This is a big deal: UK evangelical leader Steve Chalke endorses same-sex marriage

This is a big deal: UK evangelical leader Steve Chalke endorses same-sex marriage January 15, 2013

Steve Chalke, a Baptist minister and popular evangelical leader/author/speaker in the UK, has endorsed same-sex marriage, making his case in an article for Christianity magazine — a mainstream evangelical publication that’s kind of the UK version of Christianity Today.

Chalke writes:

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 recognize 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.

… Some argue that any talk of rethinking our response to homosexuality is to compromise with the secular preoccupations of the West. In my view, however, it is the task of all those worldwide who take the Bible’s text seriously and authoritatively to grapple constantly with what it means to recognize our neighbor and to love them as we love ourselves.

… 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.

He includes a meaty discussion of the clobber verses and of what he sees as his pastoral imperative. This is not an article or an argument that Chalke’s peers in the evangelical leadership — in the UK or here in the US — can easily dodge or dismiss.

This is a big deal.

Brian McLaren notes that Chalke has been called “the Billy Graham of the UK.” A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but it gets at his status as an esteemed figure in the evangelical establishment there. Chalke is sometimes described as “controversial” due to his critical views of violent theories of atonement, but his evangelical bona fides are not disputed.

Tony Campolo describes this as a bombshell that will:

… cause reverberations far and wide. His statement represents the first time that a major evangelist and leader in the evangelical community has come out in support of same-sex relationships. Discussions about what he has done will reverberate from churches, youth groups, seminaries, Bible schools and denominations. Both those who support same-sex partnerships and gay marriage as well as those who oppose such developments will look upon Steve’s declaration as a watershed. It is one more evidence that a major shift is taking place on this controversial subject, not only within mainline Christianity, but among evangelicals.

In light of the recent hubbub over Louie Giglio, it’s noteworthy that Chalke is, like Giglio, active in the movement against human trafficking. And if you go back to the 1990s, I’m sure you could find Chalke making statements similar to those Giglio made back then. But the difference is that Chalke has been thinking, engaging and growing since then.

Ekklesia describes how Chalke’s views came to change:

He has been reflecting on the issue for some years, it seems. Back in 2001, Chalke wrote an article for the same magazine (then called Christianity and Renewal) entitled “What might Jesus say to Roy Clements about the Church and the Homosexual debate?”

The Rev. Roy Clements was a major leader who resigned his pastoral role and was ejected from the Evangelical Alliance, following two decades of high profile ministry, when he revealed that he was gay, left his wife and began a relationship with another man.

Clements continues to practice “solidly Bible-based expository preaching,” and he and Chalke, whose views then echoed the majority evangelical position against gay relationships, engaged in a correspondence.

Yesterday I described the frustration of dealing with those who never see reaching out as a waste of time. I imagine that the Rev. Clements was at times frustrated, too, during his 12 years of correspondence with his friend Steve Chalke. But sometimes such patience and faithfulness is rewarded. (And for those of us who spend much of our time writing or reading or commenting on blogs, it’s heartening to be reminded that sometimes this is how the world is changed — by “engaging in a correspondence.”)

Ekklesia also says:

With his latest comments, Chalke will now be numbered among a growing number of significant evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic who are arguing that commitment to the Bible and traditional Christian belief is not incompatible with recognising faithful gay relationships.

“Numbered among a growing number” is a bit awkward, but it conveys the momentum that the good guys have in this struggle — and the momentum we just gained from Chalke’s public support.

This is a big deal.

"There's speculation that he was offering aid to the Ukrainian government in return for either ..."

Please watch ‘Unbelievable’ you’re welcome
"To realize that, you need a far above average knowledge of history & civics, in ..."

The Painters for Christ
"[Spends several minutes staring at the first line thinking "Ok, I know what a tsundere ..."

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."
""In ye chille of nyght, at ye sceen of ye crymelyke ye streke of lyte ..."

The weirdly innocent part of the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  •  I’m insisting on its importance in the argument, rather then attempting to argue it of you. Basically, I think that a pro-gay clobber verse argument that attempts not to touch the whole infallibility thang is intellectually dishonest.

  • Hilarykoe

    What is needed is endorsement of marriage *equality*, not ‘same sex marriage’. When was the last time you described a heterosexual couple as being in an ‘opposite-sex marriage’? If you want to deny equality to gay people, you need to explain why their love, commitment, mutual support should be regarded as less valuable simply because of the sex of their partners. More importantly, you need to be able to explain why the love, commitment and mutual support of straight people should be defined as more valuable sunny because of the sex of their partners.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Would you care to expand on that point? Because I see nothing wrong with an argument that says ‘if this verse does not mean what it has been commonly taken to mean, then it is not applicable in the way that it has commonly been applied; here are all the reasons why it does not mean what it has been commonly taken to mean’. Infallibility doesn’t even come into it.

  • So far, nothing wrong. But if the conclusion is, “and, therefore, we shouldn’t follow the conventional understanding of the verse in your lives”, the conclusion does accept Biblical infallibility pretty much automatically.

