A letter to the Church of moving goal-posts…

This week, a letter prompted by a recent blog about the very personal struggle with church and  sexuality…

Dear Church,

I have spent years trying to understand you I have done everything I can to bind myself to a teaching that calls me to love God and my neighbour. I try to remove the plank in my own eye and recommit to the Way, the Truth and the Life. I listen closely to what you say, Church. And I’m confused, conflicted, and at times even angry.

You see, I’m sick and tired of interacting with “Church teachings” around the “big sin” of sexual morality when the teachings appear as moving targets. The Church says the problem is sex. When I ask about other forms of intimacy with my girlfriend, the Church says the problem is about my girlfriend. When I ask about cultivating rich and meaningful friendships, the Church says that I misunderstand “rich and meaningful.’ When I ask about where I am supposed to live in community, the most candid response that I’ve received to date is “on the outskirts of a men’s monastery.”

As much as I desire to abide by the Church’s teachings, when it comes down to a vocabulary lesson that I am never to say the words “I’m gay” I can no longer abide the instruction. To rob me of my vocabulary is to rob me of my experience.

I long so much to be in a Christ-honouring relationship with someone who calls me to experience the fullness of God’s Love in my life. I long to find a partner who can complement my weaknesses relative to the missional work God has called me to. I long to find guidance on pursuing a vocation outside of the Church and outside of marriage.

I long so much to be a part of a Church that will help me through the confusion of being 28, of watching all of my straight friends marry and found families, of trying to steward my own sexual and relational energies…. and when I share my plea with the Church, I find the door slammed in my face.

I find myself so often in tears, begging God that He would reveal what specific parts of my conduct He would have me change. Reaching to God through shame with a desperate longing in my heart burns tears in my eyes more potent than any I’ve ever cried. When I find the courage to call a friend, my friend has to try to understand my words through the pain of a convulsing soul. Tears have clouded my vision and snot clogs my nose. And I’m grateful for each friend God has given me on the journey. I am so profoundly grateful for friends who can hear my desperate pleas for help from a community of Christians.

But this handful of friends is scattered across two continents. And they are friends who are the ones who simply decided to be my friend through WHATEVER my life entails. They remind me constantly of God’s love for me, even when they themselves have decided that “Christ” no longer makes sense as a name to call God.

And as I encounter a Church that constantly change the rules for me…. I wonder if the Church used moving targets to try to convince some of my friends to give up the name of Christ. All I long to do is to love Him…. and to love the others I come into contact with….

Because the words “I’m gay” describe my experience, the Church tells me I cannot love. How can the Church tear down the image and likeness of God deposited in me by my Creator at the very beginning of time?

Lord have mercy.

I can live without sex. I am prepared to live without sex. But I cannot live without a community who cares to affirm God’s love for me.

With earnest and heartfelt prayer,
Someone who doesn’t mind standing at the doors to let others inside

Christians reach out while the Church pulls away

At London Pride last weekend around 120 Christians dressed in purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Christian and Proud”, marched in the London Pride Parade.

They sang Christian songs and gave out gospel leaflets to onlookers.  They smiled and waved as they were greeted with cheers and applause by the crowds who had gathered to watch.  It was profoundly moving to see this expression of the Christian faith welcomed by people of all faiths and none.  It was an act of mission declaring God’s love to gay and straight alike on the streets of central London.

But as ‘Christians at Pride’ reached out, the Church of England was pulling away from the gay community, by introducing a new way of excluding gay clergy from being considered as Bishops.

In an statement from the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Norwich said,  “clergy in civil partnerships should not, at present, be nominated for Episcopal appointment”.  This now appears to be the official policy of the Church of England, pending new reviews of same-sex relationships which will take place over the next few years.

This will certainly make for a quieter life in the Crown Nominations Commission, as recent revelations have shown, as it will exclude candidates like Jeffrey John without any need for discussion.  But what kind of message is it sending to gay Christians?

