So this week Steve Chalke has published an article arguing for the inclusion and welcome of those in committed, stable homosexual relationships in the church. He argues in favour of civil partnerships and church involvement in their blessing, but is not convinced for the need for 'gay marriage'. (Chalke is no strange to controversy, the first Chalke-gate was in 2004 over his views on penal substitution). Chalke is the founder and director of the Christian charity Oasis, a high-profile Evangelical leader, and also a Baptist minister.
The Evangelical Alliance has been quick to respond (possibly too quick!) with comments from Steve Clifford (EA director) and Steve Holmes (chair of the EA theology committee) appearing on the same day as Steve's article.
Today the Baptist Union have published a response by the Head of Faith & Unity and Head of Ministry via the Baptist Times,
There are probably lots of other responses (many more hostile!), but these have been the ones shared in my networks.
Clifford's response is what you would expect from the director of EA, that is, the matter is settled, Chalke's position is not an 'evangelical' one.
Holmes' response is better - more open to discussion - and offers some critique of Chalke's argument, specifically around the trajectory of his hermeneutics.
Duncan's response is around timing of Chalke's announcement and the politics and theology of the inclusive agenda.
Kerrigan offers, for my mind, the best response so far and I think is actually more helpful than Chalke's own piece, in terms of recognising that the majority of Christians - I would venture to suggest - find themselves neither in the 'affirming' camp or the 'excluding' camp, but caught in the middle of these extremes and finding themselves pulled in both directions. Kerrigan offers a somewhat middle ground, which I think as some merit.
The Baptist Union response wants to affirm the ministry of Chalke, but at the same time, continue to affirm its position with regard to Baptist ministers refraining from advocating practising homosexual relationships and involvement in civil partnerships. Baptist ministers are bound by a set of 'ministerial rules' because their position as ministers goes beyond just the local, they are representatives of the union and so in a different relationship to those not in ordained accredited ministry. (This is a sticking point for a significant number of Baptist ministers).
The conversation with regard to homosexuality amongst Evangelicals and Baptists has been fairly conservative and marginal. Time will tell, whether Chalke's interruption will shift the debate/conversation into a wider and more open and more radical direction. My concern is that the debate is always one where minds are already made up, rather than those open to change.
A few comments:
1. I don't think scripture can help us much by itself. This is not a matter of exegesis, but of theology. This is a matter we can proof-text, by either 'side'.
2. For Baptists a Core Value is being an 'inclusive community' - but what does being inclusive mean? What happens when 'inclusion' becomes the only value. If it is a core value, what does it mean in relation to the other four (worshipping, prophetic, sacrifical, missional)? As fairly common for Baptists, there is a theological-thinness to or understanding of these Core Values.
3. While the comparison is made to slavery and to women in ministry, I'm not sure it is as easy as that. There is a unamious view that the practice of slavery is wrong. There is a significant view that women can be ordained and practice ministry. Christians are more divided with regard to homosexuality.
4. Holmes is right I think when he suggests that Jesus and Paul don't ground the pinnacle of human relationships in a marriage (i.e sexual) or familial direction. Yet we live in a culture, and one that the church largely supports, which places the romantic and sexual relationship as of most value. Here I'm not sure I agree with Kerrigan who says Holmes is idealistic, the danger is we say that about most of Jesus' teaching.