It’s been a couple of days since the 2015 Baptist Assembly/Hui, held from Thursday to Saturday in Tauranga, New Zealand. While there was a well-thought out and interesting  programme around the theme “humility, unity and intimacy”, the key issue on the table was a discussion and vote regarding same-sex marriages on Friday 6 November.

The outcome was that  the Baptist Union of New Zealand voted in favour of three  resolutions: upholding a biblical definition of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman; affirming that NZ Baptists will not conduct same-sex marriages or allow our properties to be used for same; and not nominating marriage celebrants who conduct same-sex marriages to the Registrar of Marriage (in the first instance).

Even before mainstream media outlets reported on this, the results (including voting percentages) had already been  leaked online in an article  titled “Baptists add threats to gay marriage opposition”:

The first resolution says “The Baptist Union of NZ Assembly 2015 continues to uphold the sanctity of the biblical understanding of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman”. It passed with a 97 per cent of the vote in favour.

The second resolution affirmed that no Baptist Church will conduct same-sex marriages or allow properties to be used for same-sex marriage services. This resolution passed with 83 per cent of the vote in favour.

The final resolution, passing with 78 percent of the vote in favour, and perhaps the most revealing of all three, stated: “If a Baptist celebrant conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony, the marriage celebrant, in the first instance, will no longer be nominated to the Registrar of Marriages by the Baptist Union of NZ.”

There’s lots of things spinning around in my head and  my recall isn’t that fantastic, so  please don’t see what follows  as an official account of what took place (I hope the BU will publish an official statement soon). I’ve chosen not to name names and churches (except my own) – please also note that  I’m not speaking  on behalf of my church here. This is my own attempt at thinking through a complex, difficult issue that involves real people, real families and real communities. Also, apologies for any typos or grammatical mistakes – I’m rushing through a whole bunch of writing today.


In April 2013, the New Zealand parliament voted to pass into law  the  Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, making New Zealand the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage.

Intending to protect Baptist churches concerned about being  forced to perform a marriage between same-sex couples, the Assembly Council (an elected body representing Baptist churches in the Baptist Union of New Zealand) brought to the annual gathering of BU churches two  motions for  ratification:

  1. That Baptist pastors do not conduct same sex marriages or use their properties for the same.
  2. That a Working Party would be established to canvas Baptist churches about the issue of same-sex marriage and autonomy

During the November 2013 business meeting (held in Manukau), the first motion was immediately  amended from a prohibition to a “recommendation”, which was subsequently voted through (I wasn’t at this meeting; you  can read more about it here).

Over the next 2 years, the Working Party received verbal and oral submissions, produced a report, from which  the Assembly Council brought three resolutions to this year’s meeting.

What happened at the  meeting

Interest for the meeting was high, with over 600 delegates registered (more than double the usual attendance – certainly more than last year’s Assembly at Waitangi). Registered delegates were permitted into the meeting room. I met  quite a few people who had  come along  just to watch the debate (“I’m here for the bunfight”, said one person in jest).  It was probably wise that they weren’t allowed into the meeting room (there was a live feed available instead). Journalists were explicitly asked to leave the meeting, and filming was prohibited. As voting delegates, we were each handed a green A5 sheet  with the resolutions on one side, and Yes / No boxes on the reverse to indicate our vote on the resolutions as framed during the discussion.

Three resolutions were tabled, and delegates were allowed to speak to  each one (we only learned this on the day). Ian (one of our  elders) had the opportunity to speak on Resolution 1, while I spoke  on Resolution 2 (you can read it here). Over 30 different speakers took the floor – I think in general, people were a lot more prepared compared to the  2013 discussion.

Voting was by secret ballot at the end of the meeting. HBC’s  delegates voted in favour of all three resolutions, in line with our church’s stance on the issue.

During the discussion I tried to note down who spoke and the positions expressed.

For  Resolution 1  (what the biblical definition of marriage should be), 8 delegates  spoke in favour of the resolution, 3 spoke against the resolution (and in favour of same-sex marriages performed in Baptist churches), with one unclear. The main arguments in support were an appeal to the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, a need to hold God’s love and holiness together, and a need to uphold the historical, orthodox view of marriage. The main arguments against Resolution 1 were that “it was a secondary matter of faith” that churches in Union could disagree on, that we are all sinners, and  that it would be unconstitutional and un-Baptist to legislate against what a local  church had decided on. To be honest, I expected  the speakers against to bring forward more arguments concerning the Biblical texts, instead of focusing largely on autonomy, constitution and procedural issues.

