Book Launch Event – Gemma’s Book

Affirm Trustee Gemma Dunning has co-authored a recently published book ‘4 Views On Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers’. Some of you will have been at the recent Two:23 event where the book was launched in London.

If you missed it there is another event taking place in Newport, South Wales and we’d love to see you there.

Details below:

Deep Calling To Deep (part 2): Anna Rogerson

Following on from Part 1 of this series by Andrea King, here we can read Anna Rogerson’s story of God’s transforming work in her life.


Throughout my Christian journey my views on human sexuality have not been static by any means – then again, I have never really had to think too deeply about it. However, God has a way of reaching into our hearts and disturbing us, often unexpectedly.

About 10 years ago, I had a life-changing encounter with God, a physical experience of his presence that caused me to fall in love with Him all over again. I felt called to be baptized a few years later, and experienced another shift. This time it was a little different. I felt convicted and saddened by what I saw around me – broken marriages, broken lives, just so many things wrong with the world. And yes, an increasing acceptance of different lifestyles, one of which was same sex relationships, something I believed to be completely unbiblical.

At that point I pretty much knew what I believed, I was settled in my views, and didn’t really give human sexuality in a Christian context much thought. Because to be honest, I didn’t have to.

Until one day………WHAM! I did.

I’ll never forget the day it was announced – someone in our congregation, in a same sex relationship, was applying for church membership. We had never had to deal with a dilemma like that in our church before. I cried and cried and cried – the tension seemed too much to bear. Because on one hand, here was a woman who seemed perfectly nice, had been coming to our church for ages, and just wanted to be a member like everyone else. On the other, if we said yes, it would mean we – I – would be agreeing with what she believed.  Or saying it was ok. Either way, it would be something that would stretch my conscience so badly it would tear it. I would be doing something wrong. I couldn’t breathe. It was a time of stress, anxiety, and having multiple near misses in the car. All I could do was pour out my heart to God and seek Him.

There was already a culture of fear in the church because at that time many people were sick, and everyone was searching for answers. The devil can use people’s fears, can’t he – it’s one of his most effective weapons if we are not on our guard. Sadly it seems, we were not, as she left the church under what must have been an unbearably dark cloud of despair.

When she came back to our church a year later, my panic returned. All I could do was cry out to God and keep on searching. If only I could find something that would change my view, so I could just agree and be at peace. But no matter how much I prayed, read, or enquired of others, I just couldn’t find anything that made sense to me. No explanation of scripture that I hadn’t heard before, no moments of revelation. Then one day on a train, God spoke to me. ‘I’m not asking you to change your mind. The most important thing is to be in relationship with me’. That brought me some sense of relief, and was the starting point of a wonderful shift in my journey.

About a year after she was accepted into membership, I was on a Footsteps course, and during one of the sessions I had another all-encompassing encounter with God. I felt Him calling me to completely support her, to journey with her, even though it might cost me. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with love and excitement! It was literally like angels were rejoicing in heaven, difficult to describe. Needless to say, I didn’t learn much about Baptist History that day.

At church the next day, I tentatively approached her and tried to explain what God had put on my heart, hoping that she would accept it. Gracious, as always, she did, and suddenly it seemed a real friendship based on love and acceptance was possible. Before me I saw someone who was dedicated in prayer, had a passion for caring for others, and was filled with grace.

Inclusion is now one of the aspects of God’s character that is the most precious to me. One of the books I read in my search for truth was Matthew Vine’s book ‘God and the Gay Christian’. Though I still struggle to bridge the difference in our understanding of scripture, Vine’s vulnerability and explanation of the impacts of exclusion on LGBT people has helped me love and accept people just as they are, as cherished children of God. But it’s God who changes hearts.

Anna Rogerson

Deep Calling To Deep (Part 1): Andrea King

Deep Calling To Deep

Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs by Affirm contributor Andrea King

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13)

Sometimes from the very best of intentions, through strong conviction or values, developed over many years or inherited from those we’ve trusted, we can unintentionally cause pain to others who are different to us.

We don’t intend to. We don’t set out to. But nonetheless, we can become so very sure of our conviction that we either do not stop to consider our impact, or perhaps at times, turn our faces away from the impact we might have; unable, or unwilling, to consider it. Sometimes we’ll provide rational arguments to justify an associated impact of discomfort or pain, perhaps seeing it as an inevitable consequence of staying true to our values or beliefs. That original good intention, our intention of trying to do what we consider to be right or appropriate at the time, becomes an unwitting foundation for harm. We’ve all been there.

