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

 

Being a Christ-like Church

acceptance road signPart 2 of ‘Bible studies for a church that wants to take the Gospel to LGBT people’

by Martin Stears-Handscomb

In the first blog in this series I argued that Jesus accepted and affirmed people as they are and showed compassion to those who were unable to marry, including those “born that way” (i.e. gay people).  He also avoided criticising a centurion who may well have had a gay relationship with his servant – agreeing to heal the servant because of the man’s love for him.  And drawing on St Paul’s affirmation that in Christ’s church there can be no barriers, we can say in Christ there is neither lgbt nor straight – we are all one in Christ Jesus.  So lgbt people are welcome in Christ’s church.

Why then are there so many churches that do not welcome lgbt people?

One problem is that – as I said in the first blog, quoting Paul “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3 v 23) or to put it another way, all of us fail to live up to what Jesus wants us to be.  So churches are full of sinners! Fortunately, Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7 v 34) and those who repent of their sins can be used in the service of His kingdom, the challenge each church has to address.

The good news is that there are a growing number of churches that do genuinely welcome lgbt people and recognise and use their talents and what they can offer as full and equal members of God’s kingdom.  However that is far from always the case.

In that familiar passage in John’s Gospel “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3 v 16 & 17).

So why do some of His followers and many churches so often condemn instead of welcoming?  In Matthew 7 v 21 right at the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Earlier in chapter 7 at verse 1 he has said “Judge not that you be not judged” and he continues with the lovely exaggerated illustration of someone trying to take a speck of dust out of a friend’s eye when they have a huge log in their own.

There is the temptation of those who feel they understand God’s will to become arrogant. Luke records the parable that Jesus taught – of the religious leader who thanked God that he wasn’t like the “sinners” of his time and the repentant man who showed humility and knew where he had messed up.  Jesus praised the repentant man as the one who was at peace with God. (Luke 18 vv9-14)  Often you will hear people say “hate the sin; love the sinner”.  American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has the more Christian quote “love the sinner, hate your own sin”.

As a gay man, but a Christian first of all, I am conscious of my sins and seek to examine myself regularly and repent and seek to do better, in particular as a part of the service I attend each Sunday (as I am sure each Christian does in their own way).  A prayer I value is the serenity prayer: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.’ 

There are those who believe that we can change our sexuality.  Even some who say that just by being gay or trans we are “sinful”.  It reminds me of the people who came to Jesus wanting to know why a disabled man was disabled.  “Was it his sin or the sin of his parents?”  Jesus was quite clear it was neither (John 9vv1-34).  We know that, although it can be to some extent suppressed, sexuality does not change.  It would be wonderful if it did as no-one chooses to be lgbt. But people will take time to learn that.  Each of us has a different story to tell and makes different decisions about how we deal with our sexuality or gender identity.  That is why some of us must patiently and honestly share our stories with our Christian brothers and sisters to enable them to move forward on the journey of understanding.

That is not to say that all those Christians who struggle to accept gay people are hypocritical or un-Christian.  There is a great deal of misinformation about what it means to be gay or transgender.  Often people will believe the stereotypes of lgbt people that are out there.  Many of us have had to deal with out own homophobia to accept ourselves as we are and others have to travel that journey too.

Of course as lgbt people we, like everyone else, get things wrong.  We make bad decisions, let those we love down, say hurtful or malicious things and we know it and in our better times we regret it.  But the good news is that in Christ’s real church we are welcome, we are affirmed.  In our relationship with Christ, if we acknowledge when we get things wrong then we can be forgiven in just the same way as any other Christian.  Jesus has promised his followers the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.  As we seek the truth and share with other Christians we and they will see our faults and want to deal with them.  That is where we meet God and are assured of His forgiveness as we seek to turn our lives around (which is what repentance means).

Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his time.  He was often misunderstood.  He made what the world would see as a mistake in standing up for the vulnerable, challenging injustice, healing the sick in mind and body, breaking some of the Old Testament rules on the way.  That led to a cruel death on the cross.  That was not the end though.  God did not leave him there but raised him from the dead.  Perfect love does not die but is vindicated on that Easter Day.

