Spring Harvest turns down the heat

This week AE Member Alex Huzzy reflects on Spring Harvest 2011 which he attended with a number of other members of AE…

This evening at Spring Harvest, the main speaker spoke about those times when Christians really get it wrong. The times when we not only fail to communicate the love of God effectively, but actually make other people feel that God hates them. He mentioned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in this context.

During the prayers after the talk, he urged people to go and call the son whose wedding they didn’t go to, or the daughter they’d disowned. The message was clear – nobody falls outside the love of God, and where we have made others believe that God hates them, that hatred has come from ourselves, not from God.

He also made that point that it is our actions as well as our words which have communicated this hatred.

I thought this was a really interesting point. Few UK Christians would overtly proclaim that God hated LGBT people in the manner of Fred Phelps. But you could argue that the actions of the church have spoken louder than words. Seeing prominent Christians channelling thousands of pounds of their own money into maintaining legislation like Section 28, hearing prominent Christian pressure groups campaigning to be able to bar gay people from their businesses or from adopting children, even hearing Christians trying to justify why LGBT people are not worthy to teach or be in leadership in church. All of these have sent out a clear message to LGBT people – we don’t like you, you’re not as good as we are, and we don’t want you in our churches.

Now what was interesting was that no reappraisal on the traditional view of human sexuality was called for or even hinted at. In fact, the speaker referred to ‘lifestyles we cannot condone’ and ‘choices we do not agree with’, the kind of misleading language which anybody with any experience of LGBT people would realise was unhelpful. But there was a significant shift in priority. The most important priority for the church should no longer be to make LGBT people realise how wrong they are, but rather to make LGBT people feel how loved they are. It doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that we all agree on our interpretation of the Bible, but rather simply that we begin to take seriously those much-quoted words of Billy Graham – ‘God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, it’s our job just to love’.

That’s what is so great about Accepting Evangelicals. It’s not about whether you agree with same-sex relationships or not. It is about standing up for a truth we can all agree on; that God deeply, passionately and unconditionally loves everybody. It’s about recognising that the church which makes LGBT people feel that God hates them does more damage to the Gospel than the church which extends an unconditional welcome to all, regardless of their beliefs about sexuality.

Imagine the church which seeks to extend a full, hearty and unconditional welcome to LGBT people. A church which encourages LGBT people to come on in and worship, pray and study the Bible alongside everyone else. A church which believes that belonging and being in community is more important than believing ‘the right thing’ about same-sex relationships. Isn’t that preferable to the church which demands full compliance with a set of moral tickboxes before it allows people to get involved?

The problem is that actually being in the welcoming church is much less comfortable for all concerned. For those who hold to the traditional view, it’s uncomfortable hanging out with people whose relationships you don’t understand or agree with. For LGBT people, it’s profoundly uncomfortable hanging out with those who believe that your relationship, your family, or your gender identity is wrong, damaging or unbiblical. But maybe that’s where God would have us be, united in a commitment to love and respect one another, rather than publicly trying to exclude, undermine and reject one another.

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18 Comments

  1. This is an excellent piece. As a longstanding Spring Harvester myself, it is very encouraging that there are members of the Spring Harvest leadership team who are coming round to seeing LGBT inclusion as part of our Gospel message. They need supporting in prayer as they prepare next year’s programme.
    May I take the opportunity to draw attention to the Believe Out Loud video at believeoutloud.com/million-strong
    which makes the case very powerfully that this is about people not issues.

    • The Skegness Spring Harvest just before Easter had one very good session where gay people ‘came out’ and shared and were listened to with respect, followed by one very different session in which the teaching was Reform tradition and very harsh. Overall I think the leadership for Spring Harvest is moving on this. Wish I could say the same for New Wine!

      • this comment grabbed my attention ! I have only recently begun to ‘come out’ and have spent many a year (20 +years actually) in the evangelical church denying my sexuality and having this reinforced tenfold by the events and churches i attended. Over the years I have spent weeks at New Wine because Im a muscian and ive always loved the music aspect of worship there ( Venue 2 stuff !) However, this year i have put off making any decision about going because i just know deep down that i will not feel comfortable anymore. maybe i should be tihnking about Spring Harvest next year !!

  2. Thanks Alex – well written & thoughtful article…it gives me hope that the Evangelical/Charismatic leadership of Spring Harvest is reflecting on its pastoral responsibilities & initiating reconciliation with those long estranged.

  3. Interesting, i was at Skegness week 2, i was told ” the options for gay people are, celibacy or transformation”. This was in the seminar Humane Sexuality!!!

  4. Patrick Gillan

    This has got to be a step in the right direction.As a visitor to Spring Harvest in the past they have a captive audience in young people,it’s the young people who can bring the change needed in the church if the church is to survive into the 22nd century.As a Gay Evangelical and ex youth Pastor I do not want anyone else to suffer the challenges I have had and continue to have however I believe there is a wind of change if Spring Harvest can capture this and pass it on then perhaps the inequality we face will soon be a thing of the past.

    • Patrick The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus died to redeem sinners, as you an evangelical will surely know! However our redemption should give us the desire NOT to contine to live deliberately sinful lives. A born again believer would not, with God’s blessing commit murder, steal, lie, or commit adultery, so why is it acceptable to continue in a sexual lifestyle that is contrary to the Bible’s teaching, O.T. & the New. That is to make a mockery of God’s love. Gays & lesbians use the love of God as an excuse to practice their unholy sexual practices. Sodomy is SIN: the Bible says so. and as an evangelical you should be in agreement with Him. And by the way putting bums on seats in churches whatever their denomination is not what the Gospel is all about. it is the redemption of man from separation from a Holy God.