It is difficult to know quite what we might do when polarised Biblical convictions create suffering, pain or rejection for some. How do we reconcile this with the Kingdom of God? It becomes a cycle of exclusion, fuelled by the best intentions.

Diversity is incumbent within the body of Christ, it’s a necessary and crucial aspect of reflecting Him more fully. Many members of the LGBT+ community find themselves supported and firmed up by individuals who affirm His unconditional love for all and often more specifically, see a reflection of Him in LGBT+ people of faith. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that the cycle of exclusion simply saps hope from members of the LGBT+ community. Many of us ebb and flow in resurgent hope, disappointment and pain. We often feel less entitled, or even sometimes disqualified, from a hope of salvation, freely offered. Our understanding of an eternal relationship with Him, which we understood to be bought at great price, seems somehow insufficient. It leaves us questioning where and with whom we might ever belong. It can be deeply painful, faith can come at great cost.

And so, I wanted to share one small moment from my ongoing journey with you. I have been attending my local Church for 11 years and about five years ago, having got to know many people within the Church and knowing that there was simply something I must do in Him, I sought membership. I offered to sit with those who had worries, concerns, theological objections and talk it through. A few sought me out. Of those that did, one was respectful in their enquiry. My lasting memory of that time is a few people turning their faces to the wall, literally, as I walked past and particularly of one individual simply saying that people were sick in the church because of that fact that I was there, stated slightly less politely than I’ve described it here. Theologically, this does not stand up, morally this is very simply unacceptable, but regardless, the impact was huge. I stepped away, respectfully. Internally I drew a line, ‘enough’, but if I’m honest, I’d lost hope.

All that was left was prayer. All I could reach was Him. It was raw prayer, no words, pure opening of heart, a cry of the soul.

Stepping away gave a period of time for everyone to reflect. It transpired, that a majority were supportive, card after card came through the door. It gave time for some soul searching. A year later, on Easter Sunday, I returned, due largely to the grace of two Ministers who did not, and would not, let me go, and who modelled grief. The community started to broadly recognise, perhaps for the first time, the impact strong convictions can have when we switch off our capacity to reflect and empathise. Nonetheless, individuals with strong convictions precluding LGBT+ inclusivity remained and with one of these individuals we commenced together on a new journey of sharing our faith, of prayer and mutual reflection together. What bound us both was Him. We both pray a lot, deep calling to deep, and maintained an unwavering commitment to seeking Him – it was our common ground. We respected each other, not seeking any change, just wanting to understand each other more fully, in Him.

About a year ago now –ten years after this journey first began – this individual who I am proud to call my friend, reached a point of revelation, in which the strongly held convictions she embodied were re-framed by Him in prayer, the linked to this, describes her story.

And so, I wonder, how might that help us journey together through the national debates about LGBT+ orientation within the faith community? I wonder how the principles of mutual respect, seeking first to understand each other, and crucially, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him in prayer might help?

It just might be that this theological debate is not within our power or skill to resolve, but it remains fully within His. It requires, trust, patience, grace and above all love, but it is without doubt possible.

 

I wonder, would you join us in the journey together, with Him? To seek first to understand, united in Him.

Andrea King

 

 

 

 

 

Some Responses to the Nashville Statement

This week a group of around 150 Christian leaders published The Nashville Statement, a set of affirmations and denials regarding sexuality and faith and in particular LGBT+ issues. This group, it must be said, represent a particular brand of conservative evangelicalism that this particular writer finds to be unwholesome to say the least.

I won’t post a link to the statement here, you’ll find it easily enough if you really want to read it.

There have been a number of responses to the statement online, many from the church and many from secular writers. I want to highlight two responses here that I found to be particularly helpful in presenting a more loving, inclusive and Christ-like representation of the broad spectrum of humanness .

Firstly the ‘Denver Statement‘ written by Nadia Bolz-Weber, an author of several ground-breaking books and a founding pastor of House For All Sinners And Saints in Denver, Colorado.  Nadia responds brilliantly to each of the articles and adds one of her own at the end.

Secondly from Christians United, a similar statement listing their own set of ten articles written in the same style as pairs of affirmations and denials, This statement has initially been signed by a broad spectrum of international Christian leaders and in this case there is an option for the reader to sign on in agreement to the statement.

Here at Affirm our purpose is to support the LGBT+ community, particularly those within the Baptist denomination, but in a wider sense to all those seeking to be at home in an inclusive, Christ-like church, it makes me sad to read the Nashville Statement, but I am encouraged by the responses and by the realisation that the love of Christ is all-encompassing and slowly, very slowly, his church is coming to realise that.

