Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why are we so frightened?

These last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about the issues raised by Steve Chalke in his article and comments on faithful gay relationships. http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/sexuality/stevechalke.aspx

I admire Steve Chalke and have done for years. He is an engaging speaker, a powerful advocate for the Christian faith, an effective ambassador for social justice, and (in spite of what people have claimed - more anon) a fervent and committed Evangelical. Having twice briefly met him, I also know that he is a very personable  pleasant and genuine guy.

But... he came close to being disowned a few years ago by daring to claim that some interpretations of one theory of the atonement held by some evangelicals may make God appear like a cosmic child abuser...

Well... some evangelicals got into a real lather about that! But this is not the focus of this blog beyond saying that when this controversy was boiling away I was bemused by the reaction of some as I thought what Chalke said was entirely reasonable and eminently sensible and I had thought that for years... and had not for one minute imagined that this meant I risked being 'drummed out of the Brownies'!

But of course now that he has endorsed faithful gay relationships for Christians things have gone nuclear!

Well... hang on a minute here.

Why is this the case?

Why are people so quick to seek to refute his views rather than engage with the argument?

Why are so many 'reasonable and learned' evangelical scholars so swiftly rushing to blog and write 'arguing against' more than 'engaging with' Chalke's views?

Perhaps I am wrong, but it does feel to me like fear, and if I am right I wonder what it is of which we/they are so frightened?

My reason for suspecting fear and for asking the question is not simply based on Chalke's article and the response it has occasioned  but also arises from previous actions such as that of IVP in so quickly withdrawing all publications by Roy Clements after he 'came out' irrespective of the fact that these publications were thoroughly orthodox... even a tad conservative for some evangelicals  But somehow they were regarded as 'tainted' because Clements had come out as gay.

Does that not betray quite a lot?

I say this with some sorrow... for at one level, despite the vilification, bruising and hurts I have endured at the hands of some, I still refuse to let go that particular descriptor; I think I am an evangelical.

Well, that raises more questions such as 'who is to say', 'to whom does this particular 'trademark' belong' and 'who has the right to define me'?

The sad thing is that as I read the various responses to Chalke's statement - even those coming from the most respected and learned of 'evangelicals' -  I do not discern a huge amount of rigour or depth in terms of theological analysis. More than anything else I sense fear. Fear perhaps that the 'tribe' is threatening to fall apart?

When I have posted on this subject in the past, several public comments on the blogs have been unpleasant .. and some private ones have been nasty... some very nasty. Why?

But even more telling have been the several who have privately got in touch saying that they agree with me that there needs to be a forum for those who still self-identify as 'evangelical' but who either want to also identify as 'accepting' or 'affirming' of faithful gay relationships, or who at least want to have an open and considered dialogue.... but (they go on) I cannot say this publicly, I do not what to lose my friends  I don't want to be ostracized by my fellowship etc etc...

So the question... why are we so frightened?


  1. A couple of things:
    re. 'evangelical' - this is a term that has been hijacked, indeed, as has the word 'liberal'. Both ripped out of their original context to mean entirely other things. We as Christians are supposed to be evangelical, called to share the evangel, to be bringers/ sharers of good news, of Christ - of being transformed, of being brought home into relationship. Latterly, however, the term 'evangelical' has changed: it is now a descriptor for right-wing fundamentalism. Ironically, on the liberal side, I know many illiberal liberals - liberal fundamentalism is not an oxymoron.
    There is a battle raging: a battle of ideologies. Whoever shouts the loudest and is the most objectionable seems to win - within a media-orchestrated context at any rate.
    The problem is, we use the language of combat: winning and losing, and forget that every time we put ideology above human beings, every time that ideology is framed in vitriol, spite, and dehumanises we all lose.

    Why the fear? My sense is that there are several levels:
    1/ the debate on orientation and same-gender relationships is very male:
    a)from an anthropologist/historian's viewpoint, this is a debate that has little to do with 2 people who fall in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Rather, this, right down deep, cuts to the heart of masculinity: as a friend says - it's about differing discourses on masculinities. What does it mean to be male in the early 21st century at a time when old gender based role models have changed rather dramatically?

    and b) it is about power and prestige - and a fear of loss of that. There is a deep-seated primal fear of loss of power through rape: given the default power position is male, fear of loss of power in the context of male rape can be seen in the societal reaction to it - a perception exists that it is somehow so much worse for a man to be raped by another man, that it is for a woman [default power position is not to have power]. Tied in with that, then, there is the fear of the perceived 'predatory' gay male who will have you as soon as look at you. Remember your OT texts: the sin of Sodom was serious lack of hospitality - the men of the town, all of them, were out to ritually humiliate the strangers in their midst by the tried and tested method of gang-rape - also a weapon of war for humiliating one's enemies. .

    2/ never underestimate the fear of the 'other' - those who are somehow different are... dodgy. We identify by who we are 'not' and often the codes of conduct created by a society/ group are based on this approach [hmmm, think of the way in which the holiness codes worked as a way of self-identifying against the neighbouring nations].
    Otherness/ nonconformity messes with our way of viewing and ordering our world. At the moment it's LGBT folk who are a focus for this, and who are acting as scapegoats... in the past, left-handers were looked upon with deep suspicion, as were single women who had no male to keep them in line...when illness struck, when crops mysteriously failed - 'burn the witch'.

    3/the 'building-block' / 'rule-book' hermenetic problem... particular hermeneutics create particular problems: if you go down a bible as a rule book, well ... some rules do kind of need re-jigged in light of knowledge gained / new understandings. However, if you change one thing, it unravels another... the building blocks of faith begin to tumble. So, here, fear of loss of faith/ salvation.

    4/particular view/ understanding of God: here see your 'cosmic child abuse' theory. If you step out of line, God is going to punish you/ beat you soundly. Remind me to show you a rather grim Knoxian penitential prayer in which this if very explicitly stated along the lines of begging to be beaten with rods that leave welts. The punishing, terrifying God... without the balancing measure of grace.

    Lots more to be said, but not much space. Coffee sometime?!

  2. Oh yes indeed! I agree that the term 'evangelical' has been hijacked and also know full well that there are some very illiberal and fundamentalist 'liberals'. Agree with much of what you say re fear in terms of fear of the subject of the current debate. But what about a) fear of the debate itself and b) the fear that is occasioned by potentially being ostracized by the rest of the tribe? Hmmm... and yes, coffee and chat (and you can bring the Knoxian penitential prayer with you for my delight and delectation! Email or facebook me and we will find the time to go for that coffee...