Reflections from The Reformation Project Conference…

Reformation Project DCAE Member, Kim Post Watson reflects on the Reformation Project’s Conference in Washington DC earlier this month.

 

“As a dual US and UK citizen, and a straight ally anywhere I go in the world, I was thrilled to be in Washington DC for The Reformation Project conference in early November.  The Reformation Project exists to train Christians to support LGTB people by making a biblical case for inclusion.  It also provides practical support to LGBT Christians and their families, and their conferences offer many opportunities to create friendships and strategic partnerships.

The focus of this regional conference was to better equip LGBT Christians and their allies to make a biblically-based case for affirming and integrating LGBT people into all aspects of church life, including making the case that God affirms same-sex marriage.  There were also inspirational talks and helpful breakout sessions for parents of LGBT children, pastors, a variety of denominations, various ethnic groups and those with global connections.  Following the main sessions, all participants worked in small groups with experienced facilitators to defend their views using role playing.  It was incredibly helpful.

The Reformation Project was founded by Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian: What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say –About Homosexuality, where he tells the moving story of coming out while at Harvard University.  I had read his book, and another highlight of the conference was seeing his parents, who are my age, attending and fully supporting his work, and working to do their part in changing peoples’ hearts.

My role as an ally in an evangelical church led me to the sessions where evangelical pastors and academics spoke about their journey, and their church’s journeys towards becoming affirming.  It was tough stuff; many had been fired or had their church removed from their denomination.  Other stories were so inspiring.  I particularly enjoyed hearing Danny Cortez from Los Angeles talk about his journey towards affirmation.  Knowing that he might get fired, he talked to his family about coming out as an ally and making his church affirming.  At the same time, his own teenage son came out to them.  Although his denomination removed him, 60% of his church chose to stay with him in an independent, evangelical church.

I was also so honoured to meet Ken Wilson, who wrote A Letter to My Congregation, a charismatic Vineyard Pastor, who is standing by his faith on this matter, while the Vineyard USA is not ready to move forward.  I noticed that it was far easier for pastoral allies closer to the end of their careers to be vocal; they did not have to be so worried about being fired.  Brian McLaren was not at the conference, but he is a good example of someone with a platform in the evangelical world because he’s not employed by a local church.

The highlight of the conference, for everyone I think, was the closing address by David Gushee.  Dr. Gushee is a well-respected evangelical scholar, and one of the foremost Christian ethicists in America.  He released a book called Changing Our Minds at the conference and gave a resounding call to end 2000 years of discrimination against sexual minorities in the church.  It’s been widely reported in the US media.  He reports that he’s getting hundreds of emails a week, primarily from young Christians who are so grateful for his work and who are in pain in their churches.

I am a new member of Accepting Evangelicals, and I look forward to being a part of the work.  My husband and I live in South London, and we try to reach out to young or newly out LGBT Christians in our church and area.  You can get in touch with me through Benny if you know a young person who could use Sunday lunch with welcoming parental figures.  I met a British woman who I was able to network with some people I’ve met through this group and Diverse Church. What a privilege it is to partner with you.

Kim Post Watson

 

10th Anniversary Celebration – Better for Everyone!

B0PFBR1IYAAFPqUOur Anniversary Celebration in London today was full!  All but 5 of the tickets were booked in advance and over 250 people gathered in praise and celebration to mark the landmark.

After lively worship led by Two:23, we were treated to a deeply personal interview with Vicky Beeching before an impassioned address from Steve Chalke, Baptist Minister and founder of Oasis.

The theme of the whole day was celebration at how far we have come in our first 10 years, as well as drive, vision and determination for the next ten!

A common theme for all the speakers was our new strapline for Accepting Evangelicals:

Accepting Evangelicals
Better for Everyone

and as AE Director, Benny Hazlehurst said – Accepting Evangelicals are better for everyone  – better for LGB&T Christians, but also better for the Church, better for the Gospel, better for Evangelicals.

The Celebration was rounded off with prayer and a Blessing from Bishop David Gillett, another of our Patrons, who encouraged us all to take a vision home for what God was calling us to do.

If you weren’t able to be there today (or if you want to hear it again) you can hear parts of the Celebration by using the Mixcloud links above.

You can also see what people thought on Twitter using #AE10.

All in all it was a great day which demonstrated that the tide is definitely turning for Evangelical attitudes to sexuality.  There is still a long way to go, but today was a milestone along the way.

AE Annual Report 2014

Produced for the 10th Anniversary Celebration and Annual Meeting, 18th October 2014

Introduction2014

During 2013/14 we have seen significant progress in our campaign for LGB&T people in the Church.

