Q&A with Steve Chalke

Steve Chalke - GreenbeltIt was late afternoon on the last day of this year’s Greenbelt Festival and some people were already starting to go home.   That was the time allocated to the Q&A session with Steve Chalke which OuterSpace had asked me to chair.

The venue chosen seemed appropriate – a small inside venue where we could gather a 100 or so people in a safe space to put their questions on sexuality to this well-known Baptist minister who broke ranks earlier this year to publicly support same-sex partnerships.  It would be cosy, unthreatening and easy to manage.

Then on the Monday morning we heard that the venue had been changed. The Greenbelt organisers had second thoughts overnight and felt that demand for this session would far outstrip the inside room.   So all of a sudden we found ourselves relocated to the Grandstand of Cheltenham racecourse – one of the largest outdoor venues at the Festival!

Two thoughts immediately struck us.  Firstly, wow – what an opportunity!  But second, how could we ensure that people felt safe to ask questions in such a large venue.  They would have to walk down the steps of the grandstand, across the tarmac to the microphone by the stage, turn to face the crowd and speak out their question in front of many hundreds of people!

Thankfully technology came to the rescue.  We set up a Twitter hash tag for the event so that people sitting up in the stands could tweet their questions if they didn’t feel brave enough to walk to the front.

The result was wonderful – a good number of people were brave enough to come and ask their questions live – others had submitted written questions beforehand – and others sent their tweets – and we took as many questions as we could in the time available.

Steve was characteristically outspoken.  Far from stepping back from his controversial statements on sexuality, he went even further in a passionate appeal for the Church to abandon prejudice and embrace change.  He took on questions about gay marriage, schools, church divisions, and Biblical truth.

If you want to hear the Q&A, it is available as a download from the Greenbelt website and costs £3.50 – simply follow the link below.  You won’t be disappointed!

http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/media/talks/22047-benny-hazlehurst-outerspace-steve-chalke/

Demythologising Pride

Published in the Church of England Newspaper – 4th August 2013

“Why do gay people want to flaunt their sexuality?”

That was a comment posted on my Facebook page recently after I mentioned this summer’s London Pride parade.

And who could blame him?   The media representation of this annual LGBT festival is, all too often, of aggressively sexual men dressed in very little.

But of the thousands of people who take part in Pride each year, the overwhelming majority are ordinary people celebrating a part of their identity which many have felt pressure to hide for all or part of their lives.

Nowhere is this more true than amongst Christians.  Even when a gay person feels able to be honest about their orientation in many areas of life, they often feel under pressure to keep their sexuality a secret in church.

This year, as I marched with Christians Together at Pride amid a small army of people wearing T-shirts declaring “Christian and Proud”, I reflected that the only thing they were ‘flaunting’ was their faith in Jesus Christ!

Receiving Communion

Receiving Communion

We started with a Communion service in the street near the start of the march.  Bread and wine were received prayerfully and reverently amid the noise of the traffic.  Then we were led to our place in the parade and found ourselves just in front of another faith group, “Gay Jews in London”.  As we marched along Oxford Street, we waved and smiled, gave out postcards, and received many rounds of applause from onlookers.

I walked next to Richard, a man in his early fifties who was only just starting to ‘come out’ at church.  Richard later reflected that “For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I felt proud to be a Christian again. I’m not sure that I was expecting hostility, though of course I’m aware that there is plenty of that coming from some who claim their particular version of the truth, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the warmth, encouragement and affirmation of the crowd.”

Sorry - Pride 2013As we continued the march, there was a small group who radiated hostility with placards and megaphones declaring a message of Christian condemnation rather than love and grace, but even they were outnumbered by a group of Christians inspired by Andrew Marin in Chicago.  They held placards apologising for the way the Church has treated gay people, and their faces wore smiles, not frowns.

Contrary to the photos posted in the press, I didn’t see a single person ‘flaunting their sexuality’ in an aggressive or distasteful way. The people I saw were dressed in ordinary clothes, enjoying the occasion with friends or colleagues as they waved to the crowds of well-wishers.

But perhaps that isn’t the real issue. My friend on Facebook had the honesty to follow up his comment by acknowledging that as a married man with children, perhaps he ‘flaunts his sexuality’ without even realising it.

