Evangelical and Gay
Fulcrum has always supported the church’s traditional stance on homosexual relationships and our position on this has not changed. However, as on other subjects, we want to encourage careful listening to other perspectives in order to make a more thoughtful response to homosexuality. The article below, which has been submitted to us, presents a thoughtful challenge to the traditional view and Fulcrum is happy to publish it in the spirit of careful listening and dialogue.
The picture accompanying the article is a representation of Jacob wrestling with God. It is intended to represent the wrestling that we all do, with God and with Scripture, in our walk with God. It is by Chris Cook and the image is used with permission.
When I was in the sixth form, there were a few people who were a bit of a puzzle. They were the people who were doing English, History and Chemistry for A Level, or Mathematics, Physics and French. They defied categorization not because they belonged to no tribe, but because they belonged to two tribes which we had always thought were mutually exclusive. In the Church of England, there are a few people who are doing the equivalent of History and Chemistry in their walk with God and God’s people. They tend to be less open about it, because, unlike at school, the tribes don’t even pretend to get on. They are the people who are evangelical and gay. I am one of those people, and it is a sign of how badly evangelicals treat gay people that I feel constrained to write anonymously. I hope you will understand.
Ironically, given how hard it is to live in both tribes, many evangelicals question the evangelicalism of people like me. That is partly because our friendships are often with liberals and catholics rather than with fellow-evangelicals: Jody Stowell, in her weblog The Radical Disciple, explains why evangelical women clergy often find themselves in liberal and catholic friendships for their support network, and the reasons are not dissimilar. Another reason for the suspicion is that sexuality has become a ‘test issue’: whereas we used to regard biblicism and crucicentrism as the markers of evangelical identity, now rejection of homosexuality has also become a marker. Most conservative evangelicals are quick to point out that this is simply a result of ‘the Bible’s clear teaching’. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It is simply that evangelicals used not to know many gay people, if any. Now that is changing, but honour seems to demand that the boundary marker remains. As anyone who is involved in evangelism will know, this is becoming a source of embarrassment for the Church, and a distraction from our mission.
Because I am an evangelical – and therefore committed to the supreme authority of the Bible – it is important to me that the Bible forms my opinions about what it is to be gay. But I cannot pretend to be straight when I read the Bible, and that means I read the text through a lens which is subtly different to the lens through which a straight man, or a woman, will read the Bible. That diversity is not a problem: it is a gift to the Church, and it helps us to see what the author is really saying. An example might help. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul is concerned about ‘cases of sexual immorality’, and, therefore, recommends that if unmarried people ‘are not practising self-control, they should marry.’ His explanation is that ‘it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion’. The teaching here is very practical: the apostle sees a problem, and recommends, ‘by way of concession’, a solution. Paul’s concern throughout 1 Corinthians is for the mission of the whole body of Christ, and it is no different here. I find it impossible to imagine Paul saying ‘It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion, unless you are gay, in which case it is better to be aflame with passion and, therefore, not a very effective participant in God’s mission to his world.’ That would undermine Paul’s whole argument. But it is the implication of traditional evangelical readings of 1 Corinthians 7.
The traditional evangelical advice to the gay person is that you must ‘not give in to the rhetoric of the gay lobby as it urges you to “come out” and accept who you are’ (Vaughan Roberts, Distinctives, p. 81). The implicit demonization of an imaginary ‘lobby’ is unfortunate. But what is more unfortunate is the idea that gay evangelicals are supposed to tell lies to other people, to themselves and to God. Roberts is right when he writes that ‘Our identity as Christians is in Christ, not in our sexuality’, but he fails to see that our new identity in Christ is what enables us to be open and honest with one another. Heterosexual people do not see their sexuality as ‘in competition’ with their Christian identity, and there is no reason why gay people should either. Indeed, to suggest that they should is extremely cruel. It leads to anxiety among gay evangelicals, and makes it difficult for them to witness to Christ. The cynic might suggest that this is the traditional evangelical aim, because heterosexual evangelical men do not want to be represented by gay people. I think it more likely – and hope – that it is actually the result of thoughtlessness.
I have deliberately avoided mentioning same-sex genital acts. The reason is that when we talk about married people, we do not suddenly imagine them having sex and then rush to affirm it as a good thing. Instead, we naturally think in terms of relationships, families and communities. There is no reason why we should think differently about gay relationships. It is tragic that so many evangelicals collude with the world in sexualizing gay people. If we could talk about love instead of about sex, we might well find that we have distinctively Christian things to say to gay people. The pastoral and missional implications would be enormously beneficial.
Living in the evangelical world and in the gay world is uncomfortable. There is no reason why it should be. There are, of course, things about both worlds which are unpleasant: bigotry in one, and promiscuity in the other. I approve of neither. What I long for is to be seen as a gift to the Church, and not one of its problems. Only then will evangelicals be able to take a proper part in the listening process, and argue for whichever position they decide is more biblical. Because it is that concern for the truth of the Bible which should drive us – not our concern for outward respectability.
The author is an Anglican priest. He trained at an evangelical college and has served in a number of settings, but now finds himself firmly in suburbia. He is single.