A case of mistaken identity?

Published in The Church of England Newspaper – 17th November 2013

“Don’t sayBe-yourself you’re gay – say you experience same-sex attraction.”

That was the advice I heard being given by a lecturer at an evangelical theological college in the UK.  He was advising students on how to respond pastorally to a homosexual enquirer at the churches they would be ministering in.

The phrase is not new of course.  If you put ‘same-sex attraction’ into any internet search engine, you will find a host of websites promising change for people who experience or ‘suffer from’ same-sex attraction.

Behind it is a theology of identity which is opposed to people identifying themselves as gay or lesbian, and which argues that adopting such an identity is at best a mistake, and at worst idolatry.

The theological rationale behind this is as follows.   Sexuality should not be the defining factor in determining our identity.    Our true identity comes from recognising that we are created male and female in the image of God – not from our sexual feelings – and from our identity in Christ as new creations in His kingdom.   Therefore to say that you are gay (or lesbian or bisexual or transgender) is to be tricked by modern societal values into identifying yourself in some other way – by allowing your sexuality to be the defining factor in your humanity.   This not only leads to an inner confusion in understanding who you are, but it also leads you away from your God given identity. 

So don’t say you are gay – don’t own that identity – rather say you experience (or suffer from) same-sex attraction.

But this understanding of Christian identity is deeply flawed.  Christians who identify themselves as gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender are not setting up this identity in opposition to their core identity as created by God and born again as a child of God.  Their sexuality does not supersede or usurp their identity as created by God – instead it enhances their sense of God-given identity.

In other areas of life, this is quite normal.  No-one would ever dream of saying to a black Christian, “Don’t say you’re black – say you experience dark skin.”  It would be unthinkable, insulting and offensive.  It would rightly be seen as some kind of perverse racism.

Yet if we follow the same logic, this would be entirely appropriate.  If our identity comes from our creation as male and female and our new creation in Christ, and nothing else; if to own any other identity is to be tricked by modern values and will detract from our God given identity; then surely, it would be entirely right to say to black people, “Don’t say you’re black – say you experience dark skin”.

Of course this is rubbish.  If you are black, then being black is a part of your God given identity.  Owning that identity rather than denying it, enriches cultural diversity as part of human identity.  It is not in competition with our identity as someone created by God, but rather a part of it and adds another dimension to our understanding of the fullness of what it means to be created in the image of God.

The same is true of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. The vast majority see their sexuality or gender identity as part of their God given identity.  It is not in competition to their identity as created by God, but rather an enriching part of it.

What is more, I have seen at first hand the dangers of telling someone to divorce their sexuality from their faith and identity.   A close friend of mine at the same theological college was told by his bishop to set aside his sexuality if he wanted to be ordained.  For him, trying to be obedient to this instruction led to deep inner turmoil and, within a few years, to his premature and painful death.

Christian wholeness comes only when we embrace our God-given identity in all its fullness – anything less than this makes us less than the people God created us to be.

Rev Benny Hazlehurst

Raising the Transgender Profile in Accepting Evangelicals

trans word cloud 3Written by Elaine Sommers.

I have recently joined the Steering Group of Accepting Evangelicals, to help raise the profile of transgender people in the Church, especially the evangelical ones that often have great difficulty accepting and embracing them.  I willingly took this on and hope that I can build on what progress has already been made.

It might seem unwise for gender identity issues to be considered alongside those concerning sexual orientation, since the biblical references are different, as are the moral dilemmas which result. It is a common misconception that homosexuality and transgender are much the same and the last thing we want to do is to reinforce that image.

Having worked alongside lesbian and gay activists to promote acceptance and inclusion for LGBT people in the Church, I am in no doubt that there are great strengths in this joint advocacy.  Initially it was good to listen and learn about the issues that gay and lesbian people face, some of them similar to my own, but others quite different. I was also able to share with my colleagues about the experiences of trans people in the Church, so it was very much a two-way process.  I quite openly admitted that I still had problems with the Bible and homosexuality, but  my gay and lesbian friends gave me the time I needed to work things through and eventually the issues were resolved in my mind.  I am forever grateful to them for allowing me that space.

When we consider the biblical perspectives, most are familiar with the passages referring to homosexuality. None of them really apply to transgender, unless of course a trans person also has same-sex attraction.  References to trans are few in number, but like the same-sex passages, the interpretation and moral issues emerging from them need to be considered very carefully, with a clear understanding of the context.

