Monday, January 21, 2013

coming out on gay marriage

Steve Chalke, a UK Baptist, a pastor, evangelist and social advocate, has come out in support of gay marriage in a article in Christianity magazine, although few outside the UK know or care who Steve is, many will (and already ) used this as an opportunity to display their orthodox colours, lambast this heretic and show clearly to anyone who is watching that they do not approve of such behaviour. Steve ends his article saying "I am committed to listening and trying to understand the intricacies of the arguments on both sides." which suggests he is still open to be persuaded. This is nonsense, Steve has stuck his head above the parapet on this issue and there is no going back. he will pay a high price, probably much higher than he would anticipate for taking the stance he has taken, and in defending it and suffering for it he will only become more entrenched in it. The time for making your mind up was before you wrecked you career as an evangelical.

Although I did not agree with Steve's article or conclusions I do agree that he should have come out and said what he believed. Too many of our evangelical leaders say and believe what they need to in order to maintain their support bases not on the basis of their conscience. Steve has acted according to his conscience and it is a shame that this will almost certainly spell the end for what has been a very successful career of mobilising christians in evangelism and social advocacy. It pains me that we have no culture of mind changing and genuine discussion - just a slippery slope down which we push anyone who wont toe the party line.

The reality is that the evangelical church is really stuck in a mess on this issue. Most churches now contain one or more people struggling with their sexuality in some way. Some of them want to embrace current social paradigms of sexuality, some of them reject them and want liberation from their sexuality - they all live in fear of rejection by a church that doesn't understand them. By and large we are failing in our duty of pastoral care to a generation of young people that are more sexualised and confused about that sexuality that any generation before. And yet our own framework for understanding sexuality is locked in the idolatry of Victorian respectability. We gather on Sundays to worship the unmarried son of a adulterous polygamous king with a brothel owner for a grandma, we have a Bible that contains multiple stories of incest, gang rape and prostitution of relatives, and yet when someone who doesn't conform to our ideal middle class nuclear family walks into the church we freeze.

That hideous slogan, to love the sinner but hate the sin, leaves us completely helpless when the sinner tells us their sin is an essential part of their identity that cannot be changed. If you love me, says the person who identifies as gay, let me get married. I do love you, replies the evangelical, just don't ask me that. And the gay walks away hurt and rejected.

This issue is not going away. A certain Bible college had students study the parable of the Good Samaritan and then rewrite it for contemporary context. Without fail students recast the Samaritan as a homosexual - these are the people young Christian evangelical bible students most readily identify as the pariahs of their world, the ones in our context we least expect to find God at work in. Spending time in the gospels reduces the amount of time you can spend making strangers enemies and forces you to break down your misconceptions about the other and their place in God's love. Steve Chalke's trajectory hermeneutics are cobblers but his impulse to compassion and inclusion is spot on. The things is, although I don't agree with him, I don't have an adequate answer to the question he is courageously trying to answer. Maybe even a wrong answer is better than the the awkward hand wringing that characterises orthodox attempts to love homosexuals.

Let me know what you think

11 comments:

  1. But what do you REALLY think? ;-)

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  2. "Steve has acted according to his conscience and it is a shame that this will almost certainly spell the end for what has been a very successful career of mobilising christians in evangelism and social advocacy."

    Ipso facto? He said what he believes and now he's no longer an evangelical and no one who is not an evangelical can mobilise Christians in evangelism?

    Having lived in the UK for 20 years, I feel certain that Steve Chalke will be able to continue his very significant work. Sure there will be people who feel that they can no longer help him help the poor because Steve believes that gay people should marry. But probably not enough to make these well-established missions collapsed. He hasn't based his ministry on a cult of personality.

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  3. Jonathan, I wonder whether you are listening too much to the criticisms of the Church and not looking at the good. There have been a number of responses to the question of sexuality in the church, and while horror stories can be told and retold, there are also ministries and churches who have worked hard at reaching out to sexually broken people - successfully in many cases. The big issue is that there is a cultural perception (perpetuated by critical Christians) that the Church and Christians hate the sexually broken. That may be true in some cases - even many - but not all. In fact, I would guess in many cases it's a matter of not knowing how to respond.

