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ROY CLEMENTS ARCHIVE

Cast Out

After a lengthy wait, the Evangelical Alliance has at last delivered its verdict on Courage, an organisation which offers pastoral care to homosexual Christians.

(N.B. The Press Release is appended to this article.)

Make no mistake about it: Courage did not jump, it was pushed. Jeremy Marks graciously agreed to resign Courage’s membership at the EA’s insistence. This sad refusal on the EA’s part to countenance any diversity of opinion on the gay issue raises any number of questions. I have outlined some of these in my essay entitled "Why evangelicals must think again". (http://www.courage.org.uk/articles/article.asp?id=136)  Here I simply wish to reiterate some of those points with particular reference to two features of the press release: the texts and the commentary.

THE TEXTS :

At the end of the press release the EA inserts two quotations from the New Testament to support its position:

"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with other women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." (Romans 1: 26-27)

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

THE COMMENTARY :

Joel Edwards, the General Director of EA, presumably has these two texts mind when he comments:

"The key issue that divides Courage from the Alliance is how the Bible should be expounded and used. We cannot accept the contention that all references to homosexuality in the Bible are in the context of abusive relationships and are therefore irrelevant in the current debate. Apparent silence on a particular issue in scripture—such as long term, loving, same sex relationships—cannot with integrity be invoked alongside private judgement and an appeal to conscience as a valid basis for permitting practices which are condemned in the Bible whenever and wherever they are mentioned."

The "key issue"—biblical interpretation

So the key issue is biblical interpretation. I could not agree more. The EA insists that the biblical texts it quotes clearly and indisputably refer to any and every kind of homosexual act. So convinced is the EA of the infallibility of its hermeneutic skills on this point that they are prepared to eject Jeremy Marks and Courage from their membership for daring to dissent.

But wise heads on the Council of EA know that biblical interpretation is not always as straightforward as bigots pretend. Let me remind them of a few features of the way evangelicals have interpreted the Bible in recent years.

We interpret the Bible in the light of our Christian experience

Many of us remember with pain and embarrassment the controversies that marred the early days of the charismatic renewal movement in the UK. On one hand, many prominent evangelicals, including John Stott, were convinced cessationists who held that neo-

pentecostal talk about "the gift of tongues" and "baptism in the Spirit" was a dangerous abuse of the Bible. On the other hand, the Fountain Trust played a major role in seeking to establish charismatic renewal within the mainstream of evangelical church life. Within twenty years the Fountain Trust had clearly won the day. It did so because evangelicals realised that the spiritual experience of the charismatics among them was real. It was quite impossible to dismiss them as demonic heretics.

Now, if the two texts quoted in the press release are to be understood as the EA insists, then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that any kind of homosexual activity is not only wrong, it is incompatible with salvation. All practising gay people must be God-forsaken, lust-obsessed reprobates (Romans 1) and hell-bound (I Corinthians 6).

Does the EA really believe that the members of Courage are in such a spiritually apostate condition? Does their experience of gay Christians confirm such a damning verdict?

The fact is, of course, that hundreds of gay Christians are doctrinally orthodox believers who, apart from this one controversial aspect of their private lives, display indisputable piety and holiness. I can personally testify that many of them pray, study their Bibles, love their neighbour and generally grow in godliness in an exemplary manner which any minister would be proud to observe in his flock. Not a few have experienced charismatic renewal and demonstrate the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Some have (or have had) fruitful ministries as evangelists and pastors.

The EA can only maintain its exegesis of these texts by a blinkered refusal to admit the evidence of God’s work in the lives of gay Christians.

One is tempted to ask, as Peter did regarding the uncircumcised Gentile converts who were in danger of being disowned by the Jewish Christian majority (Acts 10:47): who dares to exclude those in whom the Holy Spirit is clearly at work?

We interpret the Bible in the light of our advancing knowledge

What is a homosexual? The Christian debate centres around three differing views of homosexuality:

View 1 : a crime

A person who chooses to commit certain kinds of acts which are immoral and (in some societies) illegal: similar "crime" words—thief, rapist, prostitute.