We need to recognise that many have worked tirelessly to improve the situation for LGB people over the last two or three decades and much progress has been made.  It might appear to be a little cheeky for trans people to now ‘jump on the LGB bandwagon’, but I have met very little reluctance to welcome trans people on board, and the mutual gains need to be appreciated by all of us.  A spirit of cooperation will help us to support and speak up for each other when opportunities arise.   If we can’t even accept each other, what hope can we ever have for the Church as a whole to accept us?

Having said all that, we should understand that there are limits to what we as individuals can do. I am not adequately qualified to speak on behalf of LGB people, such as leading a seminar on sexuality. But I should always be willing to speak up on behalf of LGB people when the opportunity arises.

So this is why I have joined Accepting Evangelicals, to be a voice for trans people as we all work together for acceptance  in the Church, irrespective of our sexuality or gender identity, and I am fully aware that many (if not most) active AE supporters are not L, B, G or T themselves.  It is my hope that we can all work side by side towards full acceptance and inclusion.

I hope that you will find the Trans Section of the website helpful, and that it will prove to be accessible, challenging and encouraging.

 Elaine Sommers, Accepting Evangelicals

 

You can view the new Trans section of the website here

Elaine will also be our speaker at our Annual Meeting on 30th November 2013 – come and hear what she has to say.

 

 

Newsletter – October 2013

Dear Friends

It has been a couple of months since our last Newsletter, so here’s a round-up of some of the things that have happening with us and around the world…

Greenbelt success…

Greenbelt 2013It was great to see friends old and new at our stand in this year’s Greenbelt Festival.

As before, we have some amazing conversations with a wide variety of people and if you signed up to join Accepting Evangelicals over the weekend, a special welcome to you.

As the weekend drew to a close, Steve Chalke was interviewed by Benny Hazlehurst at the Grandstand (one of Greenbelt’s largest venues).  Steve was characteristically 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.

Annual Meeting – a date for your diary.

30 NovemberThis year’s Accepting Evangelicals Annual Meeting will take place on the morning of Saturday 30th November in central London – the same day as Steve Chalke is addressing TWO:23 in the afternoon.

More details will be emailed out to members shortly, so if you are going to be in London that weekend, why not come to both!

Hillsong – new openness on sexuality?

Hillsong logoAustralian based mega-church Hillsong may be signalling a greater openness to LGB&T people, according to Ben Gresham – a young gay Christian in New South Wales.

In his blog, ‘Just as I am’ he takes hope from a recent message which went out to Hillsong churches around the world entitled ’Scandal of Grace’.  In the message, Senior Pastor Brian Houston talks about the elephant in the room for the church today – ‘the gay situation’.  He drew attention to the rejection that gay people feel when they encounter the church and said that sometimes this rejection can go so deep that it results in suicide.  He also acknowledged that when it comes to the Bible – ‘the word we live by’ –  many people have differing convictions and that Jesus would be the one ‘breaking through the divide’ to help broken, hurting people.

This is not yet a complete change in direction, as Ben notes, because there are many things which were not spelled out in the message, and no apology to LGBT people. But it might be a step in the right direction.  Ben finishes his blog post with this exhortation:

“For those gay Christians at Hillsong I want to encourage you to keep being yourself at church and to keep sharing your story with anyone who will listen. Give your pastors and leaders grace and patience but also keep them accountable…  For straight Christians, I want to encourage you and ask that you do more to welcome and include gay and lesbian people at your church. Many of us still face discrimination, hurt and abuse from Christians and churches. Look for ways in which you can show love or stand in the gap. Be like Jesus!”

Spare a thought for Bishop Tengatenga…

Bishop James TengatengaYou would think that when a Bishop from Central Africa declares his unequivocal support of marriage equality and the sanctity of human rights for all, it would be a cause of rejoicing among those who campaign for LGBT rights.

Yet bizarrely, this has not been the case.

Until recently, Bishop James Tengatenga was the Bishop of Southern Malawi and Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) which is the Anglican Communion’s main policy making body.  But in July he resigned both to take up a post at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA.

Almost immediately, there was an outcry at the prestigious Unversity because of statements he had made as Bishop of Southern Malawi on LGBT matters.  In response Bishop Tengatenga issued a statement saying that his attitude to homosexuality had evolved over time, and that he now unequivocally supported not just LGBT rights, but equal marriage as well.

