More senior clergy speak out

Following last week’s speech by the Archbishop of Wales, senior clergy in the Church of England have been speaking out in favour of a measured response to UK Government plans for same-sex marriage.

In a letter published in the Times newspaper, 15 senior Anglicans called on the Church “to engage in theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature of marriage” and encouraged the Church to rejoice that there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage.

The letter was signed by 5 Bishops including The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham who trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall Oxford, a leading evangelical theological college. In his own blog last week he said,

‘What this discussion is uncovering for me, is the extent to which I am, at heart, an Evangelical who believes in Marriage…

I am Evangelical enough to believe that Christ is, in fact, risen and we are, actually, his body in the world, charged in Matthew 28 to be good news to the whole creation, by observing his commands. He didn’t say “keep everything the same” let alone “suppress gays.” He did say “Love your neighbour as yourself” and “Judge not that ye be not judged.” He did say “take the beam out of your eye before you try and remove the mote from someone else’s” and “Love as I have loved you.”

Is there anything unclear about any of that? I don’t think so.’

There was also support for more engagement by the Bishop of Salisbury, who in a speech on Saturday said,

‘Increasingly, there is an evangelical imperative for the Church to recognise that covenantal same sex relationships can be Godly and good for individuals and society; that they are at least like marriage for heterosexuals, and this is a development that many Christians in good faith warmly welcome.’

Not everyone has welcomed these statements however. Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust issued a statement this week entitled “Evangelical Groups accuse rebel liberal bishops of bully-boy tactics and neo-paganism”!

The common theme of all the senior figures who have spoken out this week is the call to engage in theological discussion and prayerful reflection to what is a genuine pastoral issue – how the church can welcome and support faithful committed same-sex partnerships.

Archbishop calls for welcome & support for faithful same-sex partnerships

Christians need to show how the Gospel of Jesus is good news for gay people, the Archbishop of Wales said yesterday (WEDNESDAY APRIL 18).

Dr Barry Morgan said he was concerned about the welfare of gay people whom he feared could feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in churches over the coming months as Government proposals for same-sex marriage are debated nationally.

In his presidential address to members of the Church in Wales’ Governing Body in Llandudno, the Archbishop said same-sex relationships was a moral issue facing the Church and the world, on which there was no single Christian opinion. His concern, however, was that the Church should offer gay people pastoral care and support.

Dr Morgan said, “The Government’s consultation on civil marriage raises a whole host of theological questions for the church.  My concern at the moment is that in any discussion which might ensue on this, gay people may once more gain the impression that the church is uncaring and unsympathetic.  Things could be said in the coming months which I think could seriously damage people pastorally so it is that pastoral issue that I want to address.”

The Archbishop said that while the Bishops of the Church in Wales abided by the Christian doctrine of marriage as the union of one man with one woman freely entered into for life, they agreed that “all life-long committed relationships deserved the welcome, pastoral care and support of the Church and they were committed to further listening, prayerful reflection and discernment regarding same-sex relationships”.

But he warned, “Gays and lesbians claim they are still treated as second-class citizens, tolerated at best and vilified at worst….  Very often homosexuality is talked about as if real people were not involved; and gays and lesbians complain of being talked about rather than talked to in Church.”

He added, “The real question is, how do we hold together faithfulness to Scripture and tradition with the wider New Testament call to love our neighbour?  If the moral aim of the gospel is to encourage love of neighbour, how can that happen when people are made to feel unwanted, unloved, and sinful?  How is the gospel good news for homosexuals?”

Dr Barry Morgan said the Church would not be able to ignore the new legislation on civil marriage proposed by the Government, despite the fact that the legislation would not allow gay couples to marry in church. He called on the Church to discuss how it would respond.

He said, “If the legislation to allow civil marriage is passed, I cannot see how we as a church, will be able to ignore the legality of the status of such partnerships and we ought not to want to do so.

“The question then as now is, will the church protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these. As Helen says in the novel “Nightwatch” by Sarah Walters – a novel written in 1947, ‘what could she do to say to the world that Julia was hers?’  She could have gone on to ask ‘what can the church do to show that this relationship is not simply something between my partner and I but that somehow God is in our midst as well and longs for our wellbeing?’ It is a discussion we need to have.”

