UK Baptists leave gay marriage up to local church, while affirming traditional view

British Baptist leaders say a statement affirming local-church autonomy is being misinterpreted by secular media as condoning same-sex marriage.

By Bob Allen

The Baptist Union of Great Britain said in a recent statement that decisions related to a same-sex marriage law recently passed by Parliament are the purview of the local church, not the denomination.

The statement, released following a yearlong study and dialogue, recognizes “the liberty of a local church to determine its own mind on this matter,” while affirming the traditional biblical understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman.

bugbIt requires Baptist ministers to work within the guidelines adopted by the Baptist Union of Great Britain regarding sexuality and the ministry, including that “a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage (as defined between a man and a woman) is deemed conduct unbecoming for a minister.”

A secular news headline “Baptist Union to allow gay marriage ceremonies” prompted a second statement, clarifying that “no decision has been made that same sex ceremonies can take place in BUGB churches.”

“What has been reiterated, is that any such decision rests with the local church and not the Union as a whole,” the clarification said. “In the case of Baptists, the recognized religious authority is properly recognized as a local church meeting.”

Steve Chalke, a British Baptist minister whose Oasis Trust was recently expelled from the Evangelical Alliance over his support for same-sex marriage, welcomed the BUGB statement as “more open response” to LGBT issues and called it “an important step forward.”

The follow-up statement called it “misleading and inaccurate” to describe the initial statement as a “radical move,” however, labeling it “neither a shift in policy nor a departure from its longstanding traditions and principles relating to freedom of conscience.”

“A report was given on behalf of the Union’s leadership, of what they believed to be the mind of its churches on this matter, as milestone in a long and ongoing discussion,” leaders explained. “It was not voted upon, nor was it presented as a proposal or policy statement.”

“BUGB has emphasized this at every stage of the process, and it is misleading to describe it in any way as a change or shift in policy.”