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February 06, 2012


John Lyons

Is it an unfounded fear?

Andy Goodliff

Yes I believe it is an unfounded fear based on the assumption that the BU ministry department is on some kind of witch hunt. Now admittedly as ministers we are currently bound by a rule that says 'ministers are expected not to advocate homosexual or lesbian genital relationships as acceptable alternatives to male/female partnership in marriage'. Now there is much that is unhelpful and not to like about this, but I don't think it forces a silence on those that are ministers. It does encourage - albeit not positively - some wordcare (which I think is never a bad thing).

Mike Lowe

What you say in point 6 is the key: 'This is both to suggest that the conversation about homosexuality and civil partnerships with regards to the church and the Christian life needs to go beyond the Bible'. The foundation of the BU is that very premise - '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' (The first line in the Declaration of Principle). We are a denomination which is founded on open theological reflection and dialogue on which the Bible is extremely important but is only one way in which God reveals himself. On this issue the majority have forgotten that the Bible says nothing explicitly about committed Christian or non-Christian same sex relationships. Therefore we have to open the door to far more than the Bible. For me the Holy Spirit is screaming at us that sexual orientation falls into the same category as gender, race, colour of skin, whether you’re right or left handed. Those things are part of God’s good creation, it’s our approach to life and relationships that determine whether they’re right or wrong. An African women who commits a murder is no different to anyone else who murders because of the colour of her skin or because she’s not a man. Similarly two gay man, committed as life partners and using all the recreational aspects of that relationship are no different to my wife and I just because they are man and man and not man and women.

Stephen Gutmann

I have worked in Chaplaincy alongside those who are themselves in "Civil Partnerships" for a number of years now. All of them have had considerable Pastoral gifts and talents, and have been in Pastoral Leadership also. I personally have had over 37 years of a happy heterosexual marriage, and still do! My comment is firstly to say that I have not seen "educative process" on this topic, and would be interested in reading what the BU may have produced. Secondly, I would like to say that I am rather uncomfortable with "going beyond the Bible." There is the dilemma-having a conservative approach to Scripture, and working side-by-side with good colleagues, who have that alternative lifestyle!

Mike Arnold

Mike Lowes point is valid but he neglects the "as revealed in scripture" clause that would leave so much open to interpretation. There Jesus is bound by the culture of his day and though he redefined so much still managed to tell an adulterous to leave her life of sin whilst not condeming her.
It then comes down to whether we consider homosexuality to be natural or not,whether it is a perversion or an aversion. Here we can appeal to the principle of "freeedom of conscience" allows us to hold our various interpretations in tension, whilst allowing us to fellowship with those of opposing theologies.
But where does this leave those with a more sacrimental understanding of marriage? As Baptist we generally hold to two sacriments- baptism and the Lord's table, but Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans hold that marriage is a sacriment- pointing beyond itself- a living sign.
Here marriage is closely tied to the trinity- two (male and female) becoming one, male and female reunited after the separation of the fall. This is a mystery ordained and performed by God they maintain.
Thus we asee that where we are asked to accept a redefination of marriage, that is palatable for us baptists but becomes far more complicated for other traditions that would demand a rethink of their theology of sex, marriage and the sacriments.
Were the state to decide to redefine baptism or the eucharist we would all rightly be up in arms and tell government to butt out- shouldn't we atleast be pointing out the complexity of the issues involved.


In No 3 above, are you advocating (or making a feeble suggestion) that the state and the Church should be free to develop their own definition of marriage?

Would this see the state taking ownership of the definition of term "marriage", whilst we (the Church and/or Baptists) try to develop a theologically sound understanding of "union between man and woman?

