Part 2: United Kingdom

The very first thing out of their mouths:

“The world would be a better place without religion.”

Ouch.

One of the next things they said after I asked what have their experiences been with Christians:

“I haven’t really had any experiences with Christians.”

Ouch again.

Here in the States we constantly hear that England is a Post-Christian world. Broadly speaking, yes, that is what I saw. But what I also saw that shocked me was the extreme passion the Christians had! Every service I went to was a true celebration, and I haven’t been to one of those services in a long time here in America. Until I saw evangelical English services did I realize that American services have become so routine and institutionalized. The freedom and joy, the tears and the hands that were being waved at the English services I was at was beyond refreshing for me to be a part of. But here is the larger point:

Since Christians (especially non-Anglican) are such a small percentage of people in England, it seemed to me that they were more concerned about keeping their tribe that is already on the inside, than they were continuing to build their tribe from the outside in. They have been oppressed.  No doubt about it. They have been looked at as irrelevant solely based on their belief in God. 100% correct. I just feel that those bullets they’ve taken has made them a little gun shy to actually engage culture with the belief they can still hold on to their belief system.

Now anyone can look at America and point the finger right back at us for caring more about preaching to the saved than preaching to the non-believers. True. And that is what I’m fighting for the American church to reclaim our identity as authentic Christ-ones; that our Jesus just isn’t inside the four walls of a church building! But the main difference that stuck out to me though, was that from the numbers of straight conservative Christians I talked to in England about the gay community I continued to receive two profound answers that were very consistent among almost everyone I talked to (I’m going to paraphrase here):

Gays and lesbians are such an ingrained part of mainstream culture that their sexuality isn’t a big deal and we’re (Christians) are already over it.

AND

The church isn’t giving the younger generation any theological or practical framework on how to properly engage this topic, and because of that the next generation is scared to say what they believe because they know it won’t be accepted; or they are torn because since there is no framework, how can a traditional interpretation of Scripture actually be lived out in culture when their examples are either dodging the question all together because they don’t want to make a scene or they’re a part of a small minority that thrives on making a scene?

And from my perspective, therein lies the great debate within conservative Christendom in England. Which route is the church going to take – they’re over it (?), are they going to dig their heals in like American Christians have and fight (?), or are they going to try to figure out how to peacefully and productively engage a growing population of people that doesn’t need conservative Christianity to exist?

What are your thoughts?

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould
  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Preach that Peter. It’s a new way of activism – faithfulness is the new evangelism.

    One question: Do you find that message marginalized?

    I know my experiences here in the States and how I think a lot of folks were just waiting to see if I could actually stick it out before they believed and jumped on board…and here we are today! What has your experience been with folks listening to such a message?

  • http://www.couragescotland.org Ruairidh MacRae

    Hey Andrew
    I am surprised (no, shocked) by your finding that “Gays and lesbians are such an ingrained part of mainstream culture that their sexuality isn’t a big deal and we’re (Christians) are already over it.” That may be the position within the liberal/progressive wings of the Church, but it certainly isn’t the position with the conservative or evangelical wings and denominations. Among some of the leadership of the new Charismatic denominations they may also hold that position – secretly, but certainly not in public. There are very few denominations that have full inclusion of the LGBT community, and in most it is still something that would result in excommunication.

    Looking at the UK scene from the States people get confused (though I am not saying you are Andrew, I mean in general), because it is SOOOO different. Theological conservatism is not expressed like it is in the States. There is no politicisation of Faith. Christians – even extreme conservatives – vote Socialist, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Nationalist. There are no ‘hot’ political issues of religious conservatives versus liberal. None of the political parties would adopt a stance against abortion etc. Except the fringe parties which don’t merit a mention. So, while Christians in the UK would be opposed to abortion etc. it is not a political issue anymore – though there is the possibility of number of weeks being reduced. Again, that isn’t a morality/religious battle however. All the major political parties are pro-gay rights, though we only have Civil Partnerships as an accomodation to the Church instead of full marriage. But CPs are marriage in all but name.

    I would disagree that non-Anglicans (in England, since there are harldy any Anglicans in Scotland) are more concerned with keeping their numbers and not engaging in outreach. Evangelism is a major part of the evangelical congregations in all traditions – though it has not been particularly successful overall in the last 50 years and the Church overall has collapsed. Evangelicals perhaps make up 7% of the population. The impact of the Gospel on the nation is tiny and arguably non-existant. However, it could also be said that proportionally the impact of the Church on society in the UK far outweighs that of the impact of the States – but thats another debate! :) I would say – certainly in Scotland – that there is a disproportionate number of people in the LGBT community that have Church backgrounds/upbringings which offers us a good basis to sharing Christ’s love, as well as other obstacles to overcome in their past dealings with the Church.

