These days, I tend not to attend conferences unless I am taking part or have good reason to attend, such as learning about something which is important for me to know that will likely usefully add to my knowledge. However, when I found out about the forthcoming conference, which has title “the church, sexuality, mission and the future”, I was intrigued and, having reflected, am tempted to go, especially if I felt it would do some good and not distract from other things I should be doing, not least the business of prayer and quiet contemplation and being a good husband and dad. The conference does touch on a number of the themes that I have been exploring around homosexuality, including my recent: “The Gay Conundrum”.
The blurb at the beginning of the website introduction I found impressive: “Join us for a two-day Mesa conference which will create a safe space for honest, open conversation as together we explore the pastoral, theological and practical issues around LGBT people, the local Church and inclusion. This is followed by a quote from one of the organizers: “There is a growing move towards a more compassionate rounded, thoughtful and consistent approach to the Bible, humanity, community and sexuality. Whatever your views or questions around these important issues, if you want to join the conversation, Open Church will be two days well spent.” Steve Chalke.
We are then told that “the conference will explore:
- What does a truly inclusive Church community, which offers an open welcome to all, look and feel like?
- What are the pastoral and practical implications around creating inclusive local churches and congregations?
- How do we read the Bible more deeply; in an honest, affirming and consistent manner?
- How can we commit to walk with other Christians who think differently to us on these issues?
- What about our attitudes towards gay and lesbian people and towards faithful, monogamous and committed same-sex relationships?
- How do we build bridges between opposing worldviews as we develop deeper, more authentic church communities?
- What are the costs of getting our approach to inclusion wrong?
- How do we respect other people’s deeply held views, even when they differ profoundly to our own?”
Given Steve Chalke and the organisation he heads, Oasis Trust, have already come out with statements that challenge Evangelical orthodoxy on various matters, and pertinent in this instance regarding same sex relationships, I would feel a certain reticence if I were to attend given a balanced position might not be reached if those leading and attending were of a similar mind as Steve, but at the same time I would relish the challenge of going out on a limb (why change the habits of a lifetime?) and besides which when these matters have been properly aired, and too often in the past they haven’t been, the point of balance has usually been to ostracize gay folk. Exploring these themes under the Oasis umbrella, which I agree is important to do as part of one’s quest for truth, righteousness and godly action, may turn out to be a good thing.
The statement on the Oasis website is impressive, and if true is to be commended: “We want to create safe places where everyone is included. Where everyone has a chance to contribute, and reach their God-given potential. We work with people regardless of any distinction you can think of. We know that God loves them and so will we. We believe by linking all we do together, the community that we dream of will exist. And we want you to be a part of it! We work alongside whole communities to support the breadth of their needs, through education, healthcare, housing, children’s and youth work, debt advice, foodbanks and much more”.
While I don’t profess to know that much about the conference and those organizing it, what I do know causes me to have reservations, given the gay affirming stance of the organisers, but at least Steve and Oasis have earned the right to to explore what are often taboo subjects in the church, where people often differ and those differences then leading to harmful schism, as well as some being needlessly wounded. I will continue to contend for gospel truth, which requires us to repent of our sins and be obedient to God, including among those who would rather emphasize unconditional love as indeed we must, even if to do so is unpopular. On reflection, I suggest this is the time to consider such matters.