The UK’s religiousblogosphere has been chewing through Steve Chalke's paper/article/video on inclusion of monogamous same-sex couples by the church.
Steve Chalke's message tries to be accessible to the man in the street, while at the same time dealing with some deeper theological ideas and terms. Balancing that audience is hard for anyone, so please do take the time to read the extended version and do watch the video, so at least you have the full picture.
His focus is on what inclusion means, and what the bible means about same-sex relationships. He did not attempt to define same-sex marriage, but what exactly is the issue at hand?
For me, the issue is about loving the outcast. You may say that homosexuals have become powerful in the media and society at large and are not outcasts. Yes, you would be right. I'd guess that The Circle of Life has paid some of the bills for furthering LGBTQIA rights. The problem is not everyone is Elton John. The invisible teenager who for the life of them cannot be attracted to anyone other than their own gender, has no place to openly admit this, as their very identity would be brought into question and is grounds for rejection. There are Christians who have pleaded, begged, asked God, to remove this attraction, this thing which is so inherently them, so that they can be right before him, and right before the whole church. For some reason, God does not do it. Some churches still adhere to the 'believe then belong' paradigm, while others have reversed that. I hold to the latter. Can a gay/lesbian person openly belong to a church?
I particularly enjoyed Steve Holmes' article, which was gentle, and highlighted an important issue that I will get back to. Also from the Evangelical Alliance was Steve Clifford, its general director. Neither could agree with Chalke's ultimate conclusion, but agreed with each other about the fact that his 'trajectory hermeneutic' was valid for the issue of women in church and slaves/slavery, but that nothing in the bible indicated it was valid for homosexual relations, unless you would accept an even stronger denouement of it as a negative trajectory, which Holmes briefly references.
If we are to delve deeper into Chalke's paper, and also into those responders, be they the EA or other, we find that they start to populate the common positions on the church 'grid' of the understanding of the bible, how literal or not you take it, the cultural emphasis, whether we accept new developments in biblical understanding, which Chalke relies heavily on. His position on the church grid will move to unpopular and uncommon, but will it retain its strength?
The very problem here, the issue at hand, is that we who fit the societal norm have NO IDEA what it must be like to be different in our sexual orientation. I'm a heterosexual male. A Christian heterosexual male, who only ever had to deal with the excruciating issue of not having sex until marriage, which at 33 was a hell of a wait and at times physically painful, never mind the mental anguish... but I digress.
But, BUT! I never had to endure the pain, pain which I can never understand no matter how many miles I would walk in an LGBTQIA's shoes, of knowing that if the church knew I was in the slightest way homosexual, I would be rejected, isolated, misunderstood, maybe after some corrective teaching or attempted exorcism. I never had to live with the problem because at least I was born into the right club. I've never had to explain that my basic, most fundamental identity was one that was scorned, hated, ridiculed by most of society, and especially the church. The one place that says it is a place of refuge.
The church, as a wide body of believers of different experiences, philosophies and worldviews, will always have strong views of such fundamental topics, of topics that cut to the bone, issues of identity related to sexuality. I can see how Steve Chalke could have a few errors, and I see how the others have errors too. We could even tally up the various voices and come to some kind of committee-type conclusion as to what is right, and in the process completely miss the point. The crux of the entire matter is that people have been excluded from the church for something so innately personal, something that they themselves cannot explain. People following an LGBTQIA existence have been denied communion, even attendance and any form of leadership at churches.
The church is on the brink (again), of alienating itself and Jesus’ message and power. People respond to love, not a well-formulated doctrine or statement from the synod/committee. Here in the UK, Civil Partnerships have been part of the scene, and has been pointed out by David Kerrigan, the world did not come to an end. Kerrigan also makes a key distinction: the Christian single person can live in hope of finding a partner, the Christian gay person cannot, which leads on to one of the most important issues, and Steve Holmes mentions it, hopefully I will detail it a bit more.
Holmes' asserts correctly that the church's continued inability to see that the solution to loneliness is not found exclusively in a family unit is one of the most important points he makes. It is true. Churches are notoriously bad in accommodating single people over 25 or 30, or the widowed, or the divorced. It seems homosexuality is the worst of these, as the former very seldom have a choice to change their position, just as the LGBTQIA group finds. However, the former can live in hope, as I mentioned. There is a pathway. For those who are attracted to the same sex, and then try to appear heterosexual, get married maybe, and then even have children, is personally dishonest and massively destructive on a wider scale.
What makes me uncomfortable is that I have not deeply engaged in the discomfort of the excluded. I've tried, but not to the extent that some Christians have. Maybe that’s an excuse. Honestly, I cannot yet bring myself to the full conclusion that Steve Chalke reaches: that monogamous same-sex coupling is the same as heterosexual union, but in the light of how people have been damaged, have been outcast by masculine society and judgmental church, I want to sit with those who are outsiders, those outside the city walls, those who in their lifetimes may not have the boundaries extended to see their inclusion.
I’m not done yet.
There is a recurring statement in most, if not all the correspondence about this topic, which goes something like this: ‘I’m going to look at the biblical/theological side of the relevant texts and end up taking a traditional perspective on the issue, but the needs to be different because we as the church have done a bad job in relating to those who identify as LGBTQIA. That is not what I am going to talk about here.’
There seems to be a lot of orthodoxy, but no praxis. ‘This is what we have figured out from the bible, but we have no desire to comment on how this works in practice.’ Maybe, just maybe, Chalke is actually doing something here, instead of just talking and theologizing about it.
When some theologians give their biblical analysis of the homosexual issue, despite them probably being very serious, their dealing with it seems almost coincidental, or perhaps even an unwelcome nuisance. It is not pastoral. In the modern church we have made finding truth and finality the Golden Rule. This is a well-known, if not well-accepted, state of affairs. We’ve sucked the mystery out of God, replaced it with a modern, rationalistic study of literature.
There is still so much to be said about this, but for now, what do we do? Build more walls, or do we go outside the city wall and sit with the outcast, without an agenda to hand?