Thursday, 25 June 2015

Who stole my descriptors?

OK everyone.... there are loads of you who will profoundly disagree with me.

That's ok.

But I would ask you to show respect and be considered in you responses... please!

I respect you as brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope you can do the same with me...

At the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland held last month, and following the deliberations and decisions of the Presbyteries of the church, the Kirk took the significant but limited step of affirming the traditional teaching of the church on matters of sexual relationship and marriage, while simultaneously allowing congregations who so decided, to depart from this ‘traditional’ position and (should they so wish) appoint or call Ministers or Deacons in Civil Partnerships (and possibly also in time, Same Sex Marriage).

Leaving aside the substantive issue, and also setting aside any concerns about the consistency or long-term sustainability of this ‘permissive’ or ‘contradictory’ position (depending on your view) I have a deeper concern.

I may be wrong (I may even be slightly paranoid!) but I think over these last few years as both this issue has come to the fore in the church and also my own (accepting and affirming) views have become more widely known, I have been quietly excluded from certain mailing lists, gatherings and meetings.

For example, there is a Church of Scotland Evangelical Network with whose aims I broadly agree and – had it been set up 10 or 15 years ago – I imagine I would have been invited to be involved at an early stage. Membership of the network is open to minsters, elders, members and adherents of the Church of Scotland, so should I join?

Well, I doubt I would be welcome as, according to its website, it was set up due to concern about the issue of Ministers etc in same-sex relationships.

And so, it seems, the mark of being an evangelical is our view on this single issue.

I wish this Network well; it includes many friends and I am hugely encouraged by the commitment of those involved to stay in the Church of Scotland even if they disagree with decisions that have been taken.

But I would still like to know why I am no longer to be described as an evangelical? It seems that it would come down only to my views on this single issue (and if I there are other reasons, I would really like to know!)

It would seem that I am in good company, with the likes of Roy Clements, Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, Brian MacLaren and Steve Chalke.

But who decided that this was the mark of being ‘evangelical’? And why?

I am genuinely puzzled, and (as you will guess) feel a little bereaved.

Recently, one clergy colleague who is gay spoke of the process of ‘coming out’. He went on to say that now he was challenged about another ‘coming out’… as an evangelical!

It may (or may not) surprise some of my evangelical sisters and brothers to know that (in the wake of some of my previous posts and blogs) I have been approached by a number of others who – for the moment- are keeping their heads below the parapets, but who personally take the more inclusive and affirming view that I do, while being afraid of losing their sense of ‘tribal’ identity and (more importantly) their many friends within the evangelical fellowship of the church.

And I reckon that if I were to name them (which of course I never will!) then the shock would be great indeed.

But why is this so?

I wish people would discuss these things before they excluded some of us who share their views on most of the fundamental matters of faith.

And I would quite like to feel free to choose my own descriptors rather than have arbitrary criteria imposed by others as to what constituted fair and proper use of such descriptors.


  1. Although I generally eschew labels, I was once asked to define my theology (many years ago now) I came up with liberal evangelical - which totally threw the questioner as for him you could one be one or the other - not both.
    I hear your pain David; and I share it.
    But.... I do feel there is hope; baby steps forward, but forward nevertheless.

  2. It has long been my observation of the heartache of just such a situation as yours, David, that one of the great differentiators between the traditionalists and progressives is in how they treat those with whose opinions they do not, or no longer agree. It saddens me to say it, but rejection of the other (those who do not hold the party line, wherever one draws the line) is a defining characteristic of the traditionalist position in a way that is not the same for progressives.

    What do I mean by this? I illustrate from my own personal experience: I had strong friendships with people with whom I was friends when they held views very different to my own, over the years I have seen many of them change their views. My friendship of them has been the same, whatever their views, though the difference in our views often led to some wonderful discussions over a glass of wine or whisky. However, I have seen many of the people whom my friends had thought were their friends turn their backs on them when their change of understanding became open knowledge.

    I don't think this is coincidence, and it makes me very sad. We see in US politics at the moment a complete breakdown in Washington of the collegiality that once existed across the aisle. We now have an almost pure tribalism and visceral hatred of those with whose opinions one might not agree, and while some of the fault lies on both sides of the house, one cannot but observe that it is fuelled from the right. This is lamentable. I fear that there are also hints of this fuelling of the fire at work within the Kirk.

    With Julie, I have often used the liberal evangelical moniker to throw seeds of hopefulness amongst the trenched warfare too many of us seem to be fighting.

  3. Thank you one and all for the comments here, on facebook, by email and pm. Apologies to those of you who could not post here. I realised that I changed my settings some time ago due to some rather nasty comments once received in relation to a previous post. But I have now changed it back so that anyone can comment, but first I get to moderate comments!