Clergy in Civil Partnerships already have to make a declaration that their relationship is non-sexual and that they will abide by the teaching and discipline of the Church.  As such there was nothing to prevent them being considered for other appointments – until last weekend.

To quote one of the organisers of ‘Christians at  Pride’, himself an evangelical gay Anglican, “This poses an interesting question for the church. What does a gay person have to do in order to be acceptable to the church?  For years, we have been told that it’s really just the sexual act which is the problem, and now it turns out its more than that.”

It is tempting to ask where Jesus would have been last weekend, if he had to choose.  Would he have been standing alongside the House of Bishops, or among the Christians at Pride?

The Gospel writers would seem to leave us in no doubt.  Jesus almost always chose to spend his time with those outside the religious institutions.  Whether on the shores of lake Galilee, or with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus spent little of his time in the corridors of religious power.  And when he did venture into the places of religious power, they were often as uncomfortable with him, as he was with them.

The two reviews which the Bishops announced last weekend do, perhaps, provide a glimmer of hope.  They may provide the opportunity for the Church of England to reconsider its attitude to same-sex relationships after several years of stalemate where concerns in the rest of the Anglican Communion have prevented a return to this thorny issue.

It is intended that these reviews should build on the ‘listening process’ which was begun in 1998, but has faltered in recent years.  LGB&T Christians will be hoping that as well as listening to them, the church will listen to the Jesus who still reaches out to them, even when the church pulls away.

Benny Hazlehurst  http://benny2010.blogspot.com/

Newsletter – July 2011

Dear Friends

Christians at Pride…

Last weekend saw the annual London Pride celebrations, and there was a contingent of around 120 people in the Christians at Pride group wearing their ‘Christian and Proud’ T-shirts.  It was also great to see members of Accepting Evangelicals on the march.  It was a valuable act of positive Christian witness in a world where that witness is often so negative.

 In the photo are (amongst others) AE Trustees, Sigrun Wagner, Benny and Mel Hazlehurst.   

CofE announces review of same-sex relationships…

Last weekend also saw the Church of England announce 2 reviews of its approach to same-sex relationships.

On the positive side, such a review process is long overdue, and w hope that it will result in a much more open and accepting approach emerging.

On the negative side, clergy in Civil Partnerships will not be eligible to become Bishops in the meantime.  This is the first time that this has been formally announced as church policy.  It seems to be an unjustified step as Clergy in Civil Partnerships in the CofE already have to make a declaration that their relationship will be non-sexual, and that they will submit to the teaching and discipline of the church.

As one AE Member commented, “This poses an interesting question for the church. What does a gay person have to do in order to be acceptable to the church?  For years, we have been told that it’s really just the sexual act which is the problem, and now it turns out its more than that.”

AE along with others, have responded to the news by welcoming the reviews but deploring this new level of discrimination.  You can read our Press Release here, and the Church of England Statement here.

Can you help finance AE?

AE is justifiably proud of the fact that we run the network on a tiny budget, (last year our total expenditure was less than £400) but the opportunities to do more mean that we need to raise more funds.

So could you help?  We are asking AE members to consider making a small standing order to AE so that we can plan for the future.  Even  £2 per month will make a significant difference if enough people respond – but of course you can give more!

Attached is a standing order form which can also be downloaded from our website.  We hope you will feel able to fill it in and sending to:  AE Treasurer, Flat 3, 7 Upper Tollington Park, London N4 3EJ.  Membership of AE will continue to be free, but we hope many will be able to help in this way.

Spiritual Director wanted in the Midlands, UK…

One of our members is looking for a LGBT friendly Spiritual Director in the Midlands.  If anyone has any suggestions, please email them to benny@acceptingevangelicals.org and we will forward them on.

Next month we will have more news from around the world – sorry that this month has been so UK focused.  If you have any news you would like us to feature, send it in and we will see what we can do.

God Bless and Keep You
Accepting Evangelicals

Bible focus part 1 – Bible says no?