    All that to say, there is more to this than you are presenting.

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  4. Pam, I hope you are right, but I don't know if the Brits are that enlightened anymore I think American style polarisation is becoming increasingly common - but I'd be glad to be wrong on that but sexuality is one of those issues that people use as a deal breaker so it wont surprise me to see a few deals broken over this. we'll see. If you look at the other responses to this they have pretty much left him out in the cold. The Brits are too polite to excommunicate him outright.

    Ali, no one said we hate them, and of course anyone who comes and says "i want to change to be like you" we absolutely love, but those who are not interested in changing and want to embrace their "sexuality" we don't know how to deal with. I'm not basing this on hearsay, just on what I see and experience, I'm not claiming this is the result of exacting research, it is my perspective. Sorry if it is too critical. Perhaps I need to follow up with a blog on why I love the church?

    Rhett, just having a rant! I reserve the right to be wrong about anything. ;-)

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  5. Jonathan,

    Oh no. I feel a long comment coming on. I hope that's alright.

    "No one said we hate them." Well, you might not be saying that, and I might not be saying that, but there are people who say exactly that...

    You said: That hideous slogan, to love the sinner but hate the sin, leaves us completely helpless when the sinner tells us their sin is an essential part of their identity that cannot be changed. If you love me, says the person who identifies as gay, let me get married. I do love you, replies the evangelical, just don't ask me that. And the gay walks away hurt and rejected.

    "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is a hideous slogan if it is hypocritically spoken, but if it is lived, it is the gospel. Isn't that exactly how Jesus relates to us before-and I would argue after-conversion? To do it, we have to relate to all people as people rather than just engage in single issue discussions. In real life and on the internet, we need to show appreciation for the other person quite apart from the issue at hand. I have found that works very well.

    So, to take an example, there is a lesbian couple where I work. I enjoy each of their company, help each of them, and acknowledge that they are in a relationship by asking one how the other is when they are sick for a period of time. But, I don't affirm their relationship by referring to them as a couple in general conversation, nor do I affirm other side issues to do with their relationship, e.g. I don't refer to one lady as the grandmother of the other lady's grandchild (even though she refers to herself that way). Most of my relating to them is caring for them as individual people, and refraining from affirming their relationship. People are very suprised when they find out I don't agree with their relationship and believe homosexuality is a sin.

    I have not talked to either of them about my Christian beliefs, but one of their close friends is my boss, and we have discussed homosexuality and my opposition to it, so I doubt they are unaware of that particular belief (though I might have confused them by being nice to them). But if or when the topic of homosexuality comes up in the future, I trust that they will realise that I don't treat them as homosexuals, but as people, i.e. that I can still befriend them even while strongly disagreeing with their sexual sin. Is that not loving the sinner and hating the sin?

    Now, suppose I have this future discussion about homosexuality with one or other of them, and they react very negatively and call me a bigot and they feel hurt and rejected. Have I done something wrong? No, I continue to love them. And suppose they start to slander me by telling everyone I'm one of those fundamentalist Christians who hates gays and make me their enemy. Have I done something wrong? No, I continue to love my (now) enemies.

    Overcoming a person's feeling of rejection when you reject the sin they consider part of their identity can be done as I am doing in the above situation i.e. building relationship before discussing the sin, or by discussing the sin and then showing them love (I've seen it work both ways). But when the message of loving the sinner, hating the sin doesn't get through, I don't think Christians need to wring their hands. Christians down the centuries have been persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matt 5:10). If we have not been unloving (though there's always something we could have done better), then I don't believe we need to beat ourselves up if they say they feel hurt and rejected by us. They are rejecting us and the Jesus we serve. We need to be careful of having the wool pulled over our eyes by the victim card. Remember, Jesus offends people, and we need to get used to it.