    Furthermore, like you already know, I regard these reasons to be ambiguous at best, dubious at worst, thinking that yes, Paul came as close to condemning gays as his Antique mindset allowed.

    On a side note, an anti-gay Christian who considers the clobber verses not to be anti-gay, but is himself anti-gay for other reasons, would be an… interesting creature.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You are failing to explain a significant step in your logic.

    If the verse does not say what it has been commonly held to say, then either the Bible is infallible but has been interpreted by fallible people, or the Bible is not infallible and has been interpreted by fallible people. Biblical infallibility is immaterial.

    And, funny, I always heard that the best guess for the actual meaning of ‘arsenokoites’ was ‘temple prostitute’.

  • “either the Bible is infallible but has been interpreted by fallible people”

    And it very well may be that the defenders of pro-gay interpretations are the fallible people here. That’s the entire point.  In fact, I say that yes, pro-gay interpreters of that verse are mistaken.

  • Ruth Riggan

    Quite understandable, but that only explains why the base is shaky.

    base of my argument is shaky because my opponents have been
    well-trained not to listen to anyone who might change their minds?

    Why should gays enjoy the rather sinister argument of “sure, sure, if
    the Bible dissaproves of homosexuality, it is to be condemned -soothing
    noises-, but it doesn’t”?

    I have never in my
    life made an argument anything like that. If I thought being a Christian
    or respecting the Bible required me to disapprove of GSM people, I
    would immediately stop being a Christian and respecting. I am arguing
    what I’m arguing because I honestly think it does not and because I
    honestly think this is a good way to convince people.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yes, it may be that we are. It may also be that you are. And your evidence that you’re right relies on the definition of ‘arsenokoites’, and I have not seen you present any evidence other than the common translation itself that indicates that the common translation is right. You’ll understand if we don’t take that as authoritative.

    Whereas we are asserting that we have no way of knowing what the definition is, and need present no evidence supporting that claim beyond the fact that it’s a fucking hapax legomenos. Which somebody did upthread.

  •  “The base of my argument is shaky because my opponents have been
    well-trained not to listen to anyone who might change their minds?”

    In a way, yes – since I think that any kind of attempt to make these verses “non-gay” is logically shaky.

    “If I thought being a Christian or respecting the Bible required me to disapprove of GSM people”

    I am not saying that you think such things, rather that any attempt to argue about the morality of gay people on sorely Biblical basis, without touching the “I” word results in that. 

  • Ruth Riggan

    But if the conclusion is, “and, therefore, we shouldn’t follow the
    conventional understanding of the verse in your lives”, the conclusion
    does accept Biblical infallibility pretty much automatically.

    You’re characterizing this as my argument: “sure, sure, if the Bible dissaproves of homosexuality, it is to be condemned -soothing noises-, but it doesn’t.” My argument is simply this: “It doesn’t.” My conclusion is therefore not that we shouldn’t follow the conventional understanding, but that we don’t have to. (However, I do and have argued that we shouldn’t follow the conventional understanding by reason of fairness, logic, secular principles, in other places. The argument upthread is not the only pro-gay argument I have ever made.) If someone believes in Biblical infallibility, they can make their own conclusions about what they should then do.

  • “Whereas we are asserting that we have no way of knowing what the definition is”

    Knowing definitely? Yes. Asserting probabilities based on our knowledge of the era? Why not?

    Oh, and my arguments have been more then just that. Here’re two of them:

    1. Antique Judaism was anti-gay. Late Antique Christianity was anti-gay. Paul’s mentality is much closer to these two religions rather then to XXI century liberalism. Therefore, he was also likely to disapprove of homosexuality.

    2. The very concept of gay marriage is, like quite a lot of concepts regarding homosexuality are late. Since Christianity in all times, including in Paul’s times, disapproved of extramarital sex, then…

    In fact, the whole “holy chastity” mentality, something that Paul seemed to have supported, is connected to various prudishness, anti-homosexuality included.

  • Lunch Meat

    What the hell, Disqus? Why is my real name showing up on the recent comments sidebar? Aren’t email addresses kept private?

  • Then your argument – just laying the reasons for your position on the text – is honest. I, however, was talking more about Christian pro-gay positions in general. Chalke seems to uncomfortably hang between admitting Biblical fallibility and the argument I parodize.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, and the best guess for the word’s actual meaning is still ‘temple prostitute’.

    [citation needed] [citation needed] Point. [citation needed]

    Agreed, but that makes it kind of stupid to use Paul to argue against something that Paul had no conception of, doesn’t it? Particularly given–wasn’t it Paul who said better to marry than to burn with sexual desire, that only some are called to be chaste?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Still not seeing the intellectual dishonesty in the positions you say are intellectually dishonest. In fact it almost sounds as though you’re saying they are in order to make us knee-jerk away from those positions, without any need for you to actually consider whether we might be right.

