New Zealand and same-sex blessings…

by Bishop David Gillett.NewZealand-map 2

When I was in New Zealand earlier this year I had the privilege of leading a seminar for clergy and lay leaders on same sex relationships. At the time I  detected an atmosphere pervading the discussion which I hadn’t found in this country at the time. Even the most conservative present were primarily concerned to understand how I as an evangelical understood that the scriptures encouraged me to support my gay and lesbian friends in their relationships.

A similar spirit of open enquiry and desire for unity within the church characterised the recent meeting of the General Synod there. The doctrinal divisions are just as wide there as here, yet they came to a common mind on the way forward. There is still a long way to go but all agreed to look for a way that allowed those that held to the traditional view of marriage being solely for one man and one woman in life-long union would continue to be able to believe and practice only that as fully faithful members of the church. Those who believe that God wants to bless all monogamous life long relationships, irrespective of gender would also have a similarly secure place and be able to bless same sex unions.

This is a remarkable achievement of a loving journey together especially as we realise that some of the South Pacific countries within that Church have legal systems which outlaw the practice of homosexuality.  But they are a church which from the beginning has been committed (variously at different stages through their 200 year history) to give equal and honourable place to different ethnic backgrounds. – notably to indigenous Maori and  to white settlers – as well as embracing  bilingualism.

At times the life blood of the Church of England seems governed more by the spirit of the Act of Uniformity than by such a spirit of journeying together with difference and ‘disagreeing well’ to use our own Archbishop’s concept. We can too easily demonise those who believe differently from us.

On social media I have noticed some who strongly support gay marriage decrying the Church of New Zealand for reaffirming the traditional doctrine of marriage. Hopefully we who support the fully inclusive view of relationships can learn to live with traditional views as we hope they can accommodate our views. There are a couple of reasons why I support their affirmation of the traditional view. Firstly it recognises the reality that there are those who will not be able to move forward and give space to others to celebrate same sex unions if they are not allowed to continue to believe and practice what they hold as dear to them. But secondly I want passionately to affirm marriage between a man and a woman as a basic good within God’s created order. I see it there in the scriptures and I knew the reality of it throughout my own married life. In no way do I wish to deny the God-given intention and blessing of such a wonderful institution. What I believe in is a widening of the main paradigm of marriage (which I believe to be implicit in creation) to include all those who find the person who is their natural life partner to be one of the same gender – for God says to all, gay or straight that it is not good to be alone, (unless we are given a vocation to celibacy, a calling specifically envisaged within the New Testament). I believe same sex marriages too are equally blessed by God and can also provide a wonderful nurturing environment for children.

The Church in New Zealand has begun a journey so that it can give such freedom and fulfilment across the church – though it will be variously practiced in different parishes, dioceses and countries. I hope that we can approach the whole issue with a similar degree of love, acceptance and desire for truth and unity – as we engage together over these coming months in our facilitated discussions.

I have only touched on the main points of the NZ motion – the full text can be found here –

http://www.anglicantaonga.org.nz/Features/Extra/Anga#.U3M

 

 

Announcing our 10th Anniversary Celebration!

Welcome to AcceptanceWe are very pleased to announce details for our 10th Anniversary Celebration this year!

It will be on Saturday 18th October 2014 at St John’s Church Waterloo, London, and our speakers are Steve Chalke and Vicky Beeching.

When we launched Accepting Evangelicals 10 years ago, the phrase ‘pro-gay evangelical’ was thought to be a contradiction in terms.  Yet today, Evangelical Christians are increasingly open to an accepting or affirming theology of sexuality.

We have come a long way – but there is still a long way to go.  So as we celebrate 10 years, we will be looking forward with excitement and hope for the future.

We are delighted to have Steve Chalke and Vicky Beeching as our speakers.

Steve Chalke is a Baptist minister, founder of Oasis Global & Stop The Traffik, and a United Nations Special Advisor on Community Action Against Human Trafficking.  He is Church Leader at Oasis Waterloo and was awarded the MBE in 2004 for services to social inclusion.

