Saturday, September 20, 2003


Stephen Bates, The Guardian's religious affairs correspondent, has a revealing (if slightly depressing) article about the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) in Blackpool ... and the refusal of some delegates even to pray in the same room with the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom they disagree over homosexuality.

The piece refers, inter alia, to Roy Clements, the outstanding preacher and Christian leader whose outing effectively ended his public ministry as a Baptist pastor and leader within the Evangelical Alliance. Roy's excellent website is a source of essays and information from the alternative evangelical conscience on questions of sexuality, rooted in careful reflection, prayer and tough personal experience.

The number of evangelicals in and outside the Church of England who refuse to tow the line of the vociferous, wealthy and extremely well-organized conservative lobby is much higher than is often realized -- not least because of the climate of vituperation which surrounds them. Christina Rees speaks out in Bates' article. Jonathan Bartley of Ekklesia has written of his experience. And Jeremy Marks of Courage is interviewed on Clements' site, which also contains a very good summary of responses to what is going on from outside the evangelical camp. Other dissident voices include Anne Townsend (the missionary author, now psychotherapist and Anglican priest), US theologian Tony Campolo, and Dave Tomlinson (of 'post-evangelical' fame).

The point of mentioning this is not to 'fan the flames' of argument (to adopt the ironic title of this year's NEAC), but instead to point towards the true diversity that exists within the evangelical world. My own interests in this are three-fold. First, it is part of my own inheritance. I attended NEAC in Nottingham in 1977 as a young student Christian. Second, a close member of my own family was gay, and suffered enormously from the tension between his own experience and the repression of the religious culture that had nurtured his faith. That was part of what occasioned my 1999 pamphlet, Toward Communion. Third, though my own theology has moved into significantly different trajectories over the years, I still value the faith and vitality of evangelical colleagues. Their commitment to taking Jesus Christ, the Bible and mission seriously is crucial: though in many respects what 'evangelical orthodoxy' believes about such things is, in my experience, severely lacking.

A friend of mine who teaches theology in Scotland put it well. Speaking of his students, he observed a frustration with many of the self-styled 'liberals' who were afraid of conviction lest it offend anyone. The evanglicals, on the other hand, had conviction by the spadeful but needed, he said, to think much harder about what they believed. His judgement? 'They could be the future of the church - but they really need to get their theology sorted out!'

From a very different angle, Alison Webster, social responsibility adviser in the Anglican Diocese of Oxford, writes today's Face to Faith column on the sexuality argument.

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