In my first “Inclusive Church” posting, I reflected, positively, on a conversation I attended, and in a small way took part in, when I asked a question that was to do with why a new movement is needed when inclusive is what the church should be anyway and how can it be so yet accommodate those who hold strong traditional, orthodox Christian views, which were fairly answered. Before I return to the subject of the Inclusive Church, I want to consider one of the most controversial and divisive subjects facing the church today, that of homosexuality. I have broached this topic on several occasions, for even though it hardly impacts my day to day activities, it highly impacts shifts in the culture. I do so reluctantly because I don’t want to come across as a one trick pony with a bee in its bonnet but rather appeal to a diverse audience on a variety of subjects. The subject of same sex relationships was barely covered in the conversation, although this is as relevant, if not more so, as that of ethnicity.
However, given many recent developments and its relevance to the Inclusive Church discussion, and the far reaching implications, I return to it now. As I was about to start writing, an email appeared in my in-tray from the Coalition for Marriage, with an attachment titled “Punished for believing in traditional marriage: 30 cases”. Many of the cases I have raised before, although some are new to me, but back up the point C4M have been making from the outset: “redefining marriage is sold as a permissive measure, but it will quickly become coercive”. A further example of this coercive aspect relates to a blog posting, “Values based school curriculum”, that I made just over a week ago, that included the observation that should the largest teachers union (NUT) have its way, teachers may be required to teach about same sex relationships in a gay affirming way and for some it will be against their conscience to have to do so.
It was brought home how divisive the subject of same sex relationships can be among Christians, including those who regard themselves as Evangelical, when I read about two conferences that appeared to be well attended and successful that have recently been held to consider this subject, one more from a gay affirming perspective and the other from a more traditional Christian perspective. The sad thing to note is that both attracted well known Christian leaders and yet seem to have found little by way of common ground in tackling these important issues. One example is regarding how appropriate gay conversion therapy is. Vicky Beeching, who spoke at the first of the conferences, has argued that this is unethical and dangerous, whereas many who took part in the second would argue it is anything but, e.g. refer to the “Fruitful and Faithful” blog. My view is while I have concerns about how this may be practiced, I have equal qualms when I read of those who hate the gospel being so vehemently opposed to such therapy. While my knowledge of any therapeutic intervention is rudimentary, if it is NOT ok to be gay and if therapy is about helping people to change unwanted behavior, gay conversion therapy cannot be ruled out.
Which brings me onto the Inclusive Church website, discussed in my earlier blog. Alarm bells began to ring when I read that some of the sponsoring organizations are Christian ones with a gay affirming message as opposed to those that hold the more traditional view that any relationship involving sexual intimacy should only be between opposite sex couples who are married to each other. The other alarm bell was when I read the statement: “Inclusive Church was born on 11th August 2003 at St Mary’s Putney, at a Eucharist attended by over 400 people. The cause of this gathering was the deep unease felt by many within the Church of England regarding the resignation of The Rev’d Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading.” I am not an Anglican and know little more about Jeffrey John than what Wikipedia tells me. I do know he is well regarded in some quarters for his theological and pastoral gifts. If I had been asked my view, I would have said anyone who does not accept orthodox Christian teaching should not be made a shepherd of the sheep, given one of the important qualities is to lead the flock aright.
Having recognized the positives in the Inclusive Church movement, I do not wish to withdraw this endorsement. For one thing, by way of continuing on from my first posting, there are many who feel excluded from church life, not least (and some say, especially) gay folk, and any move that makes them feel included has to be right. But nevertheless a warning needs to be made. There are those who believe it is as a consequence of changes in the culture we have seen the abolition of slavery and race and gender equality, all things parts of the church were fiercely opposed to but now in the main accept. It begs the question: should it follow the culture or should it seek to influence it based on biblical certainties? Maybe, it is a bit of both!?
While I agree love is highly important when we consider the matter of inclusion, for after all loving God and one’s neighbor are the two great commandments, love is not necessarily the most important consideration when it comes to following Christ and preaching and practicing the gospel, the very things that should be central to the life of the church. As I argued in my write up about the Gospel, this happens to be truth and righteousness and, if I stray from these principles, I feel I might as well give up practicing Christianity. When it comes to inclusiveness, a church can only claim to be so if it includes those who take conservative positions on issues like sexuality as much as those who take liberal positions. But more important than being inclusive, the church needs to be obedient (to God), and that is a huge challenge for all of us.