Tuesday 26 March 2013

Taking offence...

I have been struck recently by the number of offensive comments which are being made by conservative evangelical Christians against LGB&T people.
In a long and painful thread on my Facebook page recently, the ‘sin’ of homosexuality was placed alongside murder, adultery, theft, violence, & paedophilia by one well known church leader.

And in a recent survey by Evangelical Alliance participants were asked how the church should respond when sinful behaviour comes to light in the church.  Almost inevitably, one of the ‘sinful’ scenarios outlined was "An openly gay or lesbian couple wanting to be involved in church life." This was immediately followed by, "A convicted sex offender wanting to be involved in church life".
It is hard to underestimate how offensive this is to LGB&T people.

Even when conservative evangelicals try to be conciliatory, they often fail to see how offensive their statements are.  In response to Steve Chalke’s recent statements in support of same-sex partnerships, Evangelical Alliance have taken the step of making their guidance on “Biblical and  Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” available as a free download – previously it had to be purchased from them.
It tries to be reasonable and balanced, reminding us that we are all sinners and should not look down our noses at other people’s sins.  One of the editors is Andrew Goddard with whom I have worked and for whom I have the greatest respect.  Yet even so, most gay and lesbian people will find its contents highly offensive.  Perhaps conservative evangelicals genuinely do not realise how offensive their statements are?

So I have decided to turn things upside down.  I have done this not out of malice or a sense of getting even, but rather in the hope that it might help conservative evangelicals to understand how it feels to be portrayed in a way which they will probably find offensive.  

At the heart of EA’s “Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality” are ‘10 Affirmations’ which form the backbone of the book.  I have rephrased each of them to represent they way in which many gay and lesbian people will hear their carefully crafted statements.

I have called the re-written version “The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance” and I hope that they will cause some conservative evangelicals to think twice before making fine sounding but offensive statements against gay people.

I apologise in advance if you read this and take offence – causing offense is not my intention – as I am sure it is not your intention either.

The 10 Commandments of the Evangelical Alliance

1.      Thou shalt focus, first and foremost, on sin - and not love.  All expressions of ‘love’ shall only be based on our foundational concept of ‘sin’, and not on the character of God, or the quality of relationship.  Above all, 1John 4:16 shall not apply when we talk about homosexuals.

2.      Thou shalt attempt to be loving towards homosexuals, recognising that we have often failed to do so in the past and present.  Thou shalt also pretend that our continual focus on sin and our highly conditional and restrictive acceptance of homosexuals does not victimise or diminish people who are attracted to the same sex.

3.      Thou shalt pretend that marriage is, and has always been between one man and one woman entered into for life, contrary to the majority of marriages in the Bible.  Recognising our superior moral high ground, thou shalt focus all your indignation on homoerotic sexual practice as incompatible with God’s will, as revealed in the way we tell you to interpret the few bits of Scripture which appear to say something on the subject.  Thou shalt not listen to anyone else’s interpretation of Scripture.  In doing this we reject any suggestion that we are being narrow minded.

4.      Churches shall only offer an unconditional welcome to those homosexuals who agree with what we say – except for the condition that if they change their minds, we will change our attitude towards them too.  Thou shalt not let these people call themselves ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’, but instead encourage them to minimise their sexuality by referring to themselves as ‘those who suffer from same-sex attraction’.

5.      Thou shalt not accept or endorse the fact that other Christians, including evangelicals understand sexuality differently.  Thou shalt only support churches whose Biblical interpretation is impervious to change.

6.      Thou shalt fight as hard as possible against Christians and Churches who seek to encourage life-long, faithful, committed partnerships, while doing comparatively little to encourage heterosexuals to live out their marriage vows faithfully and permanently.

7.      Thou shalt hold up as iconic examples, all homosexuals who have successfully emasculated (or efeminated) their same-sex attraction, while ignoring all examples of same-sex couples who have lived faithfully together in life-giving partnerships for many years.

8.      Thou shalt support and encourage individuals and organisations which seek to change, heal, re-orientate, and deny those who suffer same-sex attraction any possibility of finding fulfilment in a loving, life-giving, exclusive relationship with someone of the same sex.  Thou shalt do this in spite of evidence of damage or coercion from those who have suffered from such ministries.  Thou shalt also ignore the overwhelming majority of professionals in psychology, psychiatry, and mental health.  They are not Biblical and do not know what they are talking about.