For a copy of the full address by the Archbishop go to http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/structure/bishops/sermonsb/b46.php

Easter Greeting!

On this day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – risen from the grave!  Death could not hold him – the grave could not enclose him – not then and not now!

So our prayer and longing this day is that we would all know the power of His risen life at work in our lives.  It is Jesus who makes us right with God by his death on the cross and by his rising to new life. Our salvation does not come from having the ‘right’ sexuality or the ‘right’ attitude to sexuality – whatever that may be – it comes from our faith in Him.

Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So to all our members, Open and Confidential, and to all our supporters, and to all our opponents…

May the Joy of the Risen Lord fill your heart this day,

May the Power of the Holy Spirit raise you up with Christ this day,

And may the Love of the Father enfold you in His heart this day!

 

Happy Easter!

Benny Hazlehurst & all at Accepting Evangelicals.

New Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral advoctes a more open approach to same-sex marriage!

The Very Rev David Ison, the recently appointed Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London has said that the church should welcome gay people wanting to take on the virtues of marriage.

“We need to take seriously people’s desire for partnership and make sure that the virtues that you see in married relationships are available to people who are gay.”  he said in an interview with The Times newspaper today.

David Ison is preparing to move to London from Yorkshire where he has been Dean of Bradford Cathedral for 7 years.  He trained for ordination at an evangelical theological college, St John’s Nottingham, and in the 1980’s he spent 3 years training evangelists at the Church Army Training College.

Reflecting on marriage he said, “As a Christian who is committed to marriage, I would say that for people to take on board, in their relationships, a commitment to lifelong chastity and being together is actually the best way to flourish… whether you are gay or straight.”

His comments come in stark contrast to statements by the Archbishop of York and Roman Catholic leaders who have called the idea grotesque and compared the prospect of same-sex marriage to legalising slavery.

But he is the latest in a growing line of Anglican Church leaders who have been expressing support for a new direction in recent weeks.  The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam told the Times last month that although he used to believe that marriage could only be for heterosexuals, he was no longer convinced about that.  Then yesterday the retired Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries, called on the church to move ahead with blessing for Civil Partnerships.

The Trustees of Accepting Evangelicals are discussing our approach to same-sex marriage at the moment.  We are aware that within our membership there will be a wide spectrum of views, and we want to ensure that Accepting Evangelicals remains a place that unites evangelicals who want to see the church move forward in recognising same-sex partnerships and developing a positive Christian ethic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Why not drop us a line and let us know what you think, either by email or as a comment on this Blog?

Books – The Gay Gospels by Keith Sharpe

In this week’s AE Blog our Co-Chair, Sigrun Wagner reviews “The Gay Gospels” by Dr Keith Sharpe.  Although not written from an evangelical perspective, it does take a fresh and challenging look at the Bible and sexuality, and comes up with some thought provoking conclusions…

The Gay Gospels: Good News for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual, and Transgendered People was published last year by Circle Books. It is one of the most comprehensive books written on the subject which not only deals with the so-called clobber verses which gay people are often confronted with but also includes the bible passages which affirm gay people. Keith Sharpe uses a biblical approach to this – His Defensive Testament mirrors the Old Testament, discussing the perceived anti-homosexual bible verses whilst the Affirmative Testament is the good news for LGBT people, uncovering “open and hidden affirmations of LGBT lives in the bible”. It is mainly written for LGBT people, and gives LGBT Christians (and non-Christians) self-defence and self-affirmation summaries after each chapter.

The defensive testament discusses the story of Sodom, the ‘abominations’ of Leviticus, the creation story (all in Genesis), St Paul’s verses in Romans and Corinthians and the story of a demon-possessed man in Mark’s Gospel. In including the creation story and Mark 10, the book goes further than traditional approaches to arguing against homosexuality according to the bible. The writing is very clear and puts the passages into context – both the cultural and historical context as well as the scriptural context.

