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17 January 2013

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Duncan MacLean

Thank you for your helpful reflection. I too hope and pray that engagement with Steve's article will not lead to condemnation but to a prayerful reflection on our own theological journey and position. At a minimum his thoughts must trigger our pastoral considerations towards those with sexual orientations that have often precluded them from our worshipping communities.

David Kerrigan

Thanks Malcolm...

David Kerrigan

I'd forgotten about this post until someone reminded me of it - it has relevance here http://karnaphuli.typepad.com/thinking-mission/2012/08/linus-and-the-beavers.html

Malcolm Duncan

HI David,

Thanks for your helpful comments here. Just for the benefit of your readers, I make several strong and clear commitments to honouring Steve and his integrity and at no point do I seek to undermine it. our readers will see that I question my friend's timing in making public his thoughts and I genuinely ask whether he must now acknowledge that he has moved beyond traditional evangelicalism, but at no point did I question his integrity - quite the opposite. I also took what I believe to be the gracious and right step of sending Steve a copy of my article. I have to say that I would have appreciated the same courtesy from you. I both respect and am grateful for your ministry and assume you perhaps overlooked the healthy principle of sending me a copy of what you said about my comments. I would have responded with the explanation above. As you say, we can disagree on this issue without falling into questioning one another's intentions. I am sure that some of the words in my article could have been better worded, that's always the case, but as you haven't told me which parts of it you mean, I can't think it through or respond.

Thank you so much for your faithful leadership of BMS and your ongoing ministry. I value it and I value you very much.

David Kerrigan

Hi Malcolm, I share your sentiment that post-publication we can often wish we’d expressed something differently, especially on blogs. I apologise for saying that part of what you wrote 'bordered on attacking Steve's integrity." I should have chosen a better phrase, especially as my desire is that this debate avoids the harshness that so often characterises such issues.

There were things you wrote that I agreed with and those I disagreed with – no problems there. But two particular areas troubled me. The first you have referenced yourself when you wrote "it must surely be acknowledged by Steve himself that he is not an ‘evangelical’ in any traditional or faithful understanding of the word". I am worried that this might be the first expression of that characteristic of evangelicalism that says at times 'if you don’t agree with a traditional evangelical expression of the faith then you're not one of us'.

Secondly, you ask the question "Why do we persistently look for men and women to be heroes in the church and take our lead from them?" Its true, many people do admire Steve for what he’s done over the years but this read to me like you were chiding people for taking notice of what he said because to do so was to elevate him as a hero. Look, I listened to you at the Assembly in Scotland in late 2011 and wrote afterwards that your teaching was superb. People listen to leaders – its not hero worship to do so. Leaders want people to listen – that’s not hero-creation. You went on to say that "the impact of Steve’s article tells me that we must determine to move away from the celebrity driven culture that has invaded the church and we must each learn the art of wrestling with Scripture and seeking to live under is authority and power". Again, seemed to be saying ‘to listen to Steve Chalke is to engage in the cult of celebrity – the alternative course is to wrestle with Scripture. A false dichotomy in my view.

But – and with this I’ll finish – neither of these concerns represent an attack on Steve’s integrity. I shouldn’t have used those words - that was careless.

David


John Matthews

Hi David, many thanks for what you have written. I agree that ministers who believe it to be right should be able to bless civil partnerships involving their members if their churches agree and without censure. After all we live with ministers having different approaches when it comes to re-marrying those who have been divorced adnd those who are cohabiting. I would gladly have agreed to a request to bless the civil partnership of two of my members, but ministers are strongly advised against doing this by the Ministry Department of BUGB lest they be subjected to disciplnary action.

David Kerrigan

Hi John - that is the situation where I believe our Union could consider a change. Whilst it probably wouldn't have a great numerical impact I think it would send an important signal. The signal would not be that the Union has realigned its theological position but that it wishes to liberate ministers and congregations to express pastoral care according to their understanding of what it means to follow Christ in a hurting world.

John Matthews

Hi again

I meant to say that I totally agree with your comments about the difference between the call to celibacy given to a straight man or woman who is single and saying that every gay man or woman should be celibate for life. There is indeed a world of difference between these two. I would add that whilst there arebiblical texts about same-sex activity, which need to be carefully interpreted, I can find no such texts that actually concern same-sex relationships.

Dani

Hi, maybe you can help me.

Gay people aren't allowed to get married because it *can* be interpreted in the Bible that it is a sin, and homosexuals won't inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). It also says in those verses that adulterers won't inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says in Mark 10:11-12 that divorcees who remarry are committing adultery. Why are divorcees and adulterers allowed to remarry (depending on the Church) but gay people can't?

Thanks (I would ask my pastor but I don't think he's quite as up to speed on these things as you might be.)

David Kerrigan

Hi Dani, the church's 'general' attitude to divorce has indeed softened somewhat in recent decades, but has 'generally' remained unchanged in respect of homosexuality. Outwardly, both seem to be censured in scripture, as you point out, the latter by Jesus himself, but in the case of divorce the church has allowed for a more generous pastoral response.

A major factor here was that as divorce became more widespread in society so it became more widespread in the church also. That really changed things, and quite understandably, churches wanted to be pastorally forgiving and supportive.

So too, many people do now know gay people from work, friendship circles and so on, because gay people are more willing to identify themselves as such, and suddenly the abstract becomes real.That would be all the more true if there were more gay people in churches. This alone is never a reason why we should change our scriptural convictions. But it becomes the impetus for more and more people going back to Scripture to look again at the wisdom received from past generations. Thats what's happening in this generation.

So the argument that our view of scripture should never be influenced by culture really isn't going to hold water. It should never be 'driven' by culture alone but culture has to affect how we read scripture. Arguably it was the emergence of anti-slavery campaigners (only some were Christians and sadly some of those were for not upsetting the applecart!), women activists and earth-scientists who have reshaped our understanding of the evils of people trafficking, the importance of affirming women in ministry and the urgency of creation care.

Dani

Thank you for your reply, it's been very helpful.

Brian Davison

This question of ministers blessing a civil partnership has been rumbling for some time. I recall a letter in BT some time back by a collection of ministers including some past presidents.

As a facilitator for churches using the BU study materials, all but one of the churches that have asked for my services have been discussing how they would respond to a request to bless a civil partnership and all of those have been surprised to learn of the contradiction between the the Baptist Declaration of Principle which declares the "liberty of the church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to interpret administer His [Christ's] laws" and the directive that if they choose to bless a civil partnership their minister cannot take part with them as the celebrant. (He can be present but not do the blessing)
I understand (and explain to the church) the basis of this ruling: It is around our covenant together as ministers, the argument being that we should not do something that brings the baptist ministry into disrepute, or which causes pain to our fellow ministers.

Whilst I see that viewpoint, personally I believe that as Baptist ministers, living under the Baptist declaration of Principle, our covenant should be more reflective of our respect for individual conscience, that we covenant together to uphold the freedom of interpretation expressed in the declaration of principle, and the outworking of our covenanting together should not be that we rule a that minister cannot act with his church in a matter of conscience, but rather that we now question the ongoing appropriateness of any such ruling.

There will be times when it is appropriate for a minister to act provocatively, following freedom of conscience.
There will be times when it is more appropriate for a minister to refrain from acting provocatively, following Paul's advice during the idol meat controversy, but the decision over which is the wise choice in any given circumstance should surely be down to the minster in that situation, under the leading of the Holy Spirit at the time, possibly seeking the counsel of trusted colleagues, and not a one size fits all ruling on any particular issue.

Given that we trust our ministers to reflect theologically and then to give a theological lead in their churches does it not seem strange that we then trust the churches to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit but not the ministers?

That guideline enforced caution at the time. It reflects a time when the union very sensibly was encouraging debate first of all within churches, where people were committed to relationship and holding together in difference, before bringing it into wider forums. (We saw how every denomination that had gone to public debate before us had experienced bitter division). First it was time for exploration within boundaries.