  • During the year we have been delighted to welcome a team of Patrons for Accepting Evangelicals.  Bishop David Gillett, Rev Steve Chalke, Vickie Beeching, Rev Ruth Gouldbourne and Jeremy Marks have all become Patrons and helped to increase our public profile.  You can find out more about each of our Patrons on the AE Website. We also hope to announce more Patrons soon.
  • The Church of England ‘Pilling Report’ on sexuality included a specific section on an inclusive evangelical theology which quoted extensively from AE material.  As a result, an inclusive evangelical biblical view has been recognised for the first time as valid part of the spectrum of theological views in the Church of England.
  • Our membership continues to rise and visits to the AE website have doubled.  We have also launched a Facebook page and a YouTube channel (more below).
  • There have been further indications that The Baptist Union of Great Britain is relaxing its ban on ministers performing sex-sex blessings and has now published a statement saying that Ministers will not be disciplined for conducting blessings which have the backing of the local congregation.
  • The Association of Christian Counsellors in the UK has rejected ‘reparative therapies’ and have required all their members to stop providing it.
  • On our 10th Anniversary weekend in July, we held a successful fringe event at the Church of England’s General Synod in York.  Over 40 members of Synod attended and heard from David Runcorn (author of the inclusive Evangelical section in the Pilling Report) and David Ison, the Dean of St Pauls Cathedral in London.  This was our first return to General Synod since our launch in 2004.

As a result, we are hopeful that this increasing momentum towards the acceptance and celebration of LGB&T people and partnerships will continue.  Our aim continues to be promoting the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life and the development of a positive Christian ethic for LGB&T people.

Trustees and Steering Group

The Trustees and Steering Group has met four times over the past year, co-chaired by Martin Stears-Handscomb and Elaine Sommers.

Many thanks to our Trustees:

  • Martin Stears-Handscomb (Co-Chair), Mike Dark (Treasurer), Jeremy Marks (Secretary), Ray Khan, Mel & Benny Hazlehurst.

and to our additional steering group members:

  • Elaine Sommers (Co-Chair), Nim Njuguna, Alex Huzzey, Bren Marks, Rob Day, Sally Layburn, Hazel Thorpe and Jane Newsham.

Membership, Website and Social Media

Membership of AE rose by 24% between June 2013 and September 2014 from 643 to 796.

The use of the AE Website is increasing as we continue to post regularly on the AE Blog, and keep members involved via Newsletters. In over the past year we have seen the average number of visits per month rise from 5,600 to 10,500. The number of pages viewed has increased further from 18,000 per month to 42,200.  Web hits have risen in the same period from 66,400 to 94,500 per month.

In April this year, we also launched the Accepting Evangelicals Facebook Page which has been a huge success, publicising relevant news, stories, and articles.  The most popular postings so far were those about Evangelical Alliance ‘discontinuing Oasis Membership’, about the Baptist Union changing its approach on same-sex blessings and most recently about the American Pastor who wrote on how to respond if your child tells you they are gay.  Each of these posts reached several thousand people.   ‘Like’ us on Facebook to get updates on postings.

And just to top it all, we have also created a YouTube Channel posting two videos so far, both featuring interviews with LGB&T Christians about their life, faith and sexuality.  Many thanks to Alex Huzzey for his hard work in setting this up. We would like to produce more videos but need someone who has skills and experience in video production and editing to take this forward.  If you have such skills or know someone who does, please contact us.

Transgender Issues

Following last year’s Annual Meeting where Elaine Sommers spoke about Trans issues, we have developed the Transgender section of the website and Elaine is Co-Chair of AE.

We also provided a half page article for the Church of England Newspaper entitled ‘Listening to T’ which was published earlier this year.

If you would like Elaine to speak at your church, fellowship or group, please contact us.

Other Events and Speaking Engagements

Invitations to speak have continued to come from a variety of sources over the past year including:

  • SEITE (The South East Institute of Theological Education) contributing a full day at their Easter residential for ordinands
  • A weekend workshop on sexuality in the St Paul’s Church,Walsall, West Midlands
  • Houses of Parliament – for an event reflecting on the journey of same-sex marriage legislation through Parliament – organised by Parliout
  • General Synod Event at York
  • Two:23 where our Director Benny Hazlehurst spoke in September

We also wrote to Spring Harvest to apply for an exhibition stall at their events this year, but they refused our application.  We are intending to ask again next year.