First published on Benny’s Blog in 2010 and adapted for Accepting Evangelicals.

I remember the first negative comment I had on ‘Benny’s Blog’.

Anonymous said “You are an Evangelical and you presumably know your Bible yet you say homosexuality is fine ?

Accept the people, sins and all, but the practice is not OK and you should know it. Goodness, there are plenty of Biblical admonitions about it.  I`m not even an Evangelical and it seems crystal clear to me.”

I was actually amazed that it had taken so long.  When we launched Accepting Evangelicals in 2004, we immediately had a flood of the most awful emails expressing that hope that we would die a slow painful death and burn in hell – so actually, this mildly negative comment was not only long overdue, but also extremely polite and reserved.

What has not moved on however, is the mistaken belief about what the Bible does and does not say on the subject of same sex relationships.

It reminds me of the Little Britain sketch where the unhelpful bank clerk just keeps repeating “Computer says no”  – no discussion, no debate, no reasons – just no.

Far from there being ‘plenty of Biblical admonitions’ on the subject there are only a handful of verses which talk about homosexuality, and understanding  exactly what they mean or refer to is by no means straightforward.  Yet the perception remains in many people’s minds that this is an open and shut case.

Even Theologians  who are committed to a conservative line against same sex relationships, acknowledge that there is not much in the Bible to go on.   One such theologian is R.Hays, quoted in the Church of England’s official document on the subject “Some issues in human sexuality” (2003).   He talks about the “Slender evidence of the New Testament” in relation to homosexuality -and he is right.  It is mentioned on only 3 occasions, and only one of these contains any attempt to portray a theological explanation for why such attraction might be wrong.

The Old Testament is no better.  There are only 2 clear references, both in the same section of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) and the second is merely a reiteration of the first for the purpose of setting down a penalty for the ‘crime’.  Other references in Deuteronomy are almost universally understood to be about temple prostitution whether heterosexual or (by inference) homosexual, so contribute nothing to the current debate on sex relationships.

Other passages – eg the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 – whilst having a sexual component to them, are not principally about homosexuality, but about rape, inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality which were deeply ingrained in fabric and culture of the Middle East.  Hence it was considered acceptable(even proper) for Lot to offer his daughters to be gang raped by the mob in order to protect his visitors!

On top of all this, Jesus appears to have been entirely silent on the issue, and if you are a lesbian, you can rejoice that there is even less to go on.   Leviticus refers exclusively to men, and only one of the three references in the New Testament (Romans 1) includes sexual attraction between women. 

So far from there being plenty of Biblical admonitions against homosexuality, the reality is that the Biblical evidence is both flimsy and fragmented.  We need to delve deeper to see what exactly is being considered in those verses and to see to what extent it might apply today.

The problem is, just like the Little Britain  sketch where the bank clerk says over and over again ‘Computer says No!’ –  there are many too many Christians who are content to roll out the same mantra time after time – ‘Bible says No!’ – without ever considering the evidence and what the Bible actually says.

That doesn’t mean that what the Bible says is unimportant however.  As an evangelical, I consider it  vitally important to build my understanding of the Christian faith on the Bible.

So over the next few months, we will be taking a close look at what the Bible says on same sex relationships, and what that means today.  We know, of course, that we are not doing anything new here, as many have trod this road before, but as long as there are people out there who think the same way as Mr/s Anonymous, I think it needs to be done.  We just hope and pray that all who care about this issue will be a little more responsive than the bank clerk in Little Britain.

Next time – Leviticus 18…

A Pentecost message – open the doors!

This week’s blog was written on Pentecost Sunday by AE member Hazel Russman.  You can also read her story by following this link….

Today is Pentecost, so the Gospel reading in our church was John 20 vv.19-23. I listened to the familiar words “…as His disciples were gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews” and, as always, I mentally cried “Ouch!”.

