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On Oasis and the Evangelical Alliance

May 2, 2014

There is an expression “rushing in where angels fear to tread”, and that may describe what I am doing by wading into a very public debate – However the announcement today that Oasis have been “removed” from membership of the EA has triggered a few thoughts…

The first is that whichever side of the argument you sit on, honest debate is usually better than symbolic actions. As a church leader, very aware that (rightly or wrongly) people look to me to have certainty, I have struggled to know where to stand on the whole gay issue. There are clear lines in the sand on both sides – but they do not always leave me on the right side of the lines, which is a very uncomfortable place to be!

From what I have read of Steve’s statements and the EA statement, they are both also wanting to be in a place that embraces and accepts people for who they are, and names behaviour that will inflict harm and damage as wrong. For Steve it is better to express the inclusive nature of Jesus than to leave people in a painful place where they are isolated and rejected. For the EA it is better to draw the line and emphasize that `sin` is sin. That it is better for people to be absolutely clear about the eternal consequences of behaviour.

In reality, once you have accounted for the complexities of biblical interpretation, they are not so very far apart.

I have a friend who has children who are gay; for them church is a place where they have experienced nothing but rejection and condemnation. They feel that they could simply never go to church and be accepted, and no doubt that is no less true now today than it was before same sex marriage was legalised. For my friend there is a real heartbreak in the struggle to stand with her children, but also to belong to a church that in many other ways is accepting and positive – but not in this one!

I have another friend who is deeply worried that the legalisation of SSM is just the beginning of a process which will inevitably marginalize the church and undermine family. My friend is not generally negative and is not in any way a typical traditional conservative. But he has genuine fears.

I find myself at both ends of the scale at the same time, and believe me it is a most uncomfortable place to be: I want to lead a church that provides a genuine welcome and acceptance to everyone who may come in – whether they are gay or straight, young or old, black or white, rich or poor. I want to provide the security of a place where people can speak honestly about where they are in their journey and find help and support. I also want to lead a church that sounds a note of certainty, that isn’t a lowest common denominator, accept everything and offend no-one church. I want to be radical – to take seriously what the bible teaches and follow Jesus wholeheartedly and passionately.

But It seems that I have to choose! My gay friends will look at what the EA have done today and for them it will be a further evidence that the church is actually homophobic and hateful. I can argue otherwise, explain that that is not the whole picture, that somewhere in there is a commitment to accepting people as they are – but it simply will not be heard. Actions really do speak louder than words.

But I also want to stand firm on my belief that the bible is the ultimate rule for faith and living. I am not prepared to water down what are sometime very radical and hard words just because they are not comfortable, and if I choose to stand with Steve Chalke people will think I have done just that.

My experience is that if we accept people who are unlike us, who hold different views (wrong views) pushing them away will never resolve the issue. Backing them into a corner so they are forced to defend themselves will not challenge their beliefs  but instead reinforce them! If I have learned anything over the years it is that my behaviour and beliefs change not when people shout me down, but when God in his love invites me to become more like him.

 

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