by Revd Dr Richard L Kidd
If I simply say that I am offended by the March 2016 statement of the Baptist Union Council concerning the registration of Baptist churches for the conduct of same-sex marriages, it is possible that I will be misunderstood as intolerant. I am deeply offended, however, not because I am intolerant but because I feel myself to be badly compromised in my covenant commitment as a Recognised Minister of the Baptist Union.
Sadly, I do not find in this statement a recognisable identity of the Baptist covenant community that I have served, to the best of my ability and integrity, for more than forty years. Indeed, I find it outrageous that such a statement should purport to find its basis in our crucially important Declaration of Principle, our Basis of Union, when it so obviously contradicts its spirit and, almost certainly, its letter.
I write this as one who only came to value our Basis of Union already some years into my service as a Baptist minister. In 1972, when I first applied for training as a Baptist minister, I was turned down by one of our Colleges because my zealous charismatic evangelical convictions were seen as too extreme to be contained within the scope of the then Baptist Union. Only later, after training and some years as a Baptist minister, did I come to realise what a broad church we rightly are and should be, and how deeply this is enshrined in our constitutional documents, focused most strongly in the Declaration of Principle. I came to value this so highly that, although I have now travelled many degrees of arc across a theological spectrum, I have remained consistently committed to accepting and remaining in active fellowship with a very wide range of fellow Baptists, including many with whom I profoundly disagree on an equally wide range of issues. I would like to think that today I would still gladly welcome my own earlier charismatic fundamentalist self into fellowship – even though I would now consider him badly misguided.
In the 1990s (odd how these things turn around, is it not?) I found myself named as Editor of what has become a foundation text for many of today's Baptist ministerial students (in Britain and around the world) working to understand our Baptist heritage, entitled Something to Declare. In it, accompanied by some of the most able pastor-theologians of a generation, I was able to give voice to the central place that the Declaration of Principle had come to play in my own responsible discipleship as a Baptist minister.
What is it, then, that offends me so deeply? Two things stand out.
First and foremost I am offended that any Council of the Union should presume to tell me and my covenanted colleagues what a biblical view of marriage actually looks like - as if, indeed, there were such a thing anyway! In fact, I hold one of many widely respected interpretations of scripture on this issue, and understand that the only discipline within which I am asked to live as a faithful Baptist minister is to remain open to having my interpretation tested, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in a recognised Baptist congregational community. This I continue gladly to do.
Second I am offended that I should be publicly urged to live with such absurd asymmetries in our covenant relationships - in which I accept the strongly held views of others, without any reciprocal undertaking that they will also accept mine. I am offended because, in reality, I have already freely and faithfully chosen to make just such a commitment over many years, without anyone needing to ask more of me than I promised at the time of ordination – it is already there in our commitment to the Declaration of Principle. Over many years, I have tolerated the views of ministers and congregations with whom I profoundly disagree. Some have condemned the ministries of women, some have resisted calls to denounce racism and some have demonised our gay disciple-companions advocating remedial medical intervention. I have remained throughout consistent in my tolerant fellowship with them, and I do not need to be urged to offer further tolerance. Now Council dares to ask me and other faithful congregations and ministers to refrain from affirming our understanding of God’s gracious presence in loving and committed same-sex relationships. We need to be very clear where real intolerance is located.
In the name, therefore, of a heritage that I have come proudly to recognise as Baptist, clearly stated in our Declaration of Principle, I request that the Baptist Union Council urgently moves to rescind its March 2016 statement, and offers an appropriate apology, for the offence it has caused to many of its committed congregations and ministers and for its ill-measured failure to do proper justice to its own Basis of Union.