O Absalom, my son, my son!

The result of a year long consultation by the Baptist Union came out this week, in the form of a statement by its council. It arose after a few Baptist churches lobbied for a change in the Ministerial Recognition Rules to allow ministers to be in same-sex marriages. What is noteworthy is that the Council, after deep consultation and consideration, concluded that the rules should not be changed – making British Baptists the first major denomination of which I am aware to have bucked the LGBTQ+ bandwagon.

The first paragraph of the five paragraph statement summarises their reasoning:

Council maintains that the basis of our Union is the Declaration of Principle and, “that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures…”

To parse this, the logic is:

  • The Baptist Union’s governing principle is that the teaching of Jesus is the only authority they have, and that this is revealed in (the whole) Scriptures. There is no valid reason for the denomination to dethrone Jesus or his word as a ruling principle.
  • The Scriptures, carefully considered, clearly rule on the issue at hand. This is accurate, as all the denominational debates show that the biblical case for homosexual practice is unsustainable, so it ends up being “Scripture may say this, but lived experience and love trump it.”
  • Therefore, they discern the will of Jesus on this matter to be clear, and that settles it.

The second paragraph describes what that means: no pastors in same-sex marriages, although homosexual orientation itself is not a bar to ministry, and individual churches retain (as is customary for the BU) the individual liberty of their governing documents. So far, so good. But…

The final three paragraphs attempt to deal with the fallout from such a “controversial” decision, “lament[ing] all the pain that has been experienced through the process,” recognising the wide range of convictions (ie that some will be hopping mad about it), asking for mutual forbearance and unity in the bond of peace, and so on.

I heard about it at a church meeting that just happened to be a couple of hours after the publication of the statement, and we were asked not to respond verbally, recognising (like the statement itself) that some would be hurt, and offering personal meetings with any such.

Now, the acknowledgement of pain is worthy and loving, but I confess that my immediate thought was the Scripture I’d recently read about the defeat of the rebellion of King David’s son, Absalom. I have an unusually strong memory of this somewhat obscure passage, for the simple reason that when I was quite small my older brother, for some strange reason, memorised the verse:

O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, o Absalom, my son, my son!

(2 Samuel 18:23)

As in the KJV it has a rather sing-song quality, I too picked it up. Now Absalom was far from an ideal son, having earlier raped his sister and now led a rebellion against his father, the divinely anointed king. But hearing that Absalom had been killed in the battle that routed the rebels and restored David’s reign, the king went indoors and sulked (as above), so that consequently the troops who had risked their lives on his behalf (and on behalf of God’s will) had to creep back into the city as if they’d been defeated. It took stern words that he would face another rebellion if he didn’t show some gratitude, from his field commander Joab, to get David back into circulation.

When I compare that to this week’s decision, there are some parallels. What actually happened, on the Council’s own evidence, is that they conclusively discerned Scriptural teaching, and therefore the will of their Lord Jesus, and therefore what is going to bless both the churches and the individuals in them who are willing to accept the Lordship of Jesus. That clarification ought to be a cause for rejoicing, though not triumphalism.

If the Lord’s will has been discerned (which is certainly how the statement is worded), then what it forbids is against the revealed will of the Lord. The tone, surely, should be gladness and thanksgiving that the teaching of Jesus has been determined, and a gentle call to those who disagree to think again about their position in the light of their Council’s determination, to search the Scriptures, and perhaps to repent for what amounts to rebellion against their Lord, even if unwittingly from ignorance.

As it stands, the tone is more like, “Sorry we had to come to this problematic decision – but our hands are tied by the rules.” If what is required of the people in the pew (who, I guarantee, are overwhelmingly supportive of the decision in the most Evangelical of the mainstream denominations here) is that they put on sackcloth and ashes on behalf of those “marginalised” by it, then the stage has been set for another rebellion. The disgruntled will say, “There! We are again being oppressed by the Patriarchy,” and Baptists encouraged to consider, above all, the pain of the losers are that much more likely to join the next revolt.

Imagine one of the great early ecumenical councils, such as that of Nicaea, called to resolve division on a vital theological matter (in this case the deity of Jesus against the fashionable Arians). After much deliberation they conclude that Arianism is indeed, heretical, on the clear evidence of Scripture and the most reliable tradition of the Church, but the bulk of their circular letter announcing the outcome is about considering the hurt caused to so many Arians and the need to support them. We’d probably never have got a Nicene Creed after that.

Jesus’s teaching (and remember, as God’s Logos he is the divine author of all Scripture, and not just the bits in red print) is actually cleansing, liberating and joyful. That which is hard or challenging in it is, in most cases, ultimately the most cleansing, most liberating and the most joyful, for a denomination as much as for the sinners involved in it seeking salvation. It would have been nice to see that truth reflected more clearly in the Council Statement.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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7 Responses to O Absalom, my son, my son!

  1. Avatar photo GD says:

    Yes Jon, believing Jesus seems to embarrass some who declare themselves as Christian.

  2. jb says:

    Thanks, Jon. I fully agree with your critique. Just one minor slip: Absalom did NOT rape his sister Tamar, but, rather, avenged her rape by their half-brother Amnon, whom David left unpunished (2 Sam. 13).

  3. Robert Byers says:

    Its not openm to debate. The bible is clear. Man and woman only join in a unique way in nature to become one flesh. Also for reproduction. marruage was made by God and mankind exclusively for the male/female union. Homosexual marriage does not exist. its not just evil and repulsive its the rejection of what marriage was. You can not add it on without overthrowing its unique rules. Glas to see come Christian opposition but any who support gy marriage or anything gay are not obeying God or christ of anything with historical christianity.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      I suppose the interesting question is why it seems plausible to so many at this particular time… but that’s a societal change I’ve explored a lot here at The Hump, and in more depth in Seeing Through Smoke.

      Behind everything it boils down the the heart being deceitful above all things (Jeremiah) and to Satan being a master deceiver.

      • Robert Byers says:

        All such corruption does find satan behind it.
        Yet many common people simply sincerely see homosexuality as a real thing in that person. Its not of the fee will. Its natural or even if a error in the body its still natural. So they conlude its love and justice to consent to it and no more despise as was done by evryone in the past.
        however the ugliness of it and its obvious opposition to the beautiful relationship of man and woman as the only profound relationship in nature, no animals, and gods ideas and having kids should still dominate.
        i think the people are open to persuasion to put jomosexuality back in the shadows a s lonf as it does not come from unlove or injustice. that mean it being unnatiral must be strongly asserted bu the good guys. then how repilsive it is. then demand it be moved out of socoetys acceptance while allowing it to exist and to be friends and countrymen with them. it is a passion of the loud left bthese days and so we must be passionate in opposition.

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