Reparative Therapy rejected by the ACC

acc logoThe Association of Christian Counsellors has amended its policy on counselling for gay people.  In a statement to all its members last month, it said,

“We do not endorse Reparative or Conversion Therapy or any model that implies a predetermined direction of outcome of counselling at the outset. We recognize that such models have the potential to impose situational demands on the client at a time of vulnerability with the potential to create harm and therefore view them as incompatible within the ethos of counselling.”

Furthermore, they are requiring all their member counsellors to stop practising these controversial therapies with immediate effect.

“Members who are considering using this model of therapy should neither commence nor continue to use it and any advertising or promotional material should be replaced immediately, or at least removed  from current use. This includes the ACC “Find a counsellor” facility on our website.”

Following the closure of Exodus International in the USA last year, (see our July Newsletter) we welcome this significant step among Christian counsellors in the UK.

You can read their full statement here.

Archbishops respond to Nigerian crisis

Following the public outcry which followed sweeping new anti-Nigeria anti gay law protestgay laws in Nigeria, we are relieved to see that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have responded with a letter to all Anglican Primates.

The letter reminds all Archbishops and Presiding Bishops in the Anglican Communion of the commitment which was made by Primates in 2005 –   to care pastorally  for  all people,  irrespective of sexual orientation and reject all action which seeks to victimise or diminish LGB&T people.

“The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give – pastoral care and friendship.” 

The letter clearly states that this is a response to “legislation in several countries that penalises people with same-sex attraction”.

This is clearly a step in the right direction and we now await a response from the Anglican Church in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Thank you to everyone who signed the petition in the previous AE Blog. You have helped to make this happen.

Let keep praying for LGB&T people in the countries affected.

Click here for the full letter from the Archbishops.

 

 

Petition against Nigeria’s new anti-gay laws

Earlier this month Nigeria Change_org_Logoenacted new legislation on homosexuality.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but far from relaxing these old colonial laws, both the scope of the law and its penalties have been increased.

The Prohibition of Same-sex Marriage Bill now makes it illegal to be in a same-sex marriage in Nigeria with a prison sentence of up to 14 years.  Membership of LGB&T groups is now also illegal, both for LGB&T people and for heterosexual friends and advocates, and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, have united in calling for, and supporting these new laws.  In particular, leaders of the Anglican Church in Nigeria have vocally supported these new laws, in clear contravention of the worldwide Anglican Churches official position in the ‘Lambeth 1.10’ statement which “calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.

Lambeth 1.10 is often held up by conservative Anglicans as a document which rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” but it also contains a call to all Anglican leaders to uphold and be proactive in promoting openness and listening to the experience of LGB&T people.

Paragraph (c) states:

“We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”

It is hard to see how the Anglican Church in Nigeria can think that imprisoning people for entering into a loving covenant relationship (even if they disagree with such relationships) can live up to the standards of Lambeth 1.10

Action has been swift since the Law was enacted, with scores of homosexuals arrested and punished.

In response to this dire situation, there is a petition on Change.org which calls on the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to challenge Nigerian Anglican leaders.   Please sign up if you are able…

Elsewhere in Africa there is some good news in Uganda where the President has refused to sign the notorious anti-gay laws which have been making their way through Parliament over the last 2 years.  The law completed the parliamentary hurdles late last year, but the final vote took place without enough MP’s present to make the vote valid.

However the President’s letter explaining his decision exposes the depth of ignorance and misunderstanding which exists, even among educated political leaders.

According to President Musenveni, “You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people” adding that many women are lesbians because of “sexual starvation” if they fail to find a husband.

He does not, however think that imprisonment is the answer.

“The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is; what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?”

He thinks not, but the Ugandan Parliament can still force the Bill through with a two-thirds majority.

The Nigerian Petition can be found at:

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/to-the-archbishops-of-canterbury-and-york-please-speak-out-against-human-rights-abuses-in-Nigeria 

Newsletter – January 2014

Dear Friends2013-2014 sign

 2014 is going to be a significant year for Accepting Evangelicals as we approach out 10th Anniversary.  During the year we plan to celebrate this anniversary in a variety of ways with new announcements and events.

 But as we begin this New Year, it is very appropriate to look back at the year that has just passed, noting the huge steps which have been made in promoting a more inclusive welcome for LGB&T people in the church…

January 2013

Steve Chalke – leader of OASIS International published an article in Christianity Magazine, calling for an open conversation on how the church can truly welcome gay and lesbian people and give them the same support and guidance as heterosexuals.