This post by Andy Long, website manager

 

Gathering Voices

Gathering Voices is an event that is taking place in Manchester this October. It is A collaborative day conference of Christian organisations working to explore ways to improve the experience for all LGBTQAi+ Christians

With key speakers Ruth Hunt (CEO Stonewall)

& Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Ch*aplain to the Speaker to the House of Commons)

.This promises to be a fascinating day and Affirm will be represented there too.

Details below

Saturday 14th October 2017 09.30 a.m. to 5.30p.m.

Cost: £35 (including refreshments)
Cross Street Chapel, Manchester http://cross-street-chapel.org.uk/

Organisations confirmed so far:
Accepting Evangelicals, Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians, Outcome, Sibyls, Stonewall, Two:23

Tel:. 020 8411 0040 (home) 07714 278865 (mobile) e-mail: contact@eflgc.org.uk

N.B. The closing date for accepting bookings is the 30th September 2017

 

A report from Baptist Assembly 2017

Baptist Assembly 2017

Affirm members were well represented at this year’s Baptist Assembly held in May in Harrogate.  This is the Annual Meeting of the Baptist family in the UK and includes the AGMs of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission.

Under the title Beacons of Hope, encouraging stories were shared of successful and challenging initiatives, both in this country and in other parts of the world.  Times of worship with singing led by an excellent multicultural music group complimented an eclectic choice of Workshops considered topics from “Mission in a secular world” to “Lessons from Asia” to “How to apply our Christian principles as we vote in the General Election” to “How to be a Baptist evangelical and be true to our history and principles.”

Ministers and missionaries who had died in the last year were remembered and a long list of newly accredited ministers, including our own Dawn Cole-Savidge, and mission personnel were recognised with a handshake from the President, Dianne Tidball and the two General Secretaries, Lynn Green and David Kerrigan.

We were able to update many friends with details of our new website and other developments in the network and hold a good number of one to one conversations spreading knowledge of the work of Affirm.  A few more people wore the “elephant in the church” badges.  We do however lament the fact that the Assembly is now only one day, so there is much less time to mingle with new people and that there is no exhibition where we might again apply for a stall.

Martin, Luke, Dawn, Ruth and Ian

Bible Study 2: Being A Christ-Like Church

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to lgbt people

Study 2: Being a Christ-like Church

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

In the first blog in this series I argued that Jesus accepted and affirmed people as they are and showed compassion to those who were excluded from the “straight” norm, including those “born that way” (i.e. gay people). He also avoided criticising a centurion who may well have had a gay relationship with his servant – agreeing to heal the servant because of the man’s love for him. And drawing on St Paul’s affirmation that in Christ’s church there can be no barriers, we can say in Christ there is neither lgbt nor straight – we are all one in Christ Jesus. So lgbt people are welcome in Christ’s church.

Why then are there so many churches that do not welcome lgbt people?

One problem is that – as I said in the first blog, quoting Paul “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3 v 23) or to put it another way, all of us fail to live up to what Jesus wants us to be. So churches are full of sinners! Fortunately, Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7 v 34) and those who repent of their sins can be used in the service of His kingdom, the challenge each church has to address.

The good news is that there are a growing number of churches that do genuinely welcome lgbt people and recognise and use their talents and what they can offer as full and equal members of God’s kingdom. However that is far from always the case.

In that familiar passage in John’s Gospel “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3 v 16 & 17).

So why do some of His followers and many churches so often condemn instead of welcoming? In Matthew 7 v 21 right at the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Earlier in chapter 7 at verse 1 he has said “Judge not that you be not judged” and he continues with the lovely exaggerated illustration of someone trying to take a speck of dust out of a friend’s eye when they have a huge log in their own.

There is the temptation of those who feel they understand God’s will to become arrogant. Luke records the parable that Jesus taught – of the religious leader who thanked God that he wasn’t like the “sinners” of his time and the repentant man who showed humility and knew where he had messed up. Jesus praised the repentant man as the one who was at peace with God. (Luke 18 vv9-14) Often you will hear people say “hate the sin; love the sinner”. American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has the more Christian quote “love the sinner, hate your own sin”.

