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Talking Together

Since the Government introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013, we have been listening to each other in order to discern our response as Baptists Together.  In 2016, Council agreed a statement concerning the registration of buildings for same sex marriage.
But the story of our engagement with issues raised by questions of sexuality goes back much further than this.
1988 – Ministerial Recognition Guidelines on Homosexuality

On the advice of a Working Group established by the Ministerial Recognition Committee, the Ministry Main Committee adopted the following guideline:
Homosexual orientation (whether male of female) is not of itself a reason for exclusion from ministry, but homosexual genital practice is to be regarded as unacceptable in the pastoral office.”

This statement still forms part of the Ministerial Recognition Guidelines.

2005 – Civil Partnerships Act

In December 2005, the Civil Partnerships Act was introduced, allowing same sex couples to form a civil partnership.  The Baptist Union Council discussed whether it would be appropriate for ministers and churches to offer services of blessing for a civil partnership.
The Council meeting in November 2008 agreed:
Recognising the continuing commitment to the historic teaching of the church on marriage, Council supports the work of the Ministry Department and Executive in its current offering of guidance and advice represented by the document, ’Civil Partnerships: guidance for ministers’.
It affirms its commitment to the educational process agreed previously and, recognising the diversity of voices within our Union of churches, continues to engage in a journey to seek the mind of Christ in mutual respect and fellowship.

The Ministry Department document 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.
The Human Sexuality Working Group was established in 2002 to prepare material and trainers to be available to guide churches on matters of sexuality.  Associations still provide opportunities for training on issues of human sexuality.

2013 – The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act

During Assembly 2013 a series of conversations were launched that took place throughout our union, in churches, associations and colleges on the issues around the registration of Baptist church buildings for the purpose of holding same sex marriage services. 
A breadth of opinion was expressed, as can be seen in this summary of responses received.
The issues were also considered in Council (November 2013, March 2014 and March 2016) and at many meetings of Team Leaders and the Baptist Steering Group.
At Assembly 2014 an update of our process was shared and the following was offered on behalf of the Baptist Steering Group to express where we were up to on the journey.  This served as a backdrop to the continuing conversations and the way we sought to behave as Baptists Together.
As a union of churches in covenant together we will respect the differences on this issue which both enrich us and potentially could divide as we seek to live in fellowship under the direction of our Declaration of Principle ‘That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His Laws.’
Upholding the liberty of a local church to determine its own mind on this matter, in accordance with our Declaration of Principle, we also recognise the freedom of a minister to respond to the wishes of their church, where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.
We affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman, as the continuing foundation of belief in our Baptist Churches.
A Baptist minister is required to live and work within the guidelines adopted by the Baptist Union of Great Britain regarding sexuality and the ministry that include ‘a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage (as defined between a man and a woman) is deemed conduct unbecoming for a minister’.


2016 – Council Statement

In March 2016 our Council engaged further in discernment through a time of intense prayer, careful listening and respectful discussion. By the end of that meeting, Council clearly discerned that it should offer to our Union a statement concerning potential registration of our buildings for same sex marriage. The agreed statement re-affirms Christian marriage and recognises our ecclesiology, it encourages creative mission and it encourages a commitment to unity in diversity.
To read the Council Statement click here.  An accompanying letter was sent to all churches with the statement.

The Faith and Society Team produced some notes which are offered as general guidance for churches and ministers concerned about the implications of the introduction of same sex marriages in 2014.  They were provided in response to the introduction of the Act and should not be read as an opinion.
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Talking Together - discussion process
Responding to the Same Sex Marriage Act