Going back to Matthew 7 v 21, can we sum up what Jesus says is the Father’s will? Yes we can!!  When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus doesn’t just answer with one but gives two and moreover says they sum up all the law of Moses and the prophets’ teachings – namely “Love God, with all your heart, soul and mind” and then “love your neighbour as you love yourself” Matt 22 v 36 – 40.

Paul again in his letters emphasises the importance of self-giving love among Christians, most famously in 1 Corinthians 13, which he starts by saying “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  In other words I can be a wonderful preacher and show myself full of the Holy Spirit, but if I don’t show a loving welcome and concern for others my words will be useless.

And we can look to Jesus’ words, this time in Matthew 25, when he makes it clear that those who will “inherit the Kingdom” are those who welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable – in the passage known as the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The New Testament is full of exhortations for followers of Jesus to show love.  For example, in John 15 verse 12, Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So we should be able to be recognised as Christians by our loving welcome of all, particularly those different from ourselves.  It would be so easy if we could just go into any church and always find people who do God’s will and show a loving welcome to all.  It was said of the early Christians by the writers of the time “See how they love one another” (Attributed to Tertullian).

Now we cannot say that there is a particular denomination that is the most Christ-like, or (much as we would like to think sometimes) that high church or low church, evangelical, liberal, charismatic or any other label marks out the best of us.  Those who would seek Jesus in our churches have to “taste and see” for it is “by their fruits” that you can tell (Matthew 7 v 16).  We must pray that we pass the test!

Martin Stears-Handscomb, March 2013

For the 1st Bible study in the series follow this link.

Reflections on Baptist Assembly

Baptist Union of Great BritainEach year between 1,800 and 2,000 representatives of the Baptist Churches and colleges who are members of the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) meet for an Annual Assembly.  The Faith and Society Department of BUGB and Affirm (the Baptist Network affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians) held a well-attended Seminar at the May 2013 Assembly on the Pastoral Care of LGBT Christians at which stories were shared by LGBT Christians and Jeremy Marks told the story of the journey of Courage from “ex-gay” to affirming of faithful same-sex partnerships.   This is the first year that such a seminar has been held as part of the official programme and the fruit of many years of patient faithful witness “one heart at a time” encouraging fellow Baptists to move on a journey of understanding and discernment seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A session on the final morning of the Assembly, involving the whole body of delegates began with a Biblical discussion of Isaiah 42 suggesting the way God calls his servant people to deal with new situations.  A senior Regional Minister shared that one of his the children is gay and now in a civil partnership and said he spoke as a “parent struggling to understand”.  Delegates then broke into groups to discuss the question “How are we to respond in missional and pastoral ways to people in faithful same-sex relationships within our churches?”  Feedback through a number of listeners revealed a genuine engagement – a “wrestling with the subject” as BUGB President Ernie Whalley described it.  It is a continuation of the conversation that Baptist minister Steve Chalke called for recently.  A report of the session is available through the following link:
http://www.baptisttimes.co.uk/index.php/news-national-news/924-monday-morning-session-discussion-on-same-sex-relationships

We are greatly encouraged by the Assembly and believe we are moving to a place where in a very Baptist way we can share our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus and our trust in the Holy Spirit, acknowledging we have a great deal to learn from each other.  This will involve disagreeing well, building confidence through the things we agree about, turning away from stridency, oozing gentleness and above all seeing Christ in each other.

Martin Stears-Handscomb, Avril MacKenzie-Parr

Joint Co-ordinators         Affirm (the Baptist Network)

For more information on ‘Affirm’ email: martin@affirmingbaptists.org.uk

Church of Scotland leads the way…

Kirk General AssemblyThe Church of Scotland has voted by a clear majority to allow individual congregations to appoint openly gay ministers in Civil Partnerships.