For a Jewish Christian, parts of John’s Gospel are always hard to hear. It is different when I read them for myself because then I can remind myself of the background. John was writing for a Church that was still substantially Jewish; not only was there still a large ethnically Jewish minority, but most of the Gentile members had been converted by Paul or by one of his circle and had been taught to consider themselves as Jews by adoption (see for example Romans 11vv. 16-18).

However many Christians were bitter at the official Jewish leadership because of the recent decision that Christianity was a new religion and that Jews who professed it were apostates who should be expelled from the synagogues. Against this dual background, the use of the phrase “The Jews” in an opprobrious sense to describe the Jewish leaders, as distinct from the Jewish people, who are always show as supporting Jesus, is understandable and probably unlikely to be misunderstood.

But I have the burden of hindsight. I know what all these sneering references to “The Jews” eventually led to when John’s Gospel fell into the hands of a Church that John never envisaged – a 100% Gentile Church that saw itself as a replacement for Israel,  rather than an extension of it. Listening to the Gospel being read today, calmly and matter-of-factly, as if fear of the Jews were the most natural thing in the world for Christians to feel, it was almost as if the priest were saying to me, “What are you doing here? You are not one of us. You are the Enemy.”

And that was when these words suddenly sounded in my brain: “In those days the Church shut the doors for fear of the Jews, and now they shut them for fear of the gays”.

The fear and hatred of Jews that distorted the Church’s message for so many centuries was utterly irrational, but that did not prevent it from taking a powerful hold. And John shows us how, right from the very beginning, it inhibited the Church’s calling to spread the Good News. While the disciples were cowering behind closed doors, they were not able to reach anyone outside. Nor did they wish to.

Fortunately, closed doors cannot exclude Jesus. He came in anyway and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them in spite of their fears. And when the meaning of that gift became manifest a few weeks later, the first thing they felt driven to do was to fling the doors open and pour out into the street to tell everyone that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was risen from the dead.

Today, the Church’s mission is hampered just as much by closed doors and by fear. While so many Christian groups are protecting themselves from contamination by gay people, the world looks on and says, “Well, if that’s what Christians are like, I don’t want to be one!”. They react in much the same way when traditionalists show their fear of women (who might be menstruating, God help us!) presiding at the Eucharist or ordaining priests. We are gradually losing our hold on an entire generation of British people because they see us behaving in ways that they consider weird at best and downright immoral at worst.

Those people out there have a pretty shrewd idea of what should be important to Christians. They expect Christians to care about God and about Jesus. They are not particularly surprised that this has sometimes led to quarrels about who Jesus really was, and about the meaning of His death and resurrection. They are surprised and contemptuous when they see us quarrelling about women bishops and gay priests. They expect Christians to love each other and to show love for the poor and the excluded. They don’t expect us to effectively exclude each other from the Church for having different opinions on subjects so trivial in Jesus’s own eyes that He never saw fit to mention them.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2 v.7): it’s time to open the doors!

Why I am an Evangelical gay Christian…

This week, Jeremy Marks writes on being Evangelical and Gay…

Having spent most of my adult life in the evangelical church, thinking, believing and living as an evangelical Christian, being an evangelical is second nature to me. In recent years, my view of the gay issue has radically changed—from a traditional viewpoint, believing that to call oneself a “gay Christian” is an oxymoron—to full acceptance of my homosexuality as a gift from God. 

Many of my evangelical friends (who believe me to be seriously deceived in this) tell me that I cannot call myself an evangelical anymore, insisting that I have given up the true orthodox faith as entrusted to the saints (Ephesians 3:8).  It has been extremely painful to lose many friends who I have truly loved as brothers and sisters in the faith, because they now believe me to be deceived. Worse still, they see my ministry of pastoral care and support as “misguided” and to be leading vulnerable people down a slippery slope into deception. “Faithful are the wounds of friends” (Proverbs 27:6)!  Or are they?

