Urgent Action Required …

The Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill which could bring in the death penalty for some homosexuals has restarted its passage through parliament.

The bill was first introduced in 2009 but stalled after a wave of international protest.

But today a parliamentary committee in Uganda held a second day of hearings on putting it to a vote in the Ugandan parliament this week.   Further information can be found in an article by Associated Press (AP).

Protests to the Ugandan government have proved to be effective in the past and many evangelical groups (both progressive and conservative) joined the outcry.

To act today please visit http://www.allout.org/en/petition/uganda and sign up to the on line petition. 

There may be as little as 72 hours in which to act.  Please act now…

Newsletter – May 2011

Dear Friends

We hope you had a wonderful Easter – here are a few pieces of news from around the world this month and an important invitation.

AE Annual Meeting  …

You are warmly invited to our 2nd Annual Meeting in London next month:

  • ·        Saturday  11th June
  • ·        3- 5pm
  • ·        St Andrews Church Waterloo
  • ·        less than 5 minutes walk  from either Waterloo Station or Southwark Tube (Jubilee Line)

All members of Accepting Evangelicals are warmly invited to

  • ·         pray and worship together
  • ·         review the past year and discuss ideas for the year ahead,
  • ·         appoint trustees and steering group for the coming year

St Andrew’s church is on Short Street (SE1 8LJ) which is just opposite the famous Young Vic Theatre.

If you are able to come, it would help us if you could let us know by email:  benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

See this link  for how to find the venue –  St Andrews Waterloo.  

Gay marriage debate continues …

Since the publication of ‘Towards a Theology of Gay Marriage?’ in the Church of England Newspaper at the beginning of March, not a week has gone by without the debate continuing in the Britain’s leading Evangelical Newspaper.

That is not to say that all the contributions have been positive.  Last week letters page contained an piece  directly attacking  ‘the rise of the group Accepting Evangelicals’, along with Andrew Marin from the USA who has been a speaker at Spring Harvest for the last 2 years.  According to the writer of the letter, there is a link between pro-gay groups and  those who want to accept women in church leadership, as both have rejected Paul’s teachings.

Letters can, as always, be sent to the Editor at the CEN – email address:  letters@churchnewspaper.com

You can also read a more balanced appraisal of Andrew Marin’s book “Love is an Orientation” on the Fulcrum website:  http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=456

Transgender recognition in Pakistan

T’s are too often forgotten in evangelical debates around sexuality and gender.  Yet they suffer continuing prejudice, violence and discrimination, often at a much higher level than other groups.

In the news recently were 2 items which were striking on Transgender.  The first was the vicious prolonged attack on a transgender woman by 2 young women in a McDonald’s in Baltimore, filmed by a McDonald’s employee and put up on YouTube.  It shows the dangers that transgender people face in ordinary day to day life.  More encouraging was the peaceful protest which took place against this attack which included faith groups.  For more information see: http://www.lgbtqnation.com

Elsewhere, in Pakistan – a country not known for its progressive views, Transsexuals have now been recognised as an official gender category on national identity cards.  If such a conservative country (both politically and religiously) can make such a bold move, perhaps there is hope for others.  More information at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13192077

Maze – a safe space in Durham …

AE member Sally has asked us to publicise the group MAZE which is a safe space for LGB and T people in Durham city centre (UK)  for fellowship, worship, and building discipleship. For more information. please contact Sally at sallyitfcrush@btinternet.com

And finally – “I preached against homosexuality but I was wrong”

These are the words of Presbyterian Minister, Murray Richmond, who has changed his mind over gay relationships.  You can read his story and his reasons at:  http://www.salon.com

God Bless and Keep You…

Accepting Evangelicals

 

An Easter Greeting …

Having just journeyed through the events of Holy Week and Easter, I am struck once again by the immeasurable love which Christ showed to us in his death and resurrection.

Betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his friends.  Mocked, beaten and ridiculed by the religious and secular authorities.  Stripped, crucified, and left to die – his only words regarding those who treated him so unjustly were “Father forgive them”.

