Tag Archives: Evangelical

Why An Evangelical Tennessee Church Is Backing Gay Marriage: Part 1

In many Christian denominations and local congregations, the rights of same – sex couples to full inclusion in church is gaining acceptance. One recent example is Grace Pointe church, Tennessee. This series of three videos shows the sermon in which Pastor Stan Mitchell announced the decision:

Living Between Emmanuel & Epiphany Part 1 – GracePointe Church from GracePointe Church on Vimeo.

Why An Evangelical Tennessee Church Is Backing Gay Marriage: Part 2

Part two of the the sermon in which Pastor Stan Mitchell announced the decision by GracePointe church, Tennessee, to back full inclusion in church life for lgbt people,  including in church leadership and support for same – sex church weddings:

Living Between Emmanuel & Epiphany Part 2 – GracePointe Church from GracePointe Church on Vimeo.

Why An Evangelical Tennessee Church Is Backing Gay Marriage: Part 3

Part three of the the sermon in which Pastor Stan Mitchell announced the decision by GracePointe church, Tennessee, to back full inclusion in church life for lgbt people,  including in church leadership and support for same – sex church weddings:

Living Between Emmanuel & Epiphany Part 3 – GracePointe Church from GracePointe Church on Vimeo.

Those Evangelical Allies, Again

The word “evangelical” is a troublesome one in religious discourse, as it can mean so many different things, and is used indifferent ways.   Polling firms reporting on social policy issues routinely use it as a contrast to Protestants, as in Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals – by which they really men Mainline Protestants and Other Protestants. Press releases though have never been given to verbal precision, and we have become accustomed to the usage. To complicate matters further, some of the “Mainline” churches, especially the UK Church of England, are described in news reports in terms of their “evangelical” or “liberal wing. In more theological, less politicized terms, there are many in the Mainline churches who would insist that they too are inherently “evangelical”,  in its true sense.
Further complicating the issue is the repeated research finding that it is the “evangelical” wing of Christianity, in the sense of non-mainline Protestant, that is the most implacably opposed to LGBT equality or inclusion in church, which leads to the assumption that one leads necessarily from the other. There is growing evidence though that even in this sense, some evangelical leaders, like many Catholic theologians, are now recognising the fallacies and mistaken assumptions in the Christian opposition of the past few centuries. I have reported on some of these in the past – there are many more.
However, it is the more theological meaning of “evangelical” that Janet Edwards is using when she argues at “Religion Dispatches ” that gay rights  are an “evangelical thing”.

“We need to out-evangelize the evangelists!”

Contrary to popular imagination, which usually places evangelicals strictly within the conservative Christian right-wing, this rousing call to action came from Rev. Jean Southard at a dinner for LGBT advocates during the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly.
In the midst of debates within both the Presbyterian Church and the nation, Rev. Southard’s point was that LGBT-rights advocates in the church should shout from the rafters that their actions are evangelical—in the deepest historical sense of the word—and in so doing, remind evangelicals of Christianity’s fundamental tenet of inclusion. 
Though it has taken on a narrow meaning in American politics today, “evangelical” is actually an ancient Christian term whose roots extend to the earliest days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. “Evangelical,” or “evangelion” in the original Greek, literally translates as “Good News.” From the women running to tell the others of the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-12), to Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15), to John writing his Gospel to make sure the Good News would be there for future generations like us, “evangelical” has always meant sharing Jesus’ Good News with all those who wish to be part of the Church. 
As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There is no “but” in Jesus’ “all.” And so it is incumbent upon us, as a Church, to extend our full welcome and blessing to all the faithful, including those who are LGBT.
Yet LGBT people are the ones whom many in the Church today judge as beyond the reach of Jesus’ embrace—just as the Galatians and Corinthians were considered beyond God’s love in Paul’s time. 
For those who claim the mantle of the evangelical tradition, it is important to remember what it means that God’s love is available to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It means that LGBT Christians have the same place at Christ’s table as anyone else.
The chorus of the praise song, “We Are One in the Spirit,” echoes Paul (Galatians 5:22) when it repeats the refrain, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It is in this Spirit that we can “out-evangelize the evangelicals.”
And so, when LGBT people freely embrace and live a Christian life, the Church must recognize such deep faithfulness and open our arms to them as well. At the heart of Jesus’ Good News is this: there is no “but” in “all.”

(Watch Rev Jean Southard speak on Marriage Equality on Youtube: Part 1, and Part 2)

"And Grace Will Lead Me Home": A Conservative, Evangelical, Theological Case for Gay Marriage

There are, thankfully, many sources available today which can counter and debunk the infamous clobber texts which have for so long been used abused in the course of bigotry and exclusion. There are also an increasing number of progressive theologians who have thoughtfully addressed considered matters from an LGBT or queer perspective, and developed a growing body of gay and lesbian, or queer, theology. What we do not often see is sympathetic theology from a conservative evangelical straight ally.
I was delighted therefore. to come across a recent paper by Dr Mark, Achtemeier, who describes himself as can “out, self-affirming, practicing conservative evangelical”, in which he tells of the process of theological enquiry which led him to reverse his longstanding opposition to LGBT inclusion, and instead to argue in favour of same –sex marriage and ordination. Addressing the Covenant Network of Presbyterians on November 5 2009, Dr Achtermeier begins cautiously:
I have every confidence in the ability of my colleagues to address this discussion with genuine wisdom and deep insight. For myself I confess the topic makes me nervous. The reason is this: if you had told me just eight or nine years ago that on this date I would be standing before this group, speaking out in favor of marriage and ordination for lesbian and gay Christians, I would have declared you out of your mind.
But here I am, and here you are. And all I can say is that because of this experience I have learned never to make confident predictions about any situation in which God is involved.

