Steve Chalke, a prominent Baptist minister in the United Kingdom and an “icon among Evangelicals,” has published an essay supporting monogamous relationships for same-sex couples. Though he stops just short of calling for same-sex marriage, Chalke decries the Church’s history of demonizing gay people, calling it “a matter of integrity” to support those who form loving couples and family units:
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. When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneliness, secrecy, fear and even of deceit. It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle – but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships? [...]
Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex relationship have found themselves stigmatised and excluded by the Church. I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God’s character as seen through Christ. I leave it to others to debate whether a Civil Partnership plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage or not. But I do believe that the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded.
After pointing out that the Bible verses used to condemn homosexuality in no way represent modern-day gay and lesbian Christians, Chalke implores the faith community to consider the consequences of continuing to stigmatize the LGBT community:
I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches; when we blame them for who they are; when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.
The pastoral situation, however, is still more pressing than this. The issue of any church’s attitudes to homosexuality has huge impact, not only on those individuals who are lesbian or gay, but also on their parents, siblings, wider families, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Tragically, I know well a family torn apart (in an all too typical scenario) because the Christian parents of a daughter entering a Civil Partnership – as a result of the teaching they had received – refused to attend the ceremony. Their daughter – also a committed Christian – who had taken years to find the courage to be honest with them about her sexuality (for fear of their response) felt betrayed. Brothers and sister took different sides. Neighbours, work colleagues, church members and friends all joined in. Thus a rift was created which has left in its wake much sadness and pain, a catalogue of broken or strained relationships and some very deep regrets.
To avoid such rifts, Chalke calls for respect as opposed to just “tolerance”:
Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?
Tolerance is not the same as Christ-like love. Christ-like love calls us to go beyond tolerance to want for the other the same respect, freedom, and equality one wants for oneself. We should find ways to formally support and encourage those who are in, or wish to enter into, faithful same-sex partnerships, as well as in their wider role as members of Christ’s body.
Chalke’s courageous plea to support same-sex families could have profound implications, both in the UK where lawmakers are considering marriage equality legislation, and throughout the world-wide evangelical community. There’s no reason that Christian faith and a same-sex orientation have to be mutually exclusive identities, and Chalke’s essay helps chip away at that artificial wall.