9.      Thou shalt expel from church membership and ministry all those who take a different Christian view on sexuality.  Such relational consequences in church membership are a natural response to anyone who disagrees with us and their blood shall be on their own heads.

10.  Thou may offer a highly conditional welcome to any actively LGBorT person who is brave enough to walk through our arches (although we never mention Bi or Trans people as we clearly don’t know what to think about them).  They are welcome as long as they accept that we have the right to preach at them, make them feel uncomfortable, and restrict their membership and participation.  They shall be left in no doubt that the only way to the Kingdom of God is by renouncing their sexuality and embracing our values, prejudice, and the version of God we present, made in our own image.


If you want to read the real book from Evangelical Alliance, you can download it from this link – alternatively, Andrew Goddard (one of the authors) has posted an admirably brief summary of the “10 Affirmations” which are at the heart of the book.

Update (26 March 2013)

I appears that Evangelical Alliance has today removed the optoin to downlaod the book from their website for free - the links above now go a page which simply lists the '12 Affirmations' as the authentic mainstream evangelical view, and invites you to buy the book.  I find it strange that last month they wanted as many people as possible to read it, but now they seem to have suddenly changed their minds.....


  1. This seems like a very long way of saying "they should change their minds and agree with me."

    What would be much more interesting (and, I suggest, constructive) is if you accepted, purely for the sake of argument, the belief that homosexual activity is sinful (like, say, adultery or theft), and then said how you think the booklet should change to reflect that belief in a more pastorally sensitive way.

    Or do you think the booklet is fine, given that presupposition?

    1. Hello Grev. In actual fact, I do not beleive that everyone has to agree on this issue. Accepting Evangelicals which I helped to found, welcomes both gay-affirming evangelicals who beleive that God blesses same-sex partnerships, and gay-accepting evangelicals who do not believe this but are prepared to accept the Christian integrity of those who do. What unites us is a desire to see the church move forward.

      The issue this blog post addresses is the way in which LGB&T Christians are labeled first and foremost as sinners because of their love for some-one of the same-sex, often alongside high profile sins such as those of sex offenders and murderers.

      When this happens (and it happens a lot) it is meaningless to follow it up with the statement "we are all sinners". It is simply offensive.

      What conservative enagelicals need to do is to accept that not all Christians think that the Bible says that loving mutual same-sex relationships are sinful. Then the sinfulness of such relationships will no longer be a 'given' and we can start real dialogue.

    2. You founded a group called "Accepting Evangelicals"? Having now read the original document which your post is a pastiche of, I'm not entirely sure how you can write such things and claim to be part of any group which is "accepting". Or does accepting just mean "accepting of people who agree with my presuppositions"? This is the new "tolerance"...

      I was always taught that when restating the position of someone else in order to interact with it, you should attempt to do so in a way such that they would say "yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say". And that arguments should be put in a form which is refutable - it's hard to refute a sneer. Do you think you've achieved that here? I suggest that you haven't; in fact, this post is one large slander, of which you should be ashamed.

      Revelation 22:15 places the sexually immoral right alongside murderers... and liars. I've certainly lied in the past; my sin is comparable to murder. Praise be to God for Jesus Christ! I don't think your issue is with comparing certain sins to murder - otherwise you'd be out there complaining that liars are being unfairly singled out as well. Your issue is that you don't think it's a sin at all. And you get up righteous indignation to gain a debating advantage. It's the politics of outrage.

    3. I seem to have offended you Gerv.

      Perhaps you can use that to reflect on the offense which is so often caused to LGB&T Christians?

    4. No, I'm not offended. However, it looks like when you can't use your own offendedness to avoid dealing with issues raised, you find it in others instead!

  2. I think this is a really sad post. What you are in effect saying is that dialogue is impossible, since you must set the terms in which the other side are allowed to express their convictions.

    If this is the case, then not only can there be no resolution on this issue--there cannot even be any kind of discussion. Tragic.

    1. Hello Ian - as usual you have missed the point.

      Diologue is both possible and vital, but the terms of that dialogue need to change.

      Evangelicals such as yourself need to accept that not all Christians (and, indeed, not all Evangelicals) believe that loving same-sex partnerships are sinful. That is where the dialogue must start.

      Then it would be possible to engage in meaningful and mutual discussion and listening, but as long as conservative evangelicals begin every statement with the sinfulness of same-sex coulples the dialogue will be stunted and unproductive.

