robust Trinitarian statement of belief (instead of the half baked back of an envelope statement that currently serves) and a clear and definite ethical framework within which complex issues can be worked out properly. Part of this would be the development of a comprehensive sexual ethic that was based in the teaching of Jesus (Mark 7:1-23) and the NT, not the purity codes of Lev 15, etc. This would need to include educating every registered pastor and making sure as part of the registration process that they understand and abide within that faith statement and ethical framework.
Once we know what framework we are working within as a BU then it is fair to ask all churches and pastors to opt in. And those who don't then dis-fellowship themselves. This would hopefully remove the need for witch-hunts and heresy trials, which surely no one wants to see. At the moment so much has been assumed about what NZ baptists believe and what we stand for. Yet our current statement of faith does not mention the Trinity or the resurrection, to name but two significant omissions! We really need to agree as a union on what we believe before we start excluding those who don't believe the same as us. Otherwise we just have mob rule.
The truth is it has suited most of us that things are so free and easy in the BU, we've been happy enough not be tested by others on our understanding of doctrine and not to do the hard work of working out our theology and ethics together. Could this be a new season for us as we realise we do need to hammer this stuff out and not just leave each other to our own devices? Would we commit to this process even if it looked likely that we would lose more churches than just the tiny number of possibly pro SSM ones? I don't know, but I'm game if you are.
Let me know what you think :-)