Looming LGBT disagreements could split Norwegian Baptists
The Norwegian Baptist Union is working hard to avoid a split over theological disagreements on homosexuality.
Kristelig Pressekontor · OSLO · 26 OCTOBER 2020 · 13:00 CET
The annual general meeting of the Norwegian Baptist Union is due at the end of October, and the differences on how to handle LGBT matters is hanging over the delegates like a dark cloud. One local church is at risk of being excluded from the union.
A network of conservative churches, Veien Videre (The Road Ahead), has threatened to leave the union over the matter in order to form a new union, but have been persuaded to postpone such a decision awaiting the outcome of a broader process on how to proceed.
“Many of us in Veien Videre consider this matter to be so difficult we think we should consider splitting the Baptist Union. The result of our meeting on 12th August still was that we will try to keep together”, network spokesman Magnar Mæland explains to Christian Press Agency KPK.
The case at hand is the appointment of a lesbian woman as a member of the local church council in Bærum Baptist Church, just outside the Norwegian capital Oslo.
In 2009 Norway became the sixth country in the world to acknowledge same-sex marriages, and the lesbian woman is legally married to another woman. She was elected as part of the church council in the autumn of 2018. This is contrary to the Baptist union rules and guidelines, which do not allow people who are in gay relationships to hold such positions.
Discussions have been going on for two years concerning how the union should react to this breach. The debate about what to do also takes place against the backdrop of a similar case a few years back.
Calls for exclusion
A wide survey made by the church union last year revealed that a majority of the Baptist churches were opposed to the election of the lesbian woman in the suburban Bærum church. Out of 104 churches, 72 Baptist churches responded to the survey. 47 said they could not accept or live with Bærum Baptist Church going against the general union guidelines. Only two churches supported the Bærum church.
Several churches have called for Bærum Baptist Church to either exclude the woman from the council or face the risk of being excluded from the national church union themselves.
Instead the church re-elected the woman this year thereby clearly stating they were not going to change their stance.
Since every Baptist church is an independent entity – and this runs strongly through The Baptist Union – eventually the only available sanction is to exclude the church in Bærum.
This is what happened in 2006 when Oslo 3. Baptist Church was expelled from the union over a similar matter, and what happens now rings a bell among many Norwegian Baptists, whether conservative or liberal. On that occasion the annual general meeting with a large majority overruled a decision made earlier by the union main board. Oslo 3. Baptist Church later was closed down.
Fear of splitting up
Since 2006 the conservative majority of the union is believed to have diminished, although they are likely to still outnumber the liberals.
The Veien Videre network consists of 15 profiled conservative local church leaders. They have stated explicitly that they are impatient and want the conflict over LGBT matters to be solved as soon as possible. A decision to leave the union is looming. Thus they have put pressure on the national board to propose a decision which in the end will be made by the annual meeting.
Originally the board wanted the question of excluding the Bærum church to be handled in the 2022 general meeting. Veien Videre considered this to be too late.
After a heated newspaper debate between the spokesman for Veien Videre and some liberal voices in July, talks were held between the board and the network in August. Veien Videre then agreed to hold back any exclusion proposals until the 2021 annual meeting.
On the other hand the board agreed to speed up the so-called BID22 process which is about formulating a document that will describe the present day Baptist Union identity, the union’s biblical view and the understanding of liberties and obligations within the Baptist community.
The implication is that the document will give a clearer direction for the Baptist churches and will spell out guidelines for handling situations like the one the union encounters at this point in time.
This way the Norwegian Baptist Union board seems to have bought themselves time to ensure that the process ahead will be less heated and more constructive. The hope obviously is that the growing Baptist Union, with its 6,650 baptised members and an additional 5,500 youth and children not yet baptised, will not fray at the seams.
Meanwhile representatives of Bærum Baptist Church have temporarily accepted to step down from any national position until the BID22 process and the handling of their case has been completed. That is likely to happen in a little less than a year – providing more coronavirus postponements can be avoided.