We at Affirm have prepared a public statement expressing our current concerns regarding the discourse on human sexuality and gender identity within the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
A PDF version of the statement can be viewed or downloaded by clicking the link below
Please feel free to contact the team with any comments or questions
The Affirm Team
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.
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.
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.
This event in April in Canterbury looks really interesting. the organiser Peter Toon sent us the flyer and would be glad to hear from you if you are interested in attending.
Full details on the flyer, it’s also in our events calendar as a reminder
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
This post was written by Katie Van Santen and originally published on Emma Higgs’ site. Reproduced here with permission
A Biblical Case For The Support Of Same-Sex Marriage
One of two statements is often heard in regards to an individual’s position on same-sex attraction, which can be paraphrased as:
“I take the ‘traditional’ view because I believe what’s in the Bible”
“I take the ‘reformed’ view because of a family member or friend”.
However, both views have the support of biblical interpretation. Those taking the ‘reformed’ view do not reject biblical authority, but have a different interpretation of the texts to those who take the ‘traditional’ view.
Sometimes the context of a passage means the ‘surface’ or literal reading is the least important in terms of truth about God and our relationship with Him. Scripture is authoritative because it is the Word of God, and we must seek what God says through the Bible, rather than what the Bible says: ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Views on marriage have changed dramatically over time, and our perception of ‘biblical’ marriage is very different to that of the Israelites or first-century Jews. Only relatively recently have we begun to understand the biology, psychology and sociology that underpins the human condition. The definition of ‘traditional, biblical’ marriage as ‘a covenant between one man and one woman for life’ also raises questions regarding the changing attitudes to divorce and remarriage, which won’t be covered further here.
For most of history women were property (Exodus 20:17). The purpose of marriage was to produce legitimate heirs to inherit without dispute. In Hebrew culture, marriages were arranged by the fathers and were purely civil, with no religious ceremony. Often while still children, a bride-price was agreed, a contract was signed, and the couple were betrothed. The bride remained in her father’s house. Once the couple were both old enough, and the money had been saved, a date for the wedding was set. The groom and companions came to the bride’s home, paid the bride-price, and the marriage was consummated. Thus, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31: ‘a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’. The whole wedding party then processed to the groom’s house for the wedding feast, where the bride remained in her husband’s house. The Bible is unclear as to what defines marriage: in the Old Testament wives and concubines held different status, yet Jesus says that once two become ‘one flesh’ God has joined them together (Matthew 19:5-6), and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:15-16) uses the same ‘one flesh’ language for sex with a prostitute as for marriage.
Priests only became involved in Christian marriages the 12th Century and it became a sacrament of the church in the 16th Century. The Reformers declared that marriage was purely secular. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) lists the purpose of marriage as “the procreation of children; a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; and the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other” without reference to love. The idea of romantic attraction and personal choice of partner were raised in the Enlightenment and popularised only by the Victorians. The Old Testament permitted polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:16-17), handmaids (Genesis 16:1-4) and concubines (Genesis 22:24), along with slavery; women had to marry their rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). There are still Christians who believe that 1 Corinthians 7:4 and Ephesians 5:23 permits marital rape as an outworking of the husband’s authority.
Sexuality is a term created by psychologists in the late 19th century. Prior to that there was no concept of sexual orientation, only heterosexual and homosexual practices. From the 14th Century, a ‘sodomite’ was one who performed the act of ‘sodomy’ (anal sex with the same or opposite sex). Therefore there is no concept of our modern understanding of homosexuality in the Bible, nor of monogamous homosexual relationships; the term “homosexuality” was first used in a biblical translation in 1946. As marriage was for procreation and property, there could be no concept of same-sexual marriage until the recent changes in attitudes towards love, women and legitimacy. That there are no examples in the Bible doesn’t stop us driving cars, using plastic, and eating chocolate.
Therefore our ‘traditional’ and ‘biblical’ understanding of marriage, and our ‘traditional’ position on monogamous same-sex relationships has very little historical basis.