Vicky Beeching is a theologian, writer and religious commentator. She studied Theology at Oxford University and is currently doing research for a PhD at Durham University exploring Christian theology, sexuality and gender. She regularly appears on national TV and radio.  She has recently started blogging on marriage and LGBT theology to open up conversations among her readers.

Steve and Vicky are also Patrons of Accepting Evangelicals.

The Celebration starts at 2pm but the church will be open from 12:30 for fellowship – just bring a picnic lunch – and our members are also invited to a brief Annual Meeting at 11:30am to do the charity business for the year.

Full information and tickets are available from Eventbrite – follow this link.  Tickets are free but please register for yours so that we know how many people are coming – and know when the event is full.

If you are coming, please also click on the Event post on our Facebook page to say that you are going – and to invite your friends.

We look forward to a great day and hope you will join us.eventbritelogo

For Information and Ticktets – follow this link

 

 

Better together – apparently not…

EA logo-largeEvangelical Alliance, whose tagline is “better together”, today announced that it had “discontinued the membership of  Oasis Trust.”.  This was, needless to say, following Oasis and Steve Chalke expressing supporting for same-sex relationships and calling for an open conversation in the wider church.

Evangelical Alliance’s press release can be found here and Oasis has responded here

This is not the first time, of course that Evangelical Alliance has taken action against one of its members.

In 1999, the organisation played its part in ‘outing’ Roy Clements – one of its own Council members – after they became aware of his sexuality, forcing his resignation and leaving him homeless and jobless.

Then in 2001, Jeremy Marks and Courage were forced to resign their membership of Evangelical Alliance after changing their ministry from one which sought to prevent gay Christians finding a same-sex partner to one which supported same-sex relationships.

This decision however, appears to have been much more difficult for the Alliance and 15 months of negotiation has been going on behind the scenes.

The reason for such a protracted deliberation is clearly the change which is occurring among  evangelicals.  Gone are the days when there was one evangelical view on sexuality, and yet organisations like EA try to continue as if this were true.

EA cite Oasis’s failure to “adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view” as a reason for removing them, and yet EA’s own publications give no space to a more progressive evangelical theology of sexuality.

In actual fact, the loss of Oasis and Steve Chalke from the ranks of EA members will do more damage to Evangelical Alliance than to Oasis, and it seriously undermines their slogan and raison d’être, “Better Together”.

Their website proclaims that , “Unity is what drives us – but not just for unity’s sake. By bringing people together, we are following the John 17 mandate to show the immense love of God, who sent his Son for us” and yet their action today has shown that unity to be conditional on towing the conservative line on sexuality and has little to do with the ‘immense love of God’.

They can also no longer claim to represent “the UK’s two million evangelical Christians” as there are clearly many evangelicals who they no longer represent, or who they are unwilling to represent.

Perhaps the saddest thing comes from EA’s  description of themselves at the bottom of the Press Release.  It says,

“We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society.” 

The Oasis Trust is certainly a leader in Christian mission; Oasis celebrate the Bible and make a powerful difference in communities up and now the country; Oasis are actively engaged in lobbying the government for a better society – and yet because they are exploring a different way of responding to LGB&T people, all that counts for nothing.

Sadly, those of us who have followed Evangelical Alliance expected this to be the outcome, but we rejoice in the new openness that is God is bringing to many others in the evangelical world.   Isaiah 43:19 comes to mind:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

 

We pray that Evangelical Alliance will open its eyes and begin to perceive this new thing that God is doing.

 

A wonderfully ordinary Christian couple…

“What a lovely couple!”

How many times have you heard that said in church?

There is something beautiful about seeing two people who are in love with each other and it warms our hearts.  And when they are a Christian couple who talk about the Lord being at work in their relationship and the blessings of praying together, then we find our faith is warmed and encouraged too.

But unfortunately, in many churches, that doesn’t apply if the couple are both of the same gender.

While heterosexual couples are welcomed and celebrated, same-sex couples are often treated with discomfort, embarrassment, or suspicion – especially in Evangelical churches.   All too often what is seen is a caricature or pre-conceived image of a ‘same-sex couple’ which inhibits real conversation.

