A Special Assembly of Baptists in NSW and the ACT called to discuss “Affiliation, Baptist Values and Same Sex Marriage” has passed a motion that in effect upholds their existing policies which affirm traditional man-woman marriage and views of human sexuality. The assembly, similar to many other church networks, gathers lead ministers, delegates from churches and church agencies such as Morling College.
In 2019 five churches – Newtown Baptist Church, Wollongong Baptist Church, Castle Hill Baptist Church, Campbelltown Baptist Church and Chatswood Baptist Church proposed that a “church [that] continues to reject our foundational beliefs, objects and values” be removed from the NSW & ACT Baptist Association.
A task force found that “people strongly supported our current definition of marriage, not because it appeared in our constitution, we suspect, but because they believe it is the biblical view.” How to deal with dissenting churches was more controversial.
Today’s Assembly passed an amended version of the motion presented by the five churches. One senior leader described the motion to Eternity as simply re-stating the existing complaint process – which is handled by the Assembly Council and which can be referred to the Assembly which is usually held every year.
UPDATE: Steve Bartlett, Director of Ministries, emphasised to Eternity that the meeting was about more than traditional marriage.
“The motions reflect a desire to build on our unity that exists in the midst of diversity within the churches across the Baptist movement,” Bartlett said. “Discussion around who we are and how we express our interdependence is important for the ongoing vitality of our movement as we continue to pursue our Gen1K Vision.” [Gen1K is a bold church planting program. Eternity reported on it here.]
“Almost 500 people were connected across 8 venues throughout NSW & ACT for the meeting and were able to be part of the discussion and decision making.”
The meeting passed two motions
That assembly affirm in principle that continued support for the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the association should be an ongoing requirement for affiliation, and request that assembly council bring to a future assembly recommendations on (1) any constitutional amendments necessary to make that explicit, (2) a process for churches to give periodic reaffirmation of the basic doctrines, objects, and core values (no less frequently than 5 yearly), (3) a suitable process to apply section 17.5(a) of the constitution in circumstances where a church no longer meets such requirements.
Assembly affirms that accredited ministers are required to subscribe to the basic doctrines, objects and values of the Association as defined in the constitution and requests that Assembly Council bring to the next Ordinary Assembly a proposal to require annual confirmation of this as part of Continuing Ministerial Development.
The NSW and ACT Baptist constitution affirms in a long list of core values: “honouring marriage as an institution created by God as the foundation for a lifelong faithful union of a man and a woman.”
The Code of Ethics and Conduct which was updated last year includes this clause: “Pastoral leaders must not engage in a sexual relationship with anyone other than their spouse in marriage. As specified in the Accreditation Guidelines, ‘Marriage is defined as outlined in the Marriage Rites of the Baptist Union of Australia, (ie the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life) and must be a legally recognised marriage.’
“The standard is celibacy for any unmarried pastor.”
Today’s motions reflect the requirement that churches hold to the beliefs and values of the Baptist Association. They were passed by a solid majority. Those opposed were not necessarily supporters of a progressive position: Baptists hold firmly to the autonomy of the local church and for some centrally determined policy is controversial. Eternity is told very few in the Assembly were heard to espouse a progressive position.
Progressives are disappointed with today’s vote. They see it as unwelcoming to LGBTIQ people.