But that groundwork has borne good fruit. We have shown in this week that we can debate well in love and unity.

Perhaps now is the time to place this vital pastoral decision back into the hands of the pastors we have trained, in the mission situations where they are placed?

Brian Davison

PS the view that it might be time to trust ministers to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in their given pastoral situation is one expressed by people on both sides of the question of whether God blesses sexual expression in monogamous homosexual relationships.

My above comments are not to be read as taking either side in the bigger debate.

Andrew Kleissner

Just to say that I wrote an article expressing complementary views to Brian's - it has been on the Baptist Times website since Friday.

John Allman

What other possible eventual position is there, other than Steve Chalke's? That is, to anybody who believes the novel, unbiblical and unscientific assertion that wasn't first mooted until the nineteenth century, and which has been very heavily plugged from the 1970s onwards, as a deliberate strategy of the pro-gay movement. The proposition that there exist "gay people", in the sense (approximate, and implied) of people with an unchosen, "sexual orientation" that is a biological characteristic of each and every individual, morally neutral, non-pathological, as good as innate, and utterly immutable.

If those who practise homosexuality really were "born gay", or might as well have been for all the choice they now have, then this minority constitutes a section of the population about whom scripture has nothing to teach us. This despite any similarity between certain deeds that this tiny minority might do, and deeds that people in general are just as able to engage in, but often chose not to, and which scripture does mention, and condemns roundly and unequivocally.

David Kerrigan

Brian (and Andrew), I think the Union have been very wise over recent years in encouraging processes of deep listening and learning in relation to homosexuality. That shouldn't change - there is no value whatsoever in bringing forward any resolutions that might broadly be characterised as pro- or anti gay. The outcome will only be division.

Far better to follow our Baptist principles and trust God's people, in community, under the guidance of the Spirit, to discern the mind of Christ and act upon it. And if different approaches emerge, that doesn't necessarily mean one is wholly right and the other is wholly wrong. Rather, trusting each other in the unity of the Sprit, each gives the other permission to walk according to their conscience, trusting God to reveal more to each of us as we walk by faith. This is precisely why Baptists can actually make a huge contribution in this area. We do not need to divide from each other - only respect and trust each other. So far so good on that score.

David Kerrigan

John, you make some very sweeping assertions. Truth is we don't know why some people are gay. Maybe one day we will, but frankly it doesn't change a thing. I don't know why some people are bipolar, some are gorgeous, some are introverts, some are skinny as a rake, some are great at languages, some are left-handed... I don't think it matters. I listen to gay people (who rightly say "don't talk about me without me") and they will say 'I have not chosen to be gay'. I don't even find that hard to believe, in fact most people don't.

So to love gay people (any people) is not an option - its only a question of how that love is expressed. And even then, the Christians I know who would not find it possible to support a loving gay relationship, their desire also is to be loving. No-one has the monopoly on righteousness, we're all searching for a way forward here. But I believe its more likely that we'll bring honour to the name of God if we could avoid a winners and losers approach to this, pause in our exchange of proof texts, respect each other's conscience and then do what we can to support a community of people who feel as if the church doesn't understand them or want them.

Mark Ord

Thanks for this blog David, I wish I had read it sooner. I was out sledging with my family,, but will still add a late contribution. The image you conjure of Steve Chalke, as joining those who are outside the community perimeter, reminds me of the story of Rahab in Joshua 6. When the spies are sent to rescue Rahab she, along with her family, spends time rescued but 'in a place outside the camp of Israel'. Joshua knew they had to be rescued (the word of the spies had to be honoured), but wasn't sure they were allowed into the camp, because he thought destruction was what the law required (e.g. Dt 20, Nu 21). Joshua 6 concludes telling us that, 'she lives among the Israelites to this day'. There may be this half-way house situation, where the people of God test their intuition towards inclusiveness and find that God honours it. The story of Rahab is important for Christian readings of the Old Testament, as it suggests the priority of faith and welcome.

