Steve Chalke’s intervention changes the debate
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!