Listen to Gamaliel?

Stock Illustration - Three people in a tug of war with another big group.

Someone once said ‘the one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.’ We seem destined – definitely not ‘pre-destined’ – (unless you believe in meticulous sovereignty) to repeat the same errors.

For as long as there has been a church there have been divisions – those of Paul and those of Apollus to complementarians & egalitarians (to name but one issue). Now I will stop using big words and talk about sex.

Today will be an interesting day in NSW as the Baptist tribe over there meet to decide on how they will respond to churches that support same sex marriage. There is a motion on the table to vote them out of the tribe and to only accept as kosher, churches who can subscribe to a conservative and orthodox theology on this issue i.e. marriage = a man and woman. If the affirming churches are given the boot then the pastors of those communities will also lose their accreditation, so it’s a pretty big deal and no doubt it will have ripple effects across the rest of Aussie Baptists.

What makes this a particularly vexed issue is that one of our (apparent) ‘Baptist distinctives’ is liberty of conscience – the right to hold dissenting opinions on non-core issues – but maybe only certain non-core issues. Not this one… This one is a deal breaker… like divorce was 40 or 50 years ago… like inerrancy was in the 80’s… like the place of women is today… Oh yeah… we’ve been here before…

Only this subject is evoking stronger reactions. I remember hearing Rowland Croucher once explain why he believed divorce was now permitted by evangelical Christians – and it was simply because so many of us wanted to do it… So we found a way to validate our own choices. Let’s be honest; if 50% of conservative evangelicals also had a same sex orientation then we would make a similar decision – no matter what scripture appears to teach. But this is a minority group in society and probably a smaller minority again in churches – so the decision is much easier.

I will be intrigued to see how liberty of conscience is dealt with in regards to this issue. We have statements of faith in which matters of sexuality are not referred to so this clearly isn’t a core / salvation issue – but for some it is still worth dividing over. And I realise I am writing on a polarising and touchy subject but I don’t like what I am seeing and it’s possible implications. What’s ironic is that we can lament Andrew Thorburn’s sacking on the basis of his Christian convictions despite living in a society that allows freedom of speech (except for a small minority) and yet offer our own version of this.

Conform or be excluded. Surely we can’t have it both ways?…

I have spent my whole life steeped in evangelical teaching and culture so I have read scripture thru that lens for as long as I can remember. As a result I hold a conservative position on matters of sexuality. I have looked thru many different lenses to try and view the subject differently – to learn from those who disagree with me – but this is just how it is for me. At this point in my life I can’t see it differently. I just can’t fudge my internal convictions. Truth is I could be wrong on this issue, but barring a divine intervention I will probably go to my grave holding these convictions.

So my concern is not from a perspective of preventing dodgy theology taking root. I am concerned because we just seem so prone to wasting our time on these disputes rather than being able to accept that within our communities there will be people who think differently on a whole range of things. So my prayer for the NSW baptists today is not that ‘truth will win’, but that love will win (oh yeah… which ‘heretic’ said that?!) and unity in the midst of diversity will be championed and chosen over one faction getting to expel a minority group from the tribe. Surely that tells the world we are followers of Christ, more than doubling down on theology?

Perhaps it is time to heed the wisdom of Gamaliel in Acts 5 when the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin. This small group were causing much angst and the simplest option was to rid the world of them. Until Gamaliel chips in:

38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

If same sex marriage isn’t a God thing then expect that group of people to eventually die out, but if it is then we don’t want to be people who are opposing a move of God. And if you sniff a waver in my convictions in that sentence then remember Acts 11 when ‘God changed his mind’ and decided to welcome Gentiles into his family. Of course God didn’t change his mind (we know that…) but he revealed to one group of people that their inherited prejudices were preventing them from seeing the reality of God’s love for the whole world – not just for them.