Baptists and same-sex marriage

I am a Baptist and I support gay marriage.

I know that among Baptists I am in the minority on this issue. I also know this sets me apart from friends and colleagues I hold in high regard. But that’s OK. Given our aversion to creeds, our adherence to freedom of conscience among believers, and our commitment to the autonomy of the local church, we Baptists have room to differ. And we do. What troubles me is the energy with which some gatekeepers of Baptist life move to distance our denomination from people like me whenever our view is made public.

Back in July last year, my good friend and fellow Baptist pastor Nathan Nettleton appeared on ABC television’s Compass program expressing his support for same-sex marriage. That this is his personal view he made crystal clear. The very next day, Australian Baptist Ministries (ABM) hurriedly posted on its website a press-release entitled Marriage is not for same sex couples, say Baptists, claiming ‘the numbers’ and firmly distancing itself from Nathan, painting him some sort of ecclesial lone-ranger. Most notably, it expressed ABM’s regret that Nathan should ‘fail to consult with Australian Baptist leaders’ before expressing his views on national television. In fact, Nathan is one of the most open and consultative Baptist pastors I know, and he certainly did talk with denominational leaders prior to his public appearance on the issue. That he and his position should be dismissed so easily is poor form on our part.

Last week another piece appeared, this time penned more personally by Rod Benson, consultant ethicist to ABM, in response to the ‘renegade Baptist pastor’ Mike Hercock. Like Nathan, Mike also speaks in support of same-sex marriage and does so publically. Boldly titled Baptists overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage, a statement correct in itself, Rod’s article goes on to rather crassly discredit Mike as a lone promoter of an un-Baptist, un-biblical and un-Christian position. Again this ‘renegade’ Baptist is isolated from the faithful majority and summarily dismissed.

I don’t know Mike personally, but as colleagues in ministry surely we owe him more respect than that. Follow the thread of comments that flow from these pieces and you find others in our Baptist fold who want us to ‘distance ourselves’ from Mike ‘until he admits his error.’ It sounds like the old practice of shunning is making a comeback.

It feels to me as though we Baptists are afraid of the public perception that we hold a diversity of views on issues like this one and I really don’t understand why. If ABM can write submissions and ‘policy documents’ on behalf of the majority—ones that I personally don’t adhere to and have never been asked to affirm by any representative Baptist body—why can’t we allow Mike to write his submissions without branding him a traitor to Baptist truth and goodness? Aren’t we bigger than that?

I have no beef with the right of all Baptists to state their views on this and any issue with conviction. Absolutely. But please, wherever we stand on this issue or others, let’s do so without discrediting the integrity of the one we disagree with, belittling their commitment to faithful discipleship, or, worst of all, distancing ourselves from them. After all, we are Baptists together in ministry and mission.

I, for one, stand with Mike and Nathan on this issue. I am well aware that we hold a minority view among Baptist leaders. But I am grieved deeply when our perspective on this issue sees us branded ‘renegades’ who fly solo or unauthorized edge-dwellers who tarnish the good Baptist name. We are not members of some marginal far left faction who can be dismissed because ‘the numbers’ are against us. Personally, I would like to think that I have a little more credibility than that. To suggest that my ‘error’ renders me an unfaithful disregarder of what is true and biblical is simply ignorant of my position and my ministry.

Rod Benson, a fellow Baptist leader I respect, makes the claim that he is ‘not aware of any other Baptist minister in Australia [apart from Mike], ordained or otherwise, who has taken such extraordinary steps to express his personal views on the subject of same sex marriage.’ While this may be true as some technical tally of words written, what it infers more broadly is simply wrong.

Let me say again as I have said in many other places and forums: I am a Baptist and I support gay marriage.

Simon Carey Holt
Senior Minister
Collins Street Baptist Church