Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Accepting Evangelicals ...?

There are 2 significant lies at work among Evangelicals today.
The first lie is that you can't be an Evangelical Christian and be pro-gay - ie. support and affirm same-sex relationships.
It has been a useful lie for more conservative evangelicals in the struggle against the rising tide of inclusion in society and the church - but it is nevertheless a lie.
To begin with, it is a factual lie.  Research by Evangelical Alliance in the UK (with an impressive sample size of almost 15,000) has found that 27% of Evangelical Christians declined to agree with the statement that "Homosexual actions are always wrong"  Of those, 16% actively disagreed, and 11% were unsure.  While this is still a minority of evangelicals, it shows conclusively that there is now a significant proportion of evangelicals who have moved beyond the traditional teaching on this issue, and begun to embrace a more inclusive understanding.
But more than just a factual lie, it is also a theological lie.  Being an evangelical has never been defined by your attitude to homosexuality.  It has always been about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel, and understanding the Bible as the inspired Word of God.  And the same survey amongst evangelicals revealed that this is still the case.
99% of those questioned said that their faith is the most important thing in their lives
95% said that the Bible was the inspired Word of God
94% believed that Jesus is the only way to God, and that the Bible has supreme authority in guiding their beliefs, views, and behaviour.
The difference is that more and more evangelicals are realising that the Biblical evidence for condemning same-sex relationships is nowhere near as conclusive as they had been told. And many are coming to the conclusion that the Bible doesn't talk directly about same-sex relationships at all - merely the  twisted forms of sexual activity which are just as much a danger for heterosexuals as homosexuals.
Fact:  It is possible to be an Evangelical Christian and be pro-gay.

The second lie is that you have to be either pro-gay or anti-gay.
Again this lie has been encouraged by those who want to polarise the issue in people's minds.  They pretend that there is no middle ground, and yet there clearly is.
In addition to the growing number of 'gay-affirming' evangelicals, there is also a growing number who are willing to 'accept' the Christian integrity of same-sex relationships, even though their own understanding of the Bible does not allow them to affirm them.  To begin with, this may sound confusing, but it is a position which we find in many areas of Christian life and fellowship. 
Baptism is one such example for evangelicals.  Many evangelicals outside the Church of England, do not practise infant baptism.  They believe firmly and truly that to be baptised, you have to be able to make a conscious decision to repent and believe the Gospel.  There are good scriptural grounds for this, and it is more difficult to make a watertight case for infant baptism from the verses of the Bible.  It is an issue which evangelicals could have heated debates on (indeed, I have had such heated debates on a number of occasions!)  But it is not something over which evangelicals fall out today.  Baptists, Evangelical Anglicans, and Pentecostals are happy to stand side by side, to work together on mission, or worship together at  the big Evangelical Festivals.  There are very few people who would say "If you baptise babies, you are not an evangelical" and Evangelicals who disagree quite profoundly about baptism still find themselves able to pray together and bless each other.  Those who believe in 'adult only' baptism do not affirm infant baptism, but they accept the Christian integrity of those who do.
The same is beginning to happen in attitudes to same-sex relationships.  There is a greater openness to acknowledging that we won't always agree in our interpretation of Scripture, but that does not need to stop us accepting one another in the love and fellowship of Christ.
The group Accepting Evangelicals, which I help to lead, is a network of just such people who want to see the church move past the polarised and highly charged debates which are often displayed on the issue of sexuality.
It is made up of a wide spectrum of people - both those who would affirm same-sex relationships, and those who would simply accept the Christian integrity of those relationships even though they disagree.  It is a network where evangelicals can listen to each other, rather than shout at each other.  It is made up of gay Christians, straight Christians, men and women, old and young.
So - here is the advertisement - if you haven't visited the Accepting Evangelicals website, why not have a look.  We have just given it a face-lift, and made it easier to navigate.   We are also starting a weekly 'AE Blog' on the site, with the opportunity to comment on the issues raised.  You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter without any commitment, or if you want to join, membership is free.
Fact:  Evangelicals do not have to be polarised on the issue of sexuality.

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