Changing attitudes in the Church of England

July seems to have flown by with lots of things going on – we will try to do a ‘round-up’ in the next newsletter – but before then I wanted to reflect on a couple of visits I made for Accepting Evangelicals.

 

At the end of June I was at St John’s Theological College in Nottingham with a range of other speakers to talk to students about Christian responses around sexuality.

My role was to present an inclusive evangelical theology and my opposite number was Andrew Goddard who was presenting the traditional view.

After we had all spoken, we had the opportunity to engage with each other and the students in a panel session which produced lots of good discussion.  In fact the whole morning was characterised by generosity and grace in tackling issues where there were clearly differing opinions.  Conversations continued over lunch in this evangelical training college for Anglicans and others.

Then a week later I was at General Synod with a small group from the LGB&T Anglican Coalition.  We had an exhibition stand which had information about Accepting Evangelicals & other groups in the Coalition, and the opportunity to talk with Synod members.

Here again, I found a real openness to have genuine conversations with people – particularly evangelicals about sexuality, Civil Partnerships and same-sex Marriage.

There was a vicar from Leicester who told me that his church had been examining how to welcome LGB&T people while at the same time holding a conservative theology on sexuality.  When I mentioned Accepting Evangelicals, he immediately responded “Oh yes – I have been on your website – it was very helpful”.

There was a fellow student from Trinity College Bristol who is now a Rural Dean and told me of a member of his family who had recently ‘come out’.  His own theology was still conservative but he made a point of thanking us for the material on our website which he had sent to the family member concerned as they wrestled with faith and sexuality.

There were conversations with several Bishops and members of staff at Church House, Westminster (the CofE HQ) who thanked us for being there and encouraged us to keep on speaking up for LGB&T people in the church.

As I came away I reflected on how much things had changed over the last 8 years since Accepting Evangelicals was formed.   Then we were treated with a mixture of curiosity, fear, and outrage.  Now we are accepted as a place where evangelicals can go to listen and learn.  It does not always result in the kind of change that some of us would hope for (at least in the short term) but people are no longer shocked or surprised at the thought of an ‘Accepting’ Evangelical.  We are accepted as a valid and integral part of the church, even by many who disagree with our aims and aspirations.

Going back to my visit to St John’s Nottingham – I was slightly disappointed that the afternoon session was much more about re-establishing a conservative line on the issue of same-sex relationships.  Perhaps there was a fear that some cracks were starting to appear in the conservative understanding?  But even here the Principal, David Hilborne, said that for his children’s generation there is no issue about sexuality – and they can’t understand why the church gets so worked up about two people of the same sex falling in love with each other.

And the week before, a former member of the teaching staff at St John’s had published an account of his change of views.  Andii Boucher is now Anglican Chaplain and Faith Co-ordinator at Northumbria University, and is still involved with St John’s as a distance learning tutor and occasional lecturer.  Andii has been a member of Accpeting Evangelicals for about 5 years now and the article shows how much his theological perceptions have changed over that time.  In his own words “During that time I’ve moved from affirming homosexual people but not behaviour, to thinking that stable, permanent exclusive unions are a good idea.”  You can read the article at http://nouslife.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/c-of-e-same-sex-marriage-and-ethical.html#!/2012/06/c-of-e-same-sex-marriage-and-ethical.html

At the end of the day I am very encouraged.  There is undoubted change occurring in the Church of England, and that change is not limited to Liberals or Anglo-Catholics within the CofE – it includes Evangelicals as well.

Benny Hazlehurst

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4 Comments

  1. I can understand why people are worried. They sense what the vicar from Leicester has yet to find out: you cannot actually truly welcome lgbt people while holding a on to a conservative theology.
    You may think you can, but the people themselves do not feel wholly welcome and they know there is always a caveat.
    “I truly welcome you but I wish you weren’t who you are” is never a true welcome. It can only be an intermediate step towards a true welcome.

    • So much has changed – and always will in a living, evolving and dynamic faith. It is heartening, but I really have to agree with Erika; half a welcome is a really uncomfortable thing to deal with. Being faced with a ‘welcome’ that actually means ‘love the sinner not the sin’ is to be faced with a judgement and not an inclusion into the congregation/group/society. Being an ‘ex-anglican’ who now has close links with MCC and the Liberal Catholic Church, I always wonder what it is that keeps LGBT folk within the Anglican system – if they are simply in a place where the welcome of Jesus is not being fully extended? Especially if they are being made to hide, belittle or deny their most important relationships (such as when people ask how is your ‘um-friend’ when actually, you have been with your partner for years. I ask this question quite frequently. I love what Accepting Evangelicals are doing and what has been achieved, but realise that the depths of concern within conservative Anglicanism can never make me feel truly welcome within the denomination. My partner and I have been actively discriminated against by ‘Conservative Anglicans’ – as have some of our friends. I ask other questions – such as – am I/are we as LGBT person(s) worth less in God’s scheme? The answer I feel in my heart is that if I am far away from God, it is through my frailty as a human being, my ability to get things wrong and to turn away from God’s love – not God rejecting me because of my sexuality – Jesus speaks to me as a Lesbian woman who He welcomes at His table – me, as I am. We are all there together, through His Grace and we are made for His purpose in the world…I can not believe that the Holy Spirit discriminates, there are many types of sheep in His flock.

  2. I am new to your group. Hi!

    Very encouraging post. I am just waiting for a big name like Andy Stanley to walk across the line and take the more progressive wing of evangelicals with him. I wish Brian McClaren discovered his inner activist : )

    • Hi Nancy

      Thanks for commenting. It’s a slow process but there are positive signs. I found the chapter on sexuality in Brian McC’s book New Kind of Christianity (Ch 7) very good.

      Benny

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