The strange thing is, people who actually take time to listen to same-sex Christian couples, find the same faith and love at work in their lives, and the same grace of God shining through.

But how can we listen if there are no same-sex couples in our church?  And if we worship in an Evangelical church, that is even more likely to be the case.

In response to this dilemma, Accepting Evangelicals has created a YouTube channel and our first video features just such a couple – Martin and Ian.

They talk openly and honestly about coming to terms with their faith and sexuality – about how God brought them together – and about the blessings they have received through their relationship with God and each other.

They are not famous Christin celebrities – they are just an ordinary couple who have promised to love each other for the rest of their lives – but for those who are willing to listen, the same quiet love and warmth shines through their stories, and the same faith in God.

At the end of this short video, there are some questions for personal reflection, or for a small group discussion.  If you know someone who has never had the opportunity to listen to a couple like Ian and Martin, perhaps you could send them a link.   Or perhaps you could suggest to your church or fellowship group that you spend a little time together hearing from this same-sex couple in their own words.

We hope that each person who watches this video will see what those of us who have the privilege of knowing Martin and Ian see – what a lovely couple!

Justin Welby and that radio phone-in…

Justin Welby - RadioIt is now almost 2 weeks since the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby linked acceptance of same-sex relationships with the murder of Christians in Africa.

“I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed.  We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact” he said.

Asked about why conducting same-sex marriages in the CofE can’t be left to the conscience of individual clergy he said, “Well, why can’t we just do it now? Because, the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic.”

He then finished the interview by reiterating the threat of violence by quoting the attackers, What was said is ‘if we leave a Christian community in this area’…I’m quoting them, this is not obviously something I think…’if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual and so we’re going to kill the Christians’. The mass grave had 369 bodies in it and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country.”

While there was an immediate chorus of disapproval from many commentators, others found themselves stunned into silence at the enormity of the charge. Could it be that by accepting and blessing same-sex relationships, we would be condemning large numbers of Christians to death?

It was not the first time that I had heard of Justin Welby making such a connection.  I was told some days before of him making exactly the same link in an answer to children in a school visit.  Presumably the point had hit home there, and so he thought it was ready to be broadcast on a wider stage, but what played well in a school did not play well in the media.  The echoes of his statements have been reverberating around the UK and indeed the world ever since.

The effect has been felt most keenly in the United States, not least because he appeared to blame the mass grave which he visited on events ‘far, far away in America.’  During his visit there last week, he was asked to clarify his comments and asked to justify the linkage he was making, but without success.

At the bottom of the controversy there appear to be 3 issues at play:

1.   How accurate is the assessment which Justin Welby has given?

There have been many who have questioned the accuracy of the assertion he made.  This has not been helped by the Archbishop refusing to give any more information about the mass grave he was taken to.  Was it is Sudan or Nigeria or perhaps somewhere else?  Who told him that these Christians were killed because of church acceptance of sexuality, and was that true?  Unfortunately, without more information, there is no way to assess the validity of the claim.

The Episcopal Café website in the USA has noted that “secular human rights groups have documented many massacres in Sudan and Nigeria, and attributed none to the actions of gay-friendly churches”.

Similarly on this side of the Atlantic, Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow commented that , “The tone of the Archbishop’s answers seemed to be that we needed to trust him on this because he was right” and also lamented the fact that “He has also said that he won’t provide any evidence to back up what he is saying.”

The sad truth is that mass violence in many parts of Africa is commonplace.  Recent events in both South Sudan and Nigeria have demonstrated this and this month’s anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda is a grim reminder of how far such violence can go.  The reasons for violence are complex and deep rooted.  History, tribal and religious identity, as well as politics, and the actions of political leaders all have their part to play.  At the end of the day, men of violence will always find an excuse to justify their violence, but that does not mean the excuse given is the true cause.

2.   Even if it is true, should we give in to people of violence?

This is always a difficult question.  Our instinct is to protect the vulnerable whatever the cost, and if it were some abstract issue which did not affect the lives of real people, then perhaps we should take a step back, rather than expose others to unnecessary risk.