Since then, Oasis has published a wealth of material calling for the church to bless and support same-sex partnerships. See http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources

February 2013

On 5th February the House of Commons voted in favour of same-sex marriage after a full and lively debate. MP’s were given a free vote without political party instructions, and voted by 400 votes to175 for the new law to proceed to the next stage of parliamentary scrutiny. Although many churches only seemed concerned with insulating themselves from this, many Christian MPs spoke in favour of the Bill.  For some of the key speeches, please see our blog post ‘Reflections on parliament’s debate

 March 2013Rob Bell

Rob Bell is well known for thinking ‘outside the box’ and has been an inspiration to huge numbers of Evangelicals in the USA and around the world.   In 2011 he was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 influential people.

In March, he joined calls for marriage equality in the USA at an event at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco saying “I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs… to affirm people wherever they are.”

April 2013

John Paulk was one of the most recognised leaders in the ‘Ex-gay’ movement but in April he issued a letter apologising for the damage his campaigning has done “to countless people” and stating categorically that it did not change his sexual orientation.

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

But now he sees things very differently. “Today, I see LGBT people for who they are — beloved, cherished children of God. I offer my most sincere and heartfelt apology to men, women, and especially children and teens who felt unlovable, unworthy, shamed or thrown away by God or the church.”

 May 2013

In the UK, the Baptist Assembly not only hosted a workshop on sexuality, but also devoted the whole of its plenary session to discussing different theologies and experiences of sexuality in a constructive way. Kirk General Assembly

In Scotland, the Church of Scotland voted by a clear majority to allow individual congregations to appoint openly gay ministers in Civil Partnerships.

In the USA, Jim Wallis also spoke out in favour of same-sex relationships.  He has often been called a ‘progressive Evangelical’ by supporters and opponents alike, with his strong campaigning stance on issues such as poverty, social justice and climate change, but this is the first time he has gone on the record to support same-sex marriage. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/05/jim-wallis-faith-politics-immigration_n_3024458.html

 June 2013

Following John Paulk’s apology in April, the President of Exodus International also apologised for the hurt and damage which his organisation has caused to LGBT people over the last 37 years, and announced that the ministry is shutting down.

Alan Chambers had also claimed that reparative therapy had changed his orientation, but in June he said, “There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does.”

Exodus International has now shut down and Alan Chambers now promotes a new website called “Speak. Love” which aims to establish trust, reduce fear and inspire hope. http://wespeaklove.org/exodus/

July 2013

This month saw The Church of England Newspaper invite AE to provide articles for a regular slot in the UK’s leading evangelical weekly newspaper.  Our first article reported on the London Pride Parade and the contribution from Christians at Pride.  We have since had a further 2 articles published – ‘Misreading the Map’ and A Case of Mistaken Identityand our first article of 2014 is ready and waiting to go.

August 2013Greenbelt 2013

This month’s big event was the Greenbelt Festival and the Q&A with Steve Chalke which Benny Hazlehurst chaired.  It was in the Grandstand (one of Greenbelt’s largest outdoor venues) and Steve was typically frank and open about his support for loving committed same-sex partnerships.   If you want to hear the whole Q&A there is a download available from Greenbelt for a small charge – follow this link.

September 2013

During September, Church of England Bishops began to speak openly about the dangerous disparity which exists between church teaching on sexuality and the perceptions of the vast majority of young people.

It started at the end of August when the Archbishop of Canterbury opened the new HQ for Evangelical Alliance and said, “.  We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible, but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism.

The call was taken up by the  Bishop of Worcester, John Inge who was reported in the Worcester News as saying “For the first time in many generations, our traditional teaching is being seen by large numbers of people as being on the wrong side of the moral argument.”  And the Bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham went further saying, “The church’s view on same sex marriage is not sustainable. But homosexuals must realise that the church is not homophobic. We should all celebrate committed, faithful and loving relationships.”

October 2013

On 4th October the Professor of Theology at Azuza Pacific University in California said a painful goodbye to students and colleagues after being asked to step down by the University authorities.  The termination of the Professor’s employment came after she told them that she was transgender and was in the process of transitioning to be a man.

Heather Clements – now H. Adam Ackley – had worked at the evangelical college for 15 years, and is an ordained deacon in his church.  “I have never really identified with being female but I tried to be because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be… I tried to be the best Christian woman I could be… but I have to accept something difficult about myself,” he said. “I’ve never been fully myself, I’ve always been living a lie, not exactly on purpose but that was the best truth I knew at the time.”

His experience highlighted the prejudice which Transgender Christians often experience and came as we were preparing a new Trans section for the AE Website.