The decision followed 2 years of reflection and debate, and marks a watershed in mainstream churches.  The Presbyterian Church of Scotland has a substantial conservative wing, but proposers of the motion hope that the church will stay together because it does not require more traditional congregations to ‘opt out’ of having a gay minister.  Rather is allows congregations to ‘opt in’.

At the same session of the church’s General Assembly, an alternative motion which simply reaffirmed the traditional rules of the church was rejected.

The key principles of the compromise…

1. Would not require the Church to abandon its traditional position.

2. But would allow individual congregations – by decisions of their Kirk Sessions – to depart from the Church’s traditional position.

3. Would allow ministers and deacons (current and prospective) who are in civil partnerships to be selected for training and to be trained. Would also allow them to be ordained/inducted into a charge the Kirk Session of which had decided to depart from the Church’s traditional position.

 The full text can be seen here:

 Importantly the resolution also preserves “liberty of opinion and responsible expression” and “would not permit harassing or bullying”.

The Church of Scotland is the largest religious group in Scotland with over 40% of the national population claiming it as their church.  If this historic vote by the Kirk succeeds in opening up recognised ministry to people in same-sex partnerships, while also preserving church unity, it may well be a blueprint that other denominations will consider.

 

 

Newsletter – May 2013

Dear Friends

More Evangelical leaders back same-sex partnerships!

Following Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, more Evangelical leaders and pastors are speaking out for same-sex partnerships.

In the USA, Jim Wallis…Rethinking Values in the Post-Crisis World: Jim Wallis

In a wide ranging interview with the Huffington Post, Sojourners’ founder and leader, Jim Wallis has said that he supports gay marriage as part of a much needed wider renewal of marriage in American society.

“I think we should include same-sex couples in that renewal of marriage, [but] I want to talk marriage first. Marriage needs some strengthening. Let’s start with marriage, and then I think we have to talk about, now, how to include same-sex couples in that deeper understanding of marriage.”

Jim Wallis 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.

You can see a video of the interview in full at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/jim-wallis-faith-politics-immigration_n_3024458.html

In the UK, Rev Paul Bailey…Rev-Paul-Bailey

…has become one of the first African-Caribbean Pentecostal ministers in Britain to state that the Black Christian community should be more inclusive and welcoming of gay people, and that the Bible contains theological grounds for same-sex marriage.

In an interview for ‘Keep the Faith’ magazine, which serves Black Pentecostal Churches in the UK, Paul pointed to Jesus example of welcome for the oppressed and a pattern of inclusion which continually pushed the boundaries of religious acceptance.  On the traditional ‘clobber texts’ he said,

“The statements in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy refer to a range of homosexual acts, but not to the issue of same-sex orientation, or to loving relationships between people of the same gender. Scripture should be applied in the light of God’s welcome of excluded peoples. If the Scriptures do not prohibit same-sex love, then who are we to exclude those whom God has included?”

Paul Bailey co-pastors The Regeneration Project in South London.

London Pride Service 2013St_martin_in the fields

This year’s Pride Service will take place at 6pm on Saturday 6th July at St Martin in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square.

This year, Accepting Evangelicals and Evangelical Fellowship have been asked to plan the liturgy and the preacher will be Rev Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral.  The service will be led by our own Benny Hazlehurst.

Unfortunately, since the venue and date were set last year, the date of the Pride March has been moved to the weekend before, so we and Christians at Pride want to encourage as many people as possible to come back on the 6th July.

And Blackpool Pride…

Organiser Nina writes:

“After the success and fun of being in Blackpool Pride Parade last year we’ll walk as a group of Christians again this year. Last year several denominations joined in and we had a wonderfully positive reception from spectators who cheered and applauded. The crowd was delighted to see Christians standing up for a message of full acceptance for all people.”

To join Christians@Pride at Blackpool on Sat 8th June email nina@libertychurchblackpool.org.uk  The day begins with bacon butties, prayer and praise at 9am, North Shore Methodist Church.