    In response to some points made, can I say that I do not for one moment think that there is (in most cases) any kind of 'conspiracy' to keep me or others out. I think it is much less conscious and arises out of certain assumptions such 'if he takes a certain stance on the gay issue AND he is also - as Minister of St Cuthbert's - into high liturgy then he can't really be an evangelical, can he?'. Not that I think this is consciously thought, but I suspect it is a much more instinctive response.

    Thank you also to those of you concerned that I might be feeling deeply hurt. I did mention feeling slightly bereaved, but I am not in fact feeling greatly bruised by my apparent 'exclusion'. Just a little puzzled and curious as to how and why I suddenly stopped being caught up in all these events and meetings. I am not sure that now have the energy to attend these anyway, even if I wonted to, or was invited to. That was not my point. I DO feel more hurt for those who (more strongly than I do) still self-identify as evangelicals and who are genuinely worried about being honest about their doubts or changed views of the gay issue. They have seen what Steve Chalke and Tony Campolo have had to put up with!

    With great reluctance and sadness I do find myself agreeing with Peter's observation (above) that rejection of those who do not hold the 'party line' can be a characteristic of those holding the 'traditionalist' position. Look what happened to Steve Chalke over this as also over the atonement debate (or to Roy Clements whose perfectly orthodox and thoroughly conservative commentaries were immediately withdrawn by IVP when he 'came out'. What was THAT about??)

    And thank you to those who pointed out that there is nothing preventing me joining the COSEN facebook page. Yes, I know and I have (at least I 'liked' it, and seem to be following it... is that the same thing?) That was not quite my point... it was more about various meetings and consultations etc that have been taking place over recent years to which I suspect I would once have been invited and to which I seem now not to be and wondering what has changed and why. I think I still believe pretty much what I believed 20 years ago re Scripture, Creeds, the Atonement (and I never ever could sign up to the substitutionary theory as the defining one!) the Trinity, etc and still am passionate about mission and want to (and - Praise God - do!) see people coming to faith in Jesus. The one issue on which I have publicly changed my view is... well, you know what it is!

    My main point was not to express my hurt but more to express my concern that this should be the case, given the not insignificant number of evangelicals who have privately told me that they do not feel free to say what they really think...

  4. Well said David. (I've come in late to the party)

    I have often been excluded in terms of church matters and more recently to do with mental health matters, as a psychiatric survivor activist and human rights campaigner. In fact I'm now more out than in. And I've got used to it. The independence of thought and action.

    I admire your bravery, yet again, in saying what you think and expressing your pain for all to see. You're not perfect. Neither am I. It makes me feel better to know that you are like me. Then I don't feel so alone.

    Thank you, Chrys

  5. Chrys, thanks for this. It distresses me greatly when any of us is or feels excluded. The passage I read in my own devotions this morning was Romans 15 where vs 7 says 'Welcome (accept) one another, then, as God in Christ has welcomed (accepted) you'. Scripture seems clear enough!!

  6. Unfortunately, due to a combination of thick fingers, my tablet computer and tiredness I mistakenly deleted a post that Chrys Muirhead added... here it is copied in now....

    "I can understand the Church (visible) excluding evangelicals, like me, because they did it back in the day with the Son of God. Not that I can compare, being imperfect (a sinner). However I think the exhortation in Scripture to welcome one another is directed towards the Body of Christ, the Church (invisible).

    The tussle therefore, as I see it, is between religion and faith, the Church visible and invisible. My faith does not require me to do anything to earn the grace of God yet the Church/religion has a habit of making us jump through hoops or climb up ladders. A bit higher, a bit higher ... Yet sometimes the higher we climb the further we are away from where we were going to, in the first place. If that makes sense at all!

    Since becoming a Christian in 1981 I have felt called to the "ministry" and at different times explored this call in churches. With no success. In 2008 I heard the call again aged 55, quite clearly, a still small voice, telling me to do something I wasn't wanting to do. I resisted then capitulated. Doing what God had called me to do. And was unsuccessful, in terms of the Church didn't want me.

    Now you might think I would be relieved. Phew. Thank goodness. I don't have to do it and I didn't want to do it in the first place. But what rankled, and still does, was the fact that the Church process was unfair. I was penalised for saying that God had called me, and disbelieved. I was tested and found wanting, by ministers, who said I lacked communication skills. Which is something I do have in abundance. But just not the sort of communication they were looking for eg yes sir, no sir ....

    Seven years have gone by and I hear the Church is short of ministers. I follow them on twitter and they keep making appeals. So I have responded with parts of my story when I happen to come upon the tweet. Ironically now I have a different sort of "ministry" in a "church" where I speak out evangelically. And soon I will be putting my hat in the ring to be another type of "minister". Which I also don't want to do. But I do expect the contest to be fair."