Patrick Gillan

I think before any debate begins on Gay Marriage the Union needs to decide what its position is going to be on openly Gay Christians like myself. having been a Baptist for many years and coming out as Gay age 42 at the end of a 16 year marriage I now find myself being shut out from church memebership. Despite making lifestyle choices and being in a partnership which reflects all the ideals of a christian marriage without the sex I still find I dont meet the standard to be a member of my church and why? Becaues I am simply Gay! Its heart breaking that the denomination which has been my home for decades would shut me out on the basis of my sexuality. Is it my fault or the fault of my heterosexual parents? It can be a very isolating experience for me in church especially when its announced that people who applied for membership have been approved whilst I have little hope. You are right to say Pastors are worried about voicing their opinions certainly the Pastors I have corrosponded with are fearful of what the union might do if it was found out what they really thought. So what is my wish well its this that someone would see the hurt people like me fell when all we want to do is serve our lord and serve the church. But to be prohibited from even sharing testamony cuts to the heart. But I plod on hoping one day this apartheid will end and the church of you and I becomes the church of US!

Tendai Mbaserah

If Baptists are known as people of the book, it disturbs me to hear that the issue at hand needs to go beyond the Bible.
If we start embracing this sort of attitude, where on earth do we stop. What else will we justify by saying 'it needs to go beyond the Bible'?

Perhaps we have forgotten the words of the teacher "There's nothing new on this earth. Year after year it's the same old thing. Does someone call out, 'Hey, this is new'? Don't get excited—it's the same old story." (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 The Message)

Patrick Gillan

Tendai I have to disagree with you this debate is not about going beyond the book at all. It is about interpreting the book in the context of the society in which we live. As Baptists we have been guilty of interpreting the bible to suit our own prejudice we have misinterpreted the bible in relation to Gay men and women. And as Baptists we continue to misinterpret the bible to shut out the Gay Community. We condemn people based on scriptures which bare no relation to the same sex loving relationships in the 21st century. So no we are not going beyond the bible but we do need honest interpretation based on transparency and without prejudice.

Andy Goodliff

I knew the phrase going 'beyond the bible' would be a controversial one, although please read the whole sentence:

'to go beyond the Bible in terms of exegesis of specific passages, to a theological discussion'

That is to put it another way, I don't think we will not get very far, if anyway at all, if we try and proof-text our positions or play with the meaning of words ... we need a broader conversation about what is our theology of sex, of marriage and of celibacy, which of course will need to engage with scripture, but needs to listen all to the church tradition.

Patrick Gillan

Good point however on regards to listening to church tradition! What is church tradition and how did it evolve. And is church tradition irrefutable? Church tradion also needs to be challenged. Our world is evolving our society is changing and as it evolves the disconnect between the church and society is wider then ever. The church needs to relate to the world in which we live it needs to be relevant and it needs to connect with people in a positive way. No exegesis or tradition or theology has any rights to blockade the rights of Gay Christians to be fully part of the church of Christ. So no matter how clever the theology is as long as exclusion continues that theology is null and void. Jesus is inclusive and celebrates diversity and he is head of my church. That's all that matters. Evangelicals have become synonymous with homophobia and unless those views change that version of the church will become as extinct as the dinosaurs !


I'm not a Baptist, but as a non-conformist, I'd argue that 4 is the only important point above - and affirm that there are no sacraments. Indeed, that God is everywhere hence there are no special points to be gained from saying things in a special place nor in a special manner. And further that pretending that there is makes an idol out of a specific space and specific time in the week.

Then I'd argue that there are actually two different issues in play:

a) Accepting that society embraces more than just my views, and indeed needs to embrace even those things I find truly obnoxious. Personally, I find some aspects of Hinduism totally abhorrent, yet can see an argument for the state accepting a Hindu marriage (providing various safeguards about free will, age and so on). If nothing else, it is cheaper for everyone living in society if the majority of people live in strong lifelong relationships.

b) Accepting that my religious understanding of things is different to others. In the process others might want to call me names or get offended by the rules I play by, but as long as there are safeguards to protect both you and me, we should be able to tolerate each other.

According to a) even those who find Gay Marriage totally obnoxious ought to recognise the right of society to allow it (or any other surrogate name it choses). Nobody else has to like it, but it is a reality, so hard cheese.

But accordingly it is also consistent to take a moral stand b) which states Gay Marriage is wrong, that the National Lottery is Evil or that Pigeons are the Harbringers of Doom or anything else in a plural society. It is not reasonable (or even sensible) for society to attempt to force religious bodies to accept norms that they don't accept just because they are general norms.