Yet, as we now know, in his death he took on all the sin, injustice and cruelty of the world – and as he died, its power died with him.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities…
and by his wounds we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5) 

 

And  as we come to celebrate Easter, we celebrate even more…  We celebrate the door which Jesus opened to eternal life, by rising from the grave.  Such a mystery is truly too great for us ever to fully grasp, even in 1,000 Easters – but by the miracle of his resurrection and his invitation to us, we can have peace with God our Father and be born again of the Spirit, that we too may share in his eternal life.

This miraculous wonder is at the very heart of the Gospel. 

It is what makes us brothers and sisters in Christ, part of one body with Christ as the head.  Faith in this gospel unties us in a way which nothing can divide.  

“There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 
one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.”   (Ephesians 4:4-6)

 

So this Easter, may we all celebrate the wondrous truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that no matter what our disagreements might be, we are indelibly united in Christ.

And this Easter, may the love and peace and blessing of Christ go out to all our brothers and sisters in Christ – affirming or not, accepting or not, theologically conservative or progressive – for when it comes down to it, Christ died and rose again for us all. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
 so that everyone who believes in him may not perish
but may have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

 

Benny Hazlehurst

Another Perspecitve

This week, an article by AE member Dr John Pike, who has been inspried by reading the personal accounts on our Stories Page.  He are his reflections …

On these pages you will find many testimonies from people who have suffered much heartache as a result of their sexual orientation. Their accounts are honest, direct and deeply moving. They are often tragic accounts of how Holy Scripture has been used incorrectly against individuals who have no control over this aspect of their being. God, in his infinite wisdom, has created them as our companions and they are deeply loved by Him.

You will also find excellent studies of what scripture has to say about this, setting the texts in context, both of the times and of their precise position in the Bible story. As Christians, we should study the Bible carefully and prayerfully and ask God to reveal himself to us.  It is for each individual to respond with their own understanding and in their own conscience. But however hard we study scripture, our understanding will only ever be partial.

As well as being fully God, Jesus was also fully Human. When people suffered, he grieved, he wept, he cured them, he forgave them, he met them where they were and showed them love. As humans, I believe it is our Christian calling to respond to our fellow human beings as Jesus did.

St Paul

St Paul tells us:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

In these beautiful verses I think we find the key to how we should approach our brothers and sisters with a different sexual orientation, given that our understanding of all things is only partial.

Jesus commanded us to love one another, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to forgive one another, and to treat one another as we would want to be treated ourselves.

I am a heterosexual and married man. I am also an evangelical Christian who, after studying what scripture has to say about this, thinks we must also respond as human beings, with love, like Jesus, to all men, whatever their creed, colour, religion, sexual orientation or particular sins. We are all sinners and none of us would be saved were it not for his one time perfect sacrifice.  

Below you will find literature from outside the Bible that has come to mind as I formed my personal view on this issue.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
 

John Wesley

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

If you have an article which you would like us to consider posting on the website, please email it to benny@acceptingevangelicals.org   We will be very happy to let you know if it would be appropriate for publication.

 

What a great weekend!

AE Co-Chair, Sigrun Wagner reflects on a successful weekend away….

 

Last weekend saw the first joint retreat of the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians (EFLGC) and Courage at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre on the Norfolk/Suffolk border

 The topic was “Set Apart: Why God Needs Gay Christians in the 21st Century Church” and the speaker was Justin Lee, from North Carolina in the States, founder and director of the Gay Christian Network (GCN).

 Although a joint retreat had been discussed for a number of years, just 10-15 years ago, a joint EF/Courage conference would have been unthinkable due to the very different stance the two organisations had taken on homosexuality.