Rational Response—punitive

View 2 : a disease

A person suffering from a form of involuntary illness caused by physiological or psychological abnormality: similar "disease" words—diabetic, epileptic, klepto-maniac.

Rational Response—therapeutic

View 3 : an identity

A person whose innate psychosexual responses are oriented towards members of their own sex rather than members of the opposite sex: similar "identity" words —negro, woman, jew.

Rational Response—tolerant

The traditional evangelical line is predicated on View 1. This had been the dominant view in Western society for many centuries and, as with slavery and the oppression of women, the Church’s view echoed secular prejudice. The last fifty years, however, has witnessed a substantial change in public opinion in the direction of View 3.

It is true, of course, that some elements in our society have resisted this liberalising trend. They wish to decriminalise homosexual acts, on the utilitarian grounds that they do no harm, and yet are reluctant to accept that being gay is an example of natural human diversity. Such moderate conservatives often endorse View 2 and suggest that homosexuals need some form of therapy. Many evangelicals in the last couple of decades have supported so-called Ex-Gay organisations which have moved in this direction, offering either psychological counselling or supernatural deliverance.

So which of these three views does the EA now believe is right?

An enormous amount still remains to be learned about the phenomenon of homosexuality, but a substantial amount of evidence is accumulating which supports View 3. The vast majority of gay men and women do not feel that they have chosen to be homosexual, any more than straight people feel they have chosen to be heterosexual. What is more, those who have tried re-orientation therapy have usually found it ineffective. Although its precise nature is still a matter of controversy, there is general agreement across all the scientific disciplines that there is some kind of factor, perhaps pre-natal, developmental or even genetic, which predisposes certain individuals towards homosexuality. As a result, sexual orientation is innate and immutable. This is why programmes designed to "correct" it have such an abysmally low success record. The best "therapy" can hope to achieve is the temporary modification of behaviour tied to the promise of rewards or the threat of punishment.

These I suggest are the facts and recent public pronouncements of EA and many of its member organisations seem to have accepted them. They concede that homosexuality is, at least for most gays, an innate orientation as View 3 maintains.

But if this is so, why do evangelicals continue to act towards Christian gays on the basis of Views 1 and 2? They discipline them in their churches, sack them from their organisations, disqualify them from public ministry and, as we have seen this month, disaffiliate any organisation that dares to support them. Meanwhile they continue to sponsor Ex-Gay ministries in spite of mounting evidence that discredits their claims.

Modern knowledge has clearly influenced the biblical interpretation of evangelicals on a whole host of matters. The discovery that the earth is millions of years old has nuanced the way most of us understand Genesis 1. The success of modern drugs in treating schizophrenia and mania has similarly modified the approach many of us would wish to take toward demon possession. What is it about homosexuality that renders utterly unacceptable anyone who dares to suggest that evangelicals may have misunderstood the intention of Scripture in this area too, and be pursuing a pastorally irresponsible policy as a result?

We interpret the silence of Scripture in the light of general biblical principles

There has always been a debate among Reformed Christians about the so-called "regulative principle". Some argue the Church can only approve what the Bible explicitly permits, while others maintain that the silences of Scripture should be interpreted in such a way as to maximise the Church’s freedom to adapt to a changing world. The vast majority of evangelicals lean toward the latter point of view. The Bible simply does not give us a precise blueprint or exhaustive instructions to cover every conceivable question. It provides us instead with paradigmatic models and general principles which Spirit-led Christians must apply to new situations as they arise.

Joel Edwards is clearly uncomfortable with the argument from silence, at least as far as homosexuality is concerned. He seems to concede that the kind of responsible committed gay partnerships which have emerged in the Western world in the last forty years are not discussed in the Bible. But he insists that this silence cannot be used to excuse them. The handful of texts that do relate to homosexuality are all prohibitive, so the assumption must be that the Bible would be negative about any and every expression of homosexuality, including modern gay partnerships.

But, with respect, this is a highly irresponsible way to handle the silence of Scripture in regard to complex ethical issues.