The discussion on Resolution 2 (therefore, Baptists will not conduct same sex marriages etc) turned out to be  where much of the manoeuvring and debating took place. There were 15 speeches in total during this section. Half of those who spoke on Resolution 2 opposed and/or wished to amend Resolution 2. Some  disagreed with it in line with their opposition to the first resolution, but for quite a few others, the point of contention was that while  they were  not in favour of same-sex marriages, they felt it went against the spirit of “Baptist autonomy”  to make a binding decision affecting other churches who disagreed. “Why can’t we be both/and?”, said one speaker.  The argument that came through in support of Resolution 2 was that “it’s better to be Biblical than Baptist”, i.e. the principle of autonomy should not override the clear teachings of Christ.

During the discussion on resolution 2, a  proposed amendment to change the wording from “will not conduct same-sex marriages” to “recommend that we not conduct…” was tabled (it was quite nerve-wracking having to speak straight after this pastor!) It got a bit complicated after this but the Chair was helpful, explaining that speeches needed to address the amendment.

After a nervous wait, the amendment  was eventually voted down on a  show of hands. Here’s the enduring image from the meeting  etched into my mind:  a sea of green voting papers, raised into the air to oppose the amendment, flags held high by the silent majority. I think that was the moment when you  felt like the three resolutions were going to  make it through.

There was another amendment on resolution 2 for minor word changes  (affirms rather than agrees together; buildings to properties) that did go through. I felt  the person who made the amendment broke standing orders  though (he started with a “point of order” and then proposed the amendment – essentially jumping the long queue of people who had been patiently waiting to speak).

I found it harder to  follow the discussion on resolution 3 (pastors who conduct same-sex marriages would no longer be nominated to the list of BU celebrants) – perhaps because I was hungry for lunch! I think there were about a half dozen speakers. The  first  was an amendment that tried to take out the phrase “in the first instance” from the wording;  that was voted down. Following that, there were a few more speakers both for and against, with the last one being particularly upset that Baptist delegates were so interested in this issue but not others.

Encouraging things

In no particular order, here’s what I found encouraging:

  • The process wasn’t rushed.  Someone once complained to me that it was ridiculous for the Baptist Union to take 2 years to “work out” an issue  that was crystal clear  in the Scriptures. And while his point had merit, I do  think that by taking the time and inviting as many churches and individuals to participate in the process, we ended up with a result that  truly reflected the majority NZ Baptist heart and mind concerning autonomy and same-sex marriage, and therefore a much stronger mandate for the resolutions.
  • There wasn’t a hateful attitude  towards the LGBT community.  Throughout the debate and in the months prior, I didn’t  see anything that could be described as “gay-hating” (as one delegate put it). The mover of the three motions noted from the start that we have often not loved our LGBT friends and family as we ought. One speaker, representing the LGBT community as a practising homosexual, was warmly applauded. The majority of speakers were clear, compassionate and gracious in tone. In fact, the most strident and angry-sounding speakers tended to be those  opposed  to  the resolutions (particularly towards the end of the meeting). Many spoke of how this issue  affected them personally, with  friends, family, and members of their churches. In particular, one  speaker for resolution 2 explained that all of us had sin to repent of, and that we would do well to adopt Jesus’s approach of  loving someone and calling them to turn from idolising something  (e.g. the rich young ruler in Mark 10 – “Jesus looked at him, and loved him” – then called him to give up the wealth he treasured above everything else). It was explained in such a loving and kind way – you could hear a pin drop in the room. It was good to have this kind of civility during  such an emotionally tense discussion.
  • Belated ethnic voices.  The working party report noted the missing voice of non-NZ European churches in the submissions it received. There weren’t many that spoke who could be considered non-Caucasian. But it was good to hear from one pastor who shared that his international congregation (including Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African Christians) wanted certainty and clarity from all this discussion and supported all three resolutions. It’s reminded me that  in many  other denominations, it’s the Global South and countries like China and India that comprise the majority of active Christians. So I really appreciated that.
  • The meeting was well-run. Other than the point-of-order queue jump earlier on, I think the meeting was run quite well. Not an easy task for the Chairperson and the timekeepers. Volunteers helped to count votes and usher people to the right seats. All these little touches helped to make the meeting go more smoothly.


Here are some concerns and questions I have coming away from the meeting (again, in no particular order).

