Let’s talk about sex

We Baptists don’t talk easily about sex. It’s not taboo; it’s just complicated. With no creed and no pope, each congregation embraces faith with a high degree of freedom. That freedom comes with responsibility. Each church—autonomous in government, holding tenaciously to the Lordship of Jesus, and respecting the authority of the scriptures—has no choice but to discern the mind of God within its own context as faithfully as it can. There’s no handballing that discernment to someone further up the ecclesial chain. When it comes to our discussions about sex, the local conversation is loaded.

Given the current debate about same-sex unions and the good possibility that our definition of marriage will be broadened accordingly, we Baptists join all Christian traditions in having to discern a response. One pressing issue is, should such a change be made, will Baptist pastors like me be free to celebrate same-sex marriages? It’s a difficult question but one we can’t avoid.

The Baptist Union of Victoria, an association of some 250 churches in the state and one to which I’m proud to belong, is constantly asked to articulate an agreed ‘Baptist position’ on this issue. But how do we do such a thing? Wisely, our denominational leadership has initiated a statewide process of discernment, but one that honours our Baptist identity and form of government—a process that begins and is centered in the local church. Personally, I am very grateful for this. It has felt to me like there have been movements on the national level to bypass such a process, to make rulings and statements on behalf of all Baptists without conversation.

The fact is, Victorian Baptists—individuals and churches—hold a range of views on issues of sexuality and the prospect of coming to an agreed position is fraught.  It’s hard enough in one community, let alone within the broader association. What I’ve always loved about Victorian Baptists is our diversity. It is our strength and our challenge. Read a good history of our community and you discover it’s always been so. We’ve had some good arguments over the years, heated disagreements over theology and practice. But we’ve done so as a family, holding together through thick and thin. With this in mind, the invitation from our denominational leaders to talk about these things comes with some good reminders.

First, how we engage in this conversation is as important as the convictions we bring to it:

‘Instead of rushing to the conventional adversarial positions, how can we model God’s abundant hospitality, and show Christ-like love, in the context of robust debate? Can we show the world how we engage in loving disagreement?’

And secondly, before these are issues of doctrine or dogma, they are missional and pastoral issues that we are debating:

‘Given the history of the church’s failings on matters of sexuality, we need to be as clear and wise as possible when communicating a public position. These issues have a missional dimension that we cannot avoid. If we exist to advance the Kingdom of God, we have to work out how we do that in our own context.’

I am certainly thankful for good state leadership in this issue, and I pray that as the conversation proceeds we will be known by our commitments to love and hope.

2 Comments

  1. I think it’s important that we acknowledge that, while Levitical law does not bind Christians(or any gentiles), that the Bible also speaks of how things *should* be. It’s easy to focus only on what the Bible condemns, but in reality we’re just as responsible for investigating what it promotes. Genesis 2:26 states that “a man should leave his parents and be cleft to his wife, and united with her.” I believe this to be the earliest and most simple definition of marriage. There is no ambiguity in regards to the word ‘wife’. That’s quite clearly a female life partner. Also, while this is an early Old Testament quote it is one Jesus himself uses(when explaining the relevance of marriage to our place in heaven). The quote itself indicates a physical union(ie, the act of sex) and a second form of unity, presumably a social and spiritual one. I also think there is a difference between ‘sexual acts’ and ‘sex’ itself. Homosexuals are not capable of having sex in it’s truest form, as pertaining to the act of procreation. Our physical beings are fearfully made by God and are designed to work together in regards to procreating.

    The only thing I question is whether this still applies. I tend to think it does, simple because God never revoked it, wheras he did so with other things that were or weren’t acceptable at different stages in history. Incest, for example, was quite normal before God said otherwise. Today we often consider it detestable.
    If homosexuality wasn’t accepted before, then the only thing that should change that for us, as Christians, is a decree by God himself. If we concede that this can still happen we must also admit that the scripture is incomplete, as no-where does God say that his definition of marriage has broadened in this way.

    Then there’s the obvious issue of living in a secular society where marrage is part of our legal system. I think we really need to stress the fact that while homosexuals have the right to have same-sex relationships that does not mean marriage is for them simply because they have *a* relationship. Not being able to marry doesn’t mean they won’t be able to achieve equivalent rights in a legal sense. Just as they have the secular right to their sexuality we have a right to our marriage traditions and merely not being able to make the same covenant as some hetereosexual partners choose to does not mean their human rights are being oppressed. I grow weary of hearing the simplified propoganda about ‘equal rights’. Everyone has the right to marry, just not the privilege of being able to marry who or what they would like.

    I appreciate that each congregation and each member of the church has their own ideals, but I grow sceptical as to how marrying a homosexual couple can be pleasing to God when he has never indicated this is the case.

    I think we need to stand firm in scriptures indication that marriage is something between a mana and a woman while working to make it clear that it isn’t about hatred or prejudice but honouring our God with the way we practice that covenant.

    Whether you should be allowed as a Baptist pastor be allowed to decide this as an individual is a somewhat difficult point, but I think you should at least have the approval of your conregation and/or some Christian couples you have previously married.

    Reply

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