UK Baptist minister affirms gays

One of Britain’s best-known evangelicals has sparked controversy among a largely socially conservative faith community with comments supporting committed same-sex relationships.

By Bob Allen

A high-profile British Baptist minister has stepped forward as the first prominent evangelical in the UK to speak out in support of faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships.

Steve Chalke, 57, an ordained Baptist minister who in 1985 founded the Oasis Trust charity for housing, health care and educational projects in the UK and worldwide, issued a lengthy public declaration on the organization’s website.

“Too often, those who seek to enter an exclusive, same-sex, relationship have found themselves stigmatized and excluded by the church,” Chalke wrote. “I have come to believe this is an injustice and out of step with God's character as seen through Christ.”

Steve-chalkeChalke said the church’s traditional rejection of faithful same-sex relationships has left gay people feeling vulnerable and isolated.

“When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneness, secrecy and fear,” he said. “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?”

Chalke suggested that Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality may over time come to reinterpret certain verses in more inclusive ways, like they have done with other passages that were once used to defend slavery or deny equal opportunities to women.

Chalke said he feels strongly about the issue because of the high suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, and his belief that church attitudes in support of anti-gay stigma help drive those statistics.

“I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches; when we blame them for what 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,” he wrote.

Chalke’s essay sent shock waves through a British evangelical movement that is overwhelmingly socially conservative. Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said Chalke “has not only distanced himself from the vast majority of the evangelical community here in the UK, but indeed from the church across the world and 2,000 years of biblical interpretation.”

The comments come at a time, however, when a small but growing number of British evangelicals are questioning the traditional view that all same-sex relationships are necessarily immoral.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports same-sex marriage. The UK government is expected to launch same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales by this summer.

Chalke said he would leave it to others to debate whether civil partnerships plus a dedication and blessing should equal a marriage. “But I do believe that the church has a God-given responsibility to include those who have for so long found themselves excluded,” he wrote.