Our home church (Howick Baptist) belongs to the Baptist Union of New Zealand.

After  our government’s decision to pass the  Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, the Baptist Union met at the 2013 Assembly to consider its position on the matter.  The delegates voted to  affirm the  current position on same-sex marriage, and resolved to set up  a working party to consider the matters of same-sex marriage and church autonomy further.

The  working party was appointed in March/April 2014, and  submissions were invited up to 31 August 2014.

HBC’s submission to this working party included a members  statement on marriage and sexuality, and an additional document that discussed local church autonomy in general.

The Working Party spent the first half of 2015 working through the submissions (both verbal and oral).

Last month, the NZ Baptist Union Working Party released their report on same-sex marriage and church autonomy and sent it out to churches for consideration ahead of the 2015 National Assembly. Our church family will be getting individual copies of the report and recommendations this Sunday.

Having read it, I can say that there’s quite a lot that’s good about  the report. It’s well-written and carefully thought out. There are some areas where  it doesn’t go far enough on, but that’s for our leadership to work through and respond to.

Yet I still  think our church’s members statement  explores all the issues around marriage and sexuality in a clear and gracious way.

In particular, Points 5, 8 and 9 are often forgotten amidst the discussion (with added emphasis in bold):

5. We must carefully distinguish between same-sex attraction and homosexual acts. Temptation, including sexual attraction, is not sin. Sin is yielding to temptation. Jesus himself was tempted, yet without sin (Matt. 4:1-11, Heb. 4:15). It is not a sin to be tempted in the area of same gender sex. Jesus sympathises with our weaknesses and promises to provide a way of escape in every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

8. The gospel is full of grace and truth. It is an offer of grace and forgiveness to all sinners, including homosexuals, as well as a call to live a holy life. It empowers us in the struggle to resist sin, including the sin of homosexual practice (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Tit. 2:11-13).

9. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit displaying deep relationships of love. Celibacy and singleness are to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.

It’s concerning that some of the opposition to same-sex relationships I’ve heard from people is not really grounded in anything much more than the “yuck” factor. And it’s not good to hear the tone and tenor of Christians who  oppose gay and lesbians as though they could never be God’s image-bearers, as though they’re not your friends, family, neighbours, or part of your church family. It can be as simple as the  flippant “that’s so gay” comment, or just that you haven’t got an ongoing relationship with  a single friend or family that identifies as same-sex attracted.

Could it be that in our efforts to defend marriage we end up putting it on a pedestal and worshipping it as the highest ideal of life?  I mean, Jesus and Paul lived rich and full lives as single, celibate men.

My marriage to Cheryl is a good thing, but it is meant to point to something greater. As Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield put it:

“As important as earthly marriage and family are, they are both fleetingly temporary, while Christ and the family of God (the church) are wondrously eternal.”

Please keep the elders and leaders of Baptist churches across New Zealand in prayer as this topic will come to a head again later this year at the November Baptist Assembly. We also shouldn’t forget our friends in other denominations that will be wrestling with similar discussions (e.g. Anglican churches regarding  Motion 30).

Most of all, please  pray that we would all be clear and compassionate in all we  proclaim and practice, for the glory of our Bridegroom Jesus.

More helpful reading:

  • Livingout.org – everything on here is fantastic and comes from same-sex attracted individuals who are striving to follow Jesus Christ
  • We are all messy – Rosaria Butterfield on loving our gay and lesbian friends