 In the early 1990s, Courage ran a succession of discipleship programmes with a view to helping people ‘come out’ of homosexuality. However, practical experience proved this to be a counter-productive approach. Through years of pastoral experience, they  listened to the Holy Spirit afresh and pursued further scriptural study on the issues. The result was change of heart, recognising that God supports and blesses sincere committed relationships between gay people.  As a result, Courage slowly moved to an accepting and affirming view.

Justin Lee’s talks were gospel-centred, inspirational, entertaining and very relevant. A particular highlight was the talk, which started on the so-called clobber verses (at which point some audience members silently sighed and thought “oh no, not again”) and then put these verses into context: instead of focusing on the defensive attitude LGBT Christians tend to take towards the clobber verses, Justin focused on the positive aspects of what Jesus and Paul have to say on the subject of relationships (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Romans 13):

Love the Lord your God.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
Love does no harm to its neighbour.
Love is the fulfilment of the law.

 

It was very encouraging to hear a biblically based affirmation of loving, faithful committed LGBT relationships, which not only do not harm their neighbours, but rather contribute positively to society by their demonstration of love and grace.

 For some LGBT Christians it is all too easy to lick their wounds but Justin encouraged his listeners to be positive and confident about what they can contribute to church in the 21st century, sharing their experience and opening up an understanding in the church of what it means to be gay and Christian and they can offer to the church.

 It is interesting to note the perspective GCN has decided to take on the issue. It makes the theological distinction between the so-called Side A and Side B – Side A standing for Christians who believe God fully affirms gay people and their relationships while Side B Christians take an accepting stance on LGBT people and a celibate view on relationships. This connects well with the accepting and affirming stance Accepting Evangelicals takes in its welcome.

 The sessions always started with worship, and culminated in a Communion Service on Sunday after the last talk. The service was held in the chapel of the conference centre and the sound of 60+ men and 20+ women filled the room and was very moving. The fellowship that characterises these weekends is something very special and the diversity of old and young participants, gay and (a handful of) straight, the general mix of people makes this a safe space.

 The film Through my Eyes, made by GCN was shown and is recommended viewing (purchasable on the GCN website). Saturday night featured Courage/EF has got talent, which witnessed a great range of gifts, starting and ending with renditions of Amazing Grace – fitting for a weekend such as this.

 The venue and food were a great choice and the weekend ended with a session of feedback and sharing which demonstrated the fruit that can be wonderfully recognised in the faith and lives of LGBT people.

 Recordings from the talks can be obtained by contacting Courage.

April Newsletter 2011

This month we have something of a Baptist Focus with two pieces from the UK and USA.  We also have more Website news as we continue its development.

BMS World Mission Considers Sexuality …

In the latest issue of ‘Mission Catalyst’,  the Baptist Missionary Society has tackled head-on the issue of sexuality and the Gospel.

“Whether we like it or not, the Church has a bad name in matters of sexuality. Our engagement is too often censorious rather than liberating. We struggle to talk openly about matters that strike to the core of who we are.”
David Kerrigan, BMS General Director

What is more, they have included two articles by members of Accepting Evangelicals – one from our Co-Chair Martin Stears-Handscomb, and another by Rachel and Sarah Hagger-Holt, authors of the book ‘Living it Out’.  There is also an article by Andrew Marin who works in the USA to build bridges between the church and gay community.

Mission Catalyst is mailed to every Baptist Minister in the country, so you might like to ask your local Baptist Minister about their thoughts on it.

You can download this issue of the Magazine from the BMS website by following this link and Martin’s full article can be found via our Press page.

Black, Gay, & Baptist – a tribute to Pastor Gomes…

Sadly we mourn the passing of another trail blazer in openness and honesty this month. Pastor Peter J Gomes was a Baptist Minister, as well as being Professor of Morals, and minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard University. 

He shocked both students and the establishment in 1991 when he intervened in disturbances brought on by homophobic articles on campus, and declared that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay”.

From that moment on he became a national voice against religious homophobia, speaking and writing often against those who used the Bible as a tool for prejudice and intolerance.