The affirming testament takes up about two thirds of the book, showing the positive scriptural description of LGBT people and their relationships. In line with traditional pro-gay interpretations of the bible, it includes the stories of Ruth and Naomi and of Jonathan and David from the Old Testament and the stories of the Roman centurion and his servant and the character of the beloved disciple.  Again, it goes beyond conventional readings and includes some challenging material on Jesus, questioning his sexual orientation, underlining his view of the family (he was no family man!) and emphasising his view that some people are “born that way”, pertaining to Eunuchs. Furthermore, this part includes a chapter on Joseph the Transvestite, Jesus’s abolishment of the purity laws and a chapter on Paul’s verses that in Christ there is no male or female and the implications of that for our view of gender.

Whilst many texts on pro-gay readings of the bible focus on the ‘clobber’ verses and thus tend to be defensive in approach, this book provides a refreshing alternative in quickly dealing with the clobber verses and then moving on to an in-depth account of a  truly inclusive, pro-LGBT reading of the bible. It is inspiring reading that challenges traditional viewpoints and provides excellent food for thought for straight people and encouragement for LGBT people who are weary of the church’s stance on them.

Dr Sigrun Wagner

Note:

The author, Dr Keith Sharpe, is a retired educator, chairs the Changing Attitude group in Sussex (http://www.changingattitudesussex.com/). For more information on the book visit www.thegaygospels.com

A good week at Synod…

Photo by Stefano Cagnoni

Benny Hazlehurst refelcts on a busy week at the Church of England’s parliament.

I spent most of last week at the February session of General Synod.  Around 500 members of clergy, laity and bishops gather twice a year to debate and make decisions on church policy and direction.

 I was there to represent Accepting Evangelicals and the LGB&T Anglican Coalition by helping to staff the Coalition’s exhibition stall.  It was a good opportunity to talk with Synod members, as well as meet old friends.

What struck me was how easy it was to talk to people about sexuality.  Most Synod members were very open to chat as I sat in the coffee room or bumped into them in the corridors.

And a surprising number of them were very supportive of what we were saying.

Then on Thursday morning, around 40 people gathered from across the country in an Act of Witness on the steps of Church House.  We were drawing attention to the 1,500 LGB&T clergy who faithfully minister in the Church of England despite often being treated with suspicion or prejudice.

There were several members of Accepting Evangelicals there including a man from Kent who had taken the morning off work to be there.  We greeted members of General Synod as they arrived for the day’s business with a cheery “Good morning”  and several bishops stopped to talk with us, expressing their support.

Although, Synod ended on Thursday, I stayed on another day join a delegation from the Anglican Coalition in meeting with the House of Bishops Review Group on Civil Partnerships.  The invitation to meet with the Bishops followed a  written submission which the Coalition sent to the review group and the meeting was constructive with real engagement taking place.

So whatever we might read in the church newspapers, there were many positive things happening in the Church of England’s parliament last week.  Not the kind of things that make the headlines – but the kind of things which can build a better future.

February Newsletter 2012

Dear Friends

Australian survey reveals mission damage…

 An survey by Australian evangelical organization ‘Olive Tree Media’ has revealed the extent to which church teaching on homosexuality are turning people away from the Gospel.

The survey asked people who did not identify themselves as Christian to identify the  biggest blocks to belief for them.

Among doctrinal ‘belief blockers’ , Church doctrine on homosexuality came top of the list with 69% of respondents saying that it had a negative effect and 29% saying it was a complete block to faith for them.  This was ahead of the problem of suffering, doubts over the supernatural, and the doctrine of hell and condemnation.

Only reports of Church child abuse were a bigger obstacle at 76%.

But Olive Tree Media have tried to play down the significance of the survey results placing homosexuality as 9th in its list of problem areas.   The report summary can be downloaded at Olive Tree Media    or by following this link.

Upcoming UK events…

As I write this, the Church of England General Synod is meeting in London and AE is represented there at the LGB&T Anglican Coalition stall.  There is an Act of Witness planned for Thursday morning to remind Synod members of the many hundreds of LGB&T clergy who minister faithfully in the Church of England.  For more information please see the AE Blog from 2 weeks ago.

Places are still available at the Evangelical Fellowship conference in Worcestershire  at the beginning March where the conference title will be “From Prejudice to Praise” and the speaker will be Benny Hazlehurst.  For more information and booking details visit:  http://www.eflgc.org.uk/events.asp#Forthcoming

Also in March, Changing Attitude inn Canterbury and Rochester have invited Benny to lead a day on an inclusive theology of sexuality.  It is in Saturday 31st March at All Saints Church Whitstable.  For more information see www.changingattitude.org.uk/find-a-diocesan-group/diocese-a-e/canterbury  or email AE member Rev Simon Tillotson at tillotsons@gmail.com

A night in Shropshire…

Talking of events, here is a review from Dave Griffin who invited us to go to Shropshire to speak.

