As the Baptist Union votes to uphold its historic teaching and not permit ministers to enter into a same-sex marriage, two Baptist ministers discuss their differing views. Here, Ashley Hardingham explains why he holds a liberal position, which has been written in response to Chris Goswami’s view that marriage is between one man and one woman


Source: Photo by Darya Sannikova:

This week, the Baptist Union Council, following two years of consultation with individuals and churches, announced it will not change its existing rules on marriage.

Chris Goswami is Associate Minister at Lymm Baptist Church and takes a traditional view on marriage. A stone’s throw away, Ashley Hardingham is Lead Minister at Altrincham Baptist Church and has taken his church through an 18-month conversation to a “fully inclusive” view. They are good friends with contrasting opinions. Both feel that being able to disagree well is more important than their opinions. They have offered the following articles to Premier Christianity in the hope of illustrating the importance of continuing dialogue in a spirit of love and openness.

What follows is Ashley Hardingham’s perspective. You can read an alternative view from Chris Goswami here.

In my experience, the ““slippery slope”” argument which Chris uses is a commonly stated challenge to an inclusive position.

I recognise the examples given with regard to divorce and euthanasia. I am no fan of divorce, and take Malachi 2 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 with all seriousness. But it’s possible to recognise places where it is permissible, even helpful, from a Christian perspective. Over the past 100 years, divorce legislation may have become lax, but there can be occasions where the law now gives people the possibility of a more fulfilled and hopeful future - as Chris’s experience shows.

I am also concerned about changes to end of life care legislation – and disagree with views recently expressed by Esther Rantzen. As I understand it, her views are based on difficult cases, but an adage of the legal profession is that “hard cases make bad law”. Therefore the logic that relates to especially difficult situations may unravel when extrapolated into general principles.

If we cannot provide a consistent interpretive tool that can be applied across scripture, who gets to decide?


Chris (left) and Ashley (right) in discussion

Returning to LGBT inclusion, is the ““slippery slope” the only lens with which we can view changes in faith and understanding? And are these changes inevitably downward? The evangelical Church has undergone many changes in the past 50 years, so why does this one stick in the throat? Might there not be examples of upward developments in our faith and understanding?

For example, the appointment of women into ordained ministry. The transformation of the Church through the charismatic renewal of the 60s and 70s has brought many lasting benefits. There have been positive developments in our biblical and theological development. We should not simply be defined by reformed theology, or the evangelical response to the Enlightenment and scientific age. Textural criticism, the search for the historical Jesus, inter-denominational and inter-faith dialogue have helped us in many ways.

Then, what about the campaign that, in 1986 was victorious in staving off Sunday shopping, but later failed in 1994? We now seem shameless about popping into Sainsburys on the way home from church. Evangelicals now drink alcohol more readily than perhaps they ever did, and even the most conservative now recognise a difference between sexual-orientation and sexual-practice.

We have managed to assimilate all these changes which, at the time, appeared to be the last straw. So why is this the issue under which evangelical faith will somehow crumble?

The slippery slope argument is selective in its examples and overlooks positive changes to faith and practice. I simply don’t buy it.

Scriptural perspectives

The Baptist Declaration of Principle (the only statement around which Baptist churches gather as we don’t have a statement of faith) says: “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”. I affirm that statement, which carries a small but important difference from the Evangelical Alliance statement of faith, which prioritises scripture alone.

Biblical arguments, both traditional and affirming, have been well made, for me, no better than in the book Two Views on Homosexuality: the Bible and the Church (Zondervan), written by four authors with differing views.

Genesis 1 and 2 are not listed in the dreadfully named “clobber texts” (which include Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6) but they have been crucial in evangelical orthodoxy.

In relation to the LGBT debate, these verses are usually given as a direct and unequivocal interpretation of word-for-word truth for today. This is, indeed, one way to interpret them, as is Genesis 1 and six-day creationism. But let’s apply the “one man and one woman” argument to the biblical marriages of Jacob (married to two sisters), David (eight wives, including the wife of someone he murdered) and Solomon (700 wives and 300 concubines).

If the existence of non-monogamy in the Old Testament does not indicate it is God’s will – as Chris correctly says - why not apply that to Genesis 1:27-28, and the assertion that God commanded men and women to “Be fruitful and increase in number”? I’m not saying you should, but I do want consistency, nuance or better exegesis.

We now seem shameless about popping into Sainsburys on the way home from Church

Furthermore, if we adopt the same literal approach to the command to “Be fruitful and increase in number”, it would mean every Christian couple should have multiple children – far more than the 1.7 UK average. Do we preach and encourage this? Do churches support infertile couples with funding for fertility treatment? Were my parents, with the looming fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis, wrong to wonder about the wisdom of bringing children into the world?

Given the expansion in the world population and pressure on resources, is further filling the earth really what God calls us to? I once spoke with one of the authors of the Church of England’s Living in Faith and Love report and asked him about these verses. His response was that he believed it to be categorically sinful not to comply with the instruction of Genesis 1:27-28 to have many children.

If we cannot provide a consistent interpretive tool that can be applied across scripture, who gets to decide which is the right one for each passage? And how can these interpretations rightly be challenged?

In closing

One final thought…well more of a confession really. The truth is that I am biased on this issue. I am biased because my understanding of Christian faith is shaped by my upbringing and experience. But then this is true of every single person! Some young (Christian) people today may well be aping culture on this issue but, then again, are we not all aping the culture that has shaped us? Can we admit that?

All of us are trying to understand the Bible, through the lens of Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and within the redeeming influence of the Christian community.

Click here to read Chris Goswami’s article on why he believes that marriage is for one man and one woman