Perhaps the real issue is one of perception.  If a married couple hold hands in church most people will say ‘Isn’t that nice!’ – but when a gay couple hold hands in some churches, it is more likely to result in a awkward silence followed by a ‘pastoral visit’.  One couple is celebrated, the other are ‘flaunting their sexuality’.

LGB&T people are members of our churches, whether we know it or not. Far from flaunting their sexuality, they often feel they have to suppress it.

Whatever our doctrinal convictions, our churches should be places where all of us can come and be the people God created us to be, without pretence, mask or disguise.  Perhaps that is the kind of church which Jesus would be truly proud of.

 

Benny Hazlehurst

Accepting Evangelicals

Same-sex Marriage Bill becomes law…

same-sex-marriage 2The Same-sex Marriage Bill in England and Wales completed its passage into law when the Queen gave it her Royal Assent on Wednesday this week.  It completed its way through Parliament earlier in the week with little or no opposition in the final stages.

The first same-sex weddings in the UK are expected to take place next summer.

As we enter this new chapter in our society, the most important question is whether we can now find language to talk together about marriage, or simply see a hardening of polarised views.

Accepting Evangelicals continues to encourage theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature and historical development of marriage.  Some of our members are in favour of same-sex marriage, and some question whether such marriage is theologically possible.  It is now more important than ever to keep talking, reflecting and praying together.

During the often heated public debate over the bill however, there have also been many ill-judged claims have been made by groups opposed to it, most relating to the moral damage which would be caused to society if it became law.

In trying to find a way forward, it is important to recognise that many of these claims are either misguided or misleading and could hamper continuing dialogue.  Below are some of them.

1.  That the introduction of same-sex marriage will devalue marriage for everyone else.

My marriage to my wife is just the same this week, as it was last week.  It is enriched or devalued by the value and commitment we attach to our love and the marriage vows we made before God, not to whether gay people are allowed to get married. This claim is clearly not true.

2.  That same-sex marriage will unpick the moral fabric of society.

This is an impossible claim to defend.  How can marriage vows of lifelong commitment between two people do anything but strengthen the stability of their relationship, and thereby, society as a whole?   David Cameron stated publicly that his support for same-sex marriage was because of Conservative principles not in spite of them, coming out of a desire to strengthen society.

3. That same-sex partnerships are inherently unstable and do not last.

Both the anecdotal evidence of those in relationships of many years and statistical evidence from here and other countries clearly show this to be false.  Civil Partnerships are proving more enduring than marriages in many countries and there is no reason to believe that enabling same-sex couples to marry will weaken this in any way.

4.  That Churches will be forced by law to conduct marriage services for same-sex couples.

The Government has bent over backwards to put in place the ‘triple-lock’ of protections for religious freedom.  No church will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, and for the Church of England it will be illegal for same-sex marriages to be conducted in churches unless and until the CofE asks for the law to be changed.

5.  That the parliamentary process was undemocratic.

In a free vote for MPs for all three major parties, the bill was passed by a two thirds majority.  In the House of Lords the vote was also 2 to 1 in favour after a very full and lengthy debate with every view being expressed.  Most polls also show public opinion is now in favour of same-sex marriage.  As a result it is arguable that this has been the most democratic bill which has passed through Parliament in recent years.

In moving on from this point in a way which seeks deeper understanding about the nature of marriage, I believe that we need to move beyond these banner grabbing and misleading statements, and look at the meaning, Biblical history and theology of marriage itself if we are to come together in any meaningful way.  Biblical interpretation of the account of Adam and Eve, historical development in the Bible and since, and theological reflection on the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ should be our focus as we continue to journey together.

At the same time, it also has to be recognised that the Bill does not give many gay Christians what they really want.  One lesbian Christian said to me recently that the same-sex marriage bill will make very little difference to her and her partner, because when they celebrated their Civil Partnership, they could not celebrate it in church, and even with same-sex marriage, they will not be able to celebrate their marriage in their church.  It is celebrating their partnership in church before God which is most important to them, and that will still be denied them.  The task of finding a way to celebrate faithful committed same-sex partnerships in church must never be far from our mind.

Over the months ahead, before the first same-sex wedding in the UK, we would do well to recognise the valid aspirations of those who want to be married and the genuine concerns of others.  Only then will we all find a way to celebrate the love which brings couples to want to be joined in marriage while never discounting those for whom this still throws up theological questions and problems.