Greenbelt Festival 2013

Following our success at last year’s Greenbelt Festival, we have applied to hosting an exhibition stand again this August.  As last year, we will be doing this in partnership with Evangelical Fellowship, Two:23, and Affirm (The Baptist Network).

The stand will be in the G-source Tent and we will need a team of volunteers to staff it over the weekend (23rd – 26th August 2013).  If you would like to help, please email Benny at the following address: benny@accpetingevangelicals.org

We can order weekend tickets for volunteers at a discount price so let us know if you are interested.

Other Events…

Our partner organisations also have a number of events over the coming months:

The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.

Our next conference is from Friday 25th October 5 pm to Sunday 27th October 2pm.  It is led by Rev Brian Smith with the title ‘Story Telling as part of the Christian life’.

For full details and booking form visit  http://www.eflgc.org.uk/events.asp#Forthcoming

Or phone John on 020 8411 0040

Two:23 Network

Has a full programme of speakers for 2013 at their meetings in London.

Satuday 18th May – Ruth Valerio who is on the leadership team for Spring Harvest

Saturday 21st September – Padraig O Tuama from Belfast

Saturday 30th November – Steve Chalke from Oasis

More information is available here – http://two23.net/our-meetings/

And finally, ‘Ex Gay’ ministries…Newsweek cover

One of our members drew our attention to a petition following a letter of apology from one of the leading advocates of ‘Reparative Therapy’ which claims to change sexual orientation by Christian discipleship and ministry.

John and Anne Paulk’s appearance on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998 provided huge publicity for the ‘Ex-gay’ movement when they claimed that reparative therapy had changed or cured their homosexual orientation.  They also wrote the book “Love won out” to persuade others to seek change in their sexual orientation through Christian ministry.

Now, however, he has 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.

He continues, “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.”

The petition asks for Newsweek (now a web publication) to publish an article with the same prominence to update the full story and the damage which Ex-gay ministries have done.

God Bless and Keep You…

Accepting Evangelicals

Book review – ‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee

'Unconditional' by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

Justin Lee is founder of the Gay Christian Network ( http://www.gaychristian.net/ ) and a beacon for the gay Christian community.  Based in the USA, he also travels widely and spoke in the UK at the Courage retreat in 2011 (see ‘What a great weekend’ for a review on our blog).

Now he has published his first book, entitled Torn in the USA and Unconditional in Europe, where it became available recently.

In the book Justin charts his journey from fighting with his same-sex attraction (including a foray into so-called ex-gay ministry) to accepting his orientation and to working towards greater reconciliation between gay and Christian communities – hence the subtitle “Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate”.

As an Evangelical from a Southern Baptist Church, he knows the ‘Evangelical Heart’ as well as he knows the ‘Gay Heart’ and the book navigates those two sides very skilfully and humorously – it’s hard to put down once you get going.

He also manages to address both sides in a loving and caring way. Justin draws largely on his personal story of engaging with the bible on the issue of homosexuality and of engaging with the scientific arguments (nature/nurture) as well as on his first encounters with other gay people. There are some laugh-out-loud moments as he plays with the stereotypes bandied about on both sides – he finds himself not wanting to be gay in the Christian community and is careful about ‘coming out as Christian’ in the gay community!

He also draws on the vast amount of stories people have shared with him in personal and virtual encounters and on how his speaking engagements as director of GCN have been perceived. This is therefore no theoretical treatise but a book that is full of personal accounts of real people who have suffered the pain of trying to reconcile their sexuality with their faith and vice versa.

In the concluding chapter he talks about the seven things he believes should be the focus for the way forward:

1.  Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement

2.  We must educate Christians

3.  We must move away from an “ex-gay” approach

4.  Celibacy must be a viable option

5.  We must shatter the myth that the Bible is anti-gay

6.  Openly gay Christians must find their place throughout the church

7.  We must learn how to effectively dialogue.

These reflect his experiences of Christians and LGBT people alike – Christians often have a misinformed understanding of homosexuality which leads to a lack of grace when they engage with others. It also means that, without any informed understanding, advocating the ex-gay approach of healing gay people from their same-sex attraction can lead to more pain and sorrow (e.g. mixed-orientation marriages).