He was perhaps at his best in the article he wrote for the New York Times in 1992 entitled “Homophobic?  Re-read your Bible“.  What he wrote then is just as relevant and powerful today.

A fuller tribute can also be found in the New York Times – follow this link

Facebook, Twitter, Buzz and LinkedIn – website news!

We now have ‘share’ buttons on all the website pages, meaning that you can add AE pages and articles to your chosen social network with a simple mouse click!

By using these you can not only spread awareness of Accepting Evangelicals, but also counter the public perception that the whole church is ‘anti-gay’.

So when you see something you like – please share it!

We have also got into our weekly routine of publishing a new Blog every Monday at the AE Blog – do feel free to comment on anything that grabs your attention.

God Bless and Keep You…
Accepting Evangelicals

Creating a unique space for Evangelicals

One of the unique things about Accepting Evangelicals is that it is not just for ‘Gay Affirming’ Evangelicals.  It is also for people who are willing to accept the Christian integrity of those who affirm same-sex relationships, even though they cannot affirm such relationships themselves.

Ray Khan is a founder member of Accepting Evangelicals and part of our steering group – here he explains why…

 “My own journey towards becoming a founding member of Accepting Evangelicals, started as a reaction against certain evangelicals whose articulated views on homosexuals appeared as homophobic, bigoted and (in my mind) illogical. I could not help but conclude that for these people homosexuals were the new “lepers” and the authority of scripture rested solely on this one issue. I felt that the Bible was being misused in the selective way that it was being used and interpreted. The problem for me was that this approach was being portrayed as THE Evangelical stance on the issue and I as an evangelical objected to this most strongly.

For me Accepting Evangelicals is a unique space for evangelicals who sense unease and concern over the polarisation and debate on homosexuality and the way that this has had a negative impact on the Good News. When I was asked to be a founding member I was delighted to be in a space where we could say that the Good News is for all and to listen and appreciate the diversity within us and within society.

I hope that Accepting Evangelicals can be a space where evangelicals can explore a more loving, inclusive and positive approach to Gay people and Gay Christians. I welcome the wide diversity of opinion within Accepting Evangelicals, even when I feel some ambivalence with some of the views expressed by others within it. This diversity is a reminder that what holds Christians together is greater than what can divide us. I am uncertain of whether I will have the same reached the same conclusions held by some of the members, but remain confident that this is an important space.

I am a heterosexual and I just cannot understand what it means to be gay, but I know that I am not wholly defined by my own sexual identity and in Christ I have a new identity. This is also true for the Gay Christians that I have encountered, they are not defined just by their sexuality, but by Christ. Any attempt to define a person in a narrow way is an attempt to dehumanise them and therefore makes them less human than we are. Martin Luther King Jnr. would see such a process as not just dehumanising the oppressed, but also the oppressor. The inability to see another as a fully human being diminishes our own humanity.

There are still significant areas of scripture that make me uneasy about wanting to wholly affirm homosexual behaviour. However in scripture I also encounter a God whose is full of mercy and compassion, who challenges us to take the extravagant risk of love and compassion towards those considered outsiders, by the majority. My personal struggle with Scripture is holding onto what Scripture teaches about homosexual behaviour and affirming God’s mercy and compassion. In this tension I am inspired by Jesus, who looked to and loved those considered “less human”, those on the outside of religious purity. God calls me to love, I am not called to judge, but to show grace, to love others as I have been loved by God. This does not remove that tension, but it does provide me with an ethic for the present moment.

I want there to be a reasoned and prayerful dialogue that moves evangelicals towards a positive ethic of homosexuality (whatever that may be). I want to be part of a church that accepts and celebrates the gifts that God has given in our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and sees that they have an important part to play in the church and work of God. There are those within Accepting Evangelicals who will have a stronger and more defined view on this. I am not one of them, but I stand to say that I want to be part of that process, knowing that it will not be easy and that there may never be a total resolution, except for that resolution that lies in the grace and love of God.”

 Let us know your thoughts ….