This was not enough however to save his new appointment and the job offer was withdrawn, leaving him back in Malawi without a job and potentially in danger as a result of his new pro-gay stance.

Despite the publication of a letter signed by 14 leading figures in defence of the Bishop, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 2 of Malawi’s leading human rights campaigners (one of whom has been praised by the UN Secretary General for work on LGBT rights) the College’s decision is final.

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole story is that something which should have been a good news story has ended so acrimoniously, and any other African Bishops who might have been thinking of swimming against the cultural tide will be much more reluctant to do so now.

Please pray for all involved…

And finally, Oasis Blessing after Civil Partnership…Oasis Church Waterloo

As the Church of England continues its painfully slow discussions on whether to authorise services of Blessing after Civil Partnership, Oasis has published its own Order of Service on its website – free to download and use.

Entitled “An Order of Service for a Commitment and Blessing Service following a Civil Partnership” the liturgy is both moving and profound.  You can download it here

God Bless and Keep You…
Accepting Evangelicals

What about T ?

Trans symbol‘We are an open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.’

That is the purpose statement for Accepting Evangelicals.

But although we have been campaigning for almost 10 years on LG&B issues, we have said very little on T – Transgender issues.

The reason for that is partly the task of identifying someone from the Trans community who would like to join us in our work, and partly comes from the fact that for some Evangelicals, Trans issues are even more difficult to engage with than Gay issues.  If we are to actively talk about T, we need to do it well in a way which will help conversations, rather than alienate.

So we are delighted to have found Elaine Sommers – a Trans person with a strong Evangelical background who has agreed to join our Steering Group.

As a result, we will be developing a Trans section to our website over the next few months as a resource for and everyone who wants to understand better the issues which we need to face in the Church.

Next Monday, Elaine is going to be a Keynote Speaker at a conference in Taunton, Somerset entitled ‘Transformational Conversations’.  The aim of the day is ‘To provide an open and safe environment for people from LGB and Trans communities and religious and belief communities to come together and explore issues of identity and understanding.’

If you want to know more or want to register, follow this link: http://www.equalitysouthwest.org.uk/events/view/94

Otherwise watch this space…

 

Misreading the Map

Published in the Church of England Newspaper – 13th September 2013.

compass and mapI love walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

During my last visit there, I decided to walk up Great Whernside, a big bald moor rising above Wharfedale.  I set off with my map, bag and compass, quickly reaching the moor wall, beyond which there are few obvious features to help in finding the path.  As I checked my map, I saw a dotted line reaching up towards the summit so I set off, following it with the help of my compass.  I could see no visible path on the ground, but that was not unusual, and I pressed on across the moor.

Before long, I got into difficulties.  The ground became increasingly boggy, until I reached a point where I had to jump between tufts of marsh grass and dark sodden areas of peat bog.  I remember missing one tuft of grass and ending up thigh deep in thick peaty water scrambling to get out.  I checked the map again.  I was still on the dotted line but I realised that continuing on this route was both impossible and dangerous.

So reluctantly and carefully, I turned back and retraced my steps out of the bog and back to firm ground.

In the pub that night, I recounted my failed attempt to a local who looked surprised, and then roared with laughter when I showed him the dotted line I had tried to follow.

“That’s not a path” he said when he had stopped laughing. “That’s a parish boundary!”

Reflecting on this later, I saw the absurdity of what I had done.  I had diligently sought to follow the map.  I had followed this dotted line carefully and accurately.  But because I had misread the map my progress had ground to a sticky and dangerous halt in a miserable bog high up in the Dales.   The map wasn’t the problem – it was my interpretation of the map which was at fault.

I can’t help but think that we have made the same mistake in our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Bible and homosexuality.  As the church, we have joined together a faint dotted line of scattered verses and have thought we understood the map of the scriptures.  We have tried to follow the path faithfully, only to find ourselves getting stuck in an ever more treacherous bog.

And now we have ground to an uncertain halt.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury noted in his address to General Synod, the world has moved on, and the church’s stance on sexuality, same-sex partnerships, and now marriage is putting us at odds with society at large.  At the recent opening of the new headquarters of Evangelical Alliance he spoke about the way in which the church’s position on sexuality is alienating younger people.  “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.”

