When Accepting Evangelicals was invited to lead an evening on sexuality in a Baptist Chapel in the Welsh Valleys, we did not know what to expect. But from the moment that David (a gay member of Accepting Evangelicals) and Benny Hazlehurst arrived, they knew that a door was being opened and the welcome was warmer than we ever could have imagined…
Here is David’s reflection on the evening…
‘When Benny invited me to join him on a trip to South Wales in response to an invitation by some Baptist ministers I was more than pleased to accept – it sounded like a good opportunity to see first-hand the work which Benny does for AE and also to find out more about what folk are actually thinking in evangelical churches.
I wasn’t quite sure what kind of reception might await us; rightly or wrongly I imagined many Christians in that part of the world to be generally conservative in their views and maybe some who would be present might be actively hostile to what we had to say. We need not have worried, however, as the welcome we received – both from the minister who had invited us and set up the evening and at the meeting itself – could not have been warmer. Sixteen people turned out on a fairly miserable evening; among them were a number of Baptist ministers (mostly women), a Street Pastor who had in the past been a mental health worker with trans-sexuals and a young gay couple, one of whom was the son of one of the pastors and whose partner had not long been baptised.
Benny spoke first and dealt with (changing) contemporary attitudes among evangelicals in the UK and with the Scripture passages which are usually used to support the ‘traditional’ doctrines on same-sex sex. His clear presentation certainly – for me, anyway – underlined how shaky is the Biblical foundation on which a whole theology has been constructed.
Afterwards I spoke about my personal experience of life as a gay man growing up and living within the evangelical community (latterly in a civil partnership), which for me has mostly meant keeping my head down and hoping that people wouldn’t ask awkward questions. Clearly this has been a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and sadly inimical to integrity in my church life. It’s only since the trip, thinking things through again, that I’ve realised how ‘semi-detached’ I’ve become from evangelicals (who paradoxically I’m still more than happy to number myself among) and how defensive towards them I am.
The questions afterwards revealed that there was a real desire on the part of many of those present to show genuine compassion and acceptance towards gay people but that this was tempered by anxiety, especially on the part of clergy, about possible sanctions from the church ‘management’ – seemingly a clear example of those at the top of the church lagging behind the grass-roots, where pressure for change was actually coming from. I was also struck by the particular insight shown by the women pastors present into issues of discrimination as it was clear that they themselves had faced discrimination as they had sought to become ministers in the church. One pastor said he had been especially struck by comments I had made about single people (a rather wild generalisation on my part that they were usually seen as ‘suspect’, especially within the church, as it was assumed they were either too weird to find a partner or otherwise must be gay) which challenged him about how they are perceived. No-one openly challenged what had been said, although one gentleman did spend some time with Benny afterwards privately expressing his reservations.
Talking to the young gay couple afterwards I was also struck by how different their situation was from mine: they were comfortably out in their social life and at work with apparently little or no experience of discrimination, and were even accepted and embraced by their church. Things are indeed changing.
I was really pleased to have made the trip and felt encouraged by the response to our visit. I think the strongest impression I have is of the warmth of the hospitality we received and the authentic Christianity we encountered in a modest Baptist community in a South Wales valley, striving to present grace and acceptance to their churches and communities.’
If you would like to invite Accepting Evangelicals to speak at your church, email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org