At the same time, celibacy is not seen as a credible alternative in gay circles, but should be more accepted beyond a church environment. To create real reconciliation and effective dialogue, the bible needs to be read hermeneutically and exegesis must be carefully context-sensitive, to show that it is not anti-gay. A more open reading of the bible should also lead to more openness to welcome openly gay Christians in churches as they can offer insights on both perspectives (yes, you can be both!) and build bridges.

For accepting and affirming Evangelicals alike this book is a welcome addition to the growing number of resources encouraging greater dialogue between the two communities.   It is well-known that the ‘gay issue’ is the biggest stumbling block for the church to share the good news of the gospel and this book is a wonderful attempt to “rescue the gospel” from this damaging debate.

Torn Publisher: Jericho Books (November, 2012).

Unconditional Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (January, 2013)

Website for the book: http://www.tornbook.com/

Justin Lee’s blog: http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/

 

Blog post by Dr Sigrun M. Wagner, co-chair, Accepting Evangelicals

 

Rob Bell supports same-sex marriage

Rob BellNews broke yesterday that the popular author, preacher and film maker Rob Bell, has spoken in support of same-sex marriage.

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.

His open thinking style has however, also drawn criticism from more conservative Evangelicals.

Responding to a question at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, he said,

“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.”

According to the Huffington Post, Bell went on to say that while it used to be fair to equate evangelicals with social conservatism, that assumption no longer holds true.

You can read the full article at the Huffington Post here, where there is also a link to an audio recording of the meeting.  There is also an article in the Washington Post here.

A Matter of Integrity

Steve Chalke OasisI spent yesterday evening at Oasis Waterloo.  It was their first event to promote open conversation on sexuality following Steve Chalke’s call for a rethink on same-sex relationships.

He opened the evening with an impassioned plea for a change in our theology of sexuality.  Setting out his stall, he painted a picture of dire pastoral care for gay people in evangelical churches.  He went on to say that it was not enough for evangelicals to say that our theology is right but our pastoral care needs to improve.  “God is love – He is the great Pastor” he declared, “We can’t out-pastor God.  We can’t draw a line between the pastoral and the theological – they are one and the same thing…. It’s our theology which needs to change.”

Talking about the burdens which the church has placed on LGBT people, and the terrible pastoral consequences which have often followed, he said “The real scandal is that we have not faced up to this issue.”

Also speaking during the evening was a gay man who told of his sense of call to be a Pastor – a call which started is search for God, and ultimately his Christian commitment.  “God called me” he said, but he knew that would never be recognised by the church in which he came to faith because he was gay.  He also talked movingly about a young man of 16 who was thrown out of his church after admitting that he was gay, and subsequently threw himself under a train.

During the question and answer session, Steve was asked how he could overturn 2000 years of Bible teaching.  In reply he affirmed that he takes the Bible very seriously but that taking individual verses out of context was not the way to discern God’s will.  “God is still unfolding his truth to us” he said, citing examples of ways in which our understanding of the Bible on slavery, the role and women, and even the flatness (or not) of the earth have changed after hundreds of years of ‘good Biblical teaching’ had been overturned.  “We need to see things through the lens of Jesus” if we are to continue to grow in our understanding of God’s will.

His talk finished by quoting Acts 10 and the story of Peter going to the home of the gentile Cornelius.  Until then the early church thought that only Jews could be the people of God despite Jesus commanding them to go into all the world.  It took a work of the Holy Spirit to open Peter’s eyes to the fact that God’s grace extends to everyone.  We need the same work of the Holy Spirit now to open our eyes to God’s grace at work in gay, bisexual and transgender people.

At the end of the evening Oasis launched a DVD resource for small groups to continue the conversation.  The DVD is available from Oasis online and costs £5.

It includes sections on the authority of Scripture, what the Bible says about same-sex relationships, and questions for discussion.

