Melbourne’s Bayside Church, an influential Pentecostal fellowship based in the southern suburb of Cheltenham has released an inclusion statement that declares “all are equally worthy of respect, dignity, and love, regardless of gender, sexuality, age, ability, race, or ethnicity.”
Bayside states that it is committed to being a safe space for all. “Everyone is invited, welcomed, and supported to grow in their relationship with God and each other. Everyone is encouraged to use their gifts and abilities to serve God and others,” the statement says.
Eternity asked Bayside pastor Rob Buckingham some questions about their new inclusion statement.
Is this a new departure for your church or have you made public something you have been working on for some time?
The Inclusion Statement is the culmination of more than a decade of journeying for our church. We had hoped to release the statement sooner but, due to other pressing needs due to the pandemic, it has been delayed.
And so, during 2021, the Bayside Church Board and Ministry Leaders have worked in unity to craft an inclusion Statement that reflects our desire to be a safe church for all. We’ve listened to the Holy Spirit, and we’ve studied Scripture.
Were there particular experiences or people’s stories that caused you to make this change?
Yes, particularly the various Royal Commissions into:
- Family violence
- Mental health, and
- Institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
We have also listened to the broader community, understanding that the Holy Spirit can speak through other people. We witness this in the Arc of Scripture and throughout history. In times past, we see that the church has changed its mind on things like slavery, women’s rights, single-parent families, children born out of wedlock, interracial marriage, separation, divorce, and many other things.
We have also listened to people in our own church community. People who have experienced discrimination because of their skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, or age, amongst other things.As a result, we have implemented changes, training, policies, and processes to make sure Bayside Church is the safest place possible for all people, especially those deemed vulnerable.
Are you likely to have same gender wedding at Bayside?
The church network we’re affiliated with has currently got no provision for the accredited ministers to officiate at same gender weddings.
Have other Pentecostal churches responded to your announcement?
Not at this stage.
Is there something else you’d like to say?
The main thing is that the Inclusion Statement is broad and seeks to cover the range of people that tend to experience discrimination in our society ~ gender, sexuality, age, ability, race, or ethnicity.
Also, we believe the Bible teaches that discrimination is a sin. Sometimes the church is preoccupied with other people’s sins and then marginalises those people. Maybe it’s time for us to realise that the church frequently commits the sin of discrimination (Acts 10:34; James 2:2-4, 8-9; Romans 2:11, 10:12; Proverbs 24:23, 28:21; 1 Tim 5:21).
At Bayside Church, we have made a choice NOT to discriminate. Every person will be treated with love, respect, and dignity. Everyone will be treated the same.
(interview ends) Eternity understands that Bayside is part of the Crosslink Network which has conservative/orthodox position on sexuality.
The logic of the Bayside inclusion statement would suggest that the church might want to hold a same gender wedding in future. Bayside might follow in the steps of Activate church in Adelaide, a smaller Pentecostal church that left its network, the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) over this issue.
Introducing the new inclusion statement, Pastor Buckingham told the Bayside congregation
“We have also listened to the broader community, understanding that the Holy Spirit can speak through other people. We witness this in the Arc of Scripture and throughout history. In times past, we see that the church has changed its mind on things like slavery, women’s rights, single-parent families, children born out of wedlock, interracial marriage, separation, divorce, and many other things….
“I consider how many things have changed in my lifetime. When I was younger, there were no ramps for people in wheelchairs. We told Jokes about people of different ethnicities. The mentally ill were locked away in asylums, referred to as inmates, and guarded by keepers. Church authorities covered up allegations of child sexual abuse.
“Society has changed, and the church needs to change with it.”
Activate and now Bayside appear at this stage to be outlier churches within Australian Pentecostalism, with the major networks (ACC, C3, Hillsong and CRC Churches International) committed to a traditional/orthodox position on sexuality.