Benny Hazlehurst

Reflections of a Pride ‘virgin’!

So how did I come to be walking through the streets of London, wearing a rainbow ribbon, handing out leaflets and eventually carrying a banner for Accepting Evangelicals? Several days on and I’m still pondering that question. Only a few close friends even know that I’m gay and now I seem to have made a very public stand, albeit in a city far away from where I live, but I discovered something quite unexpected somewhere in the middle of the West End: a sort of ‘road to Piccadilly’ experience.Pride Group photo cropped

This is all about Pride, so let’s talk about that: I’ve never been proud to be gay. In fact, I’ve spent the best years of my life trying to avoid it, hide it – never actually denying it (except often to myself), but certainly only entrusting the secret to a select few. That’s the first thing that happened somewhere around Selfridges: suddenly I felt at home – at home with my sexuality, at home with those marching around me, at home with the cheering crowds lining Oxford Street. I was experiencing the enormous groundswell of good will towards Pride expressed by the people of our capital city – these were crowds not made up predominantly of activists or fellow LGBT people, but a real cross-section representing London’s diversity in all its forms. The most mind-blowing thing to be honest was seeing whole families enjoying an afternoon together watching the spectacle and soaking up the atmosphere. For the first time I felt proud to be part of this phenomenon – proud of Pride and, yes, proud to be gay!

But a more significant thing needed to happen. For a number of years I have felt less and less proud of being a Christian. Since accepting Christ in my twenties, I have always held the Bible to be the basis of my faith, yet I seemed to be increasingly unable to reconcile what I was taught about the ‘sin’ of homosexuality with the pastoral needs of the gay and bisexual guys I was trying to reach out to, let alone the witness of the Spirit in my own life. Worse than this, I felt increasingly ashamed of the Church’s treatment of LGBT issues, and most importantly LGBT people, who were being written off by those who claim to offer the Gospel to all, yet effectively deny it to those (God’s mistakes?) created with a different sexuality to the fortunate majority. Recently, I decided to look at the Bible afresh and began to realise that the traditionalist interpretation on homosexuality is deeply flawed and inconsistent with both the holistic Gospel message and the experience of those like myself who are quite undeniably gay by nature and equally undeniably Christian by conviction.  In making steps towards being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, my tentative public support of like-minded evangelicals led to me having to step down from leadership in my local church, but at least I was beginning to reclaim some of the integrity I had sacrificed by keeping silent.

So what happened there at Pride?  I believe I turned a corner, and I don’t mean when we swung right into Regent Street, though it might have been somewhere in that vicinity! For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I felt proud to be a Christian again. I’m not sure that I was expecting hostility, though of course I’m aware that there is plenty of that coming from some who claim their particular version of the truth, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the warmth, encouragement and affirmation of the crowd. Amongst the casual bystanders just caught up in the party atmosphere were those who clearly understood what a big deal it is to make a stand on the ‘gay issue’ as a Christian, facing up to the backlash that can bring. I didn’t expect to be cheered, as we were, and I certainly didn’t expect a young man in the crowd to reach out his hand and, although I had nearly gone past, call me over to shake my hand and say, “Thank you!”  That’s when I saw the flash of light and heard a voice from heaven – OK, not quite, but it was certainly a much-needed personal epiphany.

So I find I am newly proud to be gay, proud to be a Christian, proud of my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are straight but taking a stand on this all the same. I’m proud of London for hosting and enthusiastically joining the celebration and perhaps most of all I’m proud of the young man who shook my hand – a representative of a generation who may one day live to forget what the fuss was all about.

Richard D.

Reflection on a night in the Valleys…

When Accepting Evangelicals was invited to lead an evening on sexuality in a Baptist Chapel in the Welsh Valleys, we did not know what to expect.  But from the moment that David (a gay member of Accepting Evangelicals) and Benny Hazlehurst arrived, they knew that a door was being opened and the welcome was warmer than we ever could have imagined…

Here is David’s reflection on the evening…

‘When Benny invited me to join him on a trip to South Wales in response to an invitation by some Baptist ministers I was more than pleased to accept – it sounded like a good opportunity to see first-hand the work which Benny does for AE and also to find out more about what folk are actually thinking in evangelical churches.