      The dialogue needs to change.

    2. "as long as conservative evangelicals begin every statement with the sinfulness of same-sex coulples the dialogue will be stunted and unproductive."

      Actually they don't get to that, in the document you refer to in your original post, until point 9 of the 10. Is that late enough for you?

      Your issue is not that they _begin_ with this, your issue is that they say it at all.

      When deciding what the appropriate pastoral response is to an issue, the first question _must_ be: "is this sinful or not?" Because that makes an enormous difference to where you go thereafter!

    3. I think what you say in your final paragraph is correct. Gay Christians don't believe it is sinful!

      And they also start to talk about the sinfulness of gay relationships in point 3.

  3. Hugely appreciated! I deem the book in question to be a veritable panacea for prejudice, and a scandal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Bravo for speaking out.

  4. Says it all really. I was pretty offended by someone I know posting this on her facebook page:

    “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

    Doesn't mention the word "gay" but I rather think that it what it is about! If your "conviction" is that someone's sexuality is a "lifestyle choice" then that conviction is inaccurate as well as not compassionate. If you "disagree" with someone's love for a same sex partner, then that is rather shallow and simplistic and actually also none of your business!

    1. So you are saying you think that the two ideas that person calls lies are, in fact, true?

      I think you've misunderstood both halves of what they are trying to say.

      Having gay sex is a lifestyle choice. So is having heterosexual sex, getting married, going for a weekly swim at the pool, hanging out with goths, hanging out with geeks, and smoking. All are actions you can choose to take, or not. "Lifestyle choice" as a wording might sound a little bit 'light', but I think a charitable reading makes clear the point they are trying to make.

      Someone who believes that acting on feelings of sexual or romantic attraction to someone of the same sex is morally wrong, does not necessarily fear or hate people who disagree and choose to do that. That's where the second part comes in - to love someone doesn't have to mean you agree with everything they believe or do. I have actively gay friends of whom I am very fond. That doesn't mean I approve of what they are doing. I have male friends of whom I am very fond who are shacked up with their girlfriends. That doesn't mean I approve of what they are doing.

      Are you only loving towards people who you agree with in every way?

    2. It's important to recognise what words mean to every Fred Bloggs on the bus to Clapham. The phrase 'life-style choice' is most commonly used by homophobes when they refer to homosexuality being a choice, rather than a fixed trait. They wouldn't say you've chosen to have brown eyes for example. Trying to suggest otherwise is rather disingenuous I'm afraid!

      You're right that people who don't believe that gay sex is right may not actually hate gays or be afraid of them. And that is the fault of the word 'homophobe.' However, everyone on the Clapham bus knows what being homophobic is: it's not wanting gay people to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as you yourself do. Just like racism is not wanting black people to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as you yourself do.

    3. Having sex (of any sort) is definitely a choice. Same-sex attraction is not a trait as fixed as eye colour or skin colour, given that there are documented examples of people whose attractions change over time through power of will (and, I would say, the Holy Spirit and prayer), and I don't know of anyone who has managed to change their eye colour by will alone! However, I agree it is not a choice in the same way that having sex (of any sort) is.

      But the logical fallacy in the line of argument which usually follows from this observation is that if we strongly desire something, and it's hard to change that desire, then acting on that desire must automatically be approved of by God. Original sin shows us that this cannot be true. To find out what is approved of by God, we have to look to Scripture.

      In terms of marriage, gay people currently enjoy exactly the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. They can marry anyone they like, as long as the other person consents to it, is older than a certain age, of the opposite sex, not already married, and not a close relative. Everyone has that same right.

      You will say that it's not a right they want to use. That may be, but they do have it, like everyone else. This is not unfair.

      You will say "but the right they want is the 'right to marry the person you love'". But not everyone who is heterosexual has that right; that person may be already married, too young, or a close relative. And if we change what marriage is into "the right to marry the person you love", who can deny that right to a brother and sister, or to an already-married man who solemnly swears he loves two women?

      And in trying to change marriage into something whose sole purpose is a societal acknowledgement of the romantic relationship between two people, you make a fundamental change. Marriage becomes inwardly, rather than outwardly-focussed. (Which matches the zeitgeist, I suppose.)

    4. Gerv, I agree that having sex a choice. Falling in love, however, is not (IMO). You can posit that one should not have sex w/ the person one has fallen in love with---but, coupled w/ the notion that one may have sex w/ person(s) one has NOT fallen in love with (persons of the opposite sex, for those w/ a homosexual orientation), we're in Cloud-Cuckoo Land.