Responses flood in …

The Church of England Newspaper has had a flood of responses, both positive and negative to our article “Towards a Theology of Gay Marriage?” (4th March 2011)

Over the last two weeks it has published ten letters of which six were positive and four were negative.

You can read all the letters by following the link on the Press page of our website.

Here are a few extracts (negative and positive) to whet your appetite …

Sir, I do hope your contributor, Benny Hazlehurst (March 4), realises the lid is now well and truly off of Pandora’s box… it is surely a false compassion that encourages such practices that are contrary, not only to God’s revealed will, but questionable in the area of bodily health? …

We are in an ideological struggle with this Going Against Yahweh (GAY) sexuality as part of revolutionary unbelief’s pagan legacy… Rather than driving forward the pro-GAY antifamily agenda and promoting further confusion our Church leaders and the government would do well to uphold the Christian religion and its civil consequences…

 “I was intrigued at the use of Holy Scripture to justify the position of the author. Genesis 2:24 is clear, ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’ This portion of God’s word is so clear as to need no explanation…

I find it difficult to comprehend the rigidity of thinking which regards the desire of two gay people to publicly express, before God, a lifelong commitment to each other as anything other than a cause for celebration…

I hope your readers will also find time to study this topic of ‘Gay marriage’ by talking to its supporters rather than just hiding behind barricades of ‘The Bible says..’ and by analysing the deeper issues raised by the article – of love, relationship and respect for humanity in all its God-given diversity…

Most of us yearn for the right person to make us complete. This longing is as strong in homosexuals as anyone else. I think it is time for the Church to applaud, respect and honour the love and commitment that two same-sex people have for one another and to bless that love and commitment. In so doing, we would not be ignoring scripture but recognising that all human love is a deep and God-given gift…

Just as we now wonder that there was a time when slavery was justified on the basis of scripture, so will a day arrive when evolved Christians will wonder that scripture was once used to condemn and demonise others on the basis of aspects of innate identity such as gender or sexuality…

To read the letters in full follow this link. Let us know your reactions…

Evangelicals Today…

Research by Evangelical Alliance in the UK has found that 27% of Evangelical Christians declined to agree with the statement that “Homosexual actions are always wrong.” 

Of those, 16% actively disagreed, and 11% were unsure.  While this is still a minority of evangelicals, it shows conclusively that there is now a significant proportion of evangelicals who have moved beyond a traditional understanding on this issue, and begun to embrace a more inclusive approach.

The survey was conducted last year among Festival goers at events like Spring Harvest and New Wine and is one of the largest surveys of its kind ever conducted in the UK.

Over 15,000 surveys were completed with questions on a wide range of issues and beliefs for evangelical Christians.

Some might jump to the conclusion that this 27% are not really evangelicals at all, but other results challenge that view.  On questions of faith, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the uniqueness of Christ, almost all those surveyed demonstrated a firm commitment to traditional evangelical faith:

99% of those questioned said that their faith is the most important thing in their lives

95% said that the Bible was the inspired Word of God

94% believed that Jesus is the only way to God, and that the Bible has supreme authority in guiding their beliefs, views, and behaviour.

The difference may be the result of more and more evangelicals realising that the Biblical evidence for condemning same-sex relationships is far from conclusive. So while they continue to hold fast to a firmly Biblical faith, they are more ready to question the interpretation of Scripture which they have been given on this issue.

You can see the survey in full at the Evangelical Alliance website.

You can also read a more personal reflection on the survey on Benny’s Blog.

Towards a Theoleogy of Gay Marriage?

The following article from Accepting Evangelicals was published in The Church of England Newspaper  last Friday, to open up some measured discussion on same-sex marriage.     Let us know your reactions….

It begins:   

As the Government begins to explore the possibility of new policies on marriage for same-sex couples, do we need to revisit our theology of marriage and ask “Is it really as Biblical as we think?”

 To read the rest, follow this link.

 Towards a Theology of Gay Marriage