“Accepting Evangelicals recently travelled to Church Stretton in Shropshire to speak at one of our Engaging Issues meetings.

This is a large discussion group which invites only knowledgeable speakers. It considers serious subjects and attracts participants from all persuasions.

I was asked to share something of our personal experience which included subtle rejection by some Christians. Not because my wife or I are gay but because our daughter is, and because we love her and accept her just as God made her.  And that makes us suspect in some quarters.

As I started to speak I was delighted to see a “friend” & his wife, who hold traditional views on homosexuality, from our old Evangelical church at the back.

At the end of the evening, after Benny’s excellent talk, most folk present were sympathetic but my friend’s response was that he was uncomfortable “surrounded by enemies” who disagreed with him.

My wife gently said to him later that it was exactly how we had felt many, many times!”

If you would like someone from Accepting Evangelicals to come and speak at your church or event, please email us.

God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

Salvation and Spiritual Fruit

 Accepting Evangelicals member, Rev Simon Tillotson has recently changed his membership from Confidential to Open.

 More than that, he wrote to the Church of England Newspaper to make his growing understanding of faith and sexuality public.  His letter holds firmly to the need for salvation whilst challenging a traditional view of sexuality.  It has prompted a significant response, and there is a link to AE’s letter of support at the bottom:

 Dear Sir

In the response to Tony Cullingford’s letter about being on the roundabout concerning fidelity to Scripture as opposed to our natural desire to be compassionate and accepting of gay and lesbian people – I have also been on that roundabout.

 I dislike Liberal Christianity’s tendency to water down the experience of the Holy Spirit, the uniqueness of Christ as the fullest revelation of God , the work of the atonement freeing us from the curse of sin and death, the gifts and fullness of the Holy Spirit, and so on, as without these things Christianity quickly becomes something we do in our own strength, which robs it of its spiritual power. Songs of salvation of a loving God who rescues us from our own sinfulness and brings us into a personal relationship with Him must be sung in churches up and down the land and the gospel message must be proclaimed loud and clear that Christ died to set us free and rose from the dead to give us new life.

 At the same time, whenever I meet a committed gay or lesbian couple I cannot help thinking that they often show far more fruit of the Spirit than many evangelicals show. Practical pastoral experience comes up against my past evangelical background which sees every verse of scripture as authoritative and binding.

 These two parts of me, my evangelical convictions, and my pastoral experience of gay and lesbian people, have been in conflict with each other for several years and it is like Tony’s, a deeply personal journey, and has been, and still is occasionally, a painful and bewildering roundabout.

However, a view has slowly begun to emerge that a converted gay or lesbian couple, living faithfully together, is a far cry from the sort of flagrant sexual promiscuity that St Paul is thinking about in Romans 1. The language he uses does indeed describe sexual passion of a self-centred and controlling, lustful nature – very different from the loving, self-giving relationships I have encountered here in Whitstable.

I also believe that the church has a mission to faithfully enable gay and lesbian and transgender people to come to Christ and be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, just as much as heterosexual people. Pulling up the drawbridge, as so many churches do, cannot lead to this experience of coming to faith in Christ. Conversion, I know from speaking to gay and lesbian people, does not change sexuality apart from in one or two very rare cases which cannot be seen as normative. So providing we preach the clear gospel , and do not water down the heart of our Christian theology, I am willing to warmly embrace gay and lesbian relationships in their fullness, including sexual activity within that covenanted relationship. After all, I am convinced sexuality is not a choice that gay and lesbian people make, but is part and parcel of who they are – and a very precious part at that which should be celebrated.

However, the minute we use a liberal reading of sexuality in scripture to start backsliding into liberal relativism in other areas, then we open a minefield where so much of the work of salvation is undermined. Evangelicals are therefore right to be wary of undermining the authority of scripture in a wider sense. However, an intelligent reading of scripture will see that St Paul was given insight into precious pearls, but he was not God incarnate and neither was he perfect or right about everything.