It has taken me years to recognise this, but I have begun to see that it is surely they, not I, who should be questioning their evangelical credentials. Because as I understand it, the word “evangel”, from which the word comes, simply means “Good News”, or “Gospel”, and an evangelical is one who believes in and shares the good news of Jesus Christ. In fact, being an evangelical has nothing whatever to do with what you believe about being gay or straight; nor has it anything to do with rejecting or accepting one’s homosexuality. It is all about receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ by faith and making Him known to others.

When I began “Courage” in 1988—a ministry that provides a safe place of fellowship for lesbian and gay Christians to develop their spiritual journey, through worship, prayer and Bible study, I accepted the traditional view, as taught. In those days, we saw homosexuality as a diabolically-inspired temptation to pursue a deviant lifestyle that parodies heterosexual marriage in defiance of God’s good creation plan—in which all are created heterosexual. As gay people, we believed ourselves to be deviant heterosexuals (Romans 1:26,27) who had somehow been tricked into believing a lie about ourselves. We believed that we needed to be renewed in our minds, and that to achieve this we must uncompromisingly set our face against any worldly temptation to live a “gay lifestyle” (Romans 12:1,2).

From our traditional evangelical standpoint, seeking to resist such temptation and to encourage one another to overcome seemed to be a laudable goal. In reality, it subtly shifted our focus away from the joy we had found in Christ to the pursuit of “self-improvement”, which became an idol. The fruit of such idolatry was a miserable reward for all who pursued the ‘ex-gay’ process. Many became deeply depressed and full of inner conflict; some lost their faith altogether—the complete opposite of our objective, which was to help people to grow in their Christian lives. We were slow to learn; but after years of seeing the catastrophic consequences of such an approach, we eventually came to understand the concept of “overcoming” in a different way: it had to mean embracing our true God-given sexual orientation, overcoming our neurosis about sexuality, and finding healing from the corrosive damage of internalised homophobia, brought about by years of trying to conform to social pressure. Then we can serve Christ fully as the people He wants us to be.

Over my 24 years of ministry, I have come to see so clearly that when people take their eyes off the all-important task of making the Good News of Jesus Christ known (ensuring of course that one’s own life is rooted and grounded in the love of Christ—Ephesians 3:16), then they become plagued with inner conflicts and lose heart.  This happens, I believe, when we allow our focus to be misdirected into preoccupation with our failings and the need for self-improvement. 

 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) 

We lose our joy in Christ when we devote our time and energies to fighting who we are— and eventually lose our faith altogether.  When Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25), the context was a little different, but the observation could not be more apt for our situation. Repentance is not about trying not to be gay; repentance is about turning away from living by our wits and our own understanding (Proverbs 3:3-7). A holy and righteous life is a life lived by faith in what Christ has done for us. In serving Christ we become whole. This is the Good News that every evangelical Christian is glad to share above all else.

As a gay Christian man I give thanks to God that I have been able to rediscover my true evangelical roots and recover my joy and salvation in Christ. It has been a great privilege to help others find their way along this path too. Thanks be to God—my sins have been forgiven, including those covert sins of internalised homophobia and self-hatred that tempted me into the spurious pursuit of self-improvement through my own endeavours. My hope for life in Christ has been restored together with my self-respect. This is the fruit of true evangelicalism I believe. 

For further study, may I recommend an excellent article by Dr Roy Clements, “What is an Evangelical?” (www.courage.org.uk/articles/article.asp?id=147 ). 

Jeremy Marks: Jeremy@courage.org.uk

You can also read Jeremy’s talk “A Change in the Tide?” which he persented to our Second Annual Meeting  AE Annual Meeting talk June 2011

Powerful New Stories to read and pass on…

This week we feature two stories from women which powerfully express the anger, frustration and hurt which discrimination causes in the Church.

The first is a new story on the AE Stories page, from a lesbian who does not yet feel able to be open in her church, but who has felt powerfully affirmed by God in both her faith and sexuality.

The second is via a link to Lesley’s Blog and is written by a bisexual Christian who has suffered as result of being open about her sexuality and same-sex partnerhip.

