Britain’s Leading Evangelical Steve Chalke Endorses Same-sex Unions and More [VIDEO]

“What does real, Christ-like, inclusion look like?” This is the question Steve Chalke is asking of his fellow evangelicals and of all of us. What he did yesterday is big.

Chalke is a Baptist megachurch leader in Great Britain. Fellow Patheos blogger Andrew Marin calls him “the most prominent evangelical pastor and personality in the United Kingdom.” (And thanks to Marin for tipping me off to this news.) Chalke has been described as the British equivalent of Rick Warren. He’s unimpeachably evangelical, though he speaks his mind and has been in conflict with the evangelical mainstream before, and he puts a heavy focus on social justice concerns that right-wing Christians don’t usually dwell on. Chalke founded Stop The Traffik, a global coalition of over 1600 charities working against human trafficking.

Chalke’s social services charity has over 400 employees, and many other churches in Britain have become part of his Oasis organization. He is a special advisor to the United Nations on trafficking, a recipient of the MBE from the queen, and a spiritual advisor to the last two prime ministers. He’s also a strong advocate of religious organizations engaging the public sphere, something conservative Christians agree with wholeheartedly. But not like this!

Yesterday, Steve Chalke publicly threw himself and his entire megachurch organization behind same-sex unions, and acceptance of homosexuals generally, insisting his view is compatible with his evangelical faith and scripturally sound. And he’s done it big, releasing a detailed article in the prominent British evangelical magazine, Christianity, an even more detailed version of that article on his church’s website, and an 18-minute video of him looking into the camera and making his case [see below]. Chalke says clearly, forcefully and unequivocally that, very simply, the test of Christian behavior is how Jesus would act, and Jesus always acted in radical acceptance and love.

Chalke insists that while his move was provoked by current events — the debate over same-sex unions and the attention to bullying — it is overdue and really about “the nature of inclusion.” While the religious leaders of his day practiced exclusion and condemnation, Jesus embraced the outcasts and marginalized and denounced the leaders’ behavior. Chalke says the modern Christian church, including him, has abdicated its responsibility to uphold that standard for years. This is the point from which he wants to begin the conversation.

Chalke  asks: If God would want for every human to experience love and union, how can it make sense to condemn a large chunk of society to being deprived of these things? He takes the question of biblical support head-on. He doesn’t deny that there is nowhere in the Bible where homosexual behavior is approved of, but he takes apart the passages like Romans 1 often cited to condemn it.

And more importantly, he asks how it is that evangelicals happily ignore Paul’s clear direction that women should not dare speak in church, and his counsel to slaves to obey their masters, while clinging to his words debatably about homosexuality. It’s not that times have changed and the church must change with the times, says Chalke, it’s that these things are clearly contrary to Jesus’ teachings and actions and have been set aside based on that test. The same should apply, he says, to shunning gays and lesbians.

None of what Steve Chalke says will be brand new to a Christian thinker who’s been wrestling with these issues for a while — the inconsistent standards, the hypocrisy, the misinterpretation of scripture, the disconnect from the example of Jesus. But what’s significant is that Steve Chalke is saying it. This isn’t quite the equivalent of Rick Warren doing the same in America. The debate here is more toxic. But it’s not that far off.

And even better, Chalke is not saying, “This is now the truth at my church; end of discussion.” He’s inviting a broad conversation, starting from the assertion that the basis of Christian principles is Christ. He wants to bring evangelical public opinion with him, and he’s made a forceful and remarkable start.

Chalke’s extended essay on the subject begins:

I feel both compelled and afraid to write this article. Compelled because, in my understanding, the principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion sit at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Afraid because I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is ‘a grotesque and sinful subversion’, an ‘objective disorder’ or, perhaps slightly more liberally, ‘less than God’s best’.

Some will think that I have strayed from Scripture — that I am no longer an evangelical. I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible’s authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously. My prayer, in writing, is therefore to encourage a gracious and mature conversation around an extremely important pastoral and theological issue that impacts the lives of so many people.

I encourage you to watch the 18-minute video (above) and I highly recommend reading the full version of his article here; it’s a thoughtful and impressive wrestling through of all the issues. (The shorter version published in Christianity magazine is here.) And there’s already an “Inclusion Resources” section on his church website. I pray that Steve Chalke is successful in kicking of a serious and gracious discussion about these issues within the evangelical community, and that it spills over to this side of the pond.

