Accepting Evangelicals and Two:23
On Saturday 30th November, My wife and I were thrilled to be able to attend two important events in London. These were the AGM of Accepting Evangelicals, followed by a meeting of the Two:23 Network.
These two Christian organisations are working really hard to promote inclusion and equality for LGBT people within all denominations of the church. These are hot topics for the church as a whole and the cause of a lot of debate and division in recent years, so it is encouraging to find Christian organisations that are forward-thinking and, as AE say on their website “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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
Accepting Evangelicals who held their AGM at the Oasis Centre Waterloo hosted the morning session. This group will shortly be celebrating its tenth anniversary and now has a membership of over 600 people. Around fifty delegates gathered for the meeting, which opened with a worship session. We reviewed some of the important steps that have happened recently, both in legislation and in church practice. More and more established Christian leaders are openly voicing their support for gay marriage and LGBT issues, most recently these have included Steve Chalke, Rob Bell, Jim Wallis and Desmond Tutu.
Christian organisations such as Exodus and Courage, that formerly offered counseling programmes that would reputedly ‘help’ people to embrace heterosexuality, have, in recent times, realized the profound error of the methods employed and the tremendous damage that has been caused to people’s lives and these groups have either closed their doors apologetically or else admitted their errors and changed their direction radically.
At the close of the morning session the organisation’s founder, Rev. Benny Hazelhurst, interviewed Elaine Sommers. Elaine is a transgender Christian and she shared with us many of the difficulties she has faced in the church and how she found a place where she was truly welcome.
The group shared lunch and we then travelled over to St. Mary Aldermary in Central London for the Two:23 meeting where Steve Chalke would be speaking. This was a much larger gathering, which attracted several hundred people.
Steve initially took part in an interview in which he discussed his recent paper “A Matter Of Integrity” and the reaction to that paper from all sides of the church, he discussed the ways in which the paper had affected the work of the Oasis Trust and explained the reasons why he believed it was a vital step to voice his support for the LGBT community. He followed this with a short talk, discussing how to read the Bible as a whole rather than taking individual verses out of context and using them indiscriminately as ammunition to shoot down those whose viewpoint differs from their own, pointing out that we can all be guilty of doing this wherever we stand. Steve encouraged us, instead of arguing over differing ideas, to work together to reach out to the whole world, regardless of race or religion and bring to them the example of Jesus in our words and actions.
Both these sessions can be listened to on the talks page at two23.net, along with several other talks by guest speakers from the past couple of years.
For us, as active supporters of this community of people within the church, this was an inspiring and thought-provoking day. Many Christians still struggle with these issues and we have had several heated debates with friends who are sticking to their traditional, conservative ideals. However, as Steve Chalke said, the sandcastle of resistance is being washed away, so I look forward to a future within the church where all people are included in equality and encouraged to be true to themselves in their own identity without fear of condemnation and where all committed relationships are treated with equal respect and sanctity.