But attitudes to LGBT people and their relationships are not abstract issues, and indeed, LGBT people also suffer greatly from violence and even murder by those who like to use violence in Africa and elsewhere.  The growth of so-called ‘corrective rape’ against women accused of being lesbians also demonstrates the flimsy nature of such excuses for violence.

Yet the same African Bishops who warn of the danger to Christians if the Church of England blesses same-sex relationships are often the ones who have supported new draconian laws against LGBT people and their support groups.  By doing so, they fuel the atmosphere of suspicion, discrimination and violence against that community while doing little or nothing to challenge the ill conceived fears on sexuality in their own congregations.

The civil rights movement in the USA and elsewhere has always had to face down the threats of those bent on perpetrating violence.  While it is wrong to ignore the threat of violence, it is also wrong to simply bow to its pressure.

3.    How should the church proceed in the light of all this?

The best and most balanced analysis of what Justin Welby should have said is reproduced below.  Sadly, it may well be discounted by many simply because of who wrote it – you can find out who it is by following the link at the end.  It recognizes the dilemma which the Anglican Communion faces, while also making clear statements about the principles on which we must build.

‘So how might the Archbishop have responded differently? Perhaps something like this: “Look, the church must consider many things in discerning whether a change is warranted in our consideration of blessing the marriages of same-sex couples: what scriptures says, how the church’s historical understanding has developed, and our own experience of gay couples’ relationships. We are in the midst of that discernment right now. In addition, we must always be aware that our decisions here in England are being watched by the world’s 80 million Anglicans and their enemies; sometimes being used as an irrational and unwarranted excuse by those enemies for violence against Christians. I have seen the graves of those who have suffered because of these unjust and irrational connections between LGBT people and murder, and it breaks my heart.

Even so, we cannot give in to the violent acts of bullies and must discern and then pursue God’s will for all of God’s children. Violence and murder of Christians is deplorable, but so is violence against and murder of LGBT people. And as the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, permit me to point out, it is not helpful for some of our own Anglican archbishops, bishops and clergy to join in support of anti-gay legislation and rhetoric in their own countries, thereby fueling the hatred and violence against innocent LGBT people, who are being criminalized and murdered for who they are. These are complicated issues, and with God’s guidance, we will discern what is right to say and do.”’

For the author’s name – follow this link

Let us know your thoughts.

Benny Hazlehurst

 

Newsletter – April 2014

Dear Friends

New – AE Facebook page!facebook_logo

Accepting Evangelicals now has a Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/acceptingevangelicals

Please make sure that you visit it, ‘like’ or ‘follow’ it and share it widely. We value your comments – this provides an opportunity to hear your thoughts on news and opinions. If you would like to recommend a link for posting, please email it to benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

First same-sex couples marry in the UK

This historic law to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed in July 2013 but became a reality last weekend for the first same-sex couples who celebrated their weddings on 29 March 2014.

Religious institutions are exempt from being required to officiate at marriage ceremonies and the Church of England remains protected by the ‘quadruple lock’.  However, some denominations are having internal discussions on the future possibility of supportive clergy being permitted to ‘opt in’ to hold marriage ceremonies on their premises.  The Baptist Union discussed this recently on 19 March where the Revd Stephen Keyworth shared a straw poll. People were asked for their personal position about the blessing of same-sex relationships and then to place themselves on a scale between the two extremes of: ‘no, not never, ever ‘and ‘yes, I can’t understand why we’re not doing it now’. He said there were two peaks: “No, I can’t see that I would, but accept that others do…”, and “Yes, I don’t see a problem, but accept that others think differently.” Those at either extreme were small in number. Stephen continued, ‘In my experience in this role…. this mirrors precisely the attitudes which are present in our Union.’

The Methodist Church has held a working group consultation which closed in February and further discussion will be on the agenda at the annual Methodist conference to be held at the end of June. The United Reformed Church will take the opportunity to discuss the issue at its General Assembly in July later this year.

Quakers have long supported same-sex marriage and state on their website “Quakers see God in everyone and that leads us to say that all committed loving relationships are of equal worth and so Quakers in Britain wish to celebrate them in the same way”.  Unitarians will be free to conduct same–sex marriages in their places of worship if congregations wish to do so.