There is, for instance, only one biblical text relating to coitus interruptus—the famous incident of Onan. And it is emphatically negative. Does this mean the practice is universally immoral? If so someone had better tell the Catholic church, for it has been recommending it as the only permitted form of contraception for years.

The Bible is silent about all kinds of subjects: masturbation (unless you quote Onan again); cloning (unless you think Jacob’s sheep-rearing was an example); euthanasia (except for the "mercy-killing" of Saul on the battle field perhaps); the list is almost endless. Such issues cannot be dealt with by quoting a few proof-texts of disputable relevance. The only way the Christian community can respond to such important controversies is by acknowledging the bankruptcy of the regulative principle and reflecting on them in the context of the general paradigms and principles of Scripture.

This approach hinges on the fact that God does not invent moral law whimsically. His commands always make sense. Articulating the rationale behind moral judgements by demonstrating their congruence with the general ethical thrust of Scripture is an immensely important defence against obscurantist fanatics who would make a virtue of blind obedience to what they insist is the "literal meaning" of isolated biblical texts. Prosecuted with mindless zeal, a campaign against "sin" can easily be used to justify prejudice and oppression against people whose behaviour, whilst it may seem bizarre or even repulsive to some, is in moral terms utterly innocuous. It was not so long ago that innocent men and women were condemned for witchcraft by the pious presbyterians of Salem, Massachusetts and publically executed.

It is my belief that a similarly irrational moral panic lies behind the utterly disproportionate degree of anxiety that many evangelicals display in regard to the gay issue. It is in this sense that evangelical churches are rightly accused of homophobia, notwithstanding EA’s defensive protestations to the contrary at the end of their press release.

Homosexuals are being socialised in our modern world in a quite a different way to the past. They have won the opportunity to escape both "the closet" and "the scene" in order to live dignified lives within a community that accepts them. This "liberation" is perceived by the gay community as a crucial issue of social justice—"liberation" as psychologically emancipating as the abolition of slavery or the political enfranchisement of women. There is no text in the Bible that anticipates such a change in social attitudes. If evangelicals are to respond to it, they must rethink their ethics from first principles and stop quoting proof texts drawn from alien cultural contexts.

A good case, for instance, could be made for seeking a positive ethic for homosexuality within the Bible’s general approval for the virtue of "covenant-love". Jesus himself pointed us in this direction when he rejected the casuistic legalism of the Pharisees and insisted instead that if biblical law is to be correctly applied, it must be interpreted within the paradigm of the two great "love" commands. I can find no place in Scripture where an expression of covenant-love is disparaged, still less condemned. It is the virtue of covenant-

love which made David’s union with Bathsheba reprehensible, and his friendship with Jonathan beautiful. It was covenant-love which bound Ruth to Naomi, as well as to Boaz. Marriage is one example of covenant-love, but same-sex friendships can display that love too. When Hosea complains that there is no "covenant love" in the land, he is not just commenting on the divorce statistics (Hosea 4:1).

The New Testament texts which the EA press release quotes are self-evidently describing the kind of exploitative, lust-driven sex which was characteristic of idolatrous religion in the first century. Such sex could never be an expression of the kind of inter-personal commitment which characterises covenant-love. No wonder Paul condemns it. But there is no reason at all to assume that his condemnation would extend to other expressions of homosexual affection which, unlike these pagan orgies, are within the love paradigm. In fact, it is arguable that the Bible only proscribes sex acts, whether heterosexual or homosexual, when these fail to reflect love for God ( e.g. because they are set in an idolatrous context) or love for neighbour (e.g. because they are adulterous or exploitative).

Courage simply wishes to argue that the silence of Scripture concerning sex acts outside of this zone should be respected.

The EA wishes to fill this tactful reticence on the part of the Bible with the blanket prohibitive rule:

"No sex of any kind outside monogamous heterosexual marriage"

In doing so the EA is not only posturing in a way that has little relevance to the social realities of the modern world, it is also in danger of playing "Pope". There is such a thing as Christian liberty and private conscience; and I hope Joel Edwards realises how historically important they have been for evangelical Christians. The only possible ground for interfering with these cherished principles of Reformed Christianity is a reasoned proof of harm. Tendentious interpretations of one or two texts is not sufficient grounds to generate schism in the body of Christ nor to fetter the freedom of its members.

