My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
Homosexuality. It seems I just can't get away from it.
You might find this hard to believe but try to trust me when I tell you that in the past three days I have: heard form three ministers who are unsure if their own views are consistent with those of the BU; spoken to a colleague who recently resigned from a particular ministry because of disagreement over policy on employing homosexuals; heard that a friend of a friend has attempted suicide because of conflict between her sexual orientation and her very conservative upbringing; put together an agenda for a meeting which includes receiving the resignation of a volunteer because of disagreements about leadership and homosexuality; been approached by a church wondering how to handle the fact that one of their members has moved in with his boyfriend; had a conversation with someone wrestling with the issue of homosexuality and baptismal policy; heard tell of discussions at council about guidance offered to ministers with regard to civil partnerships.
All in three days. Honest.
And my point? Well, first of all, that this is an issue that is not about to go away, an issue that affects many people in our churches, an issue that we cannot and should not ignore. Repression of deep feelings and the suppression of genuinely held points of view is never a sign of good health. Nor can we take it for granted that there is anything like unanimity on this among Baptists. That is often the assumption, but I am not at all convinced.
Of course the past three days are hardly typical. But if this were not the huge issue that I believe it to be, it is unthinkable that it would have crossed my path quite so often in such a short space of time.
My second point is that given the size and extent of the issue, why are we not reflecting on it in our churches much more than we are? Of course it could be that I am wrong and up and down the country congregations are engaged in prayerful, pastorally sensitive, biblical and theological reflection on homosexuality. Could be, but I doubt it.
I understand that there has been a very disappointing take-up of the resource produced by the Baptist Union Human Sexuality Working Group to help churches engage in a constructive process of biblical and theological reflection on homosexuality. That’s a shame. I hear good things about it and I know that when it comes to this issue unless we give careful attention to how we discuss it we are asking for trouble.
Which brings me to my final point. Isn’t it a shame that Baptists of all people find it so hard to discuss sensitive issues? The gathering of the church community to reflect and pray before God in the light of the Word while seeking the guidance of the Spirit about issues of the day ought to be one our crowning glories. Too often the very opposite is the case. Our people stay away from church meetings in their droves, not least, it seems to me, because we have yet to learn how to do these things well, that is in ways that honour Christ. Tempers are easily lost, emotions run riot and power games abound.
It is high time that we Baptists committed ourselves once again to congregational discernment of the mind of Christ. Not just to the bare theological principle but to the important task of acquiring the skills to enable us to put the principle into practice in constructive ways. And this not least so that we can talk together about homosexuality.