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The Power and Use of Language (Part 1): I am an affirming Baptist

Language is powerful. Our intentional choice of words and their combination can simultaneously give insight into our view points and influence the points of view of others. 

At times language choice has changed over time to try and put across a certain stance and persuade the reader/listener to reconsider their stance. One of the biggest examples of this in the UK is within the euthanasia (original word meaning ‘dying well’) debate. The language choices from the pro-euthanasia side, have shifted over the years, and have included the highly emotive term ‘mercy-killings’, ‘assisted suicide’ and most recently ‘assisted dying’. Each shift of language taking a little bit of the ‘sting’ out of the concept that doctors who are trained to preserve and save lives may be asked to take those very lives away. It can be charted that the little shifts in language from the pro-euthanasia campaigners, have also caused an increase in the acceptance of the practice across the UK. Language is powerful. 

In this, the first of three musings on language choice, we will explore the term ‘affirming’ and how its intentional choice alongside the term Baptist (see Affirming Baptists Facebook Group) is a misplaced word but one that may naturally be met with positivity and acceptance. 

The word ‘affirm’ comes from two Latin words ‘ad’ and ‘firmus’. From this etymological examination, we can see the original meaning included concepts of strengthening, deciding upon or to make firm. Further tracing of the word then includes it being used ‘to state positively’ (late 14th Century). 

When the term ‘Affirming Baptists’ is used as the adopted name and description of Baptists who are open to affirming same sex marriage (as per their Facebook group description), I question their use of the term ‘affirming’. Surely the more accurate description of the group is ‘Baptists who affirm same sex marriage’, as this group are not setting out to strengthen/decide upon/state positively Baptists, but to decide upon the definition and understanding of marriage across the UK Baptist family. The more accurate name is longer and more cumbersome but at least it accurately describes what they are affirming. Their intentional use of the word ‘affirming’ is to marginalise those in the Baptist family who hold a different view on marriage to them and to intentionally reach out and win over those who are affirming same sex relationships. (Please note, this last comment is not against those from the LGBTQI+ community or but more about the use of language to intentionally influence and put a stance across; in this case, to imply Baptists as a denomination are affirming (or should be affirming) of same-sex relationships). 

We need to use language appropriately, not simply to win people over but to be clear about where we stand and communicate that with openness and honesty. Let’s speak plainly and not try to use persuasive techniques through word choice. 

Consider these more appropriate uses of the term ‘affirm’ or ‘affirming’ as a Baptist: 

I affirm God’s love and concern for all human beings, whatever their sexuality, and so repudiate all attitudes and actions which victimise or diminish people whose affections are directed towards people of the same sex. We are encouraged many Christians now recognise and deeply regret the hurt caused by past and present failures in their responses to those who experience same-sex attraction. 

I affirm that marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship for life. Marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations and homoerotic sexual practice is incompatible with His will as revealed in Scripture. We do not accept that holding these theological and ethical views on biblical grounds is in itself homophobic. 

I affirm the principles that unite us as Baptists. I want to help affirm i.e. strengthen Baptist believers (and all other ones too), strengthening one another according to God’s Word . I want to help affirm, i.e. decide upon, what it means to be a Baptist; a movement who at its heart and origins were evangelical dissenters, willing to hold onto a radical interpretation of scripture and lived lives that were counter cultural. I want to help affirm i.e. state positively, the principles of being a Baptist, as outlined in the Declaration of Principle. 

I am an affirming Baptist. 

Some will disagree with my stance on some of the things that I have said, but I believe that I am trying to be clear and make firm the stance I have, without misusing words intentionally for impact and positively and negatively influencing others. 

2 thoughts on “The Power and Use of Language (Part 1): I am an affirming Baptist”

  1. But surely we are equally guilty of we contract “Evangelical Baptists for Biblical Marriage” to “Evangelical Baptists”, limiting the term to those who believe the scriptures teach only heterosexual marrige in all contexts, and evaluating those evangelicals who read the same passages yet see new light for a new situation and believe that I’m a particular time and context same sex marriage is either blessed or accommodated, and excluding also those evangelicals who understands both readings and see both sides as legitimate scriptural exposition.

    “affirming” is recognised as shorthand but has wider meanings adjust from that use
    Evangelical is recognised as shorthand but has wider meanings adjust from that use also

  2. Hi Brian
    I agree our title is inadequate, (I don’t even like the term ‘evangelical’) but your suggestion is likewise inadequate. Although we are currently confronted with the SSM issue for Min Rec., our ambit won’t be confined to this as God moves the church forward. I believe that there are detrimental forces in the Universe, which are always seeking to distract us by sinful self-absorption from the centrality of God’s ultimate revelation in Jesus, the living Word. I believe that God wants to ensure that prophetic movements are raised up through church history that turn us back to that Living Word. God bless you, Mark

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