We interpret in the light of need of evangelism

Joel Edwards insists that EA want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and calls upon the churches to welcome gay people with this evangelistic purpose in mind. But the fact is, evangelicalism is regarded with loathing by the gay community. We have as much chance of evangelising that community as the Jews of Jerusalem have of proselytising the Palestinians. And this press release has simply reinforced that alienation.

Within the New Testament itself, a powerful example is presented of the way the early Christians turned the old interpretations of Scripture on their head in order to preach Christ effectively to the Gentiles. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9 remain a startling challenge to reactionary moralism that is more concerned about the maintenance of legalistic taboos than the urgent task of reconciling men and women to God:

"To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under Christ’s law) so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel." (I Cor. 9:21-23)

It would be fascinating to hear how the Council of EA reckon their ejection of Courage, and its bold policy of non-judgmental engagement with spiritually-needy gay men and women, squares with this missiological principle of the apostle, whose words they quote in their press release with such interpretive confidence. Gay people are still being converted—there are far more of them numbered among God’s elect than the EA might think. But they will not stay long in evangelical churches that so unashamedly reject them. I’m just glad Courage will still be there to offer them pastoral support.

It took the Fountain Trust twenty years to win its battle—now the EA is dominated by charismatics. It has taken Christian feminists about the same length of time—though women are still under-represented in evangelical leadership. There is a very different attitude towards homosexuality among younger Christians today and I am confident that eventually it is going to prevail. It will be sad, however, to look back on 2002 as the year the EA had the opportunity to exercise forward-thinking Christian leadership and opted instead to cast out a catalyst of change.

Roy Clements

April 2002

 

* * * * * * *

EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE/COURAGE

JOINT STATEMENT

6th March 2002

Courage resigns from the Evangelical Alliance

With the greatest regret, The Evangelical Alliance today accepted the resignation of The Courage Trust from membership.

A joint statement from The Courage Trust and the Evangelical Alliance reads as follows:

"The Courage Trust has been a member of the Alliance since 1989. It provides a significant ministry to those of a homosexual orientation.

"Over the past few years Courage has defined and sought to pioneer a ‘New Approach’ to ministering to homosexuals. Exodus, which serves as an umbrella body for Christian organisations working in this particular field, removed Courage from membership in 2000 following Courage’s adoption of the New Approach. Following this a series of conversations took place between Courage and the Alliance, whose position on the subject of homosexuality was set out in its 1998 report, ‘Faith, Hope & Homosexuality’.

"The issue relates to same-sex intimacy. The New Approach states that while homo-erotic sexual practices cannot be actively commended there are certain circumstances in which it would be inappropriate overtly to condemn them. In such circumstances, the New Approach holds that the acceptability or otherwise of homoerotic sexual practice should be left to people’s private judgement and conscience.

"Courage takes the view that the Biblical condemnations and prohibitions of homosexual practice were not written with the pastoral care of Christians who are homosexual in mind. On the contrary, the passages concerned sought to confront selfish and abusive behaviour in a very different social context. Courage also argues that while the Bible is consistent in condemning homo-erotic sexual practice whenever the matter is considered, it is wrong to assume that these scriptures necessarily preclude all homo-erotic sexual practice in the context of long term committed, loving, same sex relationships, where mature partners conscientiously believe before God that this is appropriate to their relationship.

"The Alliance considered a preliminary report about Courage’s new position in July 2001 and agreed to regard Courage’s membership as ‘under review’ until early 2002. Since then further discussions have taken place between Jeremy Marks of Courage and the Alliance, and a major Consultation held on 19 December 2001. This Consultation was attended by other groups ministering to homosexuals, by Alliance staff, and by a delegation from Courage. All the other groups working in this field stated that they looked to the Evangelical Alliance to uphold Biblical orthodoxy in the area of homosexual relationships, as stated in Faith, Hope & Homosexuality.