As a gay man, but a Christian first of all, I am conscious of my sins and seek to examine myself regularly and repent and seek to do better, in particular as a part of the service I attend each Sunday (as I am sure each Christian does in their own way). A prayer I value is the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

There are those who believe that we can change our sexuality. Even some who say that just by being gay or trans we are “sinful”. It reminds me of the people who came to Jesus wanting to know why a disabled man was disabled. “Was it his sin or the sin of his parents?” Jesus was quite clear it was neither (John 9vv1-34). We know that, although it can be to some extent suppressed, sexuality does not change. It would be wonderful if it did as no-one chooses to be LGBT. But people will take time to learn that. Each of us has a different story to tell and makes different decisions about how we deal with our sexuality or gender identity. That is why some of us must patiently and honestly share our stories with our Christian brothers and sisters to enable them to move forward on the journey of understanding.

That is not to say that all those Christians who struggle to accept gay people are hypocritical or un-Christian. There is a great deal of misinformation about what it means to be gay or transgender. Often people will believe the stereotypes of LGBT people that are out there. Many of us have had to deal with out own homophobia to accept ourselves as we are and others have to travel that journey too.

Of course as LGBT people we, like everyone else, get things wrong. We make bad decisions, let those we love down, say hurtful or malicious things and we know it and in our better times we regret it. But the good news is that in Christ’s real church we are welcome, we are affirmed. In our relationship with Christ, if we acknowledge when we get things wrong then we can be forgiven in just the same way as any other Christian. Jesus has promised his followers the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. As we seek the truth and share with other Christians we and they will see our faults and want to deal with them. That is where we meet God and are assured of His forgiveness as we seek to turn our lives around (which is what repentance means).

Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his time. He was often misunderstood. He made what the world would see as a mistake in standing up for the vulnerable, challenging injustice, healing the sick in mind and body, breaking some of the Old Testament rules on the way. That led to a cruel death on the cross. That was not the end though. God did not leave him there but raised him from the dead. Perfect love does not die but is vindicated on that Easter Day.

Going back to Matthew 7 v 21, can we sum up what Jesus says is the Father’s will? Yes we can!! When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus doesn’t just answer with one but gives two and moreover says they sum up all the law of Moses and the prophets’ teachings – namely “Love God, with all your heart, soul and mind” and then “love your neighbour as you love yourself” Matt 22 v 36 – 40.

Paul again in his letters emphasises the importance of self-giving love among Christians, most famously in 1 Corinthians 13, which he starts by saying “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words I can be a wonderful preacher and show myself full of the Holy Spirit, but if I don’t show a loving welcome and concern for others my words will be useless.

And we can look to Jesus’ words, this time in Matthew 25, when he makes it clear that those who will “inherit the Kingdom” are those who welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable – in the passage known as the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The New Testament is full of exhortations for followers of Jesus to show love. For example, in John 15 verse 12, Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So we should be able to be recognised as Christians by our loving welcome of all, particularly those different from ourselves. It would be so easy if we could just go into any church and always find people who do God’s will and show a loving welcome to all. It was said of the early Christians by the writers of the time “See how they love one another” (Attributed to Tertullian).

Now we cannot say that there is a particular denomination that is the most Christ-like, or (much as we would like to think sometimes) that high church or low church, evangelical, liberal, charismatic or any other label marks out the best of us. Those who would seek Jesus in our churches have to “taste and see” for it is “by their fruits” that you can tell (Matthew 7 v 16). We must pray that we pass the test!

Martin Stears-Handscomb

Bible Study 1: You Are Welcome And Affirmed

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to LGBT people

Study 1: You are welcome and affirmed

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

What would Bible study be like if the church wanted to preach the Gospel to LGBT people?
Would we/they be invited to join the battle, by focussing on 6 or so verses taken out of context? I don’t think so! There is a place for responding to the agenda set by those who want to justify the homophobic attitude the church has often taken, but that isn’t all there is!

Surely we should be introducing people to Jesus – the person that helps make sense of it all

In a world whose gods – money, sex, possessions – do not satisfy, Jesus’ teaching, as we find it in the gospels offers us a way of living that turns that upside down, that puts self-giving love at the centre. And Paul explains how, although we all get it wrong and keep getting it wrong, Jesus, by his sacrificial love on the cross has put us right with God.

In Romans 3 v 23, Paul writes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on in the next verse to say we are “justified freely by God’s grace through Jesus”. This wonderful explanation by Paul in chapters 1 – 5 is summed up in chapter 5 verse 8 in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

But is this open to LGBT people? Is just being gay sinful? What was Jesus’ attitude?