Cutting Edge LetterThe Cutting Edge Consortium and the LGBTI Anglican Coalition issued a joint press release and held a press conference on Friday 28 March, the day before the first weddings were permitted to take place, to announce a statement signed by a number of religious leaders of different faiths expressing support for same-sex marriage.

“We rejoice that from tomorrow same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales. As persons of faith, we welcome this further development in our marriage law, which has evolved over the centuries in response to changes in society and in scientific knowledge.

We acknowledge that some (though not all) of the faith organisations to which we belong do not share our joy, and continue to express opposition in principle to such marriages. We look forward to the time, sooner rather than later, when all people of faith will feel able to welcome this development.”

Two of the signatories to the joint letter are Steve Chalke and the Bishop David Gillett, patrons of Accepting Evangelicals.

Accepting Evangelicals is committed to encouraging theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature and historical development of marriage – please see again our statement on same-sex marriage.

Uganda update

February saw the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, signed into law by the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. This new measure strengthens already strict laws against gay people by imposing a life sentence for certain violations and making it a crime to not report anyone who breaks the law.  Currently, thirty-eight of fifty-three African nations criminalise homosexuality in some way and harsh legal penalties lead to a culture of physical abuse, vandalism to property, death threats and ‘correctional rape’.

Amnesty International reports that arrests of people suspected of violating anti-gay laws are arbitrary and people detained are often subjected to torture and abuse by authorities.

One writer highlights the problem here http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/02/uganda-anti-gay-bill-signed:

“Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation’s primary gay rights group, reports that police are rounding up thirty to forty suspected homosexuals each week. In some cases, simply being unmarried and spending time in the company of people of the same gender is enough to arouse police suspicion. Mugisha also says that the bill’s passage has brought a surge in anti-gay vigilantism and that religious leaders in the suburbs surrounding Kampala have been calling for gays to be killed or burned over the public address systems. “The situation is extremely worrying,” Mugisha says. “We are living in fear.”’

So, in the above climate, the response of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is an extraordinary and hugely courageous stand.

WorldVision-LogoWorld Vision USA reverses its non-discrimination policy

On Monday 24 March, World Vision U.S. (a Christian organisation which organises child sponsorship in some of the poorest areas of the world) announced it would no longer discriminate against employing Christians in same-sex marriages.

However, within two days it issued a further announcement reversing that decision after receiving an avalanche of criticism from evangelical leaders.  President Richard Stearns had hoped that the original decision would bring unity but found that too many supporters saw the policy change as inconsistent with what they felt should be World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority.  More importantly, over 2,000 of the 1.2 million children sponsored by World Vision U.S. had been dropped by sponsors.

Meanwhile, World Vision UK has issued its own statement saying “World Vision UK does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.”  Read the full statement here.

And finally – LGCM is looking for new Chief Executive

The Lesbian Gay Christian Movement  are looking for a dynamic Chief Executive to succeed Sharon Ferguson and continue the work of eradicating faith-based opposition to full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in church and society. Full details can be found here.

God Bless and Keep You
Accepting Evangelicals

Cracking the Binary Code…

Anvil Theological JournalThis is a short section from a longer article by Benny Hazlehurst published this month in Anvil Theological Journal.  It is set alongside other articles on sexuality from more conservative theologians.

To read the article in full, follow this link to Anvil and click on ‘Cracking the Binary Code’.

“My teenage children love playing computer games. For that matter so do I. Among the pure action games are some which require a little more thought. There are choices to make, and as you make those choices the game unfolds, for better or worse. ‘Skyrim’ is a good example. Set in a mythical world of different powers, guilds, and warring factions you can choose your race, skills and weapons. You can be a warrior or a poet – a Stormcloak or an Imperial, an elf or a human – you can even choose your religion. Amidst the action sequences fighting off wolves, bandits, or assassins, there are also moral decisions to make: to fight or walk away, to intimidate or persuade, to follow or rebel.