Both stories evoke strong reactions, and cannot be ignored.  Please read them and pass them on.

Newsletter – June 2011

Dear Friends

AE Annual Meeting  …

Our Annual Meeting is almost upon us – for the full agenda for the afternoon  click here – Annual Meeting Agenda – 11th June 2011

Saturday  11th June  3 – 5pm 

 St Andrews Church Waterloo  – less than 5 minutes walk  from either Waterloo Station or Southwark Tube (Jubilee Line)

Jeremy Marks – the founder and Director of Courage will be speaking on “A Change in the Tide” and there will be opportunity to review the past year as well as plan for the future.  

It would be great see many of you there.  If you are able to come, it would help us if you could let us know by email:  benny@acceptingevangelicals.org   

Follow this link to find the venue –  St Andrews Waterloo.  

Presbyterians and Lutherans signal change…

As we reported in the AE Blog, The Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to remove the ban on openly homosexual ministers, elders and deacons. but now there is more.

Soon after, the Church of Scotland took an important step towards recognising that God can call homosexuals to ministry.  Its General Assembly has voted to allow the appointment of openly gay ministers already ordained to new posts, while it further looks into the issue of training and ordination.

And the Lutheran Church in Italy also decided last month to offer services of Blessing to homosexual couples.

More controversy in the Church of England…

Meanwhile the Church of England has seen a new round of controversy arise as more details have immerged about the blocking of Dr Jeffrey John as a potential Bishop of Southwark last year. 

Members of the Crown Nominations Commission who decide on such top jobs are bound by strict confidentiality, but following the death of Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, his family have chosen to make public his account of the meeting.

The story was broken in the Guardian newspaper, and has caused a flurry of responses, few of which make comfortable reading for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia

Symon Hill, a Christian writer and activist, is walking from Birmingham to London this month as a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. He will speak at churches on the way, praying with others and engaging in dialogue.

 The walk will run from 16th June to 1st July. Symon, who is associate director of the Ekklesia thinktank, will join the Pride march in London the day after his arrival. There will be three city centre events, open to people of all religions and none, whatever their views on sexuality.

  • Birmingham – 7.00pm, Wednesday 15th June, Carr’s Lane Church (the evening before the walk starts)
  • Oxford – Sunday 26th June, St Columba’s United Reformed Church (time to be confirmed)
  • London – 7.00pm, Friday 1st July, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church (the day Symon arrives in London)

 Symon will pass through other towns and cities, including Coventry, Leamington Spa, Daventry, Banbury, Bicester, Chesham and Watford. Find out more at http://www.repenting.wordpress.com or watch out for details on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Walk-of-repentance-for-homophobia/172048302829171.

 Christians at Pride …

And finally, there will be a strong Christian presence again this year on Saturday 2nd July at London Pride, organised by Christians at Pride.

Last year over 120 people LGBT Christians, their friends and relatives marched together at London Pride, wearing T-shirts which proclaimed “Christian and Proud”.  It was a powerful statement to the LGBT community that there is support for LGBT Christians and that God loves us with, rather than despite, our sexualities.

 Accepting Evangelicals is proud to be part of this organization.  Come if you can – further information and T-shirts are available from the Christians at Pride website.

 God Bless and Keep You…

Accepting Evangelicals


Presbyterian Church USA accepts gay ministry

Earlier this month, The Presbyterian Church (USA) became the latest mainline denomination to formally vote to accept the ministry of LGBT Christians, including those in relationships.

The nationwide church of over 2m members had approved the change at its General Assembly last year, but that vote had to be confirmed by a majority of its regional Presbyteries before it could be enacted.  This majority was achieved in Minneapolis on the 10th May.

In making the change, the Presbyterian Church joins a growing number of mainline denominations in welcoming the ministry of openly gay people.  These churches include:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Episcopal Church (Anglican) in the USA
The United Church of Christ (USA)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden
The Church of Norway
The Evangelical Church of Denmark

Although ‘Evangelical’ in this context often means ‘Protestant’ (ie not Roman Catholic) there are prominent evangelical supporters of such changes including Jack Rogers in the Presbyterian Church.  Jack Rogers is a former Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and he describes his own journey from active opposition in his book, ‘Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality’ as well as charting a biblical theology for accepting and celebrating same-sex relationships.