We were also encouraged to continue the conversation via Twitter using the hash tags #MOI and #inclusion.

It was certainly a memorable evening and signalled Steve Chalke’s and Oasis’s continuing determination to engage in this issue.  Well done Steve!

Benny Hazlehurst

February/March Newsletter 2013

Dear Friends

UK Parliament votes for same-sex marriage

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 to 175 for the new law to proceed to the next stage of parliamentary scrutiny.  For some of the key speeches, please see our blog post ‘Reflections on parliament’s debate

The Bill now goes to the Committee stage where MP’s consider its provisions in detail.  If you want to write to the committee, they are inviting submissions until 12th March – follow this link for more information

Accepting Evangelicals continues to encourage prayerful reflection and debate on the nature of marriage.

Books from the States…Justin Lee

There are two books from America which have been recommended recently by our members.

The first is by Justin Lee, the founder of Gay Christian Network and is called ‘Torn’ in the USA and ‘Unconditional’ in Europe – and both have the tag line- ‘Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Vs Christians Debate’.   The book has received considerable acclaim since its publication and we will be posting a review of it on the AE Blog in the near future.  Justin comes from a Southern Baptist church setting and part of the book charts his own struggle to reconcile his faith and sexuality.

The second has been recommended to us by an AE member who said “Gay or straight, affirming or non-affirming, everyone needs to read this book”.  Having read the reviews on Amazon, I can see why.  The book is called “Homosexianity: Letting the Truth Win the Devastating War between Scripture, Faith and Sexual Orientation” by Pator R.D. Weekly.  It is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.  Follow these links for ordering from the UK and USA.  Let us know what you think…

Campus Pride vs Chick-fil-A: a lesson in dialogue?

Also sent in by one of our members this article in the Huffington Post shows the power of dialogue to resolve conflict.

When Campus Pride Director, Shane Windmeyer, received a call from the President of a company they were campaigning against, he didn’t know what to think.  But it was the start of a dialogue which brought real change.

Read the story at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-l-windmeyer/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a_b_2564379.html

Women wanted…

Ellen is a Journalism student completing her degree in the UK and is interviewing LGBTQ Christians about church reaction to their sexuality, their current situation, view of gay marriage, and any experience of ex-gay groups.

Having already interviewed numerous men, she really needs to speak to some women aged 18+.  Interviews can be conducted on the phone.

If you could help, please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org and we will pass on your email to her.

AE skyrockets!

upward-graphLast year was a good year for Accepting Evangelicals.  Not only did our membership grow by over 25%, but our website traffic has rocketed!

From around 10,000 page views per month at the beginning of the year we saw our hits rise to almost 50,000 per month by December.

And in January 2013 they rocketed again to over 90,000.

So keep up the good work in telling people about Accepting Evangelicals.  It is definitely working!

God Bless and Keep You…
Accepting Evangelicals

Reflections on Parliament’s debate on Same-sex Marriage

ParliamentA week on from the UK Parliament’s debate on same-sex marriage, it is worth reflecting on some of the content of the debate.

The free vote at the end of the debate overwhelmingly approved the Bill proceeding to the next stage by 400 to 175, but the debate will continue both in parliament and in our churches.

In the debate, there were clearly articulated arguments on both sides and in this longer blog post we highlight sections from some of those contributions.  The links attached to each speaker’s name will take you to the speech in full as found in the official record of parliament.

We start with the speech from the Church of England’s official spokesperson in the House of Commons, Tony Baldry.  He outlined why both he and the Church of England opposed same-sex marriage:

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry): I am confident that we are all created in the image of God, whether we be straight, gay, bisexual, or transsexual. We are all equally worthy in God’s sight and equally loved by God. I am also sure that we are and should be equally welcome at God’s table. But equalness does not always equate with being the same.

For centuries, civilisations have recognised the value and importance to society of having an enduring and exclusive union between one man and one woman, not least for the raising and nurturing of children. That relationship is called marriage. The uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the distinctiveness of men and women, so removing that complementarity from the definition of marriage is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.