In Australia, research by the evangelical group Olive Tree Media showed that 69% of non-Christians surveyed said that church doctrine on homosexuality is a ‘belief-blocker’ – only exceeded by child abuse in churches.

As Evangelicals, we are passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that opens hearts to a personal relationship with Him.  Yet our interpretation of Scriptures has led us into a dangerous dead-end where we are alienating the very people we want to evangelise.  We have sought to follow the Scriptures – our map – but perhaps we have misread them just like I misread that dotted line, and have found ourselves alone in the wilderness as a result.

On the moor, there was only one option for me – turn back and look again.  Perhaps we need to do the same.

Rev Benny Hazlehurst, Accepting Evangelicals

Q&A with Steve Chalke

Steve Chalke - GreenbeltIt was late afternoon on the last day of this year’s Greenbelt Festival and some people were already starting to go home.   That was the time allocated to the Q&A session with Steve Chalke which OuterSpace had asked me to chair.

The venue chosen seemed appropriate – a small inside venue where we could gather a 100 or so people in a safe space to put their questions on sexuality to this well-known Baptist minister who broke ranks earlier this year to publicly support same-sex partnerships.  It would be cosy, unthreatening and easy to manage.

Then on the Monday morning we heard that the venue had been changed. The Greenbelt organisers had second thoughts overnight and felt that demand for this session would far outstrip the inside room.   So all of a sudden we found ourselves relocated to the Grandstand of Cheltenham racecourse – one of the largest outdoor venues at the Festival!

Two thoughts immediately struck us.  Firstly, wow – what an opportunity!  But second, how could we ensure that people felt safe to ask questions in such a large venue.  They would have to walk down the steps of the grandstand, across the tarmac to the microphone by the stage, turn to face the crowd and speak out their question in front of many hundreds of people!

Thankfully technology came to the rescue.  We set up a Twitter hash tag for the event so that people sitting up in the stands could tweet their questions if they didn’t feel brave enough to walk to the front.

The result was wonderful – a good number of people were brave enough to come and ask their questions live – others had submitted written questions beforehand – and others sent their tweets – and we took as many questions as we could in the time available.

Steve was characteristically outspoken.  Far from stepping back from his controversial statements on sexuality, he went even further in a passionate appeal for the Church to abandon prejudice and embrace change.  He took on questions about gay marriage, schools, church divisions, and Biblical truth.

If you want to hear the Q&A, it is available as a download from the Greenbelt website and costs £3.50 – simply follow the link below.  You won’t be disappointed!

http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/media/talks/22047-benny-hazlehurst-outerspace-steve-chalke/

Demythologising Pride

Published in the Church of England Newspaper – 4th August 2013

“Why do gay people want to flaunt their sexuality?”

That was a comment posted on my Facebook page recently after I mentioned this summer’s London Pride parade.

And who could blame him?   The media representation of this annual LGBT festival is, all too often, of aggressively sexual men dressed in very little.

But of the thousands of people who take part in Pride each year, the overwhelming majority are ordinary people celebrating a part of their identity which many have felt pressure to hide for all or part of their lives.

Nowhere is this more true than amongst Christians.  Even when a gay person feels able to be honest about their orientation in many areas of life, they often feel under pressure to keep their sexuality a secret in church.

This year, as I marched with Christians Together at Pride amid a small army of people wearing T-shirts declaring “Christian and Proud”, I reflected that the only thing they were ‘flaunting’ was their faith in Jesus Christ!

Receiving Communion

Receiving Communion

We started with a Communion service in the street near the start of the march.  Bread and wine were received prayerfully and reverently amid the noise of the traffic.  Then we were led to our place in the parade and found ourselves just in front of another faith group, “Gay Jews in London”.  As we marched along Oxford Street, we waved and smiled, gave out postcards, and received many rounds of applause from onlookers.

I walked next to Richard, a man in his early fifties who was only just starting to ‘come out’ at church.  Richard later reflected that “For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I felt proud to be a Christian again. I’m not sure that I was expecting hostility, though of course I’m aware that there is plenty of that coming from some who claim their particular version of the truth, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the warmth, encouragement and affirmation of the crowd.”

