Thursday, 19 November 2009

Homosexuality? Let's Talk

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.


Stephen Lingwood said...

As a point of information, what is the Baptist Union policy? And how does that relate to such a strongly congregational tradition?

Glen Marshall said...

As I understand it congregations are free to arrive at their own conclusions but ministers seekng admission to the accredited list have to agree not to advocate homosexual partnerships as the equivalent of heterosexual marriage. Don't have the precise wording in front of me but I think that's pretty accurate.

tim f said...

Ugh, that sounds like the Baptist equivalent of Section 28. Weird as well that it seems to imply that congregations can be led by God to a particular view, but that ministers cannot be a part of that process (indeed have to tacitly oppose it?)

On a more positive note, have you seen the new atheist bus advert? It's fantastic: it could just as easily be a Baptist advert as an atheist one. (Reads: "Don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself.") A second one reads "No Faith Schools". They also admit that many religious people will agree with them on both issues. I'm almost tempted to donate!

andy amoss said...

There is a "prohibition upon the advocacy by our Accredited Ministers of homosexual or lesbian genital relationships as acceptable alternatives to male/female partnership in marriage".

As i understand it, what this means is that accredited ministers cannot partake in such open and deep seeking reflection and discussion because perspectives from one particular view point is muzzled.

For those who don't adopt that view the idea of its unacceptability is reinforced. For those who do, they're not to speak or act in its defence on pain of expulsion.

Andy Goodliff said...

Glen thank you for post/article - I wait with interest to see what kind of response you get here and in the Baptist Times letters page. When advice for ministers regarding civil partnerships was discussed last week at Council there was a wide spectrum of views expressed. Some voices were asking that the clause in the Ministerial Rules was revisited. For those who have responded: 1. there is a difference between churches and ministers, because ministers are on the accredited list of Baptist Union recognised ministers (i.e. there ministry is recognised not just locally by their church, but nationally by the Union as a whole). 2. there is the desire for unity, that while we are not of one mind on this issue (in a similar way to what Rowan Williams is trying to say to the Anglicans). The document on advice given to ministers used the word 'currently', that is, saying that this is where we are at the moment, but with room to say we might be someone where else in the future.
I think Glen you're right to encourage us to listen and talk more on this issue, but as you commented elsewhere the question is are we able to because we haven't paid enough attention to 'how' we might talk about this and other issues. The point of the material produced by the human sexuality working group is it tries to help churches have informed conversation, rather than a positioning to certain view points that don't allow us to listen to one another.

Anonymous said...

"prohibition upon the advocacy by our Accredited Ministers of homosexual or lesbian genital relationships as acceptable alternatives to male/female partnership in marriage"

Why is it that same-sex relationships are linked to "genital" while heterosexual ones are described as "partnership"? Are the authors really still assuming that gay marriage would be one giant orgy. After all homosexuals aren't like normal people. They don't seek out mutual support or ***gasp*** partnership in their relationships.


tim f said...

I was saddened by that too, Scott, though I thought it more likely related to the belief that homosexual relationships are ok as long as (God forbid!) no-one is having sex, and allowing for the belief that homosexual relationships happen in a fallen world but enjoy a lesser status than heterosexual relationships.

Either way, the word "genital" is a major flag for prejudice there, imo.

Julie said...

Where does this clause leave a minister whose congregation decide under the guidance of the Spirit to admit people in a civil partnership into membership or to have a blessing in the church building?

Justyn said...

glen, is the resource produced by the Baptist Union Human Sexuality Working Group "making moral choices"? if not, do you know what it's called? is it available thru the bugb website?

Glen Marshall said...

Justyn, no Making Moral Choices was booklet from 10(?) years ago. The new resource, as I understand it, is only available through associations and is not so much a booklet or a course as a process and can only be delivered by those who have been appropriately trained.

Perhaps others who know more about this than I do could enlighten Justyn if I've got it wrong or missed out something important.

andy goodliff said...

Glen you are right in what you tell Justyn. The material is made available as part of the process, not as far as I know, independent of it.

Justyn said...

Thanks Glen and Andy, worth knowing