In Jesus’ day as in all ages there were LGBT people. But they would be likely to be oppressed, repressed, in the closet, at least in Jewish society. For gay men at the extreme of the spectrum there would be the issue of being inadequate in marriage and potentially ostracised. In his teaching on divorce, Jesus speaks of people who were “born that way” (Good News Bible) or “born eunuchs” as well as those “men made that way”. Gay men would be seen as emotional eunuchs. Jesus’ concern was that they should not be forced into heterosexual marriage.

In Matthew 19 vv 11 – 12 “Jesus answered “This teaching (the teaching on marriage and divorce) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some because they were born that way; others because men made them that way …” Jesus was certainly not saying that everyone ought to be able to have a straight marriage if they prayed hard enough. His concern was with people as they are. And although there is no similar comment about women, Jesus’ concern for women to be treated fairly and sensitively by men, perhaps gives us a flavour of how he would have treated the lesbian women of his day.

There was however, homosexual practise in surrounding societies, looked down on by those in self-righteous Jewish religious groups such as the Pharisees. For example, Roman army leaders, unable to take a wife with them on their campaigns would often choose an attractive young male servant to satisfy their sexual desires. These young men or boys were known as catamites. Jesus would have known this when he met a centurion who asked him to save the servant who he loves. The centurion has left his “very dear” servant at home in bed. Jesus doesn’t ask if he is the centurion’s catamite, which might be expected – but what matters to Jesus is his love for him and so he heals him. What Jesus is concerned with is self-giving love. You can find the story in Luke chapter 7 or Matthew chapter 8 vv 5 and following.

What about Paul?

Christians argue about what Paul means when he criticises the abuse of sexuality. This is really the subject of another study but a number of brief interesting things can be said here. Because of his initial belief that the second coming was imminent, in his early writings, Paul actually advocated refraining from sexual activity for all Christians, whatever their sexuality but with the concession of seeking a loving partnership (i.e. marriage) rather than “burning with passion”.

In 1 Corinthians 7 vv 8-9 he writes “Now to the unmarried, and to the widows I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do. But if you cannot restrain your desires go ahead and marry – it is better to marry than to burn with passion” Verse 25 makes clear he is giving opinion, not commands from the Lord.

But more important, Paul makes clear that no one is excluded for who they are.   Turning to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them in that wonderful verse at the beginning of chapter 3 “You foolish Galatians, who has put a spell on you?   What is this spell? It is the idea that putting up barriers can restrict the gospel to those who fit, in their case those (men of course) who had been circumcised. No says Paul! Faith in Christ has made us all equal. He concludes with that fabulous and shocking verse to the people of the time, verse 28. He gives three examples, “there is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes one “you are all one in Christ Jesus”, so that to the end of eternity when the church tries to set up barriers we can go on adding categories – so there is indeed neither gay nor straight is God’s kingdom!

So you are Welcome, but are you “Affirmed?”

Over the last few years many of those in churches such as ours have drawn the distinction between churches who welcome and affirm lgbt people – which is code for saying you are welcome and it’s okay to have gay sex – and churches who welcome and do not affirm – which is code for saying that you are “welcome” but are expected not to have sex and in varying degrees expected to “repent”, be “celibate”, try to be heterosexual, etc. Someone has described this as “Exercises in Missing the Point”. Once we establish that there are LGBT people, that we are here, churches must stop indulging in the sort of prurience that would be utterly unacceptable if the subjects were married straight people. Let us redefine Affirming as accepting people as they are – as Jesus affirms people – invites us to come as we are. We believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so let us leave lgbt people to search the scriptures themselves. Some will conclude that certain ways of expressing their love are inappropriate and refrain from them. Others will not. But that is between us and God.

So the answer is yes – gay man, lesbian woman, transgendered person, bisexual person, intersex person, whoever you are. In Christ’s church you are welcome, you are affirmed, you are a child of God valued by him for who you are. And whatever you have done – and we all screw up – we are made right with God, because Jesus who never got it wrong at all, made us right with God through accepting the worst that people could throw at him for our sakes – Yes! being judicially murdered, despised, misunderstood, taunted, torn from those he loved to die the most wretched death, but yes vindicated by God – for us!!!!! That is the Gospel we want to share with you. And may God bless you and make His face to shine upon you because there is a place for you in His church!

Martin Stears-Handscomb

Welcome

Welcome to the new site for Affirming Baptists in the UK.

We will be adding a lot more content as the site develops and the work of the group continues to grow.

We are working on more resources for local churches and for individual LGBT+ Christians, these will include a series of short videos telling the stories of some of our members, as well as study material and recommended books.

We hope that you find this a useful and friendly sit, please feel free to get in touch via the contacts page or leave comments on the blog posts