    Given the post-Christian status of UK society it is interesting that the advancement of the Gospel is actually DEEPLY damaged by the Church’s attitude and stance against the LGBT community. Everyone knows that the Church is generally homophobic.- but even with that so many people are shocked that the Church wouldn’t want a gay minister etc. Now, certain sections of UK culture are still homophobic, but a lot of them would expect the Church not to be. It also means that there are lots of LGBT folks out there (like your friends in the video) who can be presented with a fresh understanding of the gospel, without negative associations re. the gay issue.

    I know these are contradictory strands, but thats where we are. However, the more that the issue is politicised within the Church and the more influence the conservative evangelicals in the US have on branches of the Church over here – in a negative way re. homosexuality – the more difficult it will become. Thats why its good for the Church here to be reminded that there are solid voices coming from the States without the hatred on the gay issue. So thanks Andrew.

  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Ruairidh – Always great to hear your well thought perspectives! Thanks for breaking it down. Here are a few thoughts to what you said:

    1. I think the reason I heard so many conservative folks tell me they were ‘already over it’ is because that’s what they want to believe because they don’t want to do the hard work to come humbly as a learner in trying to understand. It’s easier to just pick a side, and I fear that is the trend of what is becoming the acceptable norm everywhere.

    2. I think one of the main points that is emerging in both the US and the UK is the sheer number of gays and lesbians raised in the church, longing to make a return to the church of their youth, but not finding any room at the inn. http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/spring/beyondusverses.html

    3. I appreciate your thoughts about the young lesbians, who, with not much or any religious baggage, are able to take a fresh understanding of the gospel and what it is to walk humbly in faith…I didn’t think about it like that until you just brought it up.

    4. “Contradictory strands” – a friend told me recently the following quote from St. Augustine about the wonder of Christmas and other works of our Creator: “If you understand it, then it’s not God.” The more I live the more I start to even scratch the surface of the complexity of living a faithful life in real time.

    5. I do wonder about your last sentiment regarding the American church influence—if there was one thing that was clearly communicated to me on my trip by more than a few people, it was that my message doesn’t carry any weight in England for no other reason than because I’m American; less than; not British; and therefore I don’t have a right to speak with authority to folks in the UK. I’m sure that’s a small minority of folks who still believe those things, but it was very real none the less. Thanks for the love from you all though!

  • Matt

    “And from my perspective, therein lies the great debate within conservative Christendom in England. Which route is the church going to take – they’re over it (?), are they going to dig their heals in like American Christians have and fight (?), or are they going to try to figure out how to peacefully and productively engage a growing population of people that doesn’t need conservative Christianity to exist?”

    Ok, another hunch, again all written from within the British evangelical stable.

    I’ve moaned that the evangelicals with the larger denominations are fighting hard ‘in house’ to preserve doctrine and discipline but that this is making it difficult to recognize that there is a group of people who are not hearing or seeing the Gospel from us.

    Let me turn that on its head … the evangelicals are struggling to preserve doctrine and discipline because they aren’t (don’t know how to be) constructively and peacefully engaging the GLBT community. In other words, the Christians look like (are!) oppressors, condemning GLBT folk without deigning to understand them or lovingly show them a realistic alternative, and many of the younger folk know this, even if they can’t resolve this with what the Bible says.

    But, if the evangelicals had members of the GLBT community in the Church (themselves involved with the struggle to follow the God revealed in Scripture), suddenly the picture changes. It doesn’t become about oppression but becomes about the GLBT community talking amongst itself.

    Until there are church plants in the GLBT community we (evangelicals) will be condemned and rightly so. Until there are people actively and practically discovering what it means for the kingdom of God to come in the GLBT community, then every call to preserve a conservative reading of Scripture in the inner church debates is going to look and be shallow, if not bigoted.

    Ok, a pause for breath. I’m emitting a lot of hot air. I know this is simplistic. I know there are churches in the GLBT community, just not ones that I agree with. I know that I’m not actively involved in engaging the GLBT community. I know that it’s because people don’t know how to engage that there isn’t a significant gay evangelical voice and so we have a chicken and egg situation.