    I think I've answered some of what you had in your post. Hopefully.

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  6. Jonathan, yes we'll see. I've been away from the UK now for three years but - were Methodist ministers the betting kind - I'd be willing to lay down a bet in favour of his work continuing.

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  7. Hey Ali, your feelings were right that is a long comment. ;-) but your comments are always welcome. just to say I think your illustration is a good example of the way we have found to love those we disagree with: avoid mentioning the contentious issue altogether. So either there is an elephant in the room no one is discussing or they are oblivious to your rejection of the legitimacy of their social and sexual identity and will be quite upset to find out you have been deceiving them all this time through your nice behaviour which suggested otherwise. Not really a healthy relationship.

    I think it would be interested to do a bible study on whether or not the sinner and the sin can be so easily extricated from each other as we seem to think. Does Jesus condemn just the pharisees' sin or does he also condemn the pharisees? Does Paul just condemn false apostles teaching or does he also condemn them? Read jude 4-16 and tell me where the loving the sinner part comes in? Jesus seems to like his sinners repentant rather than flagrant. Just thinking out loud here, but I think it a line of thought worth following.

    Pam, I hope you are right.

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  8. Jonathan. Deceptive? I don't think so. I'm not tip-toeing around an elephant, nor am I avoiding the issue. I am shocked and a bit hurt that you attribute such cowardice to me. I live and relate as if there is something more to them than homosexuality, but neither am I deliberately quiet when there is a natural opportunity to discuss the issue. It hasn't come up with them in particular, but I could have given other examples where discussions have taken place with people who were personally affected. This was merely the most current.

    In fact, I was about to point you to this article as a further example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-l-windmeyer/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a_b_2564379.html

    Do the bible study you suggest. I think the conclusion will be that people are labelled for the sins they commit, BUT it is not the whole of us. I can be a liar, a thief, a food addict, but none of those things supplant the fact that I am male, a husband, a person made in the image of God. (And especially in the case of a believer, my overriding identity is a child of God through Christ.) That is why the OT prophets can rail at Israel and rebuke and condemn them, and then turn around and plead for them to return to God. That is why we can tell people that they (not just their sins) are deserving of hell, and yet call them to Christ, because there is something that their sin clings onto, malforms and distorts that is loved by God.

    That is why Jesus accepted invitations to parties thrown by both Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Pharisee. But I note that your examples are all "elder brothers". The Father still pleads for the elder brother to come into the feast in Luke 15, but are homosexuals older or younger brothers? It makes no difference to the love, but perhaps it does make a difference to the words and actions employed.

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  9. don't get shocked and hurt, that isn't conducive to a good discussion. i don't think you are intending to deceive or avoid i think that is the effect. i'm not casting aspersions on your character but on the efficacy of your method.

    interesting article but i don't think it helps your case, not least because in this instance the opposing views are the reason they start talking and secondly the only thing that is achieved is a (wholly appropriate) de-escalation of chick-fil-a's anti gay funding there is no corresponding move from the other side towards Christianity.

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  10. Don't worry, Jonathan. Even when I get shocked and hurt I still carry on discussing :).

    We'll have to agree to disagree about the effect. Even if you were right, however, the particular situation I'm describing is one where to express my disagreement with these ladies' sexuality would be very out-of-the-way, in the same way expressing my disapproval of other couple's defacto relationships would be. I work with these ladies but not so closely that I engage them in conversation every day. But regarding people I work with more closely, I have talked about their sin (and mine) in other areas, so don't worry about that ;).

    As for the article, I think it would be a good re-read. The gay activist dropped his hostility (before seeing the company's figures), called off his campaign, and described Dan (along with an uncle?) as being a Christian who loves him, but disagrees with his lifestyle. Isn't that the solution to the quandry you were referring to? The difficult task of communicating to a person about their sin, when they see their sin as part of their identity? Hasn't Dan Cathy managed to communicate that he loves the sinner and hates the sin?

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