I wasn’t quite sure what kind of reception might await us; rightly or wrongly I imagined many Christians in that part of the world to be generally conservative in their views and maybe some who would be present might be actively hostile to what we had to say. We need not have worried, however, as the welcome we received – both from the minister who had invited us and set up the evening and at the meeting itself – could not have been warmer. Sixteen people turned out on a fairly miserable evening; among them were a number of Baptist ministers (mostly women), a Street Pastor who had in the past been a mental health worker with trans-sexuals and a young gay couple, one of whom was the son of one of the pastors and whose partner had not long been baptised.

Benny spoke first and dealt with (changing) contemporary attitudes among evangelicals in the UK and with the Scripture passages which are usually used to support the ‘traditional’ doctrines on same-sex sex. His clear presentation certainly – for me, anyway – underlined how shaky is the Biblical foundation on which a whole theology has been constructed.

Afterwards I spoke about my personal experience of life as a gay man growing up and living within the evangelical community (latterly in a civil partnership), which for me has mostly meant keeping my head down and hoping that people wouldn’t ask awkward questions. Clearly this has been a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and sadly inimical to integrity in my church life. It’s only since the trip, thinking things through again, that I’ve realised how ‘semi-detached’ I’ve become from evangelicals (who paradoxically I’m still more than happy to number myself among) and how defensive towards them I am.

The questions afterwards revealed that there was a real desire on the part of many of those present to show genuine compassion and acceptance towards gay people but that this was tempered by anxiety, especially on the part of clergy, about possible sanctions from the church ‘management’ – seemingly a clear example of those at the top of the church lagging behind the grass-roots, where pressure for change was actually coming from. I was also struck by the particular insight shown by the women pastors present into issues of discrimination as it was clear that they themselves had faced discrimination as they had sought to become ministers in the church. One pastor said he had been especially struck by comments I had made about single people (a rather wild generalisation on my part that they were usually seen as ‘suspect’, especially within the church, as it was assumed they were either too weird to find a partner or otherwise must be gay) which challenged him about how they are perceived. No-one openly challenged what had been said, although one gentleman did spend some time with Benny afterwards privately expressing his reservations.

Talking to the young gay couple afterwards I was also struck by how different their situation was from mine: they were comfortably out in their social life and at work with apparently little or no experience of discrimination, and were even accepted and embraced by their church. Things are indeed changing.

I was really pleased to have made the trip and felt encouraged by the response to our visit. I think the strongest impression I have is of the warmth of the hospitality we received and the authentic Christianity we encountered in a modest Baptist community in a South Wales valley, striving to present grace and acceptance to their churches and communities.’

If you would like to invite Accepting Evangelicals to speak at your church, email us at: benny@acceptingevangelicals.org

 

Being a Christ-like Church

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

by Martin Stears-Handscomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Stears-Handscomb, March 2013

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

Reflections on Baptist Assembly

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

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

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

Martin Stears-Handscomb, Avril MacKenzie-Parr

Joint Co-ordinators         Affirm (the Baptist Network)

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

Church of Scotland leads the way…

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

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

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

The key principles of the compromise…

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

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

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

 The full text can be seen here:

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

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

 

 

Newsletter – May 2013

Dear Friends

More Evangelical leaders back same-sex partnerships!

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

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

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

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

Jim Wallis has often been called a ‘progressive Evangelical’ by supporters and opponents alike, with his strong campaigning stance on issues such as poverty, social justice and climate change, but this is the first time he has gone on the record to support same-sex marriage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Pride Service 2013St_martin_in the fields

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

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

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

And Blackpool Pride…

Organiser Nina writes:

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

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

Greenbelt Festival 2013

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

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

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

Other Events…

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

The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.

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

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

Or phone John on 020 8411 0040

Two:23 Network

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

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

Saturday 21st September – Padraig O Tuama from Belfast

Saturday 30th November – Steve Chalke from Oasis

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

And finally, ‘Ex Gay’ ministries…Newsweek cover

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

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

Now, however, he has issued a letter apologising for the damage his campaigning has done “to countless people” and stating categorically that it did not change his sexual orientation.

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

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

God Bless and Keep You…

Accepting Evangelicals

Book review – ‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee

'Unconditional' by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  We must educate Christians

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

4.  Celibacy must be a viable option

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

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

7.  We must learn how to effectively dialogue.

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

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

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

Torn Publisher: Jericho Books (November, 2012).

Unconditional Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (January, 2013)

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

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

 

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