"At a meeting of the 79-strong Evangelical Alliance Council on 14 February 2002 a Report was presented concerning Courage’s continued membership of the Alliance. The key recommendations were:

The Alliance commends the pastoral motivation and integrity of Jeremy Marks.

It acknowledges the valuable contribution Courage has made into many lives.

The Alliance acknowledges the desire of Courage to remain within the evangelical constituency and their desire for evangelical unity.

The Alliance recognises the validity of a ministry strategy which seeks to minister to those of homosexual orientation without seeking necessarily to alter that orientation.

However, the Council also unanimously decided that the New Approach of Courage constitutes a step outside the parameters defined in Faith, Hope & Homosexuality, in that it refuses to take a clear position on homo-erotic practice. The Alliance and Courage have therefore mutually agreed to part company with immediate effect."

Jeremy Marks of Courage said: "It is with some sadness and regret that we have tendered our resignation at the request of the Alliance. We are encouraged that the EA have made every effort to hear and understand Courage’s New Approach and sought to recognise the significant areas of agreement between Courage and the EA. However, at Courage we believe that the proclamation of the gospel is our priority, not the policing of sexual behaviour between gay people. Sadly, the message of prohibition so often trumpeted by some quarters of the Church (ourselves included in the past) has only served to alienate gay people from coming to Christ and barred those who are believers from playing a full part in Church life.

"Though the New Approach has been developed over a number of years as a result of working at the sharp end of this much-needed area of ministry, clearly we cannot insist on remaining allied to an organisation that believes our viewpoint runs contrary to their basic beliefs on the subject. Unfortunately, whilst the EA’s stand will no doubt please many of our evangelical brethren, it will also serve to reinforce the sense of rejection of gay people by the Church. Reluctantly we have to accept that Courage’s mission has a long way to go before it can find widespread acceptance within the evangelical constituency of the Church."

Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "EA remains committed to presenting the Good News about Jesus Christ. The key issue that divides Courage from the Alliance is how the Bible, which the Alliance takes to be the supreme authority for faith and conduct, should be expounded and used. We cannot accept the contention that all references to homosexuality in the Bible are in the context of abusive relationships and are therefore irrelevant in the current debate.

"The Alliance also maintains that apparent silence on a particular issue in scripture—such as long term, loving, same sex relationships—cannot with integrity be invoked alongside private judgement and an appeal to conscience as a valid basis for permitting practices which are condemned in the Bible whenever and wherever they are mentioned.

"We have over many months sought to understand Courage’s new position on this key issue. However, we do not accept that its New Approach can be reconciled with Biblical teachings on homo-erotic sexual practice. Regretfully we therefore have no alternative but to accept Courage’s resignation with immediate effect.

"At the same time we utterly repudiate homophobia and call upon churches to welcome those of a homosexual orientation as they would welcome any other person."

ENDS

Media enquiries: Iain Taylor

Evangelical Alliance

020 7207 2117

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The Evangelical Alliance UK was founded in 1846 and today represents over one million Christians in 30 denominations. The Evangelical Alliance was a founding member of the World Evangelical Fellowship, which now has 120 member Alliances, together representing 200 million evangelicals worldwide.

An evangelical is someone who believes that Jesus is both God and man; that the Bible is the ultimate authority in all that it addresses; and that the traditional beliefs of the Church such as the physical resurrection of Jesus are true. An evangelical owns a commitment to Christ as their personal saviour and a desire to live out that faith in the community.

Relevant Bible verses (NIV)

"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with other women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion" (Romans 1: 26-27).

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Evangelical Alliance’s position on homosexuality

(outlined in Faith, Hope and Homosexuality):

1. The Alliance affirms that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended by God for full sexual relations between people

2. We affirm God’s love and concern for all humanity, including homosexual people, but believe homoerotic sexual practice to be incompatible with his will as revealed in Scripture

3. We call upon evangelical congregations to welcome and accept sexually active homosexual people, but to do so in the expectation that they will come in due course to see the need to change their lifestyle in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teaching.

4. We repudiate homophobia insofar as it denotes an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals. We do not accept, however, that to reject homoerotic sexual practice on biblical grounds is in itself homophobic.


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