The conversation around Steve Chalke's article shows no sign of abating. Various comments can be found in the comments section of the relevant Baptist Times articles (here and here) and Malcolm Duncan has suggested in a new post that this might be the beginnings of a new Downgrade controversy.
Most of the conversation on the BT website is around the issue of the clause in ministerial rules for accredited Baptist ministers that says
Ministers are expected not to advocate homosexual or lesbian gential relationships as acceptable alternatives to male/female partnership in marriage.
The claim by some (many?) Baptist ministers (and others) is that is un-Baptist because it is only ministers who are bound by this rule. Local churches through the church meeting can discern differently to this position, but ministers themselves cannot.
A few comments in relation to this:
1. This clause is not as recent an addition as it seems to be inferred by some. It has been present in the ministerial rules since the late 1980s/early 1990s according to Ian Randall's The English Baptists of the 20th Century (p.515). The current rules were adopted in 2001.
2. The inclusion of this rule, rightly or wrongly, is much harder to remove. This must be acknowledged and recognised.
3. Ministerial rules in general are a positive feature of our life. Ministry in the Baptist Union is something that has validity beyond just the local church and therefore it is to be in a different kind of relationship. Accredited ministers represent the Baptist Union. Here the stumbling block is our impoverished theology of ministry.
Malcom Duncan's post and other comments point us to the issue of hermeneutics. The cry from some (many?) is 'Surely scripture is clear on the matter of homosexual relationships. There is no discussion to be hard. Attempts to justify otherwise have all been found wanting.'
A few comments in relation to this:
1. The recent collection of essays on Baptist hermeneutics, especially the contributions by Helen Dare and Sean Winter (see also his earlier 2007 Whitley Lecture), I think can be of some help, as this debate/conversation continues. If you've not read it, I highly recommend it.
Helen Dare, argues that Baptists always read scripture 'in the fray' (the phrase comes from Walter Brueggemann, with whom the paper is in dialogue with), with 'a constant stream of discernments and negotiations to be made'. This is because there is no higher authority, apart from Jesus Christ, to refer to. This involves risk, but also opportunity.
Sean Winter similarly argues that all interpretation of the bible involves disagreement. Winter develops an understanding of the church as a community of friends (grounded in an understanding of covenant), which gives space for the church to read and interpret scripture and find disagreement, and diversity, but which need not be destructive.
2. What is scripture? I fear too often we work with a knee-jerk understanding of scripture as similar to a Haynes car manual (the example John Colwell often uses), which suggests scripture is a straight-forward, simple text, which requires no work (the Holy Spirit's or otherwise) to read it. Primary for us is that our trust and authority is in Jesus Christ - which means we need help to read scripture and live according to it and its testimony is one that is not closed, but open and ongoing - 'there more light and truth to break forth from God's word' (see Sean Winter's Whitley Lecture and Anthony R. Cross's paper in the Brian Haymes festschfrit Questions of Identity)
3. As I suggested in my earlier post, I think, most Christians, find themselves at neither extreme of complete affirmation or complete disavowal, but caught in the middle. I said on another occasion that the conversation needs to go beyond the bible - simple exegesis will not get us anywhere - but we need to explore a wider thelogy of personhood, sex, marriage, etc. We need to do more to listen to and understand why those in favour of affirming homosexual relationships have come to this position and in the best cases the argument is more than just one of equality and liberalism (see the likes of Eugene Rogers, Rowan Williams, David Matzko McCarthy) and at the same time, we must pay attention to the work of Oliver O'Donovan and Christopher Roberts, who want to raise concern/questions. To put it another way we need to have a much better informed, open and generous conversation rather than the fairly dismal one we often get.
4.If there was to be a new Downgrade on how we read scripture it would be a failure of relationship and trust in our being Baptist (and probably because we given not enough time to theological reflection that is worthy of the name 'theological')