A prominent UK Evangelical leader has shocked and angered some in the Evangelical community after making comments in support of homosexuality and gay marriage.
Steve Chalke, a baptist minister and United Nations special adviser on community action against human trafficking, wrote an article for Christianity Magazine's "The Bible and Homosexuality" series. In the article, Chalke says the institution of marriage predates the church and government, and therefore "belongs to neither". He acknowledges that some will accuse him of straying from scripture and of no longer being an Evangelical. However, he says that through prayerful reflection he has striven to take the scripture seriously, which has led him to rethink his views on homosexuality. He says:
"The church cannot afford to go on alienating the youth of the nation by the way it treats gay people. Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and well-being can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?”
Chalke goes on to say the church should consider "nurturing" committed and monogamous gay relationships.
Chalke's views have been harshly criticized by some in the Evangelical community. Steve Clifford, director of the Evangelical Alliance, says Chalke has now "distanced himself" from the majority of the Evangelical community and from "2000 years of biblical interpretation". He goes on to say that Chalke's views and biblical interpretation:
"[produces] a god in our own likeness, or in the likeness of the culture in which we find ourselves. [It] allows for a god in the likeness of 21st-century Western European mind-sets."
Dr Peter Saunders, head of the Christian Medical Fellowship, accused Chalke of heresy, claiming Chalke has publicly announced his views in an effort to "influence the upcoming parliamentary debate on gay marriage." Saunders goes on to say:
"I strongly believe that he has badly misinterpreted Scripture on this matter and is now publicly teaching what is, in essence, heresy. That is a very serious matter indeed."
Steve Holmes, a Baptist minister and senior lecturer in theology at St Andrews University, was a bit more forgiving, however he warns that scripture cannot be used to justify Chalke's views, saying:
"I do not think it can be justified biblically, and I do not think it will work."
Holmes does acknowlege that the church needs to be more accepting however, saying:
"The urgency here, though, is not in getting our theoretical ethics right; it is learning to love people we, as evangelical Christians, have too often failed to love. My most passionate prayer for the discussion Steve has begun is...that we might together find ways to make our churches counter-cultural communities of love where every person may find true human intimacy and God's healing grace."
Chalke defends his views, pointing to the fact that Copernicus and Galileo were accused of having a "a secularist, European mind-set", only to have their views proven correct. He says his entire argument is based in the bible's teaching, pointing to the cultural issues that Paul refers to in his New Testament writings. He goes on to say he believes that God would support and bless any couple who seek to live in a lifelong committed relationship.
Although the blessing of Civil Partnerships is forbidden by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Chalke presided over a dedication and blessing service of two gay members of his church after they had entered a Civil Partnership. At that time he stated:
"I extend to these people what I would do to others - the love and support of our local church. Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God's character as seen through Christ."
Accepting Evangelicals spokesman, Benny Hazlehurst, praised Chalkes views as "courageous" and "inspiring", saying that a growing number of Evangelicals have become "uncomfortable with traditional Evangelical teaching on sexuality."