One of the values that I have appreciated about our Baptist family is the autonomy of the local church. Everything the Association does has to be done out of relationship and collaboration rather than coercion and
Obviously, there are strengths and weaknesses in any value. At its worst, decisions can take a long time to work through, and we need to accept that some churches may take a very different path to other churches, sometimes an opposite one. Yet, at its best, this value forces us to listen to each other, and make room for voices that may otherwise get drowned out. It encourages tolerance and acts as a check and balance as we seek God’s will on any corporate matter.
Aside from impacting our internal discussions, this value also means that our public voice is impacted too. Any statements the Association makes publically must take into consideration the wide and varied views of our member churches on any given matter.
In Parliament recently, there was a motion put forward seeking to prevent lobbying, demonstrating, or protests of any kind around abortion clinics. This is, of course, a very emotive subject in church circles. So how should the Association speak into questions like this? The truth is, that even in our own Association there are differing perspectives. Yet, even if there was consensus, how do we communicate our thoughts with love and not alienate the very people who we are ultimately seeking to reach?
There are many other subjects that the world is grappling with: euthanasia, sexuality, gender, stem cell research, the environment, and racial inequality, to name a few; should we have a voice in these questions? If so, then whose voice?
One of the things I have noticed is the posture that the Association has taken in any public statements. First, we are not quick to speak. Rather the approach is measured, wise counsel is sought and much prayer is entered into.
Second, the tone is as important as the message. Always gentle, noncombative, and conciliatory (by that I mean eager to listen).
As political tensions continue to rise around the world, and society is more and more intolerant of differing opinions, my hope is that we, the Baptist family, can model what it is to stay in relationship, while debating important matters. Listening to each other’s views, together finding a way to move forward, where staying in relationship is more important than winning an argument, and ultimately allowing God’s Spirit to guide us in all truth.