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The Stand of Courage

by Sheila Longman

Church fights against truth because it is thought to oppose Scripture

 

Copernicus (1473-1543) studied astronomy and after much research discovered that the galaxy was heliocentric. He stood against the teachings of over a thousand years. When Copernicus discovered that the earth was one of other planets which were centred on the sun, he was opposed by the Protestant Church, Luther and Melancthon among others, on Biblical grounds and his writings were only published as hypothesis by the Roman Catholic Church for many years after his death. This interesting fragment of 16th century history can help us understand the view of Courage and some other evangelical organisations today in their stand for gay Christians.  Evangelicals who have come to accept same-sex relationships are seen as liberal, deluded, unscriptural and are shunned and judged by many in the evangelical world.

 

A changed view point

 

Courage and other like minded Christians would like all other Christians to accept that there is another point of view.  Fundamentally based on a personal walk with God and a life of prayer, we have discovered another way of interpreting the well-known Bible verses, another way of treating gay people. We wish to be accepted as people of integrity who have changed our views because of serious Bible study and prayer and after much experience of ministering to gay people.

 

We are not those who have merely changed the Word of God to fit in with our prevailing culture or who have simply accommodated our society’s views, making light of the Word of God. Our change has come after much soul searching.

 

Teaching on the interpretation of Bible passages

 

There are many helpful articles on the internet which explain in detail the translations and interpretation of the key passages of Scripture which lead us to have a more open and accepting attitude to gay people. There are several good Bible teachers who have given papers on the subject in the last few years. We do not intend to cover that ground here.

 

One such article by Dr Roy Clements begins by making three observations:


’I believe that there are at least three reasons why evangelicals must think again about homosexuality:

 

1                    Because Christian hostility towards homophile relationships rests on an interpretation of the Bible which is in many respects open to question.

2                    Because there is a diversity of opinion among Christians about the issue which will cause division within the churches unless an attitude of greater tolerance and mutual respect prevails.

3                    Because current pastoral practice is damaging homosexual Christians and so alienating the gay community generally that evangelism is made impossible.’

 

 

(See “Why evangelicals must think again about homosexuality,” by Dr Roy Clements. www.royclements.co.uk, published with permission by Courage.)

 

We need to address the ignorance about homosexuality. Churches need to be educated and made aware of the known facts about the origins of sexual orientation, current scientific research and above all, to face the reality of the experience of gay people who feel judged and rejected by the church they love.

 

Changing orientation does not work

 

We have long experience of ministry to gay people; counselling and healing prayer to help them lead celibate lives, with in-depth discipleship courses and support groups to help them discover the possibility of a heterosexual lifestyle.  We have been with leaders of these ministries and increasingly recognised a kind of hypocrisy.  Some of those who have testified to a changed orientation have later returned to a secret gay life-style because all that changed was their outward behaviour.  Their sexual orientation itself was not changed.

 

Scientific research

 

Scientists have researched the origins and causes of same sex attraction and over the past few years have increasingly discovered what a very complex issue human sexuality is.  In his recent acclaimed book, “Nature via Nurture”, author Matt Ridley explains that sexual orientation cannot simply be put down to nature or nurture but rather the complex relationship in which our nature is profoundly affected by our nurture and vice versa.  Sexual orientation is clearly not merely a life-style choice as was believed in the past.  Most gay people knew quite young that they were attracted to the same sex and not to the opposite sex.  Genetic factors have been found; not exactly a ‘gay gene’.  But nevertheless evidence exists suggesting that sexual orientation is a biological phenomenon.  The law of our land now increasingly accepts same-sex relationships.  The church is having to follow society as it did in the issues of abolishing the slave trade, racial equality and the role and equality of women.  God does sometimes lead the church through what is happening in the world.

 

 A different perspective

 

To get the issue in perspective we need to look back at the other issues which have shaken the church in the past few decades–the Charismatic movement, the role of women in leadership, the forbidding of ‘worldly things’ such as the theatre and cinema, the judgemental attitude towards denominations different to our own, marriage to partners outside the denomination, re-marriage of divorced people–to name some of the main ones.

 

A moral view

 

Christians who accept same-sex relationships do not accept that anything goes.  Courage is there to support Christian gay people in their walk with God; to love and trust God and work out their sexuality as they study the Word and live in Christian fellowship.  Acceptance is not an invitation to lead a promiscuous gay life-style.  The quality of the worship and the earnest desire of the people to walk with God are evident to all who visit the Courage meetings.

 

The new approach of Courage, to accept long term, same-sex relationships as  a legitimate way of expressing sexuality has been made at great cost and therefore not a decision taken lightly.  While we agree that celibacy is another possible way of life, it is a different matter for the church to impose celibacy on all gay people as a condition for their acceptance in the church.

 

A little research reveals that thousands of gay people have made an important contribution to our society, not just in recent years, but examples can be found from past centuries even among well-known churchmen.

 

In conclusion

 

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.  The sexual activities condemned in both Old and New Testament are not a description of faithful, loving, long-term gay partnerships.  Same-sex relationships are not unnatural to people who discover they are gay.  Heterosexual relationships are unnatural to them even though many gay people manage to sustain a marriage, loving their partner, having gone into marriage because of the pressures of church teaching, family and their reputation in society.

 

We could at least agree to disagree.  If we believe there is only one right interpretation on all homosexual activity we forget all the other issues which have divided the church over the years because different groups held that their own teaching was the only correct one–on baptism, hat wearing, length of hair for men and women, women speaking in the church, calling men ‘father’, plurality of elders, smells and bells, decision making, or knowing how to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Homosexuality is being treated as the unforgivable sin.  What is an abomination in the sight of God?

 

A Dorset Vicar, when preaching to his congregation after the recent Synod in Ireland, quoted Richard Baxter (1615-1691), one of the most eminent of English divines:

 

‘In things essential, unity.

In things uncertain, liberality.

In all things, love’

 

He went on to point out that ‘things essential’ were contained in the Creed and that we should not add to the Creed to bring division to the church.

 

by Sheila Longman

COURAGE

April 2005


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