Press and Media

During the year we have issued several press releases – including

  • Welcoming the Pilling Report to the House of Bishops
  • Announcing new Patrons to AE
  • Supporting Steve Chalke and Oasis when Evangelical Alliance removed them from membership
  • Supporting Vicky Beeching in her courageous decision to ‘come out’ publicly

We have also supplied two articles to the Church of England newspaper including “A Case of Mistaken Identity” which produced a strong reaction amongst more conservative evangelicals.

We were invited to provide an extended article for Anvil Theological Journal entitled “Cracking the Binary Code”.  The article is at No.2 in their chart of most downloaded articles from their website.

Working in Partnership

We have continued to work in partnership with Evangelical Fellowship, Affirm (Baptist Network), Christians Together at Pride, LGB&T Anglican Coalition, and Two:23.

Members of the Steering Group have continued to meet formally and informally with leading figures in the debate on sexuality and the Church, including a meeting at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop’s Adviser on Reconciliation, David Porter.

Finance

Income for the year 2013/14 was £2,982 down from £3,099 the previous year.

Expenditure rose from £2,089 to £2,387 during the same period.

The main reason for this was that we paid for a stall in Greenbelt during both years. However, the donations towards the stall (from members and sister organisations) fell by £228 from 2012/13 to 2013/14 whilst the cost rose by £276. Despite this we recorded as surplus of income over expenditure of £595 taking our reserves to £2,242.

Our finances are generally sound. However, there is a concern that regular donations only come from a small group of people leaving AE vulnerable should people’s circumstances change.

Donations can be made to AE by cheque, Paypal, and CAF, and we are registered with HM Revenue and Customs to claim gift-aid on donations from taxpayers.

God Bless & Keep You
The Trustees of Accepting Evangelicals

 
pdf_iconPDF version available here
Annual Report 2014 – Accepting Evangelicals

Newsletter – September 2014

Dear Friends

10th Anniversary Celebration less than a month away…

Welcome to AcceptanceIf you haven’t got your ticket for our 10th Anniversary Celebration yet – act now!  Tickets are going fast and we only have around 100 left.  It takes place on Saturday 18th October at St John’s Waterloo, London.

Our speakers are Steve Chalke and Vicky Beeching and worship will be led by Two:23.

AE Members are warmly invited to our Annual Meeting of the charity at 11:30am, and the church will be open to everyone from 12:30pm to bring a packed lunch and share fellowship together.   

There will be an opportunity to have your say on video and to write your prayer on our ‘Prayer Roll’ before The Celebration Service which starts at 2pm.

Tickets are free and available from Eventbrite, but when they’re gone – they’re gone!

We also need your help…can you help

Can you help us with our Anniversary Celebration?

We need a small band of volunteers to help as stewards, serve drinks, and generally welcome people to make them feel at home!  Please email benny@acceptingevangelicals.org if you can help.

We also would be grateful for donations to help us stage the event. 

The day will cost around £1,000 and will put a big dent in our funds without your help.  Membership of AE is free, and we always run AE on a tight budget, but we believe that our 10th Anniversary is worth spending some money on.  If you are able to support Accepting Evangelicals financially, please follow this link for information on how to donate.

Bishops meet for ‘Shared Conversations’…

Earlier this month, the Bishops of the Church of England met for two days in ‘Shared Conversations’ on sexuality.  The hope was that by having dedicated time to pray, talk and listen to each other, the Bishops might find a way to understand and respect differing viewpoints without deepening the divisions which have plagued the church.

Our prayer at Accepting Evangelicals is that the meeting will have brought out a deeper level of openness and honesty among the Bishops than ever before – see AE Blog.

Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project…

Matthew VinesThe Reformation Project was established in 2013 in the US to train Christians of all denominations to support and affirm LGBT people through a thorough knowledge of what the Bible actually says about same-gender relationships. Twice a year, they run residential regional Training Conferences designed to ‘introduce people to biblically-based cases for affirming and integrating LGBT people into all aspects of church life’.  These conferences provide opportunities for sharing experiences and networking for people in similar (quite conservative) situations and areas. Alongside the conferences, the Project supports local chapter groups which might organise anything from public speaking events, walking in local Pride Parades, offering Bible Study series and other activities.  The Reformation Project’s website is a valuable source for materials to initiate conversations – please see 10 Bible-based reasons to support LGBT Christians

The Reformation Project’s President, Matthew Vines has become well known for his passionate plea for biblically-based acceptance in his March 2012 speech ‘The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality’  The speech has now become a book which covers his extensive study and his own story in God and the Gay Christian: What the Bible says and doesn’t say – about homosexuality.

