Friday, 1 July 2011

Trajectories and Tribes: Thoughts on being left out…

Thankfully it only happens very rarely, but it remains excruciatingly embarrassing for both parties.

‘See you tonight then’.


‘At the party’.

‘What party?’

‘At Jenny’s!’

‘Um… I haven’t been invited to any party at Jenny’s’

Cue awkward and embarrassing silence…

In such cases the person excluded or forgotten probably feels more hurt than anything else. I suppose I feel a bit hurt at the moment, but more sad than hurt. And such hurt as I feel is not for me, but for the church and the process of discernment.

As people continue to react and respond to the General Assembly’s debate on the issue of ministers in same-sex relationships, so groups have been gathering to discuss what to do and how to deal with the implications of the ‘trajectory’ that has been adopted. There have been, and there are to be, meetings of ‘evangelicals’ to debate and reflect and pray. I have heard about these from colleagues and from postings on facebook.

But I have not been asked to attend any of them. I am not surprised. I don’t think that I would now be regarded as ‘one of them’. I saw on facebook another colleague ask if he could attend… answer came there none! That said, it is possible that although I was not invited, I could have attended anyway. Maybe I too should have asked. Perhaps I would have been welcomed. But my impression is that these were invitation only events (and if I have this wrong, then I apologise and will ask to attend next time).

But I do think that the likelihood is that I and others have not been invited simply because we do not necessarily or decisively disagree with the chosen trajectory of the General Assembly. In other words, this issue seems to have become for some colleagues the litmus test of orthodoxy. Why has this happened? Why this issue? Who gave to others the right to decide who is or is not an ‘evangelical’, or who is or is not included?

The late Michael Vasey, author of the book ‘Strangers and Friends’ was an Anglican clergyman, a self-identified ‘evangelical’ and openly gay. Several years ago, when I was having a discussion with an ‘evangelical’ colleague in the course of which I was explaining that I was no longer so sure that the church should hold the ‘traditionalist’ position, I mentioned Vasey and suggested that he was an example of an ‘evangelical’ who took a different viewpoint. My friend responded, ‘ah, but he is not really considered an evangelical anymore’. Why was he not? Because he was openly gay and espoused an ‘affirming’ and ‘accepting’ approach! (And – for what it is worth – there are many ‘evangelicals’ who take a revisionist approach. See,,,, and so on and on… but I suspect that many would consider none of these people or groups is truly ‘evangelical’. Why? Because of the stance they take on this issue! Do you see what I am getting at?)

When Roy Clements – the former Baptist minister, conservative evangelical commentator and much admired preacher and speaker at big ’evangelical’ gatherings – announced he was actively gay, the invitations to speak ceased, his books (which were conservative bible commentaries and did not mention homosexuality at all) were withdrawn by ‘evangelical’ publishers, and he was shunned by his former friends.

His articles are worth a read At one point he writes

We have always regarded ourselves most emphatically as “evangelicals”, and our theological position has not changed in anyway. But we have been denounced as “liberals” because we do not accept the purported “evangelical view” on the gay issue. There seems to be a determined attempt, at least by some within the evangelical camp, so to embed a particular view of homosexuality within the evangelical identity that there is no room left for dissenters like us. Indeed, the very existence of “gay evangelicals” has been conspicuously ignored in the entire debate.

I do not wish to get into a discussion at this point on ‘labels’ and what they do or do not mean, nor on the various tribes of Christians within the church. Another day perhaps! Nor am I seeking to self-identify with, or exclude myself from any particular tribe. But it is interesting to note that where once I was included, now I feel myself to be excluded. And while my theological position in general has developed over the years and labels – however unavoidable – now make me feel uncomfortable, I still feel sad that it seems that I and others are not included in conversations, and I suspect this is because we take a different view on this issue. It seems that this has become the touchstone of orthodoxy.

But what really saddens me is that if we keep gathering to talk and pray in groups of people who share our views, then what results is not discernment, but reinforcement of existing positions.

Can we not talk together with those who take a different view or who do not yet know what view they take?

Can we not listen together, discover together?

Can we stop excluding one another from discussions and try to include one another in these conversations?

I hope so… I really, really hope so.


  1. Well said David!
    I shall take time to look up the links you've given - like you I am an evangelical, saved by grace through faith, but probably unlike you have often found myself on the periphery of church life.
    In the early 80's it was because, as a woman, I dared to believe that God was calling me to the ministry. The fundamental evangelical CofS I belonged to did not agree therefore I led groups outwith the church eg SU at Lanark Grammar. And I have led most of my family to the Lord, the others will no doubt come.
    Like you I have found my traditional stance has morphed and developed over the years as my faith has matured and my hair has gone grey. Things are not now black and white but interesting shades of colour. And yet my God is the same, he loves me the same and is always approachable whatever my stance. Praise the Lord!

  2. David, you've hit the nail on the head. How can we continue to work together and share our viewpoints with those who do not agree or understand and make ourselves heard when we are excluded from putting our views across? A well-written article - bravo!

  3. Part of the problem is that Evangelicals have tried to discuss these issues but kept getting called homophobes, intolerant, and bigoted. Evangelical Presbyterians in America are now huddling together and no longer see the point in "discussions." This is a serious schism, but liberals just don't seem to get that point. They want to be all inclusive, but not so inclusive as to allow conservatives maintain their biblical stance.

  4. Good blog post David - well said.
    I'd like to note re. Stushie's comment: it's also very hard to have a conversation with someone when they are calling you an 'abomination'. It works both ways. One day we might get beyond dogmas/ ideologies/ labels... and see human beings... a glorious diversity, and all created in God's image.

  5. Thanks for comments folks. Stushie I cannot comment on the situation in America (nor would I presume so to do). But I cannot say I have been at all aware of people in the Scottish setting not wishing to include everyone - certainly including those with a 'traditionalist' perspective. But I do take issue with the use of the word 'biblical' as if to suggest that conservatives are 'biblical' and the others are 'unbiblical'.

  6. One more comment; I am struck by the fact that my C of S 'traditionalist' friends (and I genuinely do consider you friends) have not commented on this either on the webpage or on fb. It is not as if you are not fb friends... so...?!?! Just wondering. (and thanks to the one who did respond by email and in confidence... helps to reinforce just how many opinions there actually are within the 'evangelical' camp.)

  7. Thanks for this post David - I just came across it today and strangely this morning one such of these invitations came through on the email, although this one was sent to every minister and I think probably for some (or even all) of the reasons you highlight in this post.

    I really hate labels but if you were to ask, I would say that I consider myself to be an evangelical, yet I will automatically be excluded from these discussions due to my gender - a woman in ministry MUST be a woolly liberal! I am always amazed that many people assume that there is no such thing as an inclusive and accepting evangelical!

    I liked your party illustration, and it is apt in the church broadly. There will always be those who are perceived to be in "in the know" ...and those who (for one reason or another)are not.