ROY CLEMENTS ARCHIVE
Christianity & Renewal
A report on Christianity & Renewal magazine articles
The June (2001) edition of the magazine Christianity and Renewal included features on the gay issue by Andy Peck, Steve Chalke and John Buckeridge(editor). Substantial correspondence followed in the August edition. Below I report on both editions of this influential evangelical magazine and include the personal letter I sent to Steve Chalke in response.
In his news page, Andy Peck reported my Open Letter to the Evangelical Alliance. He quotes the following response from Iain Taylor, EA’s Head of Media:
"We are disappointed to receive a public challenge from Dr. Clements without having been given opportunity to discuss it with him in person beforehand. The Alliance is not going to conduct a detailed debate on these important issues, with Roy or anybody else, via the media."
Quite frankly, I was disappointed too when, in September 1999, I discovered that a press release from the EA had "outed" me without permission or consultation. I have no reason to trust the EA’s confidentiality. I do not blame it for being scared of an open public debate on homophobia. For a start, it clearly does not wish to cause division within its ranks over the ethics of homosexuality. Evangelicals are notoriously prone to withdrawing financial support from organisations that demonstrate the slightest open-mindedness on that question, and the EA has a very substantial salary bill to meet. Furthermore, the EA knows perfectly well that many of the churches and organisations it represents are riddled with homophobic prejudice. Some telling examples can be seen among the responses to Steve Chalke’s article (see below) on the Christianity and Renewal website. It would be embarrassing to have this exposed by the secular media or in the gay press.
The EA’s style of politics has always been that of the famous Parisian revolutionary who declared: "There go my people! I must find out where they’re heading so I can lead them!" It is no surprise that they want to defuse this debate through clandestine meetings behind closed doors in Whitefield House. But evangelical Christians need leadership on this matter, not pragmatic damage-limitation strategies devised by spin-doctors in the Media Department.
The same edition of Christianity and Renewal included a long article (plus some unflattering photographs!) by Steve Chalke entitled, "What might Jesus say to Roy Clements". I have had a little private correspondence with Steve and below is the text of an e-mail I sent him which I think adequately summarises my response:
I am flattered that you should decide to dedicate such a long article to me. I hope it wasn’t the result of pressure from the EA. Frankly, I think it may be a mistake for someone as crucial as you are in the frontline of evangelism to get entangled in the messy politics and ethical conundrums of the gay issue. But you must of course be the judge of that.
I am genuinely grateful for the tone of your article. It is far more evenhanded than many of the letters and emails I have received in the last eighteen months. Nevertheless there are a couple of comments I’d like to make. hat you do with them is, of course, up to you.
1. You say I have recently emerged as "a leading spokesperson for the LGCM". This is quite untrue. Though no doubt Richard Kirker would love me to embrace such a role, I have no official or unofficial status in LGCM to speak on its behalf. The open letter which was recently published had been on my website for three months. LGCM asked if they might include it in their magazine. I consented. In the past I have published articles in all kinds of journals without becoming a "leading spokesperson" as a result. For what its worth, I am grateful too for the opportunity to put some biblical exposition in the LGCM magazine. The devotional article that appears in the same edition was first preached at Eden Baptist!
2. You make some comments about my "hypocrisy". In no way do I desire to exculpate myself, but this verdict seems to imply that I engaged in immoral activity while I was in the ministry, and that my relationship with another man was illicit and unfaithful to my wife. I simply do not accept these charges. To suggest that every gay married man who has a close male friend or who chooses to stay "in the closet" is ipso facto a "hypocrite" is outrageous and one of the main reasons the "closet" still exists within evangelicalism, when it is being dismantled everywhere else.
3. Somewhat related to this is the suggestion that I was/am a dogmatic fundamentalist who liked to claim the theological/moral high ground. I think those who actually know my ministry and have read my books may feel you have rather misjudged me there. But that is for them to say.
4. My main disappointment with your article, however, is that it focuses so totally around me and my "fall". We have never been friends, Steve, and I have never told you my side of the story of the last two years—in fact I have told very few people. No doubt I shall one day put it all down in black and white, but at the moment I am resolutely refusing to do so, in spite of potentially lucrative offers from newspapers, BBC radio producers and secular publishers. I have no desire to whinge and I honestly don’t believe I do. My hope is that the objective issue of how evangelical churches pastor gays will be discussed, rather than my personal story. You suggest that "my letter and present attitude casts the debate in a small arena of my treatment as a gay Christian". Nothing could be further from the truth. The open letter only makes reference to my treatment in a couple of lines. It is you who is making it the big issue.
Furthermore, you write as if you were in a position to assess my situation—but all you know is second or even third hand. As a pastor you should know that passing verdicts on complex marital situations on the basis of one-sided hearsay is perilous.
5. One more thing. Would it not be a courtesy to your readers to give them my website address (www.royclements.co.uk) so they can read what I have written for themselves, rather than depend on your (rather selective) quotations?
Nevertheless, I appreciate your willingness to take the risk of discussing this matter in public. There are others in the EA fold who know me and my situation far better, indeed who were personally involved in engineering the events of late 1999. It is significant that they are not identifying themselves in print.
