Friday, 2 May 2014

Oasis and the Evangelical Alliance

I have been a member of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) in the past. I have even attended their Evangelist's conference alongside people like Steve Chalke (founder of the Oasis Trust). Indeed I have worked alongside Steve Chalke (even sang an embarrassing song at him as an introduction) and Oasis and know the sort of work they do.

I am saddened to have read today that after 27 years of membership EA have discontinued Oasis's membership. Several of my friends have worked in various capacities with Oasis in the past including planting churches in some of the poorest boroughs of the country, helping with homeless people and other projects. Indeed I know some of them got involved in the Olympic boroughs long before Stratford become a fashionable place to be. Oasis have issued their own measured response to this decision.

However, as someone who welcomed the comments of Steve Chalke last year, and as someone who feels ostracised by the Christian community he grew up in, led in and was heavily involved in (even after coming out) I want to address the issue from my personal standpoint.

The reason for this action from EA can be traced back to this article written by Steve Chalke back in January 2013. In in Steve says:

"This article is not about those issues [regarding same-sex marriage] . Firstly, they are domestic whilst what I address here is of global importance. Secondly, I’m worried that, in the UK and elsewhere, the noise of the arguments around gay marriage will cloud and confuse the real question facing the Church around the world: the nature of inclusion. I am convinced that it is only as the Christian community grapples with this that we will find wise answers, not only regarding gay marriage, but also to related questions around the Church’s wider attitude to gay people."

One thing that in my association with and knowledge of Oasis which goes back some 25 years is that they have always worked on the edges of our society. Places and people that many Christians do not feel comfortable about going. As some who like Oasis has knelt beside the homeless on the Strand in the small hours of the morning with warm, sweet coffee I know that the stench is something that many Christians have in the past run away from without considering the needs of the individuals.

While the homeless bear a physical stench many evangelical Christians in the UK seem to also smell a metaphorical stench when it comes to people who have same-sex attractions. In his article Steve went on to say:

"One tragic outworking of the Church’s historical rejection of faithful gay relationships is our failure to provide homosexual people with any model of how to cope with their sexuality, except for those who have the gift of, or capacity for, celibacy. In this way we have left people vulnerable and isolated."

I know only too well from personal experience that I have felt just this way, very vulnerable and isolated. Being a Northern Irish Christian who was gay certainly added to that sense of isolation in the late 80s. For a while I was a self loathing homophobe as a result coming very close to ending my own life as the church seemed to condemn me at every turn, that was even though I was celibate.

Steve goes out to lay out some of his reasonings based on scripture, a lot of which is similar to the journey I myself had to go on, firstly to accept myself and secondly to know that others could accept me for who I am. You see I know of others within evangelical churches who have not been strong enough to stand up to the vulnerability and isolation that they find themselves in. Some are no longer with us, taken from this world by their own hands. It is almost as if the Church members themselves had taken part in the Levitical code and put them to death.

However, too often those people were not known to the church as having laid with another man, they were too scared to tell them that. Why is that?

The reason of course is that as Steve said such people are left vulnerable and isolated. They have nobody to turn to. Yes some churches have their guidelines for dealing with such things, but most of these are set up for the individual to fail, fall short of the standard that is set, so they feel more isolated, more vulnerable that someone will find out. Those churches that try to be inclusive instead fail because when those people fail they face consequences instead of love and support. Of course individuals are different and can be different, but as with New Testement times there are overreaching hierarchies who set out the standards of the Church and associated organisations.

Steve Chalke and Oasis have always reached out to those on the edge of our society. There was someone in the New Testement who did just the same thing. He like them was not understood by the religious authorities for doing that, but he offered unconditional love to the outcasts those with contagious diseases, the tax collectors and sinners, the prostitutes etc.

They are doing just that by looking at how we approach those with sexualities other than heterosexual within our churches, or who we want to welcome into our churches. That is something that Christians should be doing.

Is this a case of history repeating itself?

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