Steve Chalke’s in­ter­ven­tion changes the de­bate

The Church of England - - LETTERS -

Sir, Steve Chalke’s con­tri­bu­tion to the sex­u­al­ity de­bate marks a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in the evan­gel­i­cal de­bate on this cru­cial mat­ter. As read­ers will know, in my let­ters I have changed po­si­tion sev­eral times on this mat­ter over re­cent years, and even dur­ing the writ­ing of my let­ters. On one side we need faith­ful­ness to scrip­ture and the the­ol­ogy of con­ver­sion. On the other side, com­pas­sion for gay and les­bian peo­ple who clearly are not choos­ing their sex­u­al­ity. For many of th­ese cou­ples celibacy is too hard a choice. Steve is right that many have felt out­side the scope of the gospel’s mes­sage and that the church is fail­ing this sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of our com­mu­nity.

I still have not my­self reached my fi­nal con­clu­sions on this mat­ter but would like to men­tion that maybe we need two the­olo­gies as a church. A the­ol­ogy of wel­come, and a the­ol­ogy of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Steve Chalke’s ap­proach means that the gay and les­bian com­mu­ni­ties, prom­i­nent features of Lon­don life, are be­gin­ning to find faith in Christ. Surely all churches need to adopt his en­thu­si­asm and love for gay and les­bian peo­ple, rather than, as is so of­ten, the dark pietis­tic ap­proach of the New Tes­ta­ment Pharisee, which un­der­mines the mes­sage of Je­sus’ love. Churches that only at­tract het­ero­sex­ual peo­ple are clearly do­ing some­thing wrong.

In terms of a the­ol­ogy of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion - here I am still work­ing out my po­si­tion. It might (and I agree more work needs to be done here) be pos­si­ble to af­firm a gay or les­bian cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship whilst still mak­ing it clear that sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion leads to celibacy ul­ti­mately. This may seem il­log­i­cal, but not if we un­der­stand that the path to celibacy for the gay or les­bian Chris­tian is usu­ally one that hap­pens over time, through the power of the Holy Spirit work­ing within the hu­man heart. The bless­ing of a re­la­tion­ship would sym­bol­ise wel­come and in­clu­sion and ac­cep­tance for all that is good in the re­la­tion­ship - monog­a­mous, faith­ful com­mit­ment and love. For this the­ol­ogy to work, we would need to take the view that a prac­ti­cis­ing gay cou­ple who be­lieve in the gospel are still saved and re­deemed, de­spite our reser­va­tions over sex­ual prac­tise. My ex­pe­ri­ence of prac­tis­ing gay and les­bian cou­ples in the church is that they sound saved, they be­have saved and they ex­ude the Holy Spirit - they are saved as far as I am con­cerned. I ad­mit this is messy the­ol­ogy, but didn’t Je­sus con­demn the cold, un­flinch­ing the­ol­ogy of the Pharisees who ex­cluded rather than in­cluded?

I only put this for­ward as a ques­tion. What I must do is ap­plaud the warmth of Steve Chalke’s ap­proach to this vi­tal sec­tion of our so­ci­ety, with all the im­pact on mis­sion that it un­doubt­edly brings with it. The Rev Simon Til­lot­son, Whit­stable Foot­note: Since send­ing this let­ter I have had crit­i­cism that I am chang­ing my po­si­tion too much on this is­sue. I think this crit­i­cism is coming from the fact that many have now adopted fun­da­men­tal­ist at­ti­tudes on this topic, (both evan­gel­i­cal and lib­eral), mainly due to the geo-po­lit­i­cal war that is go­ing on around the topic. Any­one in the cen­tre who has yet to come to a firm mind, or who changes their mind, is a chal­lenge there­fore. Only stern fun­da­men­tal­ists feel threat­ened by peo­ple who change their views on such a com­plex is­sue as they feel that there is only one pos­si­ble po­si­tion and to pre­var­i­cate is to di­min­ish the im­por­tance of the mat­ter. Ac­tu­ally there are many who change their minds on this topic, or are as yet un­sure on what the Holy Spirit is say­ing. Per­haps if we all learned a bit more mu­tual re­spect and love for our dif­fer­ing po­si­tions, and even a sense of hu­mour from time to time, as op­posed to hate and dis­dain, pre­var­i­ca­tors like me would speak prophet­i­cally from the cen­tre of the de­bate with a lit­tle more ef­fect, rather than be­ing ap­par­ent lone voices in the wilder­ness!

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