The third article to make reference to this subject in June’s Christianity and Renewal was the editorial by John Buckeridge. Let me quote a few lines:
"I don’t have any problems with people going back to scripture to seek to better understand and exegete what the word of God says. But with the gay debate and other sensitive issues I’ve noticed that the motivation for the re-examination of scripture so often seems to spring from experiences and feelings. Having supported an orthodox interpretation over the gay issue, a man reveals his "gay orientation" and then months later declares that his understanding of what scripture says on the issue has changed. Excuse me if I appear cynical, but why am I not surprised?"
I have sent a letter in reply which was included in the August edition. Here is a copy:
So self-confessed charismatic, John Buckeridge, suddenly wishes to warn us of the perils of allowing experience to influence our understanding of the Bible [June edition]. When the stimulus for his exegetical anxiety is the debate about homosexuality, why am I not surprised? As he so rightly observes, subjective prejudices easily disturb our theological consistency where that particular issue is concerned.
The fact is, of course, all biblical exegesis must be subjected to the test of experience if our high view of the authority of the Bible is not to be undermined by rational doubt. To refuse to submit our interpretations to this pragmatic test, for fear of discovering irreconcilable contradictions, is the denial of true faith, not its affirmation. Such a head-in-the-sand attitude is the very essence of the kind of obscurantism that discredits fundamentalist sects in the eyes of thinking Christians. Biblical spirituality seeks truth, not merely the endorsement of its preconceived ideas.
It was the experience of looking at the sky through his telescope that led Galileo to question the conventional geocentric interpretation of the Bible adopted by the medieval church.
It was the experience of an undelivered conscience that made Luther question the biblical warrant for papal indulgences and led him to the discovery of justification by faith.
In our own day, it is pastoral experience that has led the church to revise its views on what the Bible demands in regard to questions such as divorce and the role of women.
And it is experience that has led many of us, (your editor included?) to the conclusion that the cessationist interpretation of tongues and prophecy is mistaken.
Obstinate refusal to acknowledge such mistakes is immensely dangerous, since it invests error with the divine authority of being "biblical truth". Frequently such incorrigible "certainty" has led to the persecution of faithful brothers and sisters.
Homophobia in the churches is simply one more example of this. Whatever the Bible means to say on the controversial subject of homosexuality, some of us have come to the conclusion it cannot intend to teach that all gay people should either get married or remain totally celibate. Experience has convinced us that such a policy simply does not work in the vast majority of cases. Most of those who think it does are not gay; neither have they shared in the painful experience of those Christian men and women, hidden within their congregations, who are.
"Be wary of those whose motivation is to square Scripture with their experience", advises John Buckeridge. Stuff and nonsense! The people we really need to fear are those blinkered evangelicals who are so convinced of their personal infallibility that the contrary experience of tens of thousands is not sufficient to dent their certainty. One recalls the attitude of the Pharisees to the testimony of the man born blind, recorded in John chapter 9. You will recall that rather than acknowledge the challenge that the man’s experience (v.25) posed to their opinions based on the exegesis of Moses (v.28-29), they ostracised him (v.34). Jesus’ verdict on them is a sober warning to similarly over-confident evangelicals today who ostracise the gay community in the name of faithfulness of Scripture:
"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41)
Roy Clements June 2001
Also included in the August correspondence was a letter by Jeremy Marks. He is concerned mainly to respond to the adverse publicity which Courage had received since its change of policy regarding the pastoral care of gay Christians. Here is an extract:
Suddenly Courage, the enemy of Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement(LGCM) because of our traditional evangelical roots and ethos,has become the enemy of the evangelical constiuency instead! Why? Because I've had the temerity to suggest that, as evangelical Christians, we might have been wrong in our understanding of homosexuality and our pastoral policy towards gay people all these years! ...And so 14 years of ministry experience is consigned, in the minds of many evangelical Christians, to the heretical dustbin, no doubt to await divine judgement!
John Buckeridge attempts no detailed reply to my letter. But he does insert in heavy type an editors response which concedes a little only to offer another risky line of defence. Here it is:
The point I attempted to make in my editorial was that basing theology on experience alone wasn’t on. Experience is part of, not the be all and end all of our faith. We need a head AND heart joined up faith....
(I couldn’t agree more—I’ve written a book on the point—see Publications )
... As for Roy Clement’s views being likened to the reformation—Luther, Calvin and others were rediscovering an earlier Biblical understanding of sin, forgiveness and grace. At no time in church history has it been considered orthodox belief to regard an actively homosexual lifestyle as anything but sinful.
I fear John’s attempt at an argument from church history here is as shaky as his use of the apostrophe (editors response / Clement’s views are not my typing mistakes). If the appeal to a unanimous church tradition had been sufficient to settle an issue the Reformation would certainly not have taken place. What’s more, the earth would still be regarded as the centre of the universe, women would still not be able to teach theology etc.. In fact, I can imagine a sentence like John’s above being used in a whole variety of historical contexts. For instance:
"At no time in church history has it been considered orthodox belief to regard slavery as anything but permissible."
Incidentally, the witness of church tradition on the gay issue is not quite as unanimous as John suggests. Scholars who have studied this in detail confirm that tradition speaks with more than one voice on the subject. Two classic books John could read with profit are:
The Church and the Homosexual (John J. McNeill 1976)
Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (John Boswell 1980)
Both are available (under a plain paper cover) from LGCM Mailorder, Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, London E2 6HG (020 7739 1249).