The ‘writing’ she is referring to is the implementation of the February 2021 Special Assembly motions requiring all Baptist churches to affirm on a 5-yearly basis the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the Association, and all ministers to affirm these annually.
These motions have caused considerable disquiet – for those who believe they are at variance with our Baptist values of freedom of conscience and the autonomy of the local church; for those who are concerned about what they communicate to LGBTIQ people in our churches (or who had LGBTIQ family members); and for those who believe that the gospel calls us to welcome and affirm all people irrespective of sexual identity or orientation.
There is currently very little in our Association doctrines, objects and core values which addresses the question of sexual orientation – apart from one line, a sub-point of the ‘Relationally Committed’ value which states: “honouring marriage as an institution created by God as the foundation for a lifelong faithful union of a man and a woman”.
On Friday, however, we received draft recommendations from the Assembly Council for a far more explicit statement to be added to the Constitution. The proposed statement reads: “Marriage is a covenant relationship ordained by God as a lifelong faithful union of one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy outside such a marriage relationship is incompatible with God’s intention for us as his people.”
The draft recommendations state that all churches and all ministers will be given 18 months (once it is adopted) to affirm this statement. If a church or minister fails to respond they will lose their voting rights at Baptist Assemblies. If a church or minister states that they cannot affirm the statement, they will automatically be disaffiliated (or, in the case of ministers, their accreditation or recognition will cease.)
All week I have been fielding phone calls and emails from pastor who are devastated by these draft recommendations; pastors, who like me, have been deeply involved in this process, engaging openly and vulnerably with the Taskforce that was established to work through the issue, praying diligently with our colleagues across the Association. They are still draft recommendation and there are still conversation to be had, at the 3rd September Forum and 12th November Assembly, and we are committed to these – to continuing to work for a breadth of expression in Baptist life and a depth of commitment to Baptist values – but many people, like my colleague above, are seeing “the writing on the wall”.
On Sunday, as many of you know, we discussed the seriousness of these developments and passed this motion:
That the church notes that the diaconate has been exploring options that would allow like-minded Baptist churches across Australia to collaborate more effectively and supports continued exploration of these options. Canberra Baptist Church continues to engage with the Association in the hope that these resolutions will be either reversed or never activated. We would leave the Association reluctantly and with sorrow.
As I have been speaking with my sorrowing colleagues, however, and thinking about the reference to “the writing on the wall”, I have been asking what God might write on the wall for Canberra Baptist Church?
And the words that have come are from Psalm 23. I believe this is what God is saying to us as we continue to engage – positively and prayerfully – with the Association, and (should the draft recommendations be adopted) as we continue as a church exploring what it means to follow Jesus today, building inclusive caring community and sharing God’s love and justice in our words and actions, and – and I am sure of this – finding others who will hare this work of exploring and building and sharing, led by God’s Spirit, with us.
The words I see on the wall for Canberra Baptist are: “Even though you walk through the darkest valley, fear no evil, for I am with you.”
God is with us. Let us go on – in love – and in confidence of God’s love.
PS This Sunday we are sharing saintly love stories! You are all encouraged to come with a very simple story of a kindness someone in the church has done for you.
PPS You will also have seen Steve’s email yesterday about the Listening, Learning, Listing process we are commencing. This is something you can use for your own reflection and prayers for the mission of our church – or take it further and be part of the brief weekly gatherings, after church, on Sunday 4th, 11th and 18th September in the (appropriately named!) Greening Room!
PPPS Please continue praying for what is taking place in our Association. To join with others in the Association for prayer on Zoom Thursday evening 7:45-8:30pm – register here.
To be part of the 3 September Forum, 10am to 4pm – in person in Sydney or online – register here: