A fresh alliance?

Last week, I read an article on the Evangelical Alliance (EA) website on the subject of diversity. This comes about a week after I did a survey for them on what it means to be an evangelical.

Both the article and the survey perturbed me somewhat. This is my attempt to articulate that discomfort.

In the survey, one of the questions was about what an values an evangelical christian should hold to. The first option there was along the lines of “Oppose same-sex marriage”. I shook my head in disappointment as I chose the option ‘Evangelicals should not do this’. It later got a bit farcical by giving the names of various celebrities and asking if they were evangelical, christian but not evangelical or not a christian. It seemed slightly valueless. Yet the article I read this week, penned by the Alliance’s General Director, spoke about diversity but didn’t mention what remains probably the most problematic issue faced by the Church in the 21st century – the acceptance of LGBT christians.

I’ve written before about the shameful decision that the EA made a few years ago when they ejected Oasis church for their leader’s stated support of the christian LGBT community.

It’s this sort of thing that gives evangelicals a bad name. To many, the term evangelical is automatically prefixed by the adjective ‘conservative’. Or for the particularly hateful, it is sometimes shortened to the pejorative term: con-evo. To someone who, like me, describes themselves as a liberal evangelical, this is somewhat irksome, as there is a kind of guilt-by-association levelled at me for being associated with those who hold views I don’t agree with. The common examples are being homophobic, opposed to women in ministry, anti-science, etc. I don’t deny that such views exist within evangelicalism. What I dispute is whether they define it or are otherwise characteristic of it. After all, such views also exist within the anglo-catholic world.

I would love it if everyone agreed with me on all things, it would make the world so much simpler and better (of course), but it’s never going to happen. I have to live and work with those who disagree with me, as do you. If we want to talk about diversity in evangelicalism, then that has to include diversity of opinion, of biblical interpretation and of praxis. Much as I might want everyone to be a liberal, overriding that is the desire for a Church (big C) that embraces both the liberal and the conservative. This is why, on the survey, I identified one of the key threats to evangelicalism as being the appointment of those who hold conservative views into positions of leadership. If the EA wants to embrace the idea of diversity seriously, then it has to change. It’s in danger of becoming the Conservative Evangelical Alliance, failing to properly welcome, respect, include and represent the views of those of us who are more liberal.

In its etymology, evangelicalism should be about bringing good news. The distinctive, defining feature should be the kerygmatic proclamation that the risen Jesus is the messiah. When Peter said that Jesus was the messiah (Christ), Jesus responded that that declaration was the rock upon which the church would be built. All else is mere window dressing. I want to be a part of a Church where the liberal can worship alongside the conservative, where LGBT are not part a hived-off community, but are fully integrated and where there can be good disagreement, where differences are set aside as we jointly focus on that which unites us.

One of the key passages that sums this up is 1 Corinthians 12:21-25

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”

To many christians, evangelicalism is the less respectable member. And there’s often, sadly, good reason for thinking this. Though to those that hold more socially liberal views (usually in contrast to conservative ecclesiology) the attitude towards evangelicals is often more one of ostracism than of the biblical view above of treating them with respect. Anti-evangelicalism is really quite fashionable, but it’s not helpful. So much as I call for the evangelical world to be more open, so the plea has to turn around to the non-evangelicals to be more welcoming to their brethren. We all need each other and that which ought to unite us is far more powerful than anything that divides.

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2 responses to “A fresh alliance?

  1. Unlike you, I do not want people to agree with me on everything. That would be just boring. Who wants a world with no debate?

    Rather than see conservatism and liberalism as a continuum. It is not that easy, as evangelicalism is more diverse than that. and it particularly is inaccurate with my position.

    Socially and politically I am a liberal.. So that reflects my position on things like LGBT rights etc. But on theological issues I am far more conservative (but nowhere near as conservative as the fundamentalists) which gives me a position too complex for journalists to pigeonhole.

    I find the EA’s position is also trying to oversimplify things just as much as the Guardian’s journalists who assume evangelicals are fundamentalists. The Alliance worked best when it was what it says on the tin, an alliance. When it tries to set the beliefs rather than be an umbrella group it goes beyond what it should be,

    I wonder how many EA members have been drinking with gay Christian friends on Manchester’s Canal Street, as I was on Saturday.

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    Sorry about the garbled thoughts, I’m a bit rushed.

  2. ignorantianescia

    Sorry for the off-topicness, but you asked in an earlier post:

    I say “a kind of sense” because I must admit I don’t understand the view of some nationalists who want to be independent of the UK but not independent of the EU. If anyone can explain that one to me, I’d be most grateful.

    Believe it or not, but in most cases EU interference is relatively light (the exception being if your previous governments were bailed out by other countries to save their banks, which is more of an intergovernmental/confederate issue rather than EU proper). Governments can oppose EU legislation in the Council of the European Union, where matter may need (near) unanimity, a qualified majority or a simple majority. National parliaments can also use red and yellow cards to slow down legislation. So there are mechanisms for checks and balances from the member states, although often a single member state can’t pull it off. In contrast, devolved governments have little means to oppose the cuts enforced from Westminster (regardless of whether they actually would).

    There is also the issue of what a government’s intentions are for a constituent country’s economy. Salmond and Sturgeon planned for Scotland to be a green powerhouse in Europe, which is quite viable because of its quite enormous sustainable energy potential. In such a case you want access to the Single Market without tariffs or non-tariff barriers in order to export electricity. Having a say on matters like the North Sea Grid would be a good idea as well.

    I’m neutral on the unionism-independence debates by the way, much less so on the EU referendum.