Others also took up this theme in opposing the introduction of same-sex marriage because it would ‘water down’ the institution of marriage:

Stephen Timms: Legal equality was delivered, quite rightly, by the introduction of civil partnerships, and if there are weaknesses in those arrangements, they should be put right. In particular, I see no problem with same-sex unions being celebrated in places of worship where congregations want to do so. A same-sex couple can have the same wish to affirm and to have affirmed a lifelong exclusive commitment as a man and a woman getting married, and we should value that and be willing to recognise and celebrate it.

This Bill, however, affirms not that same-sex unions are equal with marriages, but rather that they are the same as marriages, when in reality they are not: they are different. I think we will be poorer if we adopt a watered-down definition of marriage based on two aims from the Church of England’s list instead of all three.

But there were clear arguments expressed in support of the Bill.  Emma Reynolds took up the theme of equality, and took examples from Europe to argue that marriage had not been weakened as a result of adopting same-sex marriage.

Emma Reynolds   I hope that one day, we will live in a truly equal society in which there is little or no discrimination. I do not believe that that is a utopian dream. I believe that it is a possibility, but we have a very long way to go. The introduction of equal marriage and the Bill before us are an indispensable step in the journey towards that equal society.

There seem to be two key arguments against equal marriage, which I want to tackle head-on. The first is that it will somehow weaken the institution of marriage. That argument is simply illogical. On the contrary, I think that allowing more couples to enter into marriage will strengthen the institution of marriage, not weaken it. There are many countries in Europe and around the world, as well as many states in the United States, that have introduced gay marriage and it has not weakened or undermined marriage in those countries—quite the contrary.

The second argument is that equal marriage would threaten freedom of religion. Again, I refute that argument. I wholeheartedly support the freedom of religion, but the Bill contains guarantees that neither a religious institution or organisation nor a minister of religion will be forced by the law to marry same-sex couples.

Many European countries that are members of the Council of Europe have already introduced same-sex marriage, some—in the case of the Netherlands—as early as 2001. It has also been introduced more recently in Denmark, Sweden and elsewhere. Those countries have managed to introduce same-sex marriage while at the same time protecting religious freedom. As has been stated, no successful case has been brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

And there were a number of MP’s brought a specifically Christian perspective into their support for same-sex marriage:

Jonathan Reynolds: Having listened carefully to the representations I have received from constituents on both sides of the debate, I will vote for equal marriage today. I will do so because I am a Christian, not in spite of it. I believe marriage is important, and I believe it should be taken seriously—certainly more seriously than how it is presented in modern celebrity culture. I also think there are things that undermine marriage and strong relationships—the lack of family-friendly working hours and prohibitive child care costs are among them—but I genuinely cannot see how my support for equal marriage undermines my own marriage, the marriage of anyone else, or marriage as an institution. If anything, I believe it strengthens it.

Ben Bradshaw spoke as both a member of the Anglican Church and a member of the Ecclesaistical Committee, but was highly critical of the leadership of both the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church:

Mr Ben Bradshaw: There are many Anglicans and Roman Catholics who wish that their Churches were as open and welcoming as those that support the Bill entirely. In fact, all the opinion polls show that a majority not just of the public, but of Anglicans and Roman Catholics in this country support equal marriage. However, in their wisdom, the leaderships of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are not yet prepared to take such a step. That is their prerogative. It is perfectly possible to make the argument that, as a particular religion understands it, marriage can only be between a man and a woman. However the Churches’ credibility in arguing that would be a lot greater if they welcomed and celebrated civil partnerships. The fact that they do not do so leads me to conclude only that their objection to the Bill is not about the institution of marriage or even the word, but about a residual prejudice against same-sex relationships.

