Peter Saunders


‘Accepting Evangelicals’ – the new ‘evangelicals’ who back same sex marriage

Peter Saunders

With the government set to debate ‘gay marriage’, I am constantly asked on social media why I cannot, like ‘other more loving and tolerant Christians’, accept same sex ‘marriage’ as an expression of love and commitment between two people of the same sex.

Several people have referred me to an article in the Independent last week titled ‘Happy and Clappy and out of the closet: Evangelicals who say gay is OK’.

The implication is that if some evangelicals are welcoming same sex marriage then evangelicalism per se should not be a barrier to others moving in the same direction.

Many of the ‘evangelicals’ featured in the article will be well known names to those who have been following the debate – Jeffrey John, Brian McLaren, Jeremy Marks, Benny Hazlehurst – and are certainly not regarded as ‘mainstream’. In fact many Christians (and non-Christians) I suspect would not consider them to be evangelicals at all.

Peter Ould has done a helpful review of the article on his blog and I won’t say more about it here but the Independent has helped to give a higher profile (at least amongst its liberal readership) to a pressure group called ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ which it describes as the ‘the prime mover in promoting pro-gay evangelicalism’.

‘Accepting Evangelicals’ has in fact been going since 2004 but on a straw poll of fellow Christians this week virtually no one I asked had actually heard of it.

On its website it claims to be an ‘open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.’

It claims to have over 540 members of whom 82% are open members whose names are listed on the site. Other members have opted to remain ‘confidential’ because they ‘are concerned that their public support would put them at risk of prejudice or discrimination‘.

Amongst the ‘open members’ are Benny Hazlehurst (pictured), who acts as secretary to the group, former Eden Baptist minister Roy Clements, ‘Courage’ founder Jeremy Marks, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow, ‘post-evangelical’ Dave Tomlinson and Oasis Trust founder Steve Chalke.

Perhaps the only surprise here to some will be Steve Chalke, although many would argue that he been moving away from an evangelical position on key biblical doctrines for some years.

The group published a position statement in summer 2012 and has a page of ‘resources’ along with four articles on the Bible and homosexuality (accessible here) written by Hazlehurst for his personal blog in 2010 and ‘adapted’ for ‘Accepting Evangelicals’.

The arguments are the usual ones – the sin of Sodom was ‘rape, inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality’ and not ‘principally about homosexuality’. The proscriptions about homosexual relations in Leviticus 18 and 20 applied to ‘idolatry and male prostitution’ and not ‘loving, committed, faithful, exclusive same-sex relationships’. Jesus said nothing about the issue and much of what Paul says in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians is ‘cultural’ or confusing and hangs on the definitions of disputed Greek words. In Romans 1 Paul ‘saw homosexual activity, alongside all the idolatry of the Greco-Roman world. It was not born out of love, or orientation, but out of pagan practices, greed, lust and abuse of power.’

The wider framework of biblical sexuality and teaching about marriage are ignored.

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Hazlehurst’s arguments have been ably refuted in a variety of recent works, and most recently in the Evangelical Alliance’s summer 2012 publication ‘Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality’ which is available on the EA website and summarised here.

His whole argument is aimed at creating a case for marriage for those who exhibit ‘the self-giving love that we observe today between people of the same sex who genuinely love each other and want to commit their lives to each other before God’.

These people, we are told, are ‘prayerful, devout, committed Christians, worshipping God faithfully, and giving him the glory’.

To become a member there is no declaration to sign, just an affirmation that the member is ‘happy to be publicly associated with Accepting Evangelicals’.

I suspect we will hear much more of this group over the coming weeks and months and the liberal press will no doubt be only too obliging in making each new high profile ‘member’ into a news story.

I remain unconvinced.

Biblical teaching on homosexuality is very clear and liberal ‘Christians’ and secularists are thankfully much more honest about taking the words as they are written rather than trying to contort them to accommodate the special case.

The Evangelical Alliance’s recent book and another recent CMF publication on ‘Unwanted same sex attraction’ are careful to major on the pastoral issues faced in trying to help those who experience same sex erotic attraction or recognise that they have a homosexual orientation and I have myself written on this before.

But I am left wondering how many of this group are actually true evangelicals.

The key evangelical distinctives are the need for personal conversion, a high regard for biblical authority, an emphasis on the saving death and resurrection of Christ and an active obedience to and proclamation of the gospel.

David Bebbington has termed this ‘quadrilateral of priorities’ conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism.

‘Accepting Evangelicals’ it seems to me undermine all four.

There is highly suspect exposition of the Bible, selective obedience to biblical teaching, an unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel and an inadequate understanding of what Jesus’ death and resurrection has achieved in helping believers to die to self, live as redeemed creatures in the power of the Holy Spirit and to resist temptation.

Richard Lovelace wrote in his classic work 'Homosexuality and the Church' in 1978 that he saw the growing acceptance of homosexual practice within the church as due to a ‘false religion’ opposed to biblical revelation and the authority of Scripture, an ‘antinomian ethic’ that undercuts the balance between law and Gospel, a ‘cheap grace’ that ignores repentance and a ‘powerless grace’ that denies the possibility of change.

This remains, in my view, an accurate assessment.

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