Of course, that makes it very difficult for believers who do not accept the accepted theology of the group in which they find themselves. But that is hardly a new phenomena, the only choices they have are to attempt to reform the organisation from within the existing structures or to leave/split (or to sit it out quietly, hoping nobody notices).

As long as Gays are free to go somewhere and practice their religion to their conscience, it makes no odds to me whether or not individual churches/sects/denominations accept them or not. I can't really see why this issue is any different to anything else.

Mark Ashton Warner

Thank you Joe. I think you present the non-confomist case admirably.

Regarding the theological debate amongst non-conformity, I agree that the Bible is not a resource of in errant proof texts. But it is God inspired and useful as a base for our thinking. I think it would take a lot of persuading to make me think that homosexual genital acts are going to be in accord with God's will.
And natural revelation as well is important. We live in a world which is not perfect, but we have been crowned with glory and honour bring the expression of God's will more clearly, and the Bible gives us a good steer. We rise above animal propensities in all sorts of ways. We don't have reason to say 'I was born like that' as something which can excuse any actions. Equally, I would like to affirm what the Bible affirms: the positiveness of same-sex friendships.
I really don't like appearing as some sort of fundamentalist bigot, but I do believe there comes a place where I have to share what I believe to be true, where many others would just keep quiet. And as a non-conformist, I have the relief of knowing that if a local church does get it wrong, there are others who will get it right -- or more nearly right. But that's why the ministry department walks a tightrope!

Iain Stephenson

Very interesting read. For me the fear would be, what if you reach a conclusion that is different to those that want to affirm same sex marriage and sexual practice. To hold that view in private is one thing, but to have a public debate and reach such a conclusion, what would the consequences be? Are people "free" to hold such a view publicly? Or would they be told to listen to the Spirit's scream?!

ian tutton

so, where does all of this get us? I have spoken and written publicly in regard to this matter...and will continue to do so. We are now in a 'reactive' position given the law change initiated on 5th deecember 2011 and need to be able to answer those who might enquire as to whether or not their union can be registered/blessed on the church building where I minister; as an accredited minister with the BUGB what can I say without the possibility of the ministry dept invoking disciplinary proceedures against me...regardless of what my congregation might wish to happen in their name...this is a question of pastoral/ministerial/even missional practice, not an absatract theological debate...


Ian, as far as I understand, the church meeting of a Baptist Church is the governing body. If your church meeting affirms it, then you can do it - I don't think the BUGB can do anything other than remove your congregation afterwards. I don't think you have the authority to make a pastoral judgement yourself..

But I could be wrong, I'm not a baptist.

Andy Goodliff

No currently because every accredited minister is in a covenant relationship with the Union, they are unable to be involved, although this does not affect a church itself from a different point of view.

Mike Lowe

"I think it doesn’t matter if you or I or anybody else thinks homosexuality is a sin. It doesn’t matter if you or I think anything is a sin. It doesn’t matter if homosexuality is a sin or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter if anything anybody else does is a sin or not.

Because sin is a very personal thing! It always has been and it always will be!

And it has nothing to do with love.

Absolutely nothing.

Disparity and difference have nothing to do with love.

We shouldn’t choose who we will love and who we won’t.

“I’m Christian, unless you’re gay.”
That’s the message we’re sending, you know.

“I’m Christian, unless I’m hotter than you.”
“I’m Christian, unless I’m uglier than you.”
“I’m Christian, unless I found out you cheated on your income taxes.”
“I’m Christian, unless you cut me off in traffic.”
“I’m Christian, unless you fall in love with the person I once fell in love with.”
“I’m Christian, unless you’re that guy who smells like crap on the subway.”
“I’m Christian, unless you’re of a different religion.”

“Oh, but you’re not gay? You’re clean, and well dressed, and you have a job? You look the way I think you should look? You act the way I think you should act? You believe the things I think you should believe? Then I’m definitely a Christian. To you, today, I’m a Christian. You’ve earned it.”

That's an extract from one of the most powerful and widely read blog posts on being gay and Christian. I strongly suggest anyone to read it regardless of viewpoint and also his follow up post with the most powerful comments:


It's also a clear example of reflection 'beyond the bible' speaking into a situation.

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