I believe that defining one’s terms is an important pre-requisite before embarking on further discussion that relate to those terms. However, before I do so I would like to make two points.
Firstly, when I wrote my “The Gay Conundrum”, downloadable from this website, I realized I had in a way opened Pandora’s Box and there will be inevitable developments, as well as various reactions to my take on what is a sensitive subject, as has proved the case. Without sounding boring, I suggest you read the book for my carefully considered thoughts on matters about to be aired.
Secondly, I believe what happens in a family should stay in a family yet dealt with robustly – but also with grace and love, rather than aired publicly, although, sadly, church history reveals many instances of this not happening. Back to the definition of terms …
While I share the aversion of many Christians when it comes taking on labels, I also feel for the sake of integrity and transparency it is often necessary to state one’s position. I am not a Liberal because human reason should not trump the Bible when determining what is true and right. Neither am I a Catholic, because the same goes with church tradition. Nor am I a member of a cult that takes away from or adds to what is in the Bible. I am an Evangelical as defined by the historian David Bebbington and I subscribe to such statements of faith as those of the Evangelical Alliance. But to use the old cliché, Evangelicals do not necessarily all sing from the hymn sheet.
When it comes to the question of homosexuality, while it is likely most Evangelicals, at least those who give these matters thought, will subscribe to the notion that homosexual relationships are sinful and this can’t be ignored when called to turn people away from sin, there are many who don’t. For example, the organization “Accepting Evangelicals” would not subscribe to such a view and share some interesting (I use the word to mean being helpful, even if I may not agree, rather than sarcastically) insights into this whole subject.
As for “gay”, a synonym of which is homosexual in the case of male and lesbian in the case of female, I’m happy with the dictionary.com definition: “pertaining to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex“. As for a “gay question”, there are in fact many, with the crux questions being: “are homosexual relationships sinful”, “how do we relate to those who are in such relationships, including those who claim to be Christian“, and “how do we relate to other Christians who endorse such relationships“? As for the question, often asked: “are people born gay“, my view is that the jury is still out but either way it will not affect my views on the rights and wrongs of practicing homosexuality. My book addresses these and related questions, although I suspect not to the satisfaction of all Evangelicals.
About a year ago, I was thrown out of a Christian online chess playing group that I had been helping to lead. As I engaged with gay folk on some of those issues just mentioned, I was mindful of the accusation leveled against those who hold traditional Christian views on homosexuality, by some gay folk, is they are “homophobic bigots”. Sometimes I have to agree, and said so in a forum discussion on gay marriage. Although there was more to it than this (there usually is), when I expressed the view that one can be gay and Christian, much as one can be a heterosexual sinner and Christian, despite not endorsing homosexual activity, my co-leader, who saw homosexuality in terms of the book of Leviticus “abomination” description of gay sex, decided I needed to be expelled.
Since throwing my hat in the ring in trying to get to the bottom of these issues, which I believe we should face for the sorts of reasons discussed in my book, I have received responses ranging from wholehearted support to hostile opposition, from all sides of the debate. But as always, I maintain that truth is truth and mustn’t be ducked, provided it is spoken in love and we do not harbor bitterness and resentment when rebuffed for speaking it.
What prompted me to write this blog entry was when a few days ago I had a chance conversation with an elderly friend, a lovely Christian man, who told me that an Anglican church we both have connections with is contemplating leaving the Anglican communion over its response to gay issues, or at least disassociate with those members, including those at the very top of the hierarchy, who do not deal with these matters according to traditional church teaching, with alternative structures set up as and when required.
The straw that might break the camel’s back, although some may think many straws in the past could and should have had the same effect, may be the fact that some Anglican priests have married or will marry their same sex partners, against church rules and without admonishment from the hierarchy. I am not an Anglican but know and respect many who are, besides having studied Anglican church history. As for my fellow Non-Conformists with fundamentalist leanings, who don’t understand why Anglicans of sound doctrine remain in the church when error is allowed to remain unchecked, I would say that those who do stay do often exercise considerable soul searching and stay because they believe Anglicanism can and should be reclaimed for traditional orthodoxy and have a dislike of division when unity is the desired outcome.
Given what is already happening in the worldwide Anglican communion in terms of schism, including the polarisation of positions over gay matters, such a move might seem to be only a matter of time and there will be widespread implications as is already the case. My friend expressed many of his concerns and, while there were some I didn’t quite share, I didn’t feel it was my place to argue with him. I know, for example, for good reason, the irritation felt by some of my gay friends when they hear Christians piously talk about God hating the sin and loving the sinner.
I refer you to the Anglican Mainstream website for discussion on the implications for those Anglicans with traditional, orthodox (mainstream) views. It claims it is “committed to the flourishing of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion … to promote, teach and maintain the commonly agreed Scriptural truths of the Christian faith, as expressed by the historic Creeds, the 39 Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer. These truths provide the foundation for the Anglican Church, the source of true unity and fellowship, and the basis of mission and service to a needy world”. An interesting feature of Anglican Mainstream is it brings together those of evangelical, charismatic and catholic persuasions in its mission to reclaim the Anglican church for biblical orthodoxy. See here for its position statement regarding same sex marriage.
I did get clarification from the vicar, also a friend, of the afore-mentioned Anglican church, that their seceding from the Anglican communion as it presently stands was a distinct possibility rather than a done deal. Besides noting the pain being widely experienced on the unity issue and his desire to remain part of the communion, he made the point that in the USA Anglicans who disassociated from those with errant views and practices, such as regarding homosexuality, and set up alternative structures, have often done so at great cost, such as being evicted from their buildings and having assets siezed, and spoken about in disagreeable ways.
Around that time, I read a Facebook entry posted by a friend referring to an article titled “Exclusion is a powerful way to silence dissenting voices: Steve Chalke & the EA”. In the article, the writer took to task the Evangelical Alliance (EA) for expelling the organization, Oasis, founded by the popular Baptist minister, Steve Chalke. The same writer had earlier posted another article “Steve Chalke Drops the Bomb in Support of Committed, Faithful, Same-Sex Relationships”. I won’t elaborate and refer you to the EA’s statement and the response by the Oasis Trust.
If you are wanting me to take sides on the matter, you will be disappointed, and this is because of the keeping it in the family consideration expressed earlier and the lesson, I am still learning, to keep my mouth shut until completely cognizant of all the facts and having a sound, comprehensive theological understanding, and offend only if necessary. But I will make the following observations:
My main burden ought to be and is to preach the gospel and see sinners saved. As a gospel preacher, I am beholden to preach the gospel of the righteousness of God, for example as detailed in this website, and it would be dishonest and dishonouring for me to endorse, gloss over or ignore anything that is not righteous.
As for the “Gay Question”, I will honour and affirm, and as far as possible work with for the general good, those who see things differently, yet recognize that schism may be inevitable when it comes to insisting that we must proclaim God’s righteous precepts. In my discussions with gay and other folk on this matter, I have stressed the importance for Christians of freedom of conscience, although I realise this may raise further questions or debate.
Finally, and perhaps the stickiest issue of them all – in the early days of the church, it embraced those in polygamous relationships, which is also against the traditional view of what marriage entails. Today, the issue of divorce and remarriage is one that can’t be ignored and it would be hypocritical to condone (or overlook) this and anything else God might condemn, while criticizing those in homosexual relationships, especially when these are loving and faithful.
Equally, the church needs to face full on the implications of being one that purports to welcome all yet excludes gay people from its membership. Yet on balance, I can’t support Steve Chalke’s position, even though I share many of his concerns and admire much of his evangelically inspired community activism. I also have some sympathy with the action taken by the Evangelical Alliance.