      Failing that, we're talking about involuntary celibacy (neither having sex w/ the one that someone has fallen in love with, nor anyone else).

      I simply don't recognize an involuntary-celibacy creator [sic], with God-in-Christ.

    5. "I simply don't recognize an involuntary-celibacy creator [sic], with God-in-Christ."

      Anyone who is not married and who wants to be is "involuntarily celibate". Many people continue in this state for their entire lives - i.e. they never get married. Even if you go against Scripture and say that it's OK to have sex outside marriage, it could be that someone never finds someone else who wants to have sex with them. So what do they do? Find a prostitute? Take it by force?

      Do you agree that Jesus said the right context for sex was marriage (Matthew 19 and other places)? If so, even if one accepts homosexual marriage, not everyone is going to get married. So how does that fit with your view of God?

      How can you say God would never want to 'deny' someone the opportunity to have sex, when Jesus was celibate for his entire life?

  5. For a start I don't agree that our culture is being sold lies that we mustn't disagree with people. I don't think our culture is being sold any guff that "loving people" is incompatible with disagreeing with them. I don't think our culture is particularly interested in that issue.
    I do think our culture increasingly believe that Christians who believe and strongly express a view that same sex relationships are wrong are:
    1. Expressing opinions on other people's private lives which are largely none of their business. (I agree!)
    2. Fuelling potential hatred and discrimination - whether this is their intention or not (I agree!)
    3. Often don't seem particularly loving or Christian (sorry, but I agree.)

    In addition, from a Christian point of view, such people seem to me strangely preoccupied with the speck in their brother's eye over any planks that may be in their own. Worry about your own sins and let go of your preoccupation with the sins, imagined or otherwise, of others.

    1. > 1. Expressing opinions on other people's private lives which are
      > largely none of their business. (I agree!)

      If someone is committing adultery, is it right for a Christian to call them to stop and repent? If so, then it's not the "interfering with private lives" bit you have a problem with. If not, then you have to take up your issue with the apostle Paul. Times when he "expressed opinions on other people's private lives": Romans 1:24ff, Romans 13:13, 1 Cor 5:1-2, 1 Cor 6:9, Gal 5:19, Col 3:5, 1 Thess 4:3, 1 Tim 1:10. In 1 Cor 5:9ff he says that it's everyone else's business too.

      > 2. Fuelling potential hatred and discrimination - whether this is > their intention or not (I agree!)

      If a Christian does not show hatred, but someone else does, why is that the Christian's fault? I thought you were just telling us in point 1 that we should not take responsibility for doing something about the sins of other people?

      > 3. Often don't seem particularly loving or Christian (sorry, but I
      > agree.)

      If you think it's "not Christian" to try and explain to people that God made the world to work a certain way and true happiness is found in living in harmony with that, then clearly no-one who objects to same sex relationships will seem Christian to you. But it's quite possible to gently advise someone that their particular approach is pastorally unsound without disagreeing with the goal they are trying to achieve.

      Or actually, it "that doesn't seem loving or Christian in tone" code for "you should change your mind and agree with me"? :-)


    2. . I guess lots of people are committing adultery, but unless someone actually comes for advice to me on that matter, I don't go around denouncing them - nor do fundamentalist Christians spend much of their time condemning "all those adulterers out there", nor do they speand much time campaigning about remarriage after divorce as they do about gay people.

      2. Anyhow, as Jesus pointed out, if we look at another person in lust, we commit adultery.So- still plenty of opportunities to worry about our own sin rather than that of others.

      3. "Fuelling hatred and discrinination"- we should all take responsibility for OUR contribution to sinfulness. This is entirely a different matter from targeting a single section of a community (gay people- but let's ignore straight people who remarry) as a focus for what we perceive as sinfulness. And in any case, I don't see same sex relationships as sinful...

      4."It is quite possible to gently advise someone their particular approach is pastorally unsound" - yes of course it is. In such a situation, I guess someone has come to you for advice, of course you must and can say if you disagree with them.

      5."No-one who objects to same sex relationships will seem Christian to you".- That's not true at all! I said that "often" those who object to same sex relationships don't seem particularly loving, not "always". I know plenty of Christians that believe same sex relationships are wrong, indeed I know some gay Christians who believe the same. They often hold these views with sincerity and show great grace. This is another reason why I don't agree that our culture has told lies about how you can't agree to disagree - because that is exactly what happens in the case of most of those I know believe same sex relationships are wrong- we agree to disagree.