It also evidences a tension with the law that needs to be faced and is faced within scripture. It is in this sense that I think Steve Chalke is correct to term Scripture a conversation. It is not simply that the church is in conversation with the scriptures, but that the church learns to converse about faith through the scriptures.

I appreciate your description of the church that you envisage and it would be a brave statement of intent. I want to add that I aspire to be in a church that is reluctant to talk of normativity in the area of sexuality. For two reasons. Firstly because we all recognise that, as Steve Holmes said in his article, 'all people are fallen and multiply broken'. All of us are in need of God's renewing and healing within the complex, rich and shadowy realm of our sexuality. The place to seek God is in the church, not outside. Secondly, because we stop looking to the bible for ideals that then need defending or living up to. We are not trying to get back to some pre-sin world, but are looking forward to a new creation and are becoming already its citizens through the gracious influence of the Spirit. A virtues rather than values sort of thing.

David Kerrigan

Mark, thanks for the Rahab insight, and for your reflection on the wisdom of using the word 'normative'. And I like your description of this as a situation in which 'the people of God test their intuition'. I think that's where we're at and I just hope that the wider community can be relaxed about that. Not silent - we need an exchange of views - but relaxed enough to not feel the need to man the barricades against the hordes of invading barbarians.

Graham Heath

Many thanks David for your helpful article here. Reflecting on some of the responses above, I’m not sure that it would accord with Baptist Principles for each minister to decide all of his/her own boundaries in fellowship with the local church. Her/his accreditation is not local but national, i.e. the fellowship in which the mind of Christ is sought on ministerial matters and certain boundaries are agreed is not merely the local church but rather should be the national fellowship of Baptist ministers – not that I’m clear how that could be done! I suppose it’s something that the BUGB Ministry department tries to facilitate? In any case, there are many people who I would gladly welcome into Christian fellowship at our local church, but whose views would exclude them from accredited Baptist ministry! Belonging to any body brings certain restrictions and responsibilities, beyond the local.

I'm also puzzled as to why we would define anyone according to their desires? Yes, I've been blessed with a wonderful wife, but I don't consider myself straight or gay - simply a man in Christ, who chooses to submit his desires to the biblical pattern Christ has provided.

David Kerrigan

Hi Graham, I agree that as we have a nationally accredited ministry then we need to operate within the boundaries of what has been agreed nationally. What I find interesting is that our accreditation addresses few if any other areas of ethical or pastoral judgement. It lays no limits as to the age of someone we can baptise, nor who we can marry or choose not to marry, to whom can we offer communion and so on. There would be Baptists who think it is against Scripture to marry a divorcee, or to offer communion to someone who is seeking faith but hasn't yet made a full commitment but that freedom is given to ministers by virtue of there being no constraining statement issued.

So my quest for a way forward was to ask whether the community (i.e. our Union) might reflect on whether it could allow the same liberty of conscience over the issue of participating in some aspect of a civil partnership arrangement by withdrawing an unusually specific restriction e.g. no longer prohibiting offering a church blessing without that amounting to a statement that the Union is either affirming active homosexual relationships or supporting gay marriage.

Lastly, an interesting point as to whether its sensible to define people according to their desires. I think its deeper than desires and closer to an issue of identity, with all that 'identity' entails. My identity can be (and has to be) described in a thousand ways, including my relationship to Christ, to my family, my visible characteristics... and somewhere down the line, I'd say part of my identity is that I'm straight. Now, you rightly say that our whole identity must come under Christ and 'the biblical pattern Christ has provided'. Agreed.

And that's where we are today - asking the question 'do the Scriptures offer any solace to a gay man or woman that their sexuality can be expressed in a loving, faithful monogamous relationship as we would answer 'yes' to for a straight couple? And of course historically the church would say no to that question. The current debate is asking the question ' is there more to break forth from Christ through Scripture on this issue'. Some say yes, others no, and others are unsure.

The big question for me is two-fold: firstly, can we find a way to allow the debate to happen without fearing the worst of each other, and secondly can we find a way of allowing the few who believe under Christ the rightness of adopting a non-traditional stance (as Steve Chalke has done by offering a church blessing to a gay couple) without simply showing them the door?