There are few mentions of homosexual activity in the bible. Those that are presented as condemning homosexuality are discussed here with contextual and cultural background that point to a different interpretation.
Gang rape has nothing to do with homosexuality. It is an act of power and violence. In the similar story of Judges 19:22-26, the men were satisfied to rape a woman instead of the man they asked for. In addition to inhospitality, Ezekiel 16:49 says that the sin of Sodom was arrogance, greed, neglect of the poor and needy, and pride.
Some Levitical laws make sense to us today, clearly intending to keep the population healthy and free from disease (i.e. blood, mildew, pork). Other laws were for ritual purity, setting Israel apart from the surrounding nations (Leviticus 18:1-5, 20:23-24). Some we accept as still being ‘applicable’ (murder, theft, incest) while others we have allowed to be ‘of their time’ (cloth made of two fibres, shellfish, sideburns). Some authors put these verses into a temple-prostitution context: the Hebrew tow’ebah elsewhere means ritual impurity and idolatry. Adrian Thatcher (2011) suggests that, in the context of the patriarchal society, it is the phrase ‘as a woman’ that is most informative: treating a man as a woman, therefore degrading his status to that of property, is the catastrophic transgression.
Paul was writing to Christians in Rome, a place that worshipped a pantheon of gods, including acts of both male and female temple prostitution to confer favourable fertility. Paul condemns men and women who glorify false gods and give up their ‘natural relations’ for shameful acts ‘inflamed with lust’: idolatry, promiscuity, and temple prostitution for self-seeking ends are Paul’s target. If these men and women gave up their ‘natural’ desires they were not, by our current understanding, homosexual.
The NIVUK (2011) translates 1 Corinthians 6 as “nor men who have sex with men… will inherit the kingdom of God” with a footnote referencing two Greek terms meaning “the passive and active participants in homosexual acts”. The terms are malakos and arsenokoites. The latter of these also appears in 1 Timothy 1.
Malakos appears four times in the New Testament, of which three are translated as ‘soft’ in relation to fine clothing (Matthew 11:8; Like 7:25). In other Greek texts it is used to mean metaphorically ‘soft’, i.e. spineless in the face of injustice, or lacking self-control, rather than effeminate or homosexual.
Arsenokoites appears only in these two passages. In other Greek literature it references exploitation and abuse of the poor. In 1 Timothy 1 it is sandwiched between pornos, a male/boy prostitute, and andrapodistes, a slave dealer. Therefore arsenokoites (literally ‘male-bedder’) appears in the context of abuses of power rather than a loving, monogamous homosexual relationship. Many believe it refers to ‘pederasty’ – the normal Greek and Roman practice of an older man having a sexual relationship with a younger man or boy, slave, or social inferior, in addition to his wife and/or male and female prostitutes.
Without support from these six scriptures, there is nothing biblically that condemns monogamous homosexual relationships. In the context of the Bible as a whole, these passages are better interpreted as speaking against social injustice, exploitation of power, and idolatry for one’s own gain. Scripture also tells us that it is ‘not good for [a hu]man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18), that not all are called to singleness (1 Corinthians 7:9), and that a tree is recognised by its fruit (Luke 6:43-44).
Humanity, in its collective entirety, was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27: in the image of God… he created them). God is not gendered or sexual. In the second account of creation (Genesis 2:4ff) God made Adam (2:7), and later Eve (2:21). There is no record of any in-between, yet Jesus mentions eunuchs that were ‘born that way’ (Matthew 19:12). There are individuals who are born with ambiguous anatomy, mono- or poly-sex chromosomes, excess or deficiency in hormone production and/or hormone receptors. Anatomical and hormonal changes can also be acquired. There is a spectrum in sexual desire from asexual to hypersexual, and in sexual attraction from heterosexual through bisexual to homosexual. There is diversity in human biology and sexuality beyond the simple ‘male’ and ‘female’ dichotomy.