  • Forgetting  the missing  category – I  wish someone could  have floated  a fourth resolution  along the lines of: “Baptists should sympathise with those who struggle with same-sex attraction, and with their families, even as we continue to encourage all Christians to live godly lives that conform to the clear teachings of Scripture.”  (copied verbatim from our church’s members statement). We need to acknowledge that there’s another category between  the sin of gay  pride (in the vein of Glee) and the sin of homophobia/hate crime (in the vein of Westboro).  While  some speakers did well with this, I felt the underlying assumption for several  speakers remained that same-sex attracted individuals were cases to be cured, rather than image-bearers whose biggest problem was unbelief, needing (like all of us)  to repent from self-centredness and to find  satisfaction in Christ alone. I personally know individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction but accept the gospel and strive to follow a life under the lordship of Christ. Sometimes I cringe at what we as Christians communicate in  our category assumptions.  Sam Allberry says it best: “All of us are sexual sinners.”   I love the work that goes on with groups like and individuals like Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. I think their perspectives  are largely MIA  in our discussions.
  • The autonomy sacred cow – I found it concerning the number of speakers who appealed to the autonomy of individual churches as an irreversible trump card for the whole situation. Others have spoken well on this  (e.g.  here). The other line of thought frequently referred to during the debate was that the resolutions were  illegal and unconstitutional. Is it illegal/unconstitutional for a voluntary association to set rules around its member churches? And  maybe we’ve  forgotten that Jesus was terribly unconstitutional (in the Pharisees’ eyes at least) for  healing on the Sabbath, for forgiving sin, and ultimately for raising dead hearts to life. One speaker rightly suggested that  perhaps  autonomy is our denomination’s  corban issue, where we’ve “let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”. Autonomy shouldn’t override the clear teachings of Christ on the gospel, marriage, sexuality and faithfulness. That’s not autonomy; it’s anarchy.
  • The next generation – It seems like the under-30 age group was under-represented – both at the meeting itself and during the Working Party process. (Other than myself, there were only a handful of speakers that could be considered young adults). In addition, the younger generation  that spoke during the meeting were mostly against the 2nd and 3rd resolutions.  I feel like in 10-15 years time I’ll be in the minority group amongst my peers (not that it’s necessarily a  bad place to be).
  • Carey cone of silence – Other than the Chair of the Working Party (an adjunct lecturer), not a single lecturer or staff member from Carey Baptist College spoke up during the meeting, or contributed publicly to the Working Party process. For a discussion that involved much theological wrestling, you would think that the NZ BU’s official theological college would have wanted to enter the discussion publicly, or to resource  churches with their submissions and discussions in some way. It’s possible I’m wrong and that  Carey did lots of speaking and teaching on this issue behind the scenes, or in individual churches. Maybe they were asked not to participate in the discussion. But I felt it was a noticeable cone of silence during the meeting itself, and in the lead-up. I hope in future the College  plays a more  active role (even to the general public) on other issues (e.g. euthanasia, poverty, refugees, sex slavery) – that would certainly help.

Standing firm within your denomination

I didn’t choose to be a Baptist – I pretty much fell into this denomination after becoming a Christian. Since then I’ve heard a range of views regarding the pros and cons  of participating within a denomination that our church finds itself at odds with on a range of second-level issues (e.g. church leadership, spiritual gifts, nature of missions, etc). I’ve heard  people  who I respect implore us to  “come out and be separate”, and other voices I respect that have encouraged us to  “stay and  influence”. It’s hard to say which is better at this point in time. But as long as our church can in good conscience remain  in the Baptist Union, I  think  it’s important for us to be engaged as much as we’re able to in areas of shared belief  and practice.

The discussion highlighted that many in the Baptist family are still focused on proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners. If that’s the case, then it’s  worth being involved. I think the value is  not in  picking fights with the most strident  voices in opposition, but to network and learn alongside  the  moderate majority, the brothers and sisters in the middle who are doing their best with what God’s given them in their area of God’s vineyard, who could be open to a more robust mutual confession.  It’s much harder to do all that from the outside looking in.

The cost of following Jesus

I’m tired now, so I want to close this off. I write this with family I deeply love that affirm a gay lifestyle. I write this with friends who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. I write this as a dad struggling to raise my children to love the Lord completely –  heart, mind, soul and strength. I write this as a sexual sinner myself. In Christ, there  is forgiveness for all sins.