Sorry - Pride 2013As we continued the march, there was a small group who radiated hostility with placards and megaphones declaring a message of Christian condemnation rather than love and grace, but even they were outnumbered by a group of Christians inspired by Andrew Marin in Chicago.  They held placards apologising for the way the Church has treated gay people, and their faces wore smiles, not frowns.

Contrary to the photos posted in the press, I didn’t see a single person ‘flaunting their sexuality’ in an aggressive or distasteful way. The people I saw were dressed in ordinary clothes, enjoying the occasion with friends or colleagues as they waved to the crowds of well-wishers.

But perhaps that isn’t the real issue. My friend on Facebook had the honesty to follow up his comment by acknowledging that as a married man with children, perhaps he ‘flaunts his sexuality’ without even realising it.

Perhaps the real issue is one of perception.  If a married couple hold hands in church most people will say ‘Isn’t that nice!’ – but when a gay couple hold hands in some churches, it is more likely to result in a awkward silence followed by a ‘pastoral visit’.  One couple is celebrated, the other are ‘flaunting their sexuality’.

LGB&T people are members of our churches, whether we know it or not. Far from flaunting their sexuality, they often feel they have to suppress it.

Whatever our doctrinal convictions, our churches should be places where all of us can come and be the people God created us to be, without pretence, mask or disguise.  Perhaps that is the kind of church which Jesus would be truly proud of.

 

Benny Hazlehurst

Accepting Evangelicals

Same-sex Marriage Bill becomes law…

same-sex-marriage 2The Same-sex Marriage Bill in England and Wales completed its passage into law when the Queen gave it her Royal Assent on Wednesday this week.  It completed its way through Parliament earlier in the week with little or no opposition in the final stages.

The first same-sex weddings in the UK are expected to take place next summer.

As we enter this new chapter in our society, the most important question is whether we can now find language to talk together about marriage, or simply see a hardening of polarised views.

Accepting Evangelicals continues to encourage theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature and historical development of marriage.  Some of our members are in favour of same-sex marriage, and some question whether such marriage is theologically possible.  It is now more important than ever to keep talking, reflecting and praying together.

During the often heated public debate over the bill however, there have also been many ill-judged claims have been made by groups opposed to it, most relating to the moral damage which would be caused to society if it became law.

In trying to find a way forward, it is important to recognise that many of these claims are either misguided or misleading and could hamper continuing dialogue.  Below are some of them.

1.  That the introduction of same-sex marriage will devalue marriage for everyone else.

My marriage to my wife is just the same this week, as it was last week.  It is enriched or devalued by the value and commitment we attach to our love and the marriage vows we made before God, not to whether gay people are allowed to get married. This claim is clearly not true.

2.  That same-sex marriage will unpick the moral fabric of society.

This is an impossible claim to defend.  How can marriage vows of lifelong commitment between two people do anything but strengthen the stability of their relationship, and thereby, society as a whole?   David Cameron stated publicly that his support for same-sex marriage was because of Conservative principles not in spite of them, coming out of a desire to strengthen society.

3. That same-sex partnerships are inherently unstable and do not last.

Both the anecdotal evidence of those in relationships of many years and statistical evidence from here and other countries clearly show this to be false.  Civil Partnerships are proving more enduring than marriages in many countries and there is no reason to believe that enabling same-sex couples to marry will weaken this in any way.

4.  That Churches will be forced by law to conduct marriage services for same-sex couples.

The Government has bent over backwards to put in place the ‘triple-lock’ of protections for religious freedom.  No church will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, and for the Church of England it will be illegal for same-sex marriages to be conducted in churches unless and until the CofE asks for the law to be changed.

5.  That the parliamentary process was undemocratic.

In a free vote for MPs for all three major parties, the bill was passed by a two thirds majority.  In the House of Lords the vote was also 2 to 1 in favour after a very full and lengthy debate with every view being expressed.  Most polls also show public opinion is now in favour of same-sex marriage.  As a result it is arguable that this has been the most democratic bill which has passed through Parliament in recent years.

In moving on from this point in a way which seeks deeper understanding about the nature of marriage, I believe that we need to move beyond these banner grabbing and misleading statements, and look at the meaning, Biblical history and theology of marriage itself if we are to come together in any meaningful way.  Biblical interpretation of the account of Adam and Eve, historical development in the Bible and since, and theological reflection on the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ should be our focus as we continue to journey together.