      • Hi Lily,

        If you read some of our material on the Biblical Verses which are often quoted to condemn homosexuality, you will see that the evidence is not as strong as you think. It is clearly not a clear cut issue. You might find the series ‘Bible says no?’particularly helpful. You can find it on our Resources Page. Here is a link to the first in the series – http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org/2011/06/bible-focus-part-1-bible-says-no/

        • Benny – I read your link which is just an elaborate distraction to excuse homosexual behaviour. Gays & Lesbains seem determined to distort Scripture to defend their vile practices. Wriggle as hard as you will there is no way out if one wants to stay true to the Bible’s teachings. Even if you do reject the condemnation of sodomy and lesbian sex, there is no escaping the fact that MARRIAGE is defined as one man & one and any sexual relationship outside that is adultery and Scripture says very clearly that “No adulterer will inherit the Kingdom” There really isn’t, any way round it I’m afraid. the only way is to repent and be celebate. By the way I don’t think any one would accept Christians who made a life style choice to steal on the grounds that they were born that way, and God loves them anyway. By the way I don’t hate homosexuals just their behaviour.

          • correction to previous the omission of the word “woman” Marriage is One man & One Woman sorry about that.

  5. A lovely piece and well written. I became a Christian 11 years ago I recall being shocked that some Christians could be so unloving and uncaring to their sisters and brothers in Christ. The hurt and upset these attitudes cause pains me greatly and if it pains me it surely pains God for are we not told to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.” We are not called to judge but to love and it is that love for all that burns in my heart since I became a Christian and I long to see it in every one of us.

  6. An excellent article. My family will be going to New Wine for the first time this year. Both my wife and I have been profoundly shocked by the evangelical attitude to this area in the past and I very much hope that we will not be subjected to the sort of stuff mentioned by Lisa and lw above.

  7. It’s so interesting hearing about other people’s Spring Harvest experiences. I wonder what it says about evangelical attitudes to sexuality when even at Spring Harvest, what you hear about sexuality differs vastly depending simply on who happens to be speaking at that particular session.

    It’s particularly encouraging that there was a session at Skegness where LGBT people were actually allowed to speak for themselves though. This wasn’t the case at Minehead, where Andrew Marin did most of the talking in the session about sexuality. Even though Andrew is a great advocate for LGBT people, it’s a little bit odd that Spring Harvest have to fly in a straight man from America to tell people about LGBT issues in the UK.

  8. This is a great blog Alex – thank you.

    Your report made me reflect on why it is that Christians feel they have to “make a stand” against homsoeuality and against gay people, when they know for themselves that their Christian faith would go nowhere if they did not believe that God loves them, knowing their weakenesses and strengths as God alone does? Perhaps it is just easier to attack people who you don’t understand and who don’t fit your idea of what is normal, especially when you (as a heterosexual) are in the majority and feel pretty confident of support around you. Perhaps it is because the issue of sexuality is so often the source of immense guilt for many straight people too, who never resolve an underlying discomfort with their own sexual feelings and desires? It is such a shame that those Christians who feel they need to take a stand about moral issues can’t put their energies into, for instance, standing against male rape or other forms of abuse in prisons for instance (especially in the USA where it exists at a shockingly high level); that is surely the modern Sodom & Gommorah! Or a great many other issues, such as human trafficking or other human rights issues.

  9. I’ve read with interest your reflections on your experience at Spring Harvest! It reminded me of how, in fact, it was at Spring Harvest that I first took those brave steps to reconsider my traditionally held views on gay sexuality. I was in fact co-facilitating a rather large seminar on the ‘Church and Homosexuality’ with a long-term friend who was and still works for UCCF. The room was jam packed and I was giving the usual evangelical Christian response to the ‘clobber texts’. At the time I identified as a ‘celibate gay man’ hoping that this would give some kudos to my position. It was in the delivery of this seminar that I experienced the most incredible ‘crisis of conviction’ standing before this huge crowd I recall thinking ‘I just don’t know if I believe this anymore’. After the Seminar we spent a good 2 hours listening to peoples own ‘stories’ or others telling the stories of ‘friends’. I’ll never forget being confronted by a young 16 year old guy, searching for clarity. He told me how his best friend, of many years, had ‘come out’ as gay and that as a result he had been ‘put out of fellowship and handed over to Satan’. He went on to say that the young people of the church had been told to not have contact and if they saw him to ‘walk on the other side of the street’. What made this story more tragic was the young man in question was the son of the senior elders in this mainstream charismatic church and they had told him to leave home. This guy told me how he loved his friend, that he was straight and just didn’t know what to do, he was conflicted and whilst he wanted to honor the elders of his church he knew that his friend was isolated and suffering as a result of this extreme rejection (to be honest this story distressed me and made me feel ashamed to call myself Christian!). In the end the guy asked me what to do, after thinking for some time knowing that for him what I said might hold some gravity, given his decision to both come to the Seminar but also to wait around until the end to ask for advice. I recognised that the combination of my ‘crisis’ at that moment and this lived experience for this guy that there was only one thing I could say ‘BREAK THE RULES!’. He was surprised to hear it and I was surprised to say it. I spent the next year or so breaking the rules too, thinking outside the box and coming to a very different conclusion and at last finding freedom to be me and having the capacity to celebrate God’s gift of life! This was nearly 20 years ago….Thank you Spring Harvest!!

  10. I went to SH 15 years ago where as a 13 year old I was told to cast out the demon of homosexuality and pray for change. A year later I returned, prayers unanswered and was told that maybe I wasn’t one of the chosen ones. Remarkably my faith continued, although not in Spring Harvest.
    I don’t think the fact that they are now talking about loving LGBT people is something to shout about – didn’t Jesus say that 2000 years ago?

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