Saturday, 12 January 2013

‘Accepting Evangelicals’ – the new ‘evangelicals’ who back same sex marriage

With the government set to debate ‘gay marriage’, I am constantly asked on social media why I cannot, like ‘other more loving and tolerant Christians’, accept same sex ‘marriage’ as an expression of love and commitment between two people of the same sex.

Several people have referred me to an article in the Independent last week titled ‘Happy and Clappy and out of the closet: Evangelicals who say gay is OK’.

The implication is that if some evangelicals are welcoming same sex marriage then evangelicalism per se should not be a barrier to others moving in the same direction.

Many of the ‘evangelicals’ featured in the article will be well known names to those who have been following the debate – Jeffrey John, Brian McLaren, Jeremy Marks, Benny Hazlehurst – and are certainly not regarded as ‘mainstream’. In fact many Christians (and non-Christians) I suspect would not consider them to be evangelicals at all.

Peter Ould has done a helpful review of the article on his blog and I won’t say more about it here but the Independent has helped to give a higher profile (at least amongst its liberal readership) to a pressure group called ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ which it describes as the ‘the prime mover in promoting pro-gay evangelicalism’.

‘Accepting Evangelicals’ has in fact been going since 2004 but on a straw poll of fellow Christians this week virtually no one I asked had actually heard of it.

On its website it claims to be an ‘open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.’

It claims to have over 540 members of whom 82% are open members whose names are listed on the site. Other members have opted to remain ‘confidential’ because they ‘are concerned that their public support would put them at risk of prejudice or discrimination‘.

Amongst the ‘open members’ are Benny Hazlehurst (pictured), who acts as secretary to the group, former Eden Baptist minister Roy Clements, ‘Courage’ founder Jeremy Marks, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow, ‘post-evangelical’ Dave Tomlinson and Oasis Trust founder Steve Chalke.

Perhaps the only surprise here to some will be Steve Chalke, although many would argue that he been moving away from an evangelical position on key biblical doctrines for some years.

The group published a position statement in summer 2012 and has a page of ‘resources’ along with four articles on the Bible and homosexuality (accessible here) written by Hazlehurst for his personal blog in 2010 and ‘adapted’ for ‘Accepting Evangelicals’.

The arguments are the usual ones – the sin of Sodom was ‘rape, inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality’ and not ‘principally about homosexuality’. The proscriptions about homosexual relations in Leviticus 18 and 20 applied to ‘idolatry and male prostitution’ and not ‘loving, committed, faithful, exclusive same-sex relationships’. Jesus said nothing about the issue and much of what Paul says in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians is ‘cultural’ or confusing and hangs on the definitions of disputed Greek words. In Romans 1 Paul ‘saw homosexual activity, alongside all the idolatry of the Greco-Roman world. It was not born out of love, or orientation, but out of pagan practices, greed, lust and abuse of power.’

The wider framework of biblical sexuality and teaching about marriage are ignored.

Hazlehurst’s arguments have been ably refuted in a variety of recent works, and most recently in the Evangelical Alliance’s summer 2012 publication ‘Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality’ which is available on the EA website and summarised here.

His whole argument is aimed at creating a case for marriage for those who exhibit ‘the self-giving love that we observe today between people of the same sex who genuinely love each other and want to commit their lives to each other before God’.

These people, we are told, are ‘prayerful, devout, committed Christians, worshipping God faithfully, and giving him the glory’.

To become a member there is no declaration to sign, just an affirmation that the member is ‘happy to be publicly associated with Accepting Evangelicals’.

I suspect we will hear much more of this group over the coming weeks and months and the liberal press will no doubt be only too obliging in making each new high profile ‘member’ into a news story.

I remain unconvinced.

Biblical teaching on homosexuality is very clear and liberal ‘Christians’ and secularists are thankfully much more honest about taking the words as they are written rather than trying to contort them to accommodate the special case.

The Evangelical Alliance’s recent book and another recent CMF publication on ‘Unwanted same sex attraction’ are careful to major on the pastoral issues faced in trying to help those who experience same sex erotic attraction or recognise that they have a homosexual orientation and I have myself written on this before.

But I am left wondering how many of this group are actually true evangelicals.

The key evangelical distinctives are the need for personal conversion, a high regard for biblical authority, an emphasis on the saving death and resurrection of Christ and an active obedience to and proclamation of the gospel.

David Bebbington has termed this ‘quadrilateral of priorities’ conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism.

‘Accepting Evangelicals’ it seems to me undermine all four.

There is highly suspect exposition of the Bible, selective obedience to biblical teaching, an unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel and an inadequate understanding of what Jesus’ death and resurrection has achieved in helping believers to die to self, live as redeemed creatures in the power of the Holy Spirit and to resist temptation.

