MELBOURNE, Australia (ABP) – Australian Baptist leaders distanced themselves from comments supporting gay marriage made by a pastor on national television.
Nathan Nettleton, pastor of South Yarra Community Baptist Church in Melbourne, said in a panel discussion July 10 on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Compass program that he supports marriage equality for same-sex couples.
“For myself I actually support it and would be willing to conduct a same-sex wedding were such things allowed,” Nettleton said.
Australian Baptist Ministries, also known as the Baptist Union of Australia, responded with a statement that Nettleton’s views are not shared by an overwhelming majority of Baptists in Australia and around the world.
“It is regrettable that Mr. Nettleton failed to consult with Australian Baptist leaders before expressing his personal views about same-sex marriage on national television,” said John Beasy, president of Australian Baptist Ministries.
Beasy gave Nettleton credit for making it clear he was not representing the official Baptist position on marriage. “It is disappointing that ABC staff chose not to invite a more representative Baptist voice to participate in the Compass program,” he said.
Last November Australian Baptists reaffirmed marriage as the union of one man and one woman and commended the Australian government for opposing changes to federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.”
An Australian Baptist Ministries position paper said extending marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples would “represent a radical revision to the public understanding of marriage as a social institution and a radical challenge to the Christian understanding of marriage.”
While not all Australians share a Christian understanding of marriage, Baptist leaders said a majority does “have a moral framework informed by their Christian heritage, and all humankind possesses a sense of the natural law given by God in Creation.”
The paper said the “inevitable outcome” of the legislation allowing same-sex marriage would be for those who defend traditional marriage to be viewed as “bigots.”
“In a very short time, as has already been demonstrated in the United States and Britain, activists would wield antidiscrimination laws as weapons against those who cannot in good conscience accept the revisionist understanding of sexuality and marriage,” the position paper said.
Nettleton, who is heterosexual and married, said he supported reform in the marriage law for two reasons.
“As a Baptist I have a strong commitment to the separation of church and state, and therefore to the state not privileging any particular religious view, even mine,” he said. “We actually need to look at it in terms of justice, of compassion, of equality for all people. And so I think the case would need to be made that allowing same-sex marriage would actually be detrimental to the community in some way before I would argue that the state should legislate against it.”
Nettleton said he didn’t always feel that way. “I began as quite homophobic and quite hostile to any form of acceptance of gay people in church,” he said.
His views on the subject changed, he said in an online commentary, after he went through a divorce and experienced life as an outsider.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.