Yesterday, Evangelical Alliance announced that they were parting ways with Oasis Trust as an EA member. You can read the press releases from both organizations here and here, respectively.
On the face of it, the reason given probably doesn’t give a full story of discussions that took place between the two and the months of prayer that EA have put into making this decision. But what does seem quite clear is that EA couldn’t justify having in their membership an organization whose leader Steve Chalke has been questioning how we read the Bible in regards to homosexuality. This isn’t the first time that EA have had trouble with Steve Chalke, after he claimed in his book, “The Lost Message of Jesus” that one of the traditional views of the atonement, where God punished Jesus in our place, amounted to nothing more that “cosmic child abuse.”
Then, the two were able to sort out their differences. Perhaps, this decision came about just as much due to a culmination of worrying approaches to the Bible, in the opinion of EA; than by anything else.
In the past few months we have seen an increase in the number of separations of Evangelical groups based on beliefs. From back in 2011 when John Piper famously bid “farewell Rob Bell”; to the recent World Vision controversy when a reported 20’000 children faced losing support from donors who threatened and in many cases actually did pull donations, after World Vision opened up employment to gay Christians. Albeit, for a very short time. Barely enough time for someone to get comfortable at their desk.
Even more recently, Dan Haseltine, singer with band Jars of Clay found himself on the end of a backlash last week, after simply questioning the traditional Biblical view of homosexuality. In his case, asking a question on twitter led to many of his bands fans deciding to boycott their music.
The reason this is interesting is because many of those who have decided to part ways with organizations or individuals who are asking honest and personal questions are the very same organizations and people who come form a rich Protestant tradition arising from the Reformation. A line of events started because, Martin Luther and others questioned the churches teachings and beliefs that had been held for many years.
In many ways those of us who question our understanding of what the Bible says about homosexuality or Hell or any other hot topic, are simply carrying on this practice. Perhaps there is a new reformation occurring. Or perhaps people, just want to understand God better, love others unconditionally and love God enough to know they can have doubt and believe that there is a better way.
For a church culture that constantly reminds us that we are sinners and imperfect; it seems ironic that we aren’t open to the idea that maybe, just maybe we could be wrong. This doesn’t bring the church into dispute, it doesn’t make God weak or vulnerable. Truth be told, these conversations aren’t questioning God, they are simply questioning our understanding of God.
On the other hand, we have an interesting choice to make as far as our relationships go, corporately or individually with those who we disagree with. For Christians who disagree with EA’s decision to then turn around and decide to break ranks with EA or others is a form of hypocrisy. How can we claim that Jesus calls for us to be inclusive with our gay brothers and sisters and then break relationships with those who just think we’re wrong?
If you believe that gay marriage should be allowed then you also believe that people should be allowed to hold different positions, since support of gay marriage is a divergence from the traditional view. If I was to leave a church or an organization based on their beliefs about gay marriage (unless those views really discriminated e.g. with hatred or clear prejudice) then I would be compromising my own held view of the acceptance of varied positions.
It is this belief in inclusion that I hold and which EA even have in their tagline “better together”, that makes their decision confusing to me. Individual members of EA are allowed to hold their own views on homosexuality and gay marriage as it is deemed a matter of ‘conscience’. Yet, Oasis trust who do not hold a ‘corporate view on the matter’ are asked to leave over it.
It is a decision that is sad and lamentable. Both EA and Oasis have expressed that in their statements and the reason for this centers around the fact that many LGBT Christians are being left out and made to feel like second hand citizens in the church. What we need now more than ever is to have respectful and gracious discussions with each other. We can only do that while we are united. Not apart. Something that is at the heart of EA’s own slogan.
So the job of all Christians wherever we stand on the spectrum is now to make amends. Not for anyone to turn against EA or to coin our own versions of “farewell” dismissals but to find those churches and organizations who are willing to dialogue and not feel the need to close doors to each other.
When we do that, I am hopeful and confident that God’s love will shine through for every single person.
And hopefully that’s a type of love we can all agree on.
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