Richard Lovelace wrote in his classic work 'Homosexuality and the Church' in 1978 that he saw the growing acceptance of homosexual practice within the church as due to a ‘false religion’ opposed to biblical revelation and the authority of Scripture, an ‘antinomian ethic’ that undercuts the balance between law and Gospel, a ‘cheap grace’ that ignores repentance and a ‘powerless grace’ that denies the possibility of change.

This remains, in my view, an accurate assessment.


  1. Funny how they think that Evangelical means you have more than just the Bible as your authority

  2. I met Jeremy in 1988 when we attended the same church near Harrow and still remember the conversation we had concerning his new project called Courage.
    His present hope that the younger evangelicals will lead a paradigm shift in sexual ethics that will save their churches from extinction is not well grounded. Younger evangelicals grow up and are less formed by the zeitgeist and more by Christianity in the process.
    And it is the churches that are grounded in the historic Christian worldview that are growing strong.
    Even recent history has taught us that world pleasing post-modern theology leads to churches that are - to use the title of a John Cale song 'Dying On The Vine'.

    1. Very interesting. Here is the press release issued jointly by Courage and EA at the time of Courage's resignation from EA over this very issue.


    2. Clearly there is a problem in "working at the sharp end" when you fail to apply the clear teaching of Scripture at every point.

  3. There is a lot of woolliness around about this issue amongst evangelicals.

    Research by the Evangelical Alliance published in January 2011 found that 27% of Evangelical Christians declined to agree with the statement that 'Homosexual actions are always wrong'. Of these, 16% actively disagreed, and 11% were unsure.

    The survey was conducted among Festival goers at events like Spring Harvest and New Wine so these were not uncommitted people. Probably a good reflection of the standard of teaching in many 'evangelical' churches.

  4. Very well put Peter. I am homosceptic and proud.

  5. "Probably a good reflection of the standard of teaching in many 'evangelical' churches."

    I think it is one of those issues that tends to be avoided. So many young Christians will form their views on it through watching Glee.

    1. Yes I agree. There are of course many evangelicals who would hold the orthodox view that sex is for marriage between a man and a woman only but who would never express that view publicly. I think that is a big part of the problem.

  6. Thanks Peter for this article. I agree entirely that the standard of teaching in many 'evangelical' churches is low, and I say this as a trained theologian. My own opinion is that this is due to the problems caused over a century ago with evangelicals turning away from theological scholarship in the face of the onslaught of Darwinism and source criticism of the Old Testament in the mainline church colleges. Oswald T. Allis, the American presbyterian, warned in his book 'The Five Books of Moses', one of the best modern defences of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch )what Jesus believed, after all) that denying that Moses wrote the Pentateuch would lead the churches to condone sin, especially sexual sin. Not one British evangelical I know has realised this. Allis was right. Source critics have fiddled with the dating and order of the OT books, so that Genesis 1 isn't considered older and therefore truly standing at the beginning of Scripture. It's in Genesis 1 that we have 'male and female He created them' and 'be fruitful and multiply'. The earliest source critics were mostly Deists and Freemasons, and they are the true forerunners of the male homosexual lobby in the protestant churches. A lot of them were unmarried men who lived dissolute lives. I could go on for ages, as this is an area of professional research for me, but let me just say this. What evangelicals need is to recover the tradition of prophecy, discerning the signs of the times and holding fast to what Jesus Himself believed about the Old Testament as God's Word Written. In all my time in evangelical congregations first in the Anglican church and now in another mainline reformed denomination, I have never heard anyone make these arguments. They are well-known to American evangelicals, but the British free churches were too cowardly and snobbish and wishing to ape the Anglicans to form a real Fundamentalist movement. We are now reaping what our anti-intellectual forefathers sowed a century ago.

    1. Yes I'm sure that a lack of Jesus' confidence in the Pentateuch has not helped and I agree that source criticism and Darwinism have been the major wreckers.

      I think that Fletcher's situation ethics has also had a detrimental effect with its teaching that OT moral law can be dispensed with in certain situations justified by the higher principle of love.

      I'm going to blog about this shortly. Just looking currently at the 2011 EA survey on abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality which are most revealing.

  7. The main problem I think is the message the public receive from certain sections of the church is that "God hates gays". These misguided Christians portray homosexuality as being the 'sin-of-sins': some kind of unforgivable, unredeemable sin. We must be clear that this is not the gospel.

    As Evangelicals we must turn the tide (and message!) so people here the authentic gospel: God loves sinners (gays included) and sent His son in order to be reconciled to them. The truth is, though churches may not be full of gays, they are full of people whose lives were and are full of sin. People who realise their need for a Saviour God.

