Accepting Evangelicals

Accepting Evangelicals

I feel strongly that OneBodyOneFaith speaks for and speaks to its allies. By allies I mean those who are not themselves LGBT+ but who back the call for the Churches to adopt a policy of full inclusion of LGBT+ members, both clergy and lay, and who support all you do for the well-being of those who are LGBT+.

Those allies include a good number of evangelicals. Although bodies such as CEEC (Church of England Evangelical Council), and doubtless similar groupings in other denominations, are strongly opposed to inclusion, and often fight against the moves towards inclusion that are being seen in various Churches, yet there are many who describe themselves as evangelicals who take a very different view. So, for example, in the Church Times of 3rd March 2023, following the General Synod’s decisions resulting from the Living in Love and Faith debate, the Archdeacons of Sheffield and Rotherham, of Dudley, and of Knowsley and Sefton, and 15 others wrote as evangelical members of the Synod to distance themselves from the views expressed by CEEC.

For my own part, I thank God for the foundations of my Christian faith and life that were laid in a good evangelical church in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Though I now minister (retired, sort of!) in a group of parishes in South Devon that does not stand for a particular tradition, and though I seldom find the need to announce myself as an evangelical, yet that remains the basic stable from which I come.

In my early years of ordained ministry I took what at the time could be described as the default view, that sex should be for heterosexual marriage only and that gay people who could not sustain a heterosexual relationship should be celibate. I then moved through questioning that approach to a position of accepting and supporting committed same-sex relationships, especially as expressed in partnership, and finally to fully supporting same-sex marriage.

In 2007 I came across a group called Accepting Evangelicals, and joined as an open member, i.e. I added my name to a list that could be seen online. At its peak I think there were nearly 1,000 members. However, it was a group that sometimes seemed to struggle to make any big impact and in 2021 it merged into OneBodyOneFaith. 

That was a decision that made considerable sense in many ways, but my fear is that since then the distinctive evangelical voice has been somewhat lost within OneBodyOneFaith, and that nothing has been said that directly speaks to both the evangelicals who may have come to OneBodyOneFaith from Accepting Evangelicals, or that directly speaks to the wider evangelical constituency, (as does the letter from the evangelical General Synod members referred to above).

Of course, one thing that evangelicals are very hot on is scripture. As an evangelical I feel that the examination of scripture in Living in Love and Faith was too limited and shallow. And I don’t only mean examination of the classic texts. Luke Dowding has very kindly told me about Jonathan Tallon’s, which has a very helpful examination of the classic texts in their cultural context. But an accepting evangelical wants more – there needs to be a positive scriptural arguing for the rightness of committed same-sex relationships, not just an examination of the texts against.

Now of course there are no specific biblical texts that can be quoted, (any more than we can quote specific texts to back democracy or to declare slavery to be an unmitigated evil). But one can seek for principles that apply. For me the starting point is to consider our present position – major change is being suggested in an important area of teaching, (and it’s because it is major change and an important area that we are having such a big debate in the Churches). Can we find similar situations in the New Testament, and see how they are handled? I believe there are three parallels – the early Church dealing with the issue of circumcision and the wider keeping of the Jewish law, culminating in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15); Jesus dealing with the food laws (Mark 7, especially verses 14-19); and Jesus dealing with the Sabbath law (in several passages in all the Gospels). All of these involved major change in important areas of teaching. To my mind these yield vital principles that are relevant to the support of an accepting position. And it would be good to see these passages and the resulting principles being explored more in evangelical circles.

But that perhaps is material for another blog or article!

George Day, Member