Thursday, July 30, 2015

UBA's Response to Churches and Same-sex Marriage

In June the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Though it was a landmark decision, the Justices were not unanimous. The vote was 5 to 4.  For the first time ever Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts read his dissenting opinion from the bench. The division on the court mirrors the division in the country and in the church.

Even though same-sex marriage is now legal, the majority of UBA churches will choose not to participate. However, it is possible that some may setting up the potential for conflict and division among the churches of UBA.

This has not been the first time this has occurred in UBA history, nor will it be the last. The question is, how will we manage this situation?


In the 1990’s UBA adopted a set of values—people, results, innovation, diversity, excellence—which were later modified to include revelation and cooperation. Our values have shaped our development. For example, African-American congregations were excluded from UBA until the late 1960s when two churches were allowed to join the association. Even well into the early 90’s UBA was still an almost exclusively Anglo association. Then we adopted the value of diversity and set out to reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of our city. Today, about 25 years later, we are one-third Anglo congregations, one-third African American and one-third congregations that worship in a language other than English. We adopted the value of innovation and are known as one of the most innovative associations in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Our values are important to us.  Sometimes, though, our values are in conflict.  We value diversity.  We value people.  We also value revelation--what God says to us through his Word and through the leadership of His Spirit.

When the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) was adopted by the SBC in June, 2000, it precipitated a crisis in Baptist life.  Though there were not many differences between the two versions, there were a few changes that generated controversy and conflict.  In Texas, Baptists were divided. One state convention (the BGCT) remained sympathetic to the 1963 version. The other state convention (the SBTC) adopted the 2000 version. This created a dilemma for UBA since we had churches in both conventions.  The question was should UBA go the way of many associations and adopt one version of the BF&M over the other?

Our values guided how we handled the situation. We called together a group of UBA pastors that reflected the two sides of the issue to decide how we would manage the diversity in UBA. After a period of constructive dialogue and deliberation, the group recommended UBA allow a church to be part of the association so long as its doctrinal position was consistent with a version of the Baptist Faith and Message. We even made it a part of our by-laws. Today our by-laws state:
“Churches desiring membership in the association shall be approved by the ALC using the following criteria: … the church has embraced, and is practicing, beliefs consistent with one of the Baptist Faith and Messages.” [Article V. Membership, Section A]
Now we are challenged again. The Supreme Court's has legalized same-sex marriage. The two most recent versions of the BF&M clearly state that “marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime” (Section XVIII, 1963 amended in 1998, 2000).  However, the 1925 version does not have a statement on the family, and therein is the dilemma.

Before venturing too much further, let me say a word about the Baptist Faith and Message. The purpose of the BF&M is to accurately summarize and faithfully represent what the preponderance of Baptists agree the Bible teaches. The purpose is not force compliance but to clarify boundaries.  The BF&M does not cover every issue of Baptist life or belief. For example, the 1925 version of the BF&M did not include a section of the family. Neither did the 1963 version as it was originally written.

The absence of a statement on the family in the earlier versions should not be understood to mean that same-sex marriage is an area where Baptists are neutral.  When American culture began redefining marriage Southern Baptists modified the 1963 version adding a section on the family.   Southern Baptists regularly pass resolutions in annual meetings that made it clear that Southern Baptists believe marriage, as taught in the Scripture, is between a man and a woman. (To see a side-by-side comparison of the three versions of the BF&M, click here.)  There was no statement on the family in 1925 and 1963 because it was universally understood that marriage was between one man and one woman.  No statement was necessary.

When our Associational Leadership Council (ALC) met in July they affirmed this understanding and wanted to make it clear to our churches that we believe embracing the beliefs and practices of the Baptist Faith and Message means that marriage is between a man and a woman.  We do not believe same-sex marriage is biblical.

The ALC also wanted us to encourage and help our churches to love, minister to and reach all people with the gospel and love of Christ regardless of gender identity or same-sex attraction issues. Truth and grace must always go hand-in-hand when representing in word or deed what we believe the Bible teaches.

What about those churches that determine they can no longer follow the BF&M? They may choose to voluntarily withdraw from the association. If not, our by-laws state that leaders from the ALC will meet with the church and try to resolve the conflict. If they cannot, the issue is then to be taken to the Association in an open meeting for a vote. (Article VII. Jurisdiction)

In Acts 15 the early church struggled with a difficult doctrinal position—whether or not Gentiles could be saved, and if so, how should they be received by the church? Will they need to follow Jewish cleansing and dietary laws? What about other rules and regulations? After much dialogue and long deliberation--and I’m sure prayer for God’s guidance--they came to a decision that satisfied the leadership and determined that this decision should be announced to the churches growing up across the Mediterranean.  A crisis was resolved.

Paul and Silas were commissioned to take the message to the churches, but they could not agree upon whether or not to take John Mark with them. Another conflict. This one, unfortunately, had no middle ground. Either they take him or they don’t. In the end, Paul went one way. Silas and John Mark went another.

What are we to conclude from this story? In conflict we should seek common ground whenever possible. Sometimes, though, there is no common ground and it leads to a parting of ways. If that is the outcome, may all parties involved behave redemptively as did Paul and Silas who both went on to do good work … just not together.

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