    Church doors and Christian arms need to be open for gays to come and hear the gospel and begin to work through what this radical message means for them. People are not changed by hearing "HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN!!" they are changed by understanding God's love for them and accepting Him into their lives.

  8. It's so sad what's happened to Steve Chalke. Seems to happen to
    Christians who become popular with the press.

  9. God's standards never change. The wages of all types of sin, (including homosexuality) is death, both physical and spiritual. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah... Repentance and putting our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour however leads to forgiveness and abundant life, now and forever. That is the Good News and the truth of Yeshua, and that is the basis of authentic evangelism, never to be diluted. Indeed, anything else is not Agape Love. I hope the Accepting Evangelicals will listen reflectively...

  10. The problem is as Pete says is that 'accepting evangelicals' aren't really evangelicals at all. We should read Romans carefully here - Paul clearly says that God has given people over to homosexuality and other sins, and to the approval and applauding of these sins, as a punishment for disbelieving in Him and believing in an idol of their own making. Theology is the bottom line here. The 'accepting evangelicals' don't really accept the true nature of God or penal substitutionary atonement - and as such, they cannot either accept the 'Full Gospel' view that healing is also derived from Christ's atonement. (Yet again an issue around what Jesus believed about the OT. The doctrine of penal substitution and healing from the atonement clearly flow from Isaiah 53-54 being taken as divine prophecy spoken through Isaiah by the apostles who wrote the New Testament. Jesus believed that Isaiah wrote Isaiah 40-66. Biblical critics don't. Do we believe God's words as Jesus did, or not? It's *impossible*for people to repent of accepting sin unless they first repent of deliberately making God in their own image. By the same token, we will never see churchgoers repent of supporting abortion, euthanasia, gambling and so on unless there is first a tidal wave of repentance towards orthodox doctrine.

  11. "God so LOVED the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, so that all who BELIEVE in Him might have eternal life"

    Jesus did not come to save THE GOOD, but SINNERS (who believe in God's goodness and mercy) calling all of us to repentance. One of our worst sins - in the Church - is our all-too-ready judgement of others - observing the mote in others' eyes while ignoring the plank in our own. "Judge not, that you be not judged!"

    1. I think we need to be very careful here.

      The Bible makes it very clear that it is actually our responsibility to judge those within the church - see 1 Corinthians 5:12,13 - and that the practice or teaching of sexual immorality should not be tolerated - see letters to Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2.

      Of course we need to watch ourselves first and to make sure that we are not equally guilty or proud but bringing other Christians back from error is a Christian duty - Luke 17:3, 4 and James 5:19,20.

      It is precisely the failure of churches to deal effectively with this issue that has led to the current situation.

    2. I wonder if the fact that many evangelical churches seem to apply one standard to 'clear' biblical teaching and traditional church practice on divorce and a very different one to homosexuality is an issue here too.

  12. Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your article. Although you appear to have come to the conclusion that I am not a evangelical, I am very happy to affirm the 'quadrilateral' you mention as the mark of a true ewvangelical. Namely...

    "The key evangelical distinctives are the need for personal conversion, a high regard for biblical authority, an emphasis on the saving death and resurrection of Christ and an active obedience to and proclamation of the gospel."

    Indeed these are the driving force behind my life, faith and ministry.

    Any difference does not come from these corner-stones - it comes from our interpretation of the Scripture we read.

    This, of course, is nothing new. Evangelicals have disagreed over the interpretation of Scripture many times.

    The Northern and Southern Baptist Churches split from each other at the time of the American Civil War on their interpretation of Scripture in regard to slavery. The Southern Baptists held that Scripture unheld (and even ordained) slavery. The Northern Baptists took a different view.

    Today it would be difficult to find evangelicals who would claim that Scripture supports slavery.

    Perhaps the same will also be true in 100 years in relation to the issue of sexuality.

    1. I think you need to reckon with the idea that some interpretations are wrong. It is not a good enough defence to say "Evangelicals have disagreed over the interpretation of Scripture many times." Some of those interpretations have been wrong.

      As a Christian who struggles with Same Sex Attraction, I know my desires are a result of the fall, a particular struggle God has given to me, for his glory. The cross I bear (and every Christian bears) is to sacrifice our own desires to follow the King.

      With all due respect, you cannot read scripture honestly and say you come to a different conclusion.


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Bless you Ryan, for speaking the Truth in Agape Love, and may God's grace be truly sufficient for you always in Jesus Name - Amen...


    4. The use of the beliefs of such a sub-set who advocated slavery adds no authenticity to the position that they represented the biblical position or the truth of the Christian position. Such a reductionist idea that one can understand the truth view of the universal Church by examining a small part of is just that, reductionist and services just the view that is propounded. The assembling of small pieces in other words does not necessarily and does not in this case explain the whole.