But as I played Skyrim, there is one thing which bothered me. So many of the ‘choices’ boil down to a choice between two options. And I often found myself being asked to choose between two things, neither of which I wanted to choose. I found myself complaining to my kids about this. “But dad, you have to choose one or other option to progress in the game,” they say to me. Essentially the game is based on a series of binary choices: yes or no, fight or flee, be loyal or betray. Ultimately I stopped playing because in so many situations, neither option seemed the right thing to do.

As an evangelical of course, I am also accustomed to being given binary choices. At University 30 years ago, the Christian Union gave me a choice. Do I believe that the Bible isthe inspired Word of God, or just a human creation? If I said it was the Word of God then I could call myself an evangelical; if not, then I could not. For me that was no big issue: ‘Yes’ I said, ‘I do,’ but the binary choices didn’t stop there. Did I believe that Scripture is inerrant or merely infallible? Am I a premillennialist or a postmillennialist? Calvinist or Arminian?  Evangelical or Charismatic?  Was I ‘sound’ or ‘unsound’ in my understanding of the atonement?  At each point there was clearly an answer which the person asking the question wanted to hear, and one which they didn’t.

But what if we don’t want to follow either of the given options? What if I think that life and faith are a little more complicated than that? What if I don’t want to nail my colours to a particular mast, or be pigeon-holed by a particular category or label? As an evangelical Christian, Jesus Christ is at the centre of my life. He is my Lord and Saviour and I believe that I have been born again by the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God and I approach it in prayer to deepen my understanding of God, as well as to be encouraged, challenged or rebuked. But that does not mean that everything in Scripture is an open or shut case – a binary choice between right and wrong, sound or unsound.

It is this binary approach which has led us to such an impasse on evangelical responses to sexuality…

Faced with the choice of rejecting the authority of Scripture or rejecting same-sex relationships, most evangelicals have naturally chosen to uphold Scripture and reject any change on sexuality. But is this really the choice we are faced with, or a false choice based on a false binary construct?”

For the rest of the article, follow this link to Anvil and click on ‘Cracking the Binary Code’.

Celebrating Unadulterated Love with a Mixed Bunch of Christians

Unadulterated-LoveOur new patron, Bishop David Gillett shares his reflections from attending a recent event organised by Changing Attitude:

‘My Catholic friends tell me that I should always do something special and memorable on my Naming Day which, for me is March 1st, St David’s Day.  And this year I did; I attended the celebration, ‘Unadulterated Love’ arranged by Changing Attitude in London.

It was the first of their events I had attended and I went mainly because It was suggested to me that as a bishop and an evangelical who had formerly been principal of Trinity College Bristol it would show support and bring encouragement to many LGBT people. Well, I am always sceptical about how my being at something can be much of an encouragement, but events certainly proved me wrong!

I was one of two bishops there and, being soon after the House of Bishops guidelines on same sex marriage had been issued, our presence was seen as significant – even though neither of us are members of the House (me because I am retired). I was asked to facilitate a couple of group sessions where there would be opportunity for both straight and LGBT folk to share their stories and challenges etc.

Pervading the occasion was a note of celebration and mutual support, some touches of confusion and sadness, but to my surprise very little anger about how the church was handling the issue of same sex relationships. Rather I detected a sense of compassion for a church that would soon hopefully embrace a wider understanding of the all-encompassing love of our gracious and welcoming God.

There were other evangelicals there who, like me had  come to an understanding of scripture and the gospel which impels us to support those who are, by their God-given nature attracted to people of the same sex, both those who are single and those in a relationship. We exchanged some experiences of how our theological and pastoral position meant we were suspect by a number of our evangelical friends, but also how many more of them were also seeing the gospel and scripture in a more inclusive and accepting light.  My personal concern in the group sessions was to share how important it is for me to celebrate together with my LGBT friends the acceptance of God and his blessing upon all committed faithful relationships, such as my wife and myself had known throughout the whole of our married life together.