  6. "I guess lots of people are committing adultery, but unless someone actually comes for advice to me on that matter, I don't go around denouncing them"

    -- then you do need to take that up with the apostle Paul. Clearly un-Christian behaviour on his part. And he spent a lot of time worrying about the sins of others - you should chide him about that too.

    "nor do fundamentalist Christians spend much of their time condemning "all those adulterers out there", nor do they spend much time campaigning about remarriage after divorce as they do about gay people."

    But then, we also don't have "Adulterer's Pride" marches, a strong push in the church to bless adulterous unions, or plans to legislate so that adulterous partners are recognized as married. The church reacts to pressures in society by restating the particular truths under attack.

    Your argument from inconsistency is also another disguise; it's not the inconsistency you care about. If all the people who were campaigning against gay marriage were also trying to strengthen divorce law to make it harder to divorce, I doubt you would say "well, that's all right, then!"

    Lastly, remarriage after divorce is not wrong in all circumstances. Jesus gives one circumstance, Paul gives another, and if someone has divorced in an ungodly fashion but shows clear evidence of repentance sustained over time, and the original relationship is not restorable (e.g. the former partner has remarried themselves) it's not impossible that it would be a godly thing for their church elders to agree to a remarriage.


  7. Perhaps there aren't adulterers pride marches because adulterers haven't really faced oppression and discrimination in this country. Also, most people who are remarried after divorce, or even who are having an affair, don't think themselves as adulterers, just as married people or people facing problems in their marriage. Most people see having an affair or a marriage breaking up as something they do or which happens to them. It isn't part of their core identity! Loads of churches not only bless but also remarry the divorced, even when the divorce was not a result of the adultery of the other partner.
    No, of course I wouldn't support campaigns to strengthen divorce laws. That doesn't mean some fundamentalists aren't inconsistent on this issue though.
    I don't need to take anything up with Paul (isn't he dead anyhow?:) ) I'm pretty sure I don't I share your particular mindset about the bible. I don't believe in the biblical inerrancy but more that the bible is a collection of human perceptions, insights and revealed truths about God through the lens of particular perspectives, contexts and traditions.

    This blog post by Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network pretty much sums up how I see the "you can't love someone and disagree" line.


  8. "I don't believe in the biblical inerrancy but more that the bible is a collection of human perceptions, insights and revealed truths about God through the lens of particular perspectives, contexts and traditions."

    Well, I'm glad we got to the heart of the matter :-)

  9. Dear Gerv

    I have been reading your contributions with interest, and was particularly interested in your last repsonse to Suem.

    Do you beleive that a beleif in Biblical inerrancy is essential for Christians? I wonder about this because very few Christian churches or organisations require this of their members.

    For example, Evangelical Alliance doctrinal statement makes no reference to inerrancy in its clause on the Bible. It says, "3.The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct." As I am sure you will know that falls a long way short of inerrancy.

    You can read the full Basis of Faith on this link: http://www.eauk.org/connect/about-us/basis-of-faith.cfm

    Similarly The UCCF Doctrinal Basis (http://www.uccf.org.uk/about/doctrinal-basis.htm) stops short of requiring its members and speakers to endorse a donctine of inerrancy. Their section does include the word infallible, but as I am sure you are aware, that is not considered by evangelical theologians to be ona and the same. For example: http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/stewart.cfm?ID=798

  10. Lol- well I'm not getting started on biblical inerrancy or we'll be here forever just to discover that we disagree!
    I used to debate issues such as sexuality/ gender roles/ biblical inerrancy on conservative threads but I came to see, as Justin Lee points out,that this rarely changed anyone's mind and was more about both them and me "scoring points" - not terribly gracious or Christian!
    I was thinking one day about how, although I know and love conservative christians in "real life", many of those I met online came across to me as bitter, contemptuous, arrogant people whose faith seemed to fill them with hatred and anger. Then it occurred to me that maybe I came across that way to them too and it might be more to do with the anonymous nature of online forums and the fact we lose sight of that other person as loved by God. Anyway, I decided not to comment anymore and I don't generally now argue on those sort of threads!

    Anyhow, God bless you and fill your life with his peace and joy!