The change is not without controversy however, and the debate will continue to evoke strong feelings among both progressive and conservative parts of the denomination.  The new openness is also permissive rather than compulsory.  Local congregations  will continue to appoint deacons, elders and ministers themselves, and more conservative congregations are almost certain to choose candidates who will follow a more conservative line – but the blanket ban on openly gay ministers has been removed.

For more information, views and reflections, please see…

The Presbyterian Church website’s announcement:
A well considered reflection by a Presbyterian Minister:
Is LGBTQ Ordination a Change or a Challenge for the Presbyterian Church (USA)?
Benny’s Blog – A good day in Minneapolis

Spring Harvest turns down the heat

This week AE Member Alex Huzzy reflects on Spring Harvest 2011 which he attended with a number of other members of AE…

This evening at Spring Harvest, the main speaker spoke about those times when Christians really get it wrong. The times when we not only fail to communicate the love of God effectively, but actually make other people feel that God hates them. He mentioned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in this context.

During the prayers after the talk, he urged people to go and call the son whose wedding they didn’t go to, or the daughter they’d disowned. The message was clear – nobody falls outside the love of God, and where we have made others believe that God hates them, that hatred has come from ourselves, not from God.

He also made that point that it is our actions as well as our words which have communicated this hatred.

I thought this was a really interesting point. Few UK Christians would overtly proclaim that God hated LGBT people in the manner of Fred Phelps. But you could argue that the actions of the church have spoken louder than words. Seeing prominent Christians channelling thousands of pounds of their own money into maintaining legislation like Section 28, hearing prominent Christian pressure groups campaigning to be able to bar gay people from their businesses or from adopting children, even hearing Christians trying to justify why LGBT people are not worthy to teach or be in leadership in church. All of these have sent out a clear message to LGBT people – we don’t like you, you’re not as good as we are, and we don’t want you in our churches.

Now what was interesting was that no reappraisal on the traditional view of human sexuality was called for or even hinted at. In fact, the speaker referred to ‘lifestyles we cannot condone’ and ‘choices we do not agree with’, the kind of misleading language which anybody with any experience of LGBT people would realise was unhelpful. But there was a significant shift in priority. The most important priority for the church should no longer be to make LGBT people realise how wrong they are, but rather to make LGBT people feel how loved they are. It doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that we all agree on our interpretation of the Bible, but rather simply that we begin to take seriously those much-quoted words of Billy Graham – ‘God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, it’s our job just to love’.

That’s what is so great about Accepting Evangelicals. It’s not about whether you agree with same-sex relationships or not. It is about standing up for a truth we can all agree on; that God deeply, passionately and unconditionally loves everybody. It’s about recognising that the church which makes LGBT people feel that God hates them does more damage to the Gospel than the church which extends an unconditional welcome to all, regardless of their beliefs about sexuality.

Imagine the church which seeks to extend a full, hearty and unconditional welcome to LGBT people. A church which encourages LGBT people to come on in and worship, pray and study the Bible alongside everyone else. A church which believes that belonging and being in community is more important than believing ‘the right thing’ about same-sex relationships. Isn’t that preferable to the church which demands full compliance with a set of moral tickboxes before it allows people to get involved?

The problem is that actually being in the welcoming church is much less comfortable for all concerned. For those who hold to the traditional view, it’s uncomfortable hanging out with people whose relationships you don’t understand or agree with. For LGBT people, it’s profoundly uncomfortable hanging out with those who believe that your relationship, your family, or your gender identity is wrong, damaging or unbiblical. But maybe that’s where God would have us be, united in a commitment to love and respect one another, rather than publicly trying to exclude, undermine and reject one another.