But for those who shared with me, the main talking point was how a good number of them had found it difficult as gay and lesbian Christians to be accepted and comfortable within their own evangelical churches, whether they were single or in a relationship. Some spoke of years during which members of their own fellowship ignored them and never spoke to them once they had been open about their sexuality. Others told of similar cold shouldering at evangelical theological colleges. For some there was a determination to continue in the spiritual tradition which had nurtured them, but others spoke of how they felt forced out by the coldness to look for a fellowship which would be more supportive and accepting even though that meant them leaving behind some close Christian friends and the spirituality they had long valued.

However there were indications that the tide was turning. Some were determined to stay within their fellowships and were gradually seeing a dawning of a new sense of acceptance and joy in their relationships with straight Christians in their local church. This sense of acceptance was clearly more marked in the younger age group but it was also evident that many lay folk in evangelical churches were more open than some clergy. Was this, some wondered, because the close ties within the evangelical clergy-world meant that a good number hesitated to embrace a fresh understanding because their friends and colleagues would cold shoulder them too?

But I did not leave the day despondent about the place of LGBT folk within evangelical churches. It is still clearly very hard for many, but the tide is turning and I am confident that the facilitated discussions which are being set up in the wake of the Pilling report will be one means through which many evangelicals will reevaluate their position. I believe also that Accepting Evangelicals will have an increasingly important role to play in accompanying many, particularly clergy as they take a closer look at their understanding of scripture, the gospel and our mission in a society where equal marriage will soon be seen as part of the natural landscape. I know of some evangelical clergy who already offer services of blessing for those in civil partnerships and are also looking for greater freedom to celebrate with those who enter into same sex married relationships as the law allows. Clearly we are in the midst of considerable turmoil over this issue within the Church, but I believe, to quote a phrase that several of us used during the day, ‘the dam is about to burst!’

Rt Rev David Gillett

March 2014

 

 

 

Newsletter – March 2014

Dear Friends

AE’s First Patrons…

We are delighted to announce our first two patrons at AE – Rev Steve Chalke and Bishop David Gillett.  During our 10th Anniversary year, we will be announcing a number of Patrons who will help us raise the profile of Accepting Evangelicals.

The Rt Rev David Gillett was Bishop of Bolton until his retirement in 2008. He hasrev_david_gillett huge experience in evangelical theological education having been Principal of Trinity Theological College in Bristol for 11 years, and the first Director of Extension Studies at St John’s Nottingham. He trained for the ministry at Oak Hill, and has also been a travelling secretary for Pathfinders and CYFA. He is now honorary assistant Bishop and interfaith advisor in the Diocese of Norwich.

David writes,

“Over the years I have come to understand that the scriptures encourage us to support, affirm and celebrate all life-long committed relationships that follow the path in life gifted by God in his creation of each of us as different individuals.  I believe that Accepting Evangelicals is one positive way of supporting same sex couples to receive the same love, blessing and support from the church which I and my wife knew so wonderfully throughout the whole of our married life.”

 You can read more of David’s reflections on the importance of supporting same-sex relationships in this Blog post from December last year – just after the publication of the Pilling Report.

Rev Steve Chalke will need little introduction.  He is a Baptist minister, Founder of OasisSteve Chalke Global & Stop The Traffik, and a United Nations Special Advisor on Community Action Against Human Trafficking.  He is Church Leader at Oasis Waterloo and was awarded the MBE in 2004 for services to social inclusion.

Steve writes,

“I am honoured to be a patron of Accepting Evangelicals which is an important movement within evangelicalism because it represents the growing shift away from old, excluding and subjective readings of isolated biblical texts towards a much needed more affirming, compassionate, rounded and thoughtful approach to the Bible, humanity and sexuality.”

We warmly welcome both Steve and David in their new role with AE.

Church of England in disarray over same-sex marriage

The Church of England’s House of Bishops has issued ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage‘ last month, just after St Valentine’s Day.  The first same-sex marriages are due to take place in England and Wales during March.

While they said that same-sex married couples can approach their local clergy to ask for ‘informal prayers’, the statement also banned clergy in same-sex relationships from getting married.  The guidance also states that anyone in a same-sex marriage will not be ordained in the Church of England.

