Evangelical world today? I


‘Change is on the way, nonetheless. The refusal of a mature debate on sexuality is being questioned and jettisoned in many parts of the evangelical world: among young people involved in fresh “emerging” forms of church life, in discussions at festivals like Greenbelt, and even in the counsels of the heartlands.’ Simon Barrow  Ekklesia

If readers have been tracking the latest ideological trajectories in blogworld and on news sites, they well might wonder at what is occurring in the wider evangelical world today. A very important article (’An evangelical change of heart on sexuality’) was written last week by Ekklesia’s Co-Director, Simon Barrow, which signalled the enormity and seriousness of the issue. A version of the Ekklesia article was also reproduced in the Guardian and can be viewed here (’Evangelicals who love their gay neighbours’). Along with countless others, many ex-evangelicals have changed their sexual ethics and it would appear that not a few evangelicals are joining them.  Simon is transparent about what his concept of ’love’ actually entails – which is very illuminative – and which is not what historic Christianity has maintained over the millenia.  Using as his springboard the EA’s press release, Simon goes on to say (and I quote from the Ekklesia article)
This week, four [sic] evangelical organisations joined together to remind their fellow “Bible people” that opposing hate speech and hate crimes against homosexual people – in this case the antics of the bizarre Westboro Baptist sect – means too little if you are simultaneously defending forms of prejudice and discrimination within your own communities.
The prime mover in this, Accepting Evangelicals, is a network of Christians who take the Bible with great seriousness, but who argue that what the handful of verses deployed by anti-gay campaigners address is not modern same-sex relationships built on mutual commitment and self-giving love, but practices of pederasty, cultic prostitution and abuse in very different cultural and religious contexts.
They are supported in this view by considerable biblical scholarship and by Christians of other stripes who share the conviction that being followers of Jesus in the modern world involves responsible freedom not backward-looking fear.
The recent statement was also signed by the Network of Baptists Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians, the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, Ekklesia (which has many evangelicals on board), and by Courage UK – an organisation that started out as an “ex-gay” ministry but which has now shifted towards acceptance and inclusion as a Gospel imperative …
It is strange indeed that opposition to same-sex relationships has become a litmus test for a certain kind of orthodoxy in some evangelical circles, despite the fact that Christ said nothing about it. On the contrary, he deliberately breached religious taboos against groups ostracised by the establishment, and he upheld actions like forgiveness and economic sharing as signs of authentic discipleship – not culture-based religious restrictions.
Change is on the way, nonetheless. The refusal of a mature debate on sexuality is being questioned and jettisoned in many parts of the evangelical world: among young people involved in fresh “emerging” forms of church life, in discussions at festivals like Greenbelt, and even in the counsels of the heartlands.
Last November the highly respected Richard Cizik resigned as vice president for governmental affairs with the 50 million-strong National Association of Evangelicals in the USA, following uproar over his comments that he is shifting his views on same-sex unions.
Many privately expressed agreement with Cizik. Influential evangelical leaders Tony and Peggy Campolo have publicly debated the homosexuality issue, with Peggy moving to an openly affirming position.
In Britain, pro-gay evangelicals have also been “coming out”. A few years ago veteran Methodist preacher George Hopper published an online book that sums up the difficulty of the shift, but also its hopefulness. It is called Reluctant Journey – A pilgrimage of faith from homophobia to Christian love.
The struggle against anti-gay prejudice is not just a church one. In pubs, in tabloid newspapers, in homes and workplaces, rejection lurks behind thin facades of liberalism.
Evangelical Christians are deeply immersed in the problem. But if they learn from their history and re-read the biblical message in the light of its living centre, Christ, they can be part of a historic change.
Part II follows shortly.  Lisa Severine Nolland
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