2014 is going to be a significant year for Accepting Evangelicals as we approach out 10th Anniversary. During the year we plan to celebrate this anniversary in a variety of ways with new announcements and events.
But as we begin this New Year, it is very appropriate to look back at the year that has just passed, noting the huge steps which have been made in promoting a more inclusive welcome for LGB&T people in the church…
Steve Chalke – leader of OASIS International published an article in Christianity Magazine, calling for an open conversation on how the church can truly welcome gay and lesbian people and give them the same support and guidance as heterosexuals.
Since then, Oasis has published a wealth of material calling for the church to bless and support same-sex partnerships. See http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources
On 5th February the House of Commons voted in favour of same-sex marriage after a full and lively debate. MP’s were given a free vote without political party instructions, and voted by 400 votes to175 for the new law to proceed to the next stage of parliamentary scrutiny. Although many churches only seemed concerned with insulating themselves from this, many Christian MPs spoke in favour of the Bill. For some of the key speeches, please see our blog post ‘Reflections on parliament’s debate’
Rob Bell is well known for thinking ‘outside the box’ and has been an inspiration to huge numbers of Evangelicals in the USA and around the world. In 2011 he was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 influential people.
In March, he joined calls for marriage equality in the USA at an event at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco saying “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs… to affirm people wherever they are.”
John Paulk was one of the most recognised leaders in the ‘Ex-gay’ movement but in April he issued a letter apologising for the damage his campaigning has done “to countless people” and stating categorically that it did not change his sexual orientation.
His appearance on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998 had provided huge publicity for the ‘Ex-gay’ movement when he claimed that reparative therapy had changed or cured his homosexual orientation. He also wrote the book “Love won out” to persuade others to seek change in their sexual orientation through Christian ministry.
But now he sees things very differently. “Today, I see LGBT people for who they are — beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church.”
In the UK, the Baptist Assembly not only hosted a workshop on sexuality, but also devoted the whole of its plenary session to discussing different theologies and experiences of sexuality in a constructive way.
In Scotland, the Church of Scotland voted by a clear majority to allow individual congregations to appoint openly gay ministers in Civil Partnerships.
In the USA, Jim Wallis also spoke out in favour of same-sex relationships. He has often been called a ‘progressive Evangelical’ by supporters and opponents alike, with his strong campaigning stance on issues such as poverty, social justice and climate change, but this is the first time he has gone on the record to support same-sex marriage. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/jim-wallis-faith-politics-immigration_n_3024458.html
Following John Paulk’s apology in April, the President of Exodus International also apologised for the hurt and damage which his organisation has caused to LGBT people over the last 37 years, and announced that the ministry is shutting down.
Alan Chambers had also claimed that reparative therapy had changed his orientation, but in June he said, “There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.”
Exodus International has now shut down and Alan Chambers now promotes a new website called “Speak. Love” which aims to establish trust, reduce fear and inspire hope. http://wespeaklove.org/exodus/
This month saw The Church of England Newspaper invite AE to provide articles for a regular slot in the UK’s leading evangelical weekly newspaper. Our first article reported on the London Pride Parade and the contribution from Christians at Pride. We have since had a further 2 articles published – ‘Misreading the Map’ and ‘A Case of Mistaken Identity’and our first article of 2014 is ready and waiting to go.
This month’s big event was the Greenbelt Festival and the Q&A with Steve Chalke which Benny Hazlehurst chaired. It was in the Grandstand (one of Greenbelt’s largest outdoor venues) and Steve was typically frank and open about his support for loving committed same-sex partnerships. If you want to hear the whole Q&A there is a download available from Greenbelt for a small charge – follow this link.
During September, Church of England Bishops began to speak openly about the dangerous disparity which exists between church teaching on sexuality and the perceptions of the vast majority of young people.
It started at the end of August when the Archbishop of Canterbury opened the new HQ for Evangelical Alliance and said, “. “We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible, but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism.”
The call was taken up by the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge who was reported in the Worcester News as saying “For the first time in many generations, our traditional teaching is being seen by large numbers of people as being on the wrong side of the moral argument.” And the Bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham went further saying, “The church’s view on same sex marriage is not sustainable. But homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic. We should all celebrate committed, faithful and loving relationships.”
On 4th October the Professor of Theology at Azuza Pacific University in California said a painful goodbye to students and colleagues after being asked to step down by the University authorities. The termination of the Professor’s employment came after she told them that she was transgender and was in the process of transitioning to be a man.
Heather Clements – now H. Adam Ackley – had worked at the evangelical college for 15 years, and is an ordained deacon in his church. “I have never really identified with being female but I tried to be because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be… I tried to be the best Christian woman I could be… but I have to accept something difficult about myself,” he said. “I’ve never been fully myself, I’ve always been living a lie, not exactly on purpose but that was the best truth I knew at the time.”
His experience highlighted the prejudice which Transgender Christians often experience and came as we were preparing a new Trans section for the AE Website.
“People assumed that I’ve done something – some sex act,” he said. “I’m not violating any sexual conduct and it’s embarrassing that it’s implied. I live a very chaste life.” Despite vocal support from students at the University, he had to leave his post in October.
Saw the launch of our new Transgender section on the AE website which has been put together by Elaine Sommers, a Trans Christian who joined the AE Steering Group earlier in the year.
This new part of our website has received overwhelming support from AS members with over 180 ‘likes’ on our blog post which launched it.
At the end of the month, Elaine was the speaker at our Annual Meeting in London which was also a great day – you can read a report by one of our members here.
The last month of the year brought an unexpected bonus in the publication of the Church of England’s latest report on sexuality – the ‘Pilling Report’. Although its recommendations for positive change were modest, it recognised for the first time the theological diversity which exists in the Church of England on sexuality, and held up Accepting Evangelicals as a significant example of that diversity.
With all these developments during 2013, who knows what is possible in 2014…
God Bless and Keep You