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Council to Revisit Ministerial Guidelines on Civil Partnerships 

Baptists are to look again at the guidance they give to ministers on civil partnerships

The issue will be revisited at the November meeting of Baptist Union Council after members at this week's Council meeting voted to review the guidance they had issued in 2009.

There will be a wide consultation, which will incorporate a session at Assembly in May where church members can contribute to the conversation. That 2009 guidance specified that ministers should not conduct services of blessing for a civil partnership, though churches' freedom to 'interpret the laws of Christ' was not infringed, with the Church Meeting free to establish a policy that services of blessing could be conducted at the church.

However, since it had been issued, the landscape had changed for two main reasons, said the Revd Dr. Paul Goodliff, ministries team leader at the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

Firstly there had been the introduction of the bill to legalise same sex marriage which was currently going through Parliament, which, if passed, could change the nature of civil partnerships. Secondly much is being written on the subject in the Christian press, and our Union 'welcomed the conversation.'

The issue of revisiting the guidelines had been brought to Council via the Transitional Steering Group and the Trustee Board, with input from the Faith and Society Team.

The accompanying report explained that a review might be beneficial for a number of reasons: For example, in reflecting upon the question - in a Union that affirms the responsibility of the local church to discern the mind of Christ, is it right to limit that responsibility and liberty by constraining its ministers?

While many Baptist ministers are in full agreement with the policy on civil partnerships, there are some who would want the freedom to respond to a request for a civil partnership blessing affirmatively. Should they be restricted?

In responding to the consultation about same sex marriage invited by the Government, the Transitional Steering Group and the Faith and Society team are already engaged in ethical, ecclesiological and practical reflection upon the implications of the change in marriage. A review of this separate, but related matter is likely to be necessary at Council at an early opportunity.

When put to the vote, there was a clear majority in favour, though around 15 did not support the proposal.

Dr. Goodliff explained that revisiting the guidance 'doesn't imply that Council will change it', and explained there would be a 'broad consultation' across our Union.

'We want to be listening to voices other than just the ones who will be meeting in November. We live with a lot of assumptions, and it would be good to get a  stronger evidential base of what our churches think on this issue.'

Starting this consultation will be an opportunity for local churches to discuss this at Assembly. Council members voted overwhelmingly to replace the session reserved for public resolutions with space to discuss this issue.

The Revd Dianne Tidball, regional minister team leader of the East Midland Baptist Association, spoke of her wish that conversation be conducted within a pastoral and missional framework. While it would be good to have the conversation, she said revival and arresting the decline of the church were more pressing issues. 'While I said yes to this, I have a heart for something else.'

The Revd Jonathan Edwards said there were a 'vareity of voices' across our Union, and spoke of his prayer that the conversation at Assembly is conducted in a 'gracious, positive and biblically-rooted spirit'.
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