Creation is full of glorious diversity and God saw that creation was ‘very good’. Yet we inconsistently label some of this diversity as ‘good’ and some a ‘result of the fall’. This means that questions of affirming LBGTQ+ identity also must extend to other aspects of diversity: how we treat people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, class, age, wealth, size, health, as well as sexuality. The primary ‘label’ of a human is just that: a human, a person, a child of God. All other aspects of their identity are secondary to the core that they are created loved and lovable.
Over history the Church (as a whole) has acted, in its well-intentioned desire to authentically follow Jesus, to make individuals feel that they are unworthy of love because of their identity. The Church took a ‘biblical’ position on slavery, racism, anti-Semitism, and the inferiority of women until reason and experience prevailed. Then a fresh understanding of the context of the supporting texts allowed reinterpretation of the Bible and consequentially a changed belief.
Dr David Gushee reminds us: “We must cling to Jesus’ example and the way he conducted his ministry… If we do we might notice his warnings about religious self-righteousness and contempt for others deemed to be sinners; his embrace of outcasts and marginalized people; his attacks on those religious leader types who block access to God’s grace…; and perhaps above all his death on the cross for the sins of all of us, beginning with each of us as “chief of sinners.” We must focus tightly on Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.
Rev KV Alias on biblical marriage
Rev Lindsay Louise Biddle on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Canon on homosexuality in the Bible
Rev Justin Gau on Kingdom Values: Mercy
Adam Philips on homosexuality in the Bible
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Homosexuality
Prof Adrian Thatcher on LGBT inclusion (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher on biblical interpretation (pdf)
Prof Adrian Thatcher (2011) God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley Blackwell)
Katie van Santen lives in Plymouth with some lego and quite a few books. She has just completed her Certificate of Higher Education in Theology, Ministry and Mission. Currently she is not a marine biologist or science teacher due to disability, but keeps herself busy as a volunteer aquarium host, visiting preacher, and Fairy Godmother.
I found a superb article online recently at the Sojourners website.
10 Bible Passages That Teach a Christian Perspective on Homosexuality was written by Layton E Williams in June 2017. It is a wonderful response to Christians who refer to those verses commonly known as the ‘clobber passages’. This is an excellent resource and well worth a read. We can’t reproduce it here so I’m posting an offsite link.
In Layton’s introduction she states:
‘Here are 10 Bible verses that emphasize the value of love over the law, the God-belovedness of all people, and the special affirmation of those who have been historically rejected as unclean or unholy.’
Layton E. Williams is the Audience Engagement Editor at Sojourners. She also writes about the intersections of faith, justice, politics, and culture with an emphasis on sexuality and gender. You can follow Layton on Twitter
Please do check this article out it’s absolutely brilliant
Luke Dowding – 12th June 2017
Great joy mixed with great sorrow; that is how I feel about the recent decision made by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church earlier this week (June 2017).
Firstly, great joy for those represented in our family in Christ in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Great joy that it was with overwhelming majority of both Bishops and laity, and a comfortable majority from clergy, that the vote to allow same-sex marriages in the Episcopal Church of Scotland was passed. This vote will ensure that a fundamental change in canon law will occur, in which it will no longer say marriage is a lifelong union between man and woman. It will also make provision for those in employed and volunteer positons to decline involvement in same-sex weddings based on decisions of conscience and different theological interpretation. This brings Scottish Episcopal churches to the same position that Baptist churches within the Baptist Union of Great Britain are in (because of our different Ecclesiology and recent decisions of the BU Council).
Secondly, deep sadness for the strife and bitterness caused by the continued dialogue of opposing sides regarding human sexuality. This is not limited to the Anglican Communion but it is deeply entrenched within our Baptist family as well. While Bishops within the Church of England cut ties with their counterparts in Scotland, and “missionaries” are being sent to reconvert those they consider “lost”, so behind so-called “mutual respect” there are those within the Baptist Union who continue to close doors, frustrate productive engagement and undermine those who have an inclusive vision of Kingdom building.
The news from Scotland is one to thank God for, but it also serves as a frank reminder of all that we have still yet to achieve.
Luke Dowding is Co-Director of Affirm