“People assumed that I’ve done something – some sex act,” he said. “I’m not violating any sexual conduct and it’s embarrassing that it’s implied. I live a very chaste life.”  Despite vocal support from students at the University, he had to leave his post in October.

November 2013

Saw the launch of our new Transgender section on the AE website which has been put together by Elaine Sommers, a Trans Christian who joined the AE Steering Group earlier in the year.

This new part of our website has received overwhelming support from AS members with over 180 ‘likes’ on our blog post which launched it.

At the end of the month, Elaine was the speaker at our Annual Meeting in London which was also a great day – you can read a report by one of our members here.

December 2013

The last month of the year brought an unexpected bonus in the publication of the Church of England’s latest report on sexuality – the ‘Pilling Report’.  Although its recommendations for positive change were modest, it recognised for the first time the theological diversity which exists in the Church of England on sexuality, and held up Accepting Evangelicals as a significant example of that diversity.

With all these developments during 2013, who knows what is possible in 2014…

God Bless and Keep You

Accepting Evangelicals

 

Pilling Report recognises Evangelical Diversity

cofe logoOn 28th November the long awaited ‘Pilling Report’ on human sexuality was published by the Church of England.

We have issued a Press Release in response which we you can view on our Press Page.

Most striking for us is the way in which the report acknowledges (for the first time) the diversity in Biblical interpretation among evangelicals on the issue of sexuality.

Accepting Evangelicals is mentioned at length in one of the essays (page 177) as an alternative to traditional conservative theology.

 “We include in the Appendices two essays on the Scriptures and homosexuality which were prepared for us. One, by Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead, epitomizes a conservative understanding of the biblical texts. The second, by the Revd David Runcorn, argues a scriptural case for a more inclusive ethic. Both would identify themselves as evangelicals within the Church of England and both believe they are taking a high view of the authority of Scripture.”  (page 67: para 223)

We will be commenting further when we have studied the whole document in depth (over 200 pages).

In terms of recommendations, the report proposes some limited changes to the Church of England approach, including:

  • Permitting public services in CofE churches to ‘mark’ Civil Partnerships if both the Vicar and the PCC (Parochial Church Council) agree
  • discouraging intrusive questioning of clergy in same-sex partnerships about their private life
  • a concerted process of ‘facilitated conversations’ at national and Diocesan level.

It does not, however, propose any change in the Church’s teaching and rules out any official liturgy of Blessing or Thanksgiving at this time.

Some evangelical conservative groups have responded with anger and dismay.

Reform Chairman, Rod Thomas said that he was “deeply ashamed” that the Pilling Report was opening up divisive discussions about the church’s stance on human sexuality.

Anglican Mainstream have said, “The impression is given that a matter on which Scripture and tradition give clear theological and ethical direction is open to compromise by negotiation.”

But others have been more positive. In particular Fulcrum has sought to welcome some areas while expressing concern at others.

The report can be purchased from Church House Publishing or viewed on line via the Church of England media page – http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2013/11/pilling-report-published.aspx 

Accepting Evangelicals submission to the Pilling Working Group can be read here.

A case of mistaken identity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev Benny Hazlehurst

Raising the Transgender Profile in Accepting Evangelicals

trans word cloud 3Written by Elaine Sommers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Elaine Sommers, Accepting Evangelicals

 

You can view the new Trans section of the website here

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

 

 

Newsletter – October 2013

Dear Friends

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

Greenbelt success…

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

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

As the weekend drew to a close, Steve Chalke was interviewed by Benny Hazlehurst at the Grandstand (one of Greenbelt’s largest venues).  Steve was characteristically frank and open about his support for loving committed same-sex partnerships.   If you want to hear the whole Q&A there is a download available from Greenbelt for a small charge – follow this link.

Annual Meeting – a date for your diary.

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

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

Hillsong – new openness on sexuality?

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

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

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

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

Spare a thought for Bishop Tengatenga…

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

Yet bizarrely, this has not been the case.

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray for all involved…

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

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

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

God Bless and Keep You…
Accepting Evangelicals

What about T ?

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

That is the purpose statement for Accepting Evangelicals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise watch this space…

 

Misreading the Map

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

compass and mapI love walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we have ground to an uncertain halt.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury noted in his address to General Synod, the world has moved on, and the church’s stance on sexuality, same-sex partnerships, and now marriage is putting us at odds with society at large.  At the recent opening of the new headquarters of Evangelical Alliance he spoke about the way in which the church’s position on sexuality is alienating younger people.  “We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible, but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism.”

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

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

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

Rev Benny Hazlehurst, Accepting Evangelicals