This point about God’s own involvement is crucial. A further key point, one which we as gay men, lesbian and trans people of faith would do well to a ponder carefully, was that the transition began when he started to speak with gay and lesbian Christians themselves, and came to see how false were the stereotypes and assumptions that he had previously taken for granted. God, he says, “had other plans” than his earlier equanimity, and led him to serious conversation and friendship with some gay Christians. Getting to know them, talking to them, showed how deeply his earlier assumptions had come out of reading only the authors he already agreed with, and was based on the popular stereotypes of gay people. Talking to these people, he says, was a surprising and unsettling experience, because he discovered that entirely against his preconceptions, he found that these people shared a deep Christian faith similar to his own, who were willing to engage with him in frank and conversation in spite of their knowledge of his own deep opposition. He then found how his earlier “comfortable settled convictions started to crack”.
These false assumptions were:
  • Homosexuality is a destructive addiction – which means that talk of “justice” , “rights”, or “compassion” are meaningless.
  • Homosexuals are self-indulgent, putting their own self-gratification above all else
Instead, he found what is well known to us, and to any one who has looked at the research evidence. A same sex orientation is deep-seated in our make-up, not amenable to “change”, and that the people he was talking with were “devoted Christian believers, filled with grace and a loving concern for the downtrodden…and deeply engaged in spiritual discipline”: typical Christians, in fact, just like him. He was also surprised to find that they resembled him in another important respect – their lifelong commitments to partners.
One of the religious arguments against “homosexuals” is that such “acts” are said to lead us away from God. Talking to real people showed Achtemeier how by focussing instead on the relationships, he discovered that these were leading people not away from God, but to Him – in exactly the same way that he believed his own marriage drew him closer to God.
However, he also faces the fact, uncomfortable for evangelicals with a strict respect for Scripture, that he is, or may be, putting experience ahead of scripture. Struggling with this, he remembered a story from Augustine, who quotes from I John 2:6, that we should “walk in the way of the Lord” – and then refers to the celebrated passage in which the Lord walked on water. Quite clearly, it is not possible to accept every text precisely literally. He then concludes that what he is doing, in reflecting on his experience, is not putting above Scripture, but using it to interpret Scripture.
Looking again at Scripture, he found a powerful Scriptural basis to argue in favour of marriage equality. In Genesis 2, God says “It is not God for man to be alone. I will give him a companion to help him.”
This leads him to an extended discussion of the standard Calvinist theology against celibacy. (This is based on the idea from Paul that although celibacy is an ideal for those who are able to practice it, most people are unable to. To protect weaker men (which means most of us) from the sins that this inability will lead to, Paul encourages marriage). He recognises from his own life that living singly, before marriage, He realises that many of the stereotypes he has acquired of gay people are based on single people, deprived of the opportunity of marriage.
This is an excellent, thought-provoking article, which deserves to be read in full (do so here), especially by other conservative evangelicals. However, they are unlikely to be reading “Queering the Church”, so I will restrict my comment to its significance for queer Christians – and especially my cp-religionists in the Catholic Church.
First, note the importance of conversation. Dr Achtermerier’s conversion would not have begun without the dialogue with gay Christians who were willing to engage with him in full frank and friendly conversation, even though they knew (to start with) that he was strongly opposed, on firm religious grounds, to everything they stood for. Yet they persevered, and in this case, won a valuable ally. (I am quite sure that not every conversation results in a conversion. There will be many disappointments. The perseverance in the face of other setbacks is what makes the achievement of Dr Achtermeier’s friends especially notable.)
To get these conversations going, the “welcoming and affirming” programme now found in several denominations (such as the Presbyterian Moe Light churches) are invaluable.
In the Catholic church, opportunities for such interaction with Catholic decision makers are limited – Catholic bishops are not renowned for their skills a the “listening church” they proclaim themselves to be. However, there are opportunities to talk one to one with ordinary Catholics in conventional congregations, and with local parish priests. Mark Jordan “The Silence of Sodom” warns against the futility of trying to argue rationally with the institutional Church, and he is right. But it is certainly possible to talk rationally with ordinary Catholics, and often with the local priest as well,
This is why dedicated, explicitly queer congregations such as London’s Soho Masses are not enough. T
here have enormous value, as moral and emotional support for those who are just beginning to face the facts of their situation in the institutional Church, as support and spiritual sustenance for those of us who have moved on to advance the struggle by other means, and for their symbolic value. But they do nothing to change the perceptions of ordinary Catholics, in ordinary congregations. For that, we also need people to participate in local parishes, to become visible, and to engage in frank conversations with their new co-parishioners.
Secondly, note that we are not alone in this. Early in his address, Fr Achetemeier refers to God’s role in moving his ideas along “God had other ideas”). As Catholics, we tend to be less aware of this than the Protestants, but it is an important point. Fr John McNeill has repeatedly reminded us that the Holy Spirit has a way of turning te most unpromising circumstance to her advantage, and my be doing now, with the abundant evidence of clerical failings all around us. He is right.
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