Others like Simon Hughes (who identifies himself as an evangelical) said that he would vote for the Bill but wanted more time for the process because of the enormity of the issues involved:

Simon Hughes:  I come to this debate as the person I am, with the complexities I have as an evangelical Protestant by faith and a Liberal since my teens. So these are not easy issues for me, and they are not easy for many people here…

I supported civil partnerships. I think the Church was wrong to oppose them at the time, and I hope that it and other faith groups now understand that they would do themselves a service if they allowed services of blessing for people in civil partnerships…

On Saturday night, I watched the new film, “Lincoln”. Of course, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said, there are no exact parallels between the battle over slavery and this, but there is a lesson: people then took different sides of an intense argument, even though they came from the same faith or other backgrounds, but things move on and we have to learn that understanding each other’s positions and seeking the maximum consensus is the best way to proceed. I hope that is how we will continue.

But perhaps the most impassioned speech in support of same-sex marriage came from David Lammy, who has been a member of the Archbishop’s Council in the CofE and openly professes his Christian faith.  We end with this longer except and exchange with a fellow MP, Stephen Pound:

Mr David Lammy:  “I have received many letters from people for whoDavid Lammy MP 2m this is all coming too soon. They say that the speed of change for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights is happening too abruptly for them to comprehend and that the country they live in, the traditions they live by and the people they live next to are transforming in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, upset and undermined. They are not homophobic or racist, they claim, but they say, “Not now, later”.

To some extent, I sympathise. As much as I would want Britain always to be the beating heart of radical and progressive change, it is not. At root, it has always had a small c conservative spine running through it—an instinct that change should always be organic, a need for change to be owned by the people, not imposed from up high. That instinct must be respected, and I will be respecting it when I vote for the Bill, because it commands the support of the country, because it respects religious freedom and tradition by permitting, rather than mandating, religious organisations to conduct the ceremonies, and because it is the end of an organic journey from criminalisation to equality for the gay community that began over half a century a go. This change is right and necessary and the time is now.

There are still those who say it is unnecessary. “Why do we need gay marriage”, they say, “when we already have civil partnerships?” They are, they claim, “Separate but equal.” Let me speak frankly: separate but equal is a fraud. It is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. It is the motif that determined that black and white people could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. They are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers—schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty. It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and racists. It is the same statement, idea and delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote, but only if they were married and only when they were over 30. It is the same naivety that led to my dad being granted citizenship when he arrived here in 1956, but being refused by landlords who proclaimed, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.

The phrase entrenched who we were, who our friends could be and what our lives could become. It is not separate but equal, but separate and discriminated against, separate and oppressed, separate and browbeaten, separate and subjugated. Separate is not equal, so let us be rid of it. As long as there is one rule for us and another for them, we allow the barriers of acceptance to go unchallenged. As long as our statute book suggests that love between two men or two women is unworthy of recognition through marriage, we allow the rot of homophobia to fester and we entrench a society where 20,000 homophobic crimes take place each year and where 800,000 people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work in the past five years.

I am a Christian. I go to mass. I recognise how important this is.

Stephen Pound: It is a privilege to be listening to my right hon. Friend’s extraordinary and impassioned peroration. Does he agree, however, that there are Christians who look for love in every aspect of their lives and the lives of those

around them who still feel profound misgivings and concerns about this piece of legislation?

Mr Lammy: I totally accept the manner in which my hon. Friend has put his remarks, and it saddens me that I have received many letters in my postbag condemning this legislation from people who share the same values and Christian ideals that I do, and who worship on a Sunday morning. I know them to be caring, loving and understanding people, and I know they resent the fact that those on the extremes of our faith have poisoned what is an important debate with references to polygamy and bestiality.

Therefore, let us use today to return to a discussion of what marriage ought to be about. When I married my wife, I understood our marriage to have two important dimensions: the expression of love, fidelity and mutuality over the course of our life together; and a commitment to raise children. Gay men and women can now raise children—this House made that decision—so let us not hear any further discussion about having a family as if gay men and women cannot have that.

The Jesus I know was born a refugee, illegitimate, with a death warrant on his name, and in a barn among animals. He would stand up for minorities. That is why it is right for those of religious conviction to vote for this Bill.