Leading UK Evangelical Comes Out for Gay Acceptance

Steve Chalke, the pastor of Oasis Church Waterloo, a Baptist church in London, is making waves in the evangelical community after coming out to affirm “loving, stable” gay and lesbian relationships. The Independent quotes Chalke as writing:

“When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneness, secrecy and fear. It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle—but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?”

Reaction from fellow evangelicals, like Greg Downes at Christian Today was swift, and negative: “Since the scriptures are crystal clear on the issue, my fear is that any shift to embrace this new interpretation is nothing short of a denial of the authority of the Bible itself,” Downs said.

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance in the U.K., said he was sad and disappointed by Chalke’s revelation, saying the gospel calls gays and lesbians to “repentance”:

“We all need a saviour in every area of our lives, including our sexuality. We all live with pain. The radical inclusiveness of the gospel means we are all welcomed. In a wonderful grace-filled process we find repentance and forgiveness and Christ commits himself through the work of the Holy Spirit to bring transformation to our lives—a life-long process.”

Clifford goes on to talk about how Chalke’s concession will harm the testimony of “ex-gays,” like one Baptist minister who rejected his homosexuality.

“This pastor is just one of tens of thousands of Christians who have come to the conclusion that sex was designed by God to be expressed within a committed relationship for life between a man and a woman—we call this marriage—and have chosen to live a celibate life,” Clifford said.

For his part, Chalke argues that such “ex-gay ministries” have done more harm than good: “People’s lives are at stake,” he says.

“Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which, all too often, drives these statistics.”

For that, I applaud Chalke. Recognizing the deep psychological, spiritual, and physical harm that has been done to LGBT people by the church’s condemnation is a huge step. Hopefully, Chalke will carry this message far and wide within evangelical circles and take the lead in refuting the ex-gay snake oil salesmen.

However, what sticks in my craw a bit about Chalke’s revelation is what seems like a stark line between “loving, stable” gay and lesbian relationships and what he calls “promiscuity.”

“It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle—but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?” Chalke said.

Well, yes, promiscuity should not be the norm for homosexuals or heterosexuals, but Chalke seems to leave out a large step between being a gay or lesbian single and being a gay or lesbian person in a “loving, stable” relationship. We don’t magically appear as “loving, stable” couples. There is something in between commonly called “dating.” Anyone who has dated knows you have to kiss—and possibly sleep with—a few frogs before you find prince, or princess, charming.

To lump that process into something called “a promiscuous lifestyle” is a little disingenuous. If Chalke has really decided he’s on the side of the angels in this dispute, he needs to realize that even some gay and lesbian people may need a little church guidance on ethical dating. He may also want to realize that there are already many gay and lesbian people who don’t fall into bed with the first warm same-sex body they meet.

Chalke is brave to make this step. He has put his evangelical credibility on the line in a gamble to make the church more loving, inclusive, and inviting for LGBT people, and that is to be congratulated, celebrated, and admired. Now, it’s time for the education of Rev. Chalke.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)