About Phil Fox Rose

Phil Fox Rose is a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He is coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of New York, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Raised atheist by ex-Mormons, Phil has journeyed through Quakerism, deep ecology, Buddhism and Catholicism. Now he's a congregant, worship leader, cook and chair of the leadership team at St. Lydia's, an awesome dinner church in Brooklyn, NY, and spends as much time in nature as possible. Phil has been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil by RSS feed, email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • T.S.Gay

    “the Church has a God given responsibility to include those who have for so long been excluded”. Amen

    A so-called culture war is ridiculous for Christianity. It’s tragic that pew sitters in our culture didn’t, and still don’t, understand the basics of love the Lord and their neighbor. The crumbling of Christianity is the result of it not holding on to the truth of its message when it evolved from a position of persecution to one with influence and power. Deomography buffs deny my position that it is crumbling- that isn’t the point- the point is that the Gospel in a plural society will clearly necessitate new patterns of presentation, practice, listening, learning, development.

  • Tim

    Another completely unconvincing argument. How sad another leader has denied the word of God and succumbed to popular culture. Doesn’t change Gods truth however about sexuality and marriage.

  • Tears of a Clown

    Steve Chalke is not an evangelical. It is rather deceptive of him and the media to use this. Very few in the gospel churches in the UK would recognise him as anything but a theological liberal.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      This setting up of evangelicalism as the opposite of “liberal” theology is unfounded, and it’s a serious problem. The definition of an “evangelical” is a Protestant who believes in:

      - the need for personal conversion
      - a high regard for biblical authority
      - the resurrection of Jesus Christ
      - active evangelizing.

      There is nothing that says an evangelical cannot support gay rights or same-sex unions. Steve Chalke goes to great lengths to explain why he sincerely believes that his view does not contradict a traditional understanding of the evangelical respect for biblical authority. You can disagree with him, but you have no right to say he’s not an evangelical.

  • Phil Groom

    Saddened to see how quickly so many people are jumping in with denouncements rather than making any attempt to engage with the LGBT community as per Steve’s pastoral concerns. Steve’s calling for a conversation: let’s have one, please, guys.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for saying it.

  • Christian evangelist

    A evangelical is one who believes the authority of the whole bible, and lives and teaches accordingly. Jesus taught that some become eunuchs for the Kingdom of God, which means they adopt a celibate lifestyle-whether homosexual or heterosexual. It is interesting to note, that Mr Chalke doesn’t talk about the sexual struggles single heterosexuals have! I often witness to gays and seek to win them to Jesus, so that they know they are not only loved of God but also by the people of God. However, God is also a holy God who demands holiness from His people . Lastly, on an anatomical and sociological argument, the rectum is not designed for a male sexual organ. In nature, opposite sexes copulate to produce offspring as this is the order God created them for. Homosexuality cannot naturally procreate and society would go into decline if this didnt occur. Marriage between opposite sexes has one vital function apart from companionship, which is to procreate (majority of couples can and do choose to have children. Those who cannot or choose not to have children are the minority).

    • Phil Fox Rose

      As someone who was part of an infertile heterosexual marriage, I have always found this argument against homosexual couples not just misguided but deeply offensive. If we want to go back to tribal survival-based law, then infertile women should be tossed out along with disobedient children and the disabled. It’s all there in Leviticus. Also, note that Jesus’ teaching you reference is against the Hebrew laws allowing men to divorce women for exactly reason such as infertility. Jesus says a married couple is one flesh, no longer part of their parents’ families but now a new family. He’s saying very clearly that this is about much more than procreation. Your celibacy argument if anything makes Chalke’s point — that we should be celebrating loving unions and giving everyone avenues and encouragement towards them.

  • Ellie

    We should celebrate loving friendships that are celibate. We are not given to celebrate loving unions, which of course implies a physicality not allowed. Said union is an attempt to mirror a convention God created, and that is marriage. It’s a sort of power grab. He created marriage for his purpose, we cooperate, with a price: children. A physical, homosexual union is outside of that possible cooperation (no natural children) and can’t be said to be the same.

    And what of adultery? Adultery is forbidden of man and woman contextually. Or would that be ok sometimes, too? Say if the husband is impotent or injured, maybe crippled. And of course there is the incest argument. Why if that fulfilled a need of loving, human intimacy would it not be allowed? We don’t go there, yet.

    Finally, procreative ability and procreative frustration have been at the root of many a biblical narrative. Be fruitful and multiply underpinning the very beginnings. Lack of procreative ability, as you well know, Phil, does not invalidate the marriage. Because the intent was there. Is that not so? But that intent must come from a first cause of the intent, the conjoining of those with the potential to make good of the intent, a man and a woman. For those alone was the sacrament instituted. And with the privilege comes many, many responsibilities and tests. It is simply not about the joy of sex and intimacy. That is a short lived benefit for what potentially is a lifetime of sacrifice, as well, even trial and tribulation, and of course also joy. These are the building blocks of life, sacred life. Where we fall short of the ideal, there is adoption. Or should be if so desired, but that is another area that has been tampered with, and here we are.

  • Commentator

    ‘Megachurch’ is a bit misleading. Lots of churches sign up to his Oasis brand of social engagement (which allies local authority money with local church boots on the ground). However when I visited his church there were only about 15 people in the congregation and the services was shambolic.