A prominent evangelical pastor has taken the highly unusual step of publicly declaring his support for monogamous same sex relationships in a decision which will send shockwaves through Britain’s evangelical community.
Reverend Steve Chalke, head of the Oasis Church in Waterloo, made the public declaration in a lengthy article on his charity’s own website explaining his theological reasoning for abandoning opposition to gay relationships.
His decision comes at a time of small but growing acceptance of homosexuality among some evangelicals. Earlier this month The Independent reported how a handful of evangelical pastors and churches were beginning to welcome gay followers with open arms but largely in secret for fear of the backlash it might create.
In a deeply personal and heartfelt plea, Rev Chalke criticises Christianity’s traditional rejection of “faithful gay relationships” saying it has left far too many people feeling “vulnerable and isolated.”
“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,” the Baptist minister writes. “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?”
He recognises many fellow evangelicals will be incensed by his stance. “Some will think that I have strayed from scripture - that I am no longer an evangelical,” he notes. “I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible's authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously.”
Much of his article – the extended version of which runs to 5,000 words – centres around the theological and scriptural justifications for accepting loving homosexual relationships – something which is deeply important to evangelical communities who place enormous importance on Biblical purity.
Rev Chalke argues that through scriptural reinterpretation, those who claim the Bible condemns all forms of homosexuality will eventually become the minority view in the same way that those who advocated Biblical justifications for slavery and a secondary role for women have also become minorities.
And in a damning critique of his own community he even blames Christian stigmatisation of homosexuals as something which has caused genuine physical harm.
“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.”
Fellow evangelicals who support a more tolerant approach towards homosexuality have described Rev Chalke’s public declaration as a potential “game changer”.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, commented: “Chalke's position cuts across the standard stereotype within both the media and many sections of the church: namely that sexuality is a straightforward liberal-versus-conservative theological issue. Instead, his theological plea to the churches is solidly biblical in its assumptions and focused on the person of Christ, but the outcomes he reaches on this basis are relational and inclusive.”
Meanwhile the prominent t American evangelical pastor Tony Campolo, said: “Steve’s public declaration in support of Civil Partnerships will cause reverberations far and wide. His statement represents the first time that a major evangelist and leader in the Evangelical community has come out in support of same-sex relationships.”
Campolo retains what he describes as a “conservative” position on homosexuality but he has long been willing to dialogue with those – including his wife and fellow preacher Peggy Campolo – who take a more open view to loving same sex relationships. Alongside fellow American pastors Jay Bakker and Brian McClaren, they have argued for a much greater willingness among evangelicals to be more tolerant of homosexuality. Chalke’s addition is the first time a prominent evangelical pastor with an active church congregation in Britain has come out publicly along similar lines.