This has shocked and dismayed LGB&T clergy who had been hoping to ‘upgrade’ their Civil Partnerships to marriage later this year.  Civil Partnerships are permitted among Clergy in the CofE.   Read more here.

 

 Uganda joins Nigeria in adopting new anti-gay laws…

After 2 years of uncertainty, Uganda’s President signed into law the infamous ant-gay bill last week.  Despite international pressure, he appears to have decided that he has more to gain than lose in signing the Bill.

While the death penalty has been dropped, the new law still contains life sentences for people who marry someone of the same-sex or even touch someone of the same gender with ‘intent to engage in a sexual act’.

A petition opposing this new law has been signed by over 300,000 people in the last 4 days and can be found at https://www.allout.org/en/actions/kill-the-bill

 

Change Makers Conference

We are very pleased to advertise the Change Makers Conference in Enfield London next month.

The two-day conference is around the theme of Christ centred communities and innovative models of church. It’s a really exciting programme and has wide range of fantastic speakers from around the world – particularly from the USA and Thailand. As part of the programme there will also be a stream which looks at theology, biblical interpretation and some of the themes outlined in Steve’s recent article, Restoring Confidence in the Bible, and also the article on sexuality which he published in January 2013, A Matter of Integrity.

More information and booking details can be found here.

God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

 

Bishops ban clergy from same-sex marriage

same-sex marriage 3The Church of England’s House of Bishops has issued ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage‘ last weekend, just after St Valentine’s Day.  The first same-sex marriages are due to take place in England and Wales at the end of March.

While they said that same-sex married couples can approach their local clergy to ask for ‘informal prayers’, the statement also banned clergy in same-sex relationships from getting married.  The guidance also states that anyone in a same-sex marriage will not be ordained.

Paragraph 27 states:

 “The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”

The rationale behind this decision seems to be the promise which clergy make to “be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.”

It would follow therefore, that the House of Bishops considers that anyone who enters into marriage with someone of the same sex cannot be a wholesome example to the flock of Christ.

This ruling is in sharp contrast to the Church of England’s acceptance of Civil Partnerships.  Clergy can enter into a Civil Partnership without sanction, and indeed the church pension rights of those in Civil Partnerships are fully recognised and protected.

There has been a strong reaction to this from LGBT clergy and others.  One vicar in London had just proposed to his partner of 14 years the day before, on St Valentines Day, but then woke up to the news that his church is forbidding the marriage.

Another church nearby has gone on the record to say that they are meeting to prepare out a statement opposing the Bishop’s guidelines.

The LGB&T Anglican Coalition, of which Accepting Evangelicals is a member, has issued a strongly worded statement calling for the guidance to be withdrawn.

 “This is cruel and unjust to clergy who have faithfully served the church, hitherto with the full knowledge and support of their bishops, and it will impoverish the ministry by driving away LGB&TI ordinands. Only those who are prepared to lie will remain.

 This guidance is wrong in tone and content, and will further damage the Church’s mission, not only to LGB&TI people, but to all people of goodwill who respect justice and truth. It may seek to carry disciplinary authority, but it has no moral authority and cannot command respect. We hope and pray that it will be swiftly withdrawn.”

Particularly cruel will be the fact that gay clergy can be approached to provide informal prayers for others while being forbidden to marry their partner.

What sanctions Bishops can impose if clergy go ahead and marry are unclear, but already the Bishop of Blackburn has called all clergy in Civil Partnerships in his diocese to meet with him next month.  Legal advice is being sought and the trades union Unite (which represents many clergy and faith workers) is following events closely.

A petition has also been launched at Change.org calling on the Bishops of the Church of England “To rescind their opposition to equal marriage. To take back their recent Pastoral Guidance. To create a Church where all are welcomed.”

While Accepting Evangelicals has been careful to call for deeper theological reflection and prayerful discussion on same-sex marriage, rather than taking sides , we wholeheartedly support the LGB&T Anglican Coalition’s statement and ask the House of Bishops to withdraw this guidance without delay.

You can read the full statement here – Open letter re pastoral guidance on marriage – Feb 2014

If you would like to sign the petition, you can  find it here