At the same time, it also has to be recognised that the Bill does not give many gay Christians what they really want.  One lesbian Christian said to me recently that the same-sex marriage bill will make very little difference to her and her partner, because when they celebrated their Civil Partnership, they could not celebrate it in church, and even with same-sex marriage, they will not be able to celebrate their marriage in their church.  It is celebrating their partnership in church before God which is most important to them, and that will still be denied them.  The task of finding a way to celebrate faithful committed same-sex partnerships in church must never be far from our mind.

Over the months ahead, before the first same-sex wedding in the UK, we would do well to recognise the valid aspirations of those who want to be married and the genuine concerns of others.  Only then will we all find a way to celebrate the love which brings couples to want to be joined in marriage while never discounting those for whom this still throws up theological questions and problems.

Benny Hazlehurst

Reflections of a Pride ‘virgin’!

So how did I come to be walking through the streets of London, wearing a rainbow ribbon, handing out leaflets and eventually carrying a banner for Accepting Evangelicals? Several days on and I’m still pondering that question. Only a few close friends even know that I’m gay and now I seem to have made a very public stand, albeit in a city far away from where I live, but I discovered something quite unexpected somewhere in the middle of the West End: a sort of ‘road to Piccadilly’ experience.Pride Group photo cropped

This is all about Pride, so let’s talk about that: I’ve never been proud to be gay. In fact, I’ve spent the best years of my life trying to avoid it, hide it – never actually denying it (except often to myself), but certainly only entrusting the secret to a select few. That’s the first thing that happened somewhere around Selfridges: suddenly I felt at home – at home with my sexuality, at home with those marching around me, at home with the cheering crowds lining Oxford Street. I was experiencing the enormous groundswell of good will towards Pride expressed by the people of our capital city – these were crowds not made up predominantly of activists or fellow LGBT people, but a real cross-section representing London’s diversity in all its forms. The most mind-blowing thing to be honest was seeing whole families enjoying an afternoon together watching the spectacle and soaking up the atmosphere. For the first time I felt proud to be part of this phenomenon – proud of Pride and, yes, proud to be gay!

But a more significant thing needed to happen. For a number of years I have felt less and less proud of being a Christian. Since accepting Christ in my twenties, I have always held the Bible to be the basis of my faith, yet I seemed to be increasingly unable to reconcile what I was taught about the ‘sin’ of homosexuality with the pastoral needs of the gay and bisexual guys I was trying to reach out to, let alone the witness of the Spirit in my own life. Worse than this, I felt increasingly ashamed of the Church’s treatment of LGBT issues, and most importantly LGBT people, who were being written off by those who claim to offer the Gospel to all, yet effectively deny it to those (God’s mistakes?) created with a different sexuality to the fortunate majority. Recently, I decided to look at the Bible afresh and began to realise that the traditionalist interpretation on homosexuality is deeply flawed and inconsistent with both the holistic Gospel message and the experience of those like myself who are quite undeniably gay by nature and equally undeniably Christian by conviction.  In making steps towards being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, my tentative public support of like-minded evangelicals led to me having to step down from leadership in my local church, but at least I was beginning to reclaim some of the integrity I had sacrificed by keeping silent.

So what happened there at Pride?  I believe I turned a corner, and I don’t mean when we swung right into Regent Street, though it might have been somewhere in that vicinity! For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I felt proud to be a Christian again. I’m not sure that I was expecting hostility, though of course I’m aware that there is plenty of that coming from some who claim their particular version of the truth, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the warmth, encouragement and affirmation of the crowd. Amongst the casual bystanders just caught up in the party atmosphere were those who clearly understood what a big deal it is to make a stand on the ‘gay issue’ as a Christian, facing up to the backlash that can bring. I didn’t expect to be cheered, as we were, and I certainly didn’t expect a young man in the crowd to reach out his hand and, although I had nearly gone past, call me over to shake my hand and say, “Thank you!”  That’s when I saw the flash of light and heard a voice from heaven – OK, not quite, but it was certainly a much-needed personal epiphany.

So I find I am newly proud to be gay, proud to be a Christian, proud of my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are straight but taking a stand on this all the same. I’m proud of London for hosting and enthusiastically joining the celebration and perhaps most of all I’m proud of the young man who shook my hand – a representative of a generation who may one day live to forget what the fuss was all about.

Richard D.

Reflection on a night in the Valleys…

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: benny@acceptingevangelicals.org