Canadian Baptist leaders said they were puzzled by Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page’s statement that in Canada a pastor can be jailed for speaking out against homosexuality.
EthicsDaily.com on Friday reported Page’s comment, quoted from an American Family Association webcast, about what might happen if gay marriage were to become legal in the United States.
“Just look to Canada,” Page said. “Already in Canada, if as a pastor, you speak against homosexuality, you can be jailed. And I’ve told my people in my church, ‘You just have to come visit me in jail, because they may be where we’re headed.’ I’m just saying life is going to change if that happens. Life is going to change as we know it.”
Two Canadian Baptist leaders contacted by EthicsDaily.com took exception to Page’s assessment.
“There is emphatically no federal or provincial jurisdiction that is punitive or creates sanctions against pastors who refuse to perform same-sex marriages,” Jeremy Bell, executive minister of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, said in an e-mail. “No elected official on any level nor any court (federal or provincial) has intimated that this might be a possibility.”
“The same sex marriage law was passed a few years ago,” said Gary Nelson, general secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries. “Pastors are still able to decide who they will marry and who they won’t just as it has always been.”
Bell said the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada “vigorously opposed” the redefinition of marriage and “sought to ensure that freedom of religion and expression is not only observed by all, but assured by the law.”
Lois Mitchell, director of public witness and social concerns for the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches, represented Canadian Baptist Ministries in a 2003 paper urging Canada’s parliament not to sanction same-sex marriage.
“We challenge the assumption that our Parliament has the authority to redefine marriage, since it is an institution which existed prior to the establishment of the Canadian Parliament,” Mitchell wrote. “However, we also believe that a strong case can be made for preserving the opposite-sex understanding of marriage on the grounds that the unique nature of marriage as a covenantal bond between a man and a woman is an important cornerstone of our society. The marriage relationship, as currently understood, should not be fundamentally changed.”
The Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches adopted a statement in 1999 affirming a Christian view of marriage as a “publicly recognized covenanting together for life between a woman and a man who live together in relationship.”
A 2002 resolution urged Parliament to “continue to affirm the distinctive nature of heterosexual marriage and seek to protect it and uphold it in law and in policy.”
Nelson said it takes “humble sensitivity” to “live as a biblical people in a place where you are only one voice of many and are not necessarily the dominant voice.”
“You may not want to live there in the U.S.,” Nelson said. “We can respect that and appreciate it, but this is our world and we would appreciate understanding of its complexity. It is not easy, but it has been a great place of learning for the church in Canada. It requires much more courage and subtlety than is expressed in a simplistic statement such as the one attributed to Frank Page.”
Nelson said even churches “must respect that they are only one voice in a number of voices, and the ability to dialogue in a pluralistic world is not so much about prison as they are about creating healthy places where their voices can be heard.”
“I do not fear prison as much as I would be concerned about simply being ignored or marginalized even more because I have chosen to speak with a sense of entitlement and assumed moral authority that others around me have not granted,” he said. “In Canada we earn the right to speak, and speak we do with courage and sensitivity.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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