New US Evangelical Group Announced…

evangelicals for marriage equalityThe launch recently of a new US organisation Evangelicals for Marriage Equality drew both support and criticism from evangelical circles. The group’s mission is to ‘cultivate a new conversation on the issue of civil marriage equality, so that evangelicals understand that it’s possible to be a faithful Christian and a supporter of same-sex marriage’. A spokesman for the group, Brandan Robertson has written ‘It is because of our commitment to follow Jesus that we feel compelled to speak out for the equal treatment under law for all people, whether or not they share our convictions’.

The group emphatically does not campaign for changing the sacramental definition of marriage held by the Church but does “believe that in a religiously diverse society, no one religious perspective should determine who can and cannot be married.”

One member of its advisory board is Brian McLaren, writer, blogger and speaker (recently at this year’s Greenbelt). The website offers an opportunity to show support by signing its Statement of Belief

God Bless and Keep You
Accepting Evangelicals

A Woman’s Courage and the House of Bishops…

Coming OutIt takes enormous courage to ‘come out’.

Announcing that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to family, friends and work colleagues is often stressful, frightening and risky.   There are fears of rejection, confrontation or ridicule from those we love, care for, or work with.  It is a step which we should never underestimate.

Yet at the same time, it is a step which also brings huge benefits.  Feelings of liberation, freedom, personal integration, and relief are commonplace.  The liberation of no longer having to live a lie, or exist in the shadows.  The freedom to truly be yourself with others. The relief at having faced up to the fears and conquered them are often overwhelming – even when the revelation has resulted in conflict or rejection from some.

But it still requires courage.

Last month, one of our Patrons, Vicky Beeching took that momentous step. And her ‘coming out’ was not done in a quiet limited way – she came out to the world. In national newspaper articles, TV interviews, Web posts and social media she proclaimVicky Beechinged her sexuality publicly for the first time. If by some chance you missed this – here is the news-breaking article in The Independent and video in The Guardian.

The response has been mixed while many have welcomed her openness and honesty, others have reacted with varying degrees of shock and dismay.  The Christian Post began its response with the words, “Believers throughout the English-speaking world were shocked and saddened to hear that Vicky Beeching, a greatly loved songwriter and worship leader, has announced that she is gay” and advised its readers to be restrained in their reactions, “To lash out at her now in immature ways will only drive her further from the cross, and while it is fine to speak the truth to her in love… praying for the Holy Spirit to convict her of her error is even more important.”

And yet the next morning Vicky tweeted, “Waking up & knowing you can truly be yourself is such a refreshing feeling. Slept better last night than I have in years. #Grateful.”

Through her courage and the strength that God gave her, she had found a new freedom in life and faith – the freedom to be herself after decades of being made to feel she had to live a lie.

Bishops CrossNext week, the Church of England’s College of Bishops meet to talk about sexuality.  They will spend 2 days together with facilitators trying to find a way to have open conversations on the issue.

According to the CofE briefing paper, “Under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, a team of around 20 trained facilitators will support a process of conversations across the Church of England. They will bring the skills necessary to ensure that the process provides a safe place for all viewpoints to be expressed and to keep the conversations to the objective of seeking understanding rather than having any predetermined trajectory.  The process will begin at the meeting of the College of Bishops in September where the bishops will spend two days working in small groups with facilitators.”

These shared conversations are essential for the Church of England, but they will only work if the conversations are truly open and honest.  That will take courage.

There are many Bishops who support same-sex relationships but have been too afraid to say what they really think.  As one diocesan Bishop said to me at General Synod, “Benny, you know what I think, but I’m chicken – I am too afraid to say it!”

There is also a sizeable minority of the Bishops who are gay themselves.  For many of them it is an open secret – one which is only protected by the loyalty and compassion of others which will not ‘out them’ to the world.  How stressful must it be for them to continually keep quiet or deflect the conversation or sign up to statements which strike at the very heart of their being.

If the shared conversations next week are to move the Church forward, there must be a greater honesty, greater courage, and greater grace at work than ever before.

Women are renowned for their moral courage, and although there are no women Bishops in post yet, perhaps the courage of people like Vicky Beeching can inspire and challenge our Bishops to have a more open and honest conversation next week.  It is certainly long overdue.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Benny Hazlehurst

 

Upcoming Events

There are a number of events over the next couple of months, which will be well worth attending:

TWO23-logo20th September – Two:23 at St Mary Aldermary, London

Two:23 is a network of Christians, connected by LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, who have discovered that God loves us just as we are.