Rev Simon Tillotson

Whitstable, UK

Click below for our letter of support – published 29th January 2012

Church of England Newspaper Letter – 29 Jan 2012

London Act of Witness – 9th February

There will be an Act of Witness in Deans Yard Westminster on Thursday 9th February – the final day of General Synod’s meetings in London.

It will be a silent Act of Witness for the many hundreds of faithful LGB&T Clergy who minister in the Church of England despite the discrimination and suspicion which they often suffer.

We will congregate in Dean’s Yard by the entrance to Church House at 8:30am on Thursday 9th February in time to welcome General Synod members as they arrive for the day’s business.  There will also be an opportunity for prayer and to give leaflets out to people arriving at Church House.  The Act of Witness will end by 10:15am.

With the House of Bishops review group on Sexuality beginning its work shortly, this is an important opportunity to draw attention to the extent to which the Church of England relies on LGB&T clergy. 

Everyone is welcome and we warmly invite you to join us on the day.

The entrance to Dean’s Yard is through the arch next to Westminster Abbey by the Abbey Bookshop.  Follow this link for more information:   Deans Yard London, SW1P 3NY

The event is being organised by the LGB&T Anglican Coalition – www.lgbtac.org.uk

Please click here for an event flier.- General Synod – Feb 9th flyer

The limitations of scientific research

There have been two articles in the Church of England Newspaper recently citing the case for and against the so called ‘gay gene’.

On one side of the argument, Stuart Walton wrote that “sexuality is mostly, perhaps even wholly genetic”.  On the other side Michael Davidson quotes research referring to “the weakness of genetic links”.

But are both merely blind alleys for Christians trying to understand how to respond to same-sex attraction and relationships?

The causes of homosexuality have been notoriously difficult to pin down.  Scientific studies into nature and nurture theories have each produced results which claim to point (albeit inconclusively) to one conclusion or another. 

In the same way, inclusive and conservative Christians have each pointed to Scripture with the same inconclusive results.  It would be great if we had a story in the Gospels of a man with a ‘demon of homosexuality’ being brought to Jesus, to see how he would have reacted – but we don’t – and no amount of Biblical extrapolation can prove conclusively how he would have responded.

Stuck in the middle are gay people, particularly gay Christians, constantly being debated over, talked about, preached at and prayed over – not to mention researched over.

The danger of this continued argument is that gay people (whatever their understanding of their sexuality or their moral framework) are dehumanised as a result.  They merely become subjects to be studied, debated or fought over.  Their voices become marginalised – their needs become secondary – their cries go unheeded.

It reminds me of the account in the Gospels where Jesus is asked why a man was born blind.  Was it his sin, or his parent’s sin, which caused his blindness?  Jesus, of course, cut through this blind alley of speculation, as he always did, to the person who was before him.  He simply made a paste for his eyes and the man was healed.  

And yet even this story has the potential to elicit a thorny question in relation to homosexuality.  Is it a disability which needs healing, or a created state which needs embracing?  The evidence on this is similarly inconclusive.  For every group that claims to be able to heal or re-orientate those with same-sex attractions, there are others who claim that they were damaged by such ‘reparative therapy’.

All of this should make us profoundly uncomfortable.  When we lose our focus on human beings created in God’s image in favour of treating them as mere subjects of debate and controversy, they simply become a problem to be solved.  There is nothing more dehumanising.

I know gay Christians who believe their sexuality is ‘God-given’ and to be enjoyed and celebrated as part of the fullness of life which Jesus promises. I also know gay Christians who feel that God calls them to celibacy as part of their discipleship of Christ.  Both have grappled with their sexuality and faith in a way which I can never fully appreciate or understand, as I have never had to walk in their shoes.   Both deserve to be listened to, not judged.  Both deserve to be embraced in the love of Christ without being ‘told’ that they are wrong and should change.   Both are part of God’s beloved creation who he loved so much that he gave his Son to die a slow and agonising death on a cross for their salvation.

We would do well to rediscover Jesus’s love and concern for the individual rather than getting carried away in inconclusive arguments which, at the end of the day, are as helpful as counting the number of angels on a pin-head, but much more damaging.