    Oh, and by the way Andrew, those people refusing to hear an American voice surely haven’t recognized just how much hard work you’ve been doing listening and living within a culture initially alien to you. They’re talking nonsense, if you ask me. Please keep engaging with us too!

  • Josh

    “Theological conservatism is not expressed like it is in the States. There is no politicisation of Faith. Christians – even extreme conservatives – vote Socialist, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Nationalist. There are no ‘hot’ political issues of religious conservatives versus liberal. None of the political parties would adopt a stance against abortion etc. Except the fringe parties which don’t merit a mention. So, while Christians in the UK would be opposed to abortion etc. it is not a political issue anymore – though there is the possibility of number of weeks being reduced. Again, that isn’t a morality/religious battle however. All the major political parties are pro-gay rights, though we only have Civil Partnerships as an accomodation to the Church instead of full marriage. But CPs are marriage in all but name.”

    All of this is really interesting to me and I think the tight bond between politics and conservative Christianity has mutated into a tremendously ugly machine and terrible witness for Christ. I grew up in a conservative church and Christian beliefs were closely tied to political beliefs (although still not everyone agreed on politics..or Christian teachings for that matter). That’s what I love about what Andrew is trying to do…trying to take, head on, this warped culture war that has divided families, people, and faiths. And it has to stop at some point. Seems like in England the culture war ended when the political battle ended. IF that’s what it is going to take in the U.S., I have a feeling this war will be going on for a LONG time.

    But I guess there’s always reason to be optimistic that Andrew’s and messages like his will penetrate the hearts and minds of Christians.

  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Josh – That’s one of the realizations I learned about America when I was in England! Even if this bridge building movement continues to grow, and let’s say it becomes the dominate message for culture wars in the States, our country is still going to be a good 10 years behind because politics and faith are SO ingrained and have been for soooo long, that for many people couldn’t even tell you where their politics stop and their faith takes over.

  • http://www.couragescotland.org Ruairidh MacRae

    Thanks Andrew – there will be some people who don’t think you have a right to ‘interfere’ because you are American. This will come from both the conservatives and the inclusivists – inclusivists because they fear any American influence i.e. they don’t want the extremes of the American culture war over here. However, while there is some sympathy with that its a narrow view and we want to thank you for wanting to be involved in the UK!! Keep it up – your approach will tame those who are opposed to any American involvement, as it is so diametrically opposed to what people fear from the US.

    Matt – I think you hit the nail on the head. However, there ARE evangelicals working within the LGBT community. For example Accepting Evangelicals, Courage, CourageSCOTLAND, Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians as well as organisations that have a significant Evangelical component, though are not exclusively so – Changing Attitudes, Inclusive Church etc. In CourageSCOTLAND we are looking to do more outreach within the LGBT community which has borne some fruit in the last couple of months.

    Of course, our approach as inclusive evangelicals (theologically conservative evangelicals with a different interpretation of the question of homosexuality and therefore believe committed, faithful LGBT relationships are as valid as straight ones) will differ from that of traditional evangelicals who believe either that being gay is sinful or acting on that orientation is sinful. However, unless the Church – with either view – learns to put the GOOD NEWS of Redemption in and through Jesus first the LGBT community will not be impacted. Currently the traditional Church is only interested in ‘defeating’ homosexuality in society and the Church which will do nothing to win anyone in the LGBT community for Christ.

    We need to share the love of Jesus first – leave people’s behaviour alone. Its the transforming relationship with Jesus that is essential – people need to be presented with the awesomeness and availability of Jesus first before the ‘gay’ issue is tackled.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Hi Andrew,

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

    The short answer to your question as to whether the message gets marginalised is “depends where you go”. Increasingly evangelical leaders in the UK “get it” and are rethinking evangelism per se. As part of that rethinking of evangelism as primarily relational in a post-modern relational world is an understanding that the way we engage with lots of different groups of people (eg GLBT for one) needs a radical overhaul. As Ruairidh (how do you pronounce that? Rory?) so neatly puts it, “Currently the traditional Church is only interested in ‘defeating’ homosexuality in society and the Church which will do nothing to win anyone in the LGBT community for Christ.” Amen to that.

  • Luke

    ‘already over it’ means ‘we don’t talk about it, and if you’re gay don’t mention it and everything will be fine’. As to hearing the word gay or homosexuality or SEX from the pulpit.. mmm can’t remember when. Sorry if I sound cynical but I feel many people feel obliged to be seen to accept GLBT people but they actually feel something else.


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