Accepting Evangelicals Director, Benny Hazlehurst is their speaker on 20th September.  Everyone is welcome and there is no charge.

Also before the meeting, there is an informal lunch for Parents of LGBT people – for more information see the Two:23 website – http://two23.net/

LGBTAC27th September – ‘To Have and to Hold’ Conference on Marriage

A day conference organised by the LGBTI Anglican Coalition at St John Waterloo.

‘Recognising current unease in the Church of England over same-sex marriage, the conference will ask whether there is a theological basis for expanding the definition of marriage. If so, what might a theology of equal marriage include?’

Speakers are: Professor Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter : Rev Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow : Dr Scot Peterson, Oxford University : Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham.

Tickets cost £25 (£10 concessions) and include lunch.

More information available at: http://www.lgbtac.org.uk/index.htm and tickets from www.ToHaveAndToHoldTheTheologyOfMarriage.eventbrite.co.uk

Accepting Evangelicals is a member of the Coalition.

Vickie Beeching18th October – Accepting Evangelicals 10th Anniversary Celebration

Steve Chalke OasisDon’t miss our 10th Anniversary Celebration!

Our speakers are Vicky Beeching and Steve Chalke. It is 10 years since we AE was launched and we will be reflecting on progress over that time as well as looking forward to the next 10 years!

The Celebration starts at 2pm with praise and worship, but the church will be open from 12:30pm to bring your packed lunch, meet our Trustees, and share fellowship with others.

Tickets are available free from Eventbrite here – but they are going fast – get yours now.

Listening to T

Heath Adam AckleyPublished in the Church of England Newspaper – 6th June 2014

Last summer, an evangelical university professor in the USA was asked to leave his post after coming out as transgender.

Heath Adam Ackley (formerly Heather Clements) was a member of faculty at Azusa Pacific University for 15 years and has been Chair of Theology and Philosophy as well as being ordained in her church, but when he asked the University to recognise his new name and gender he was asked to leave.

“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, other members of staff were immediately asked to cover his classes.

“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.”

Sadly, such a reaction is not uncommon among evangelicals and is just as prevalent here in the UK.  As Elaine Sommers writes, “Whilst there are some wonderful examples of ordained transgender people in the Church of England, they are few and far between.  Lay people face problems too. I know of organists, choir directors and others whose positions have been terminated when they disclose that they are trans.  Others are excluded from communion or may be asked to leave, which is devastating for them.”

Elaine continues, “There are also many trans people, and I am one, who have no desire to live permanently as the opposite gender.  If such a person decides to be more open about it, this can bring a strongly negative reaction, especially in a more conservative church, where transgender may be seen as a moral issue.  My decision to come out was therefore difficult, but I didn’t anticipate just how dramatic the response would be.  Having served as a worship leader, songwriter and in overseas mission over many years, news about my transgender identity resulted in me being excluded from all positions of responsibility with immediate effect.  And after many months of discussion, negotiation and prayer, the situation did not improve. With heavy hearts and a sense of rejection, my wife and I left our church of over thirty years, but by God’s grace we found a fellowship which welcomed us with open arms and surrounded us with love, in full knowledge of my trans nature. This was a lifesaver.”

So what can church congregations do to help and encourage trans people?  First of all, don’t assume that there are no transgender people in your midst.  If your church is of medium size, say one to two hundred, you probably have several already, but they are keeping quiet for fear of rejection or ridicule.

The Church has become accustomed to hearing the voice of gay and lesbian people. Sexual orientation has been debated at length, but how often do we consider transgender?   The common response from trans Christians who have tried to share their story is: ‘no one listened.’   When Accepting Evangelicals wrote to the Evangelical Alliance to offer our help in considering transgender issues, the reply we received was sobering:  ‘I note that you feel that it is a subject that merits more dialogue, study and understanding. Whether or not this may be the case I can advise you that the Alliance has no plans to conduct such a study in the near future.’

On the other hand, groups such as Accepting Evangelicals have sought for many years to encourage acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the Church, and are now speaking out with transgender people as well.  Last year, when the new Archbishop of Canterbury met with a number of LGBT people, including trans representatives, he indicated a willingness to listen.

For others who are ready to listen, there is now a Transgender section on the Accepting Evangelicals website – www.acceptingevangelicals.org/transgender -or you could listen to Heath Adam Ackley’s ‘coming out sermon’ on YouTube – see below.

Written by Benny Hazlehurst & Elaine Sommers

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!

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

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