Wow, written more than I planned to do! Graham, thank you. You know how much I seriously value your wisdom in these matters.


Stuart Pascall

Derek, If I may, as a non Baptist (tho nevertheless still Christian!) make a comment. Rather than engaging in the theology on the matter in hand - which I am not particularly qualified to do - I simply want to thank you (and those who have contributed to the discussion trail) for your attitude and approach to what Steve C has said. Most of what I have read in other places has generated enough heat to make hell envious, and has often been nothing more nor less than a personal attack on Steve, giving little or no credence to his socio/spiritual credentials, nor respect to him as a brother in arms!. Whereas here, as a 'non theologian' but concerned human, I have discovered much light and encouragement in this particular arena of rational discussion and debate! (As a by product I've also understood more clearly what Malcolm Duncan meant in his original article in his blogged response to SC - and that of itself has been a blessing! How easy it is to re-nuance nuances in our minds!!)
I may or may not agree with Steve (the Chalke version!) but I am profoundly grateful for his integrity and his courage; having known him for years, I have never known him operate with anything other than deep and thought-through conviction. Long may he continue to prod the church (and especially me) into becoming more closely what it/I should be - the light and hope of Christ in a dark and hurting society!

Thanks again for your part in helping me to continue the journey of discovery along 'the Way' I hope that I can find a way of keeping in touch with your ongoing blogs! Although I give you fair warning that I shall probably never become a Baptist.......!!

David Kerrigan

Stuart, I'm glad you've found the thread here helpful. Genuinely, so have I, in fact almost every comment adds some new insight if we take the time to listen to each other. Now, as for not being a Baptist ... :-)

Stuart Pascall

So??!! That will throw up the most profound questions ever......\0/

Martin


Hi David,

I have read a number of discussions now relating to Steve Chalkes paper (yours and Malcolm's), and have a question which for me, (if answered), would crystallise just how far inclusion should go and whether it should ever go as far as accepting as equal homosexual and heterosexual marriage within the church.

Apologise for the English not being up to the same level as previous posts :-)

Question - If one person who is in a same sex marriage wished to consider going straight, should it be supported or discouraged?

I ask the question because to me the entire discussion seems to hang on my answer to this and it also touches on whether or not we should Bless Homosexual relationships.

Why?

Because if I apply equal values and standards to a homosexual marriage as I would a heterosexual marriage, I would apply the traditional teachings on faithfulness and love, God's view on adultery, his negative view on divorce and advise them to work through, if possible, their situation.

But, if a human relationship (in God's perfect will, Gen 2)), consists of a male/female relationship, how can I apply a similar standard to a same sex couple without compromising the potential that God may have in store for them? I would be honouring their marriage vows over God's revealed picture of what a marriage consisted of as presented in Gen 2.

The same goes for blessing relationships.

How do you ask God to bless a relationship where in all probability, if one wanted to split, it could actually be a positive from the sense of returning to the norm?

How is that anything other than a second class blessing?

Hopefully you can shed some light on the large issues here and please note that the questions are asked in good faith.

Would you be kind enough to offer some thoughts, especially on the original question.

Blessings

David Kerrigan

Martin, thanks for your comments and questions. I do accept that your questions are asked in good faith but I can only offer two comments in return, which probably wont be what you're hoping for.

Firstly, you seem to want to compare 'heterosexual marriage' and 'homosexual marriage' but you'll allow me to sidestep the underlying premise because as I've stated elsewhere I am against the proposed legislation to redefine marriage.

Secondly, and more importantly, you'll know that pastoral situations do not really lend themselves to an approach that says: 'here's the problem - can you tell me whether the answer is (a) or (b), support or discourage'. Whenever we are given the privilege and responsibility of accompanying people through pastoral crises what they need is others who can relate to them as Jesus would. And describing that can't be done in a few words but only by a lifetime of faithful discipleship. And even then we'd still just be learners!

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