Conversations around Human Sexuality and Relationships

Reflections on the launch conversation with Rev. Steve Chalke @ St Chad’s Church

Steve Chalke flyer copyIt is testimony to the significance of sexuality and relationship as a current hot topic that well over 200 people packed into St Chad’s Church on a wet, dark and grizzly Tuesday evening having battled through rush hour traffic. Similarly it was testament to those attending that the poor weather and transport difficulties hadn’t dampened their spirit; the buzz and interest was clearly apparent. This was a group who welcomed the opportunity for good dialogue on a subject which is often in the headlines but which does not always sit comfortably on church agendas.
Indeed the whole evening was framed by a warm and helpful atmosphere allowing the potential to listen, question and raise issues of concern by people of different opinions. Respectful and relaxed but not wishy washy.
Rev. Steve Chalke remains an impressive, articulate and charismatic speaker and his passion for his faith, his beliefs and the subject of human sexuality was apparent from the off. Beginning with his recognition of the Bible as a library of books that reflect a generous and diverse set of texts, voices and experiences to be chewed through regularly, he talked through the process by which he had concluded the need for significant, monogamous and covenantal faithful life-long relationships that can be both heterosexual and same sex.
His understanding was shaped both by the Bible he loved and the stories and experiences of the people and congregation he loved and clearly this was a man at peace with his decision, albeit one who was reluctant to be the first to come out and say it. It took him 12 years and his responsibility to the thousands of workers and volunteers and the Oasis Trust to do so. It has clearly cost him to do so.
Listening to him speak I was struck by several things. First his genuine and lifelong affection for Scripture; all Scripture. He wasn’t cherry picking the favourite bits and ignoring the difficult texts, something clearly he recognised many Christians and churches do. It reminded me of the Psalmist and writers of wisdom literature, meditating and chewing through the Law and encouraging others to do so. Rabbinic argument is based on the conversation and dialogue between two rabbis before discerning which argument is the stronger, with both rabbis being afforded credit for the dialogue. It was interesting to attend Rabbi Esther’s talk a week later as she spoke about argument and debate as being foundational to Jewish theology.
Somehow we have been afraid of the conversation and our interpretation of the Law becomes about obedience to the detail rather than peeling back the layers to the principles. Jesus recognised the two key principles as love your God and love your neighbour, with the Golden Rule of his teaching being ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’. Something often forgotten in relation to the LGBTQ community.  Many years ago when expecting my second child we suddenly found ourselves having sold our house and with nowhere to go to. Our prospective homelessness was a source of concern to family and many Christian friends but it was a long standing gay family friend and his partner who were the only ones who  offered us shelter and the kindness of good Samaritans. We could learn a lot from the generosity and inclusive hospitality offered by LGBTQ communities.
Secondly, although unsaid, Steve Chalke clearly allows his thinking to be influenced not just by Scripture but by tradition and experience, the three legged stool of theology beloved of Anglican theologian Richard Hooker. The stories he retold of those he led and supported had clearly been hugely influential on his journey. Yet lacking in what he said and often lacking in the church’s consideration is our need to recognise that the gay community has been engaged with Christianity throughout the ages. We have gay clergy, we have gay Christian brothers and sisters and they already contribute to the richness of the Church and have done for many centuries. We rarely mention it, I find that sad and worrying.
Third, despite the fact that we know the Bible is made up of 66 books by different authors we still don’t seem to engage with it as well as we should. Do we meditate and chew? Do we wrestle? Do we allow new voices to be heard through it? Do we check our hermeneutics and translations with the care we should? Can one word in Paul’s writing hold that much force and power over others? These are questions that we need to wrestle with together, in conversations, in openness. No one is asking anyone to go beyond their own conscious beliefs, certainly not Steve Chalke but to be able to listen and start conversations might help us to breakthrough some of our unconscious prejudices to allows new conscious thinking to emerge. Our engagement with the Bible and the need for ongoing theological education within the church around uncomfortable passages and issues is crucial. The Psalmist and Prophets asked lots of questions, so did the Scribes and the Pharisees. God doesn’t balk at the questions; but perhaps he is disappointed when we don’t ask them or acknowledge them.
Lastly, as we reflected on the evening at our Cake and Community event today, what became apparent was how things have shifted exponentially on this subject. To my kids it is not even worth a conversation. They live in a world that embraces sexual diversity within a faith context. The young, emerging church is already largely familiar and accepting of same sex relationships, confirmed perhaps by Steve Chalke’s comment that promiscuity was not what God intended, but faithful, lifelong relationships were. Today as we chatted and shared our own stories we recognised our own difficulty with some of the issues and their complexities. Not everyone shared Steve Chalke’s view, either at the event or at our lunchtime discussion but all we were grateful for the opportunity to share without condemnation of viewpoints.
So, this leaves a final thought. After such a good evening of thoughtful debate, how do we take these conversations out for further airing? How do we maintain the dialogue? What is our response to an event like this, is it food for thought or fuel for action?
Stroma McDermott
Our next Conversations in our series on Understanding Human Sexuality and Relationships are:

  • Preview screening of Alphabet Club, a film by Jamie Fletcher on Thursday 6th November 7-9pm.
  • Pastoral Care Discussion Forum for clergy, ministers and pastors January 13th 2015 2-4pm.
  • A study day with Adrian Thatcher, visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter: January 31st 2015 10am-3:30pm Exploring marriage and human love.
  • An evening with Jonathan Berry of True Freedom Trust. St George’s Church, Great George Street, Leeds LS1 3BR Tuesday 10th March 2015 at 7pm.

More details can be found on the LCI website and blog and Facebook pages or by contacting LCI on 0113 3917928 or by e-mail: [email protected]