      Dinesh D'Souza delivered a speech on September 16th, 2008 at Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Colorado Springs entitled

      Created Equal: How Christianity Shaped The West

      Here is something of what he wrote there.

      “ Then there is slavery, a favorite topic for the new atheist writers. "Consult the Bible," Sam Harris writes in Letter to a Christian Nation, "and you will discover that the creator of the universe clearly expects us to keep slaves." Steven Weinberg notes that "Christianity ... lived comfortably with slavery for many centuries." Nor are they the first to fault Christianity for its alleged approval of slavery. But we must remember that slavery pre-dated Christianity by centuries and even millennia. It was widely practiced in the ancient world, from China and India to Greece and Rome. Most cultures regarded it as an indispensable institution, like the family. Sociologist Orlando Patterson has noted that for centuries, slavery needed no defenders because it had no critics.

      But Christianity, from its very beginning, discouraged the enslavement of fellow Christians. We read in one of Paul's letters that Paul himself interceded with a master named Philemon on behalf of his runaway slave, and encouraged Philemon to think of his slave as a brother instead. Confronted with the question of how a slave can also be a brother, Christians began to regard slavery as indefensible. As a result, slavery withered throughout medieval Christendom and was eventually replaced by serfdom. While slaves were "human tools," serfs had rights of marriage, contract, and property ownership that were legally enforceable. And of course serfdom itself would eventually collapse under the weight of the argument for human dignity.

      Moreover, politically active Christians were at the forefront of the modern anti-slavery movement. In England, William Wilberforce spearheaded a campaign that began with almost no support and was driven entirely by his Christian convictions -- a story powerfully told in the recent film Amazing Grace. Eventually Wilberforce triumphed, and in 1833 slavery was outlawed in Britain. Pressed by religious groups at home, England then took the lead in repressing the slave trade abroad….”

  13. Two questions are often conflated in this debate:
    1. Is homosexual activity sin?
    2. Should the legal institution of marriage include same-sex couples?

    Many assume that if the answer to 1 is “yes” then the answer to 2 must be “no”. But the relationship between law and sin is complex. The Taliban (and members of its Christian equivalent) may disagree, but I believe that there are sins that should be illegal (such as murder, rape and theft) and sins that should not be illegal (such as pride, lust and jealousy). In 1967 UK society decided that homosexual activity between consenting adults should be moved from one category to the other.

    Some Christians would like to establish and maintain righteousness through laws based on biblical principles. But the imposition of righteousness through law is merely building Christendom, not the Kingdom of God. We can’t legislate people into the Kingdom of God, we have to love them in. So if we Evangelical Christians join forces with traditionalists (and, yes, some homophobic bigots too) to oppose gay marriage and we prevail, what will we have achieved? Will it result in less sin? Probably not. Will it result in the church still being seen as traditionalist and homophobic? Probably. Will it build the Kingdom of God? Probably not.

    The Bible gives us a clear answer to question 1, but that should not lead us to jump to conclusions about the answer to question 2.

  14. The physicist Steven Weinberg said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

    He went on to give examples where dogmatic religious belief had made people’s behaviour worse:

    “Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will.”

    I believe that the problem with religion comes when it is regarded as an inflexible set of rules and commandments that have been revealed by God and must be believed on faith. When this happens, the adherents become like the Pharisees: obeying the letter of the law, but being light years away from spiritual enlightenment, and devoid of wisdom and compassion.

    For many people, the world religions are a vehicle within which they make spiritual progress, despite the dogmatic errors. Many such people refuse to believe all they are told to believe by their church hierarchies. But to suggest that dogmatic religion is innocent in the corruption it continues to cause in people’s beliefs and behaviour, is very much misguided.

    A case in point it the misery that orthodox evangelical Christianity has caused to gay and lesbian people. Some evangelical Christians even advocate recriminalising homosexuality: a policy that not even the British National Party supports.

    There is usually little point in arguing with people whose minds are locked in a closed religious system, where any strong counter-argument to their orthodoxy must be rejected as deceit by Satan instead of properly considered. I do hope, though, that gay and lesbian people who get drawn into fundamentalist homophobic evangelical fanaticism, will in the course of time find both their reason and their life experience prising them away from a belief system and cult-like community that will simply have the effect of wasting their lives, damaging their self-esteem and self-confidence, and replacing their chances of a life of love, happiness and emotional security, with a life of internal struggle and anguish, self-deprecation, guilt, anxiety, and loneliness, while they watch their heterosexual counterparts in the church flourish in their own romantic and sexual relationships.


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