I write all  this recognising that to the eyes of the watching world, much of the discussion and decisions regarding the same-sex marriage issue will sound punitive, vindictive and offensive. I’m very sorry if it reads this way. Three statements on paper looks very impersonal and clinical without the context of men and women who dialogued prayerfully, extensively, and graciously on the subject. Once  the decision goes public, Baptist  leaders and churches will be pilloried and mocked. I’m sure the  media will be unforgiving.

But maybe that’s exactly where God wants us to be. After all, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:26). And we’re warned: “Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Christians have never been promised an easy ride – “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Our Saviour was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53).

For our Christian friends  on the outside looking in, please remember  Baptist leaders, pastors and churches in your prayers in the weeks ahead.  And fellow Baptists, let’s also pray for those in other denominations wrestling through the same issue in their contexts (e.g. Anglicans with Motion 30).

Finally, I hope in all this, all of us remain fixed on the goal of clinging to the death and resurrection of  Jesus as the only remedy for  our sins – sexual or otherwise, and that we encourage one another to live godly lives that reflect the glory of Christ.

“…Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

5 replies on “Unpacking Baptist Hui 2015”

  1. Thank you William for a great reflection of your Hui experience.
    Like you I would have appreciated an opertunity for the Carey community to speak but understand why they did not. My understanding on why we did not get any formal voice from the Carey team is because they are not a ‘Church’. Consequently they do not qualify to speak or vote. You will however find their staff within baptist churches where they can speak into the conversation or come as delegates (some did).
    As a college they did however speak and present but not on the ssm issue. Just as the baptist mission spoke regarding the areas they are established for. (For the college this was the Saturday presentation on church pastoral training)

    Again thanks for sharing your thoughts, as baptist this is how we belive we will hear the voice of God… as we journey and descern the word by His Spirit together!

  2. Thanks for this post, well written and very fair. The Howick voice is helpful to the rest of the Union. Blessings.

  3. Hi William, Well written summary of the vote. One correction is the resolutions & votes weren’t leaked online by the GayNZ site in the article you quote but were published on 6th by the NZ Christian Network – presumably direct from the Hui.
    Other than those two articles and some reports back like this blog of yours there doesn’t seems to have been any public reporting at all – not a peep about it in the NZ Baptist website & although I haven’t seem it yet nothing in the NZ Baptist Magazine – very odd nothing is said about the topic that was the main one of the Hui and bought out double the usual attendees as you say. No statement not even a whisper. Very strange – almost like Baptists are ashamed or perhaps afraid of press reaction. I would suggest however that there’s something worse than the press calling out “Baptist Homopobia” & that’s the press shrugging & considering the Baptist vote unsurprising, uninteresting & irrelevant. (& looks like that is in fact the case as I presume the mainstream press monitor both sources)

    1. Thanks for the clarifications James – appreciate it. I didn’t know that the NZ Christian Network had been liveblogging the debate! Re: lack of mainstream media attention, I don’t think there’s a fear of press reaction – I asked Craig via email whether there would be anything published by the BU, and he said that he’d already been in contact with the Herald. I think once the Paris attacks happened the news cycle quickly moved on. The Anglicans are wrestling through this issue next year so maybe all this will come up then.

  4. Hehe – I rather trust Glyn or whoever wasn’t liveblogging from the debate given the request for media to leave!!!
    I also had a laugh at the line in your post “with the last one being particularly upset that Baptist delegates were so interested in this issue but not others.” – in years of knowing Andrew I’ve never seen him angry before (& he deals with Uni students so is given regular cause that would see me loose it!). He does have a very valid reason though – any non Baptists can’t believe this was the biggest thing we had to decide (& the point he made about the third of churches that contribute nothing to NZBMS without sanction or seemingly even a disturbed conscience at the promises broken is a good one)
    To quote a Baptist Union of Victoria paper on the subject…
    “While there are five or six references to homosexual sins in the Bible, and each of these are subject to disputes about their meaning, there are some 2,000 references to poverty that are very clear in comparison. Even these raw statistics should make us wonder why the current round of bitter controversies within the churches is focused on gay marriage rather than on the eradication of poverty.”
    Anyway keep the blogs up – they’re well considered & appreciated – although I’d say we are at opposite ends of the spectrum regards marriage I appreciate your recognition of “the missing category” (but if you can’t quote Kiwi LGBTI Christian voices there perhaps that’s something to reflect on)

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