  • B

     Exactly.  Since when has being infallible been a requirement to giving consideration to what a person is saying?  I don’t think Fred is infallible, but I’m still reading this blog, aren’t I?

    If we held everyone to the standard “either infallible or irrelevant” then everything anyone said would be irrelevant.

  • Re late antiquity – Late in night, but something that comes to my mind – Leo III the Isaurian’s Ecloga prescribed death punishment for homosexual acts. Not quite late antique, but historically fairly close – only a hundred years after its end. Admittedly, his motivation in introducing such a law was the Old Testament.

    What do you mean “against something Paul had no conception of”? I am talking about the debate on the morality of homosexuality, rather then about gay marriage as such – the latter is only the extension of the former.

  •  “Sure, sure, if the Bible dissaproves of homosexuality, it is to be condemned -soothing noises-, but it doesn’t” isn’t dishonest, or, at least, sinister?

    Keep in mind, I now acknowledge that Lunch Meat’s position isn’t it.

  • Irrelevant in regards to a particular question.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Wait, back up the broomstick–are you actually asserting that people who say the clobber verses aren’t anti-gay would be anti-gay if the clobber verses were anti-gay?

    If you are, support that assertion right the fuck now. If you’re not, I apologize for misconstruing, kindly explain what you do actually mean.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If Paul was okay with married sex, then why (other than having no idea that marrying someone the same gender as oneself) would he not be okay with married gay sex?

    On the flip side, if Paul was not okay with gay sex, why would he be okay with married gay sex? But that’s not a flip side that comes into play when discussing Paul’s intentions, because Paul’s only knowledge of gay sex involved adult-teen male couples (that being the culturally appropriate way for male types to do m/m sex) and the adult-teen part of that makes it obligatory to condemn it.

  • Lunch Meat

    Wait, back up the broomstick–are you actually asserting that people who say the clobber verses aren’t anti-gay would be anti-gay if the clobber verses were anti-gay?

    If you are, support that assertion right the fuck now. If you’re not,
    I apologize for misconstruing, kindly explain what you do actually

    I think he’s saying that by arguing on their terms, we’re pretending that we would be, which is dishonest. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Which I can see that, although I’m not sure if I agree.

  • I am not, but I am saying that  some (only some) people indeed build their arguments like that, hoping to provoke a “after I realized that the clobber verses in the Bible really aren’t that clobber at all, I am no longer anti-gay” reaction in those whom they are conversing with.

    Furthermore, some Red-Letter Christians do think that they would have to condemn gays or to leave Christianity if the Bible depicted Jesus personally condemning gays.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’ve never encountered anyone who actually believes that if the Bible were anti-gay then they would have to be anti-gay but fortunately the Bible is not anti-gay. We’re trying to provoke the realization that the Bible is not anti-gay in people who insist on being anti-gay because the Bible is, but the corollary to that realization is that the people who insist the Bible is anti-gay were wrong, and crash goes most of the construction that these folks’ churches have so carefully built.

  • Well, I think that Paul could contemplate a sexual relationship between two same-sex people of the same age. He probably didn’t, but that makes him careless. Which means, goodbye infallibility.  

  • Lunch Meat

    I think another part of it is, if we can show that although there are verses in the Bible that are not sympathetic to GSM people, we can also show that accepting GSM people is consistent with the inclusiveness and the love ethic of Jesus and other passages of the NT. At that point, many people realize–without having it beaten over their head that the Bible is fallible–that the Bible is ambiguous, and they can choose whether they want to believe God is mean or not.

  •  Sneaky. I like it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Why do you keep bringing up infallibility? Don’t I keep telling you that it’s not relevant to this discussion?

  • Mark Z.

    When you start arguing with fundies about the meaning of the verses, rather then about Biblical infallibility, you’ve already given up the key ground.

    I understand the argument you’re making but–does anyone really say to themselves, “Hmm, now that I’ve been convinced that the letters of St. Paul are not the infallible word of God, I guess gay people are not the Scary Other after all”?

    I’ll tell you what changed my mind: Going to a church where a member introduced himself to me at coffee hour and started talking about his partner in the same way that I talked about my wife. Here’s this guy, Bill, who helps me set up tables when we serve meals, and Bill’s partner is Dave, who sings in the choir, and they’ve been together for five years, and they’re not scary, they’re just regular guys. And they don’t hate God, either. What’s the deal there? I thought gay people were supposed to hate God?

    IOW, the key ground isn’t the concept of Biblical infallibility. The key ground is the church sanctuary. Make that a welcoming place for LGBT people and the theology will adapt.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    You very well could have changed Paul, if he appeared here right now. That’s irrelevant to the actual position on the issue.

    I don’t think it is. It comes down to spirit of the law versus letter of the law. The letter of the law (ignoring translation disageements for now) reflects Paul’s time. The spirit need not be so limited. It’s possible to find Paul’s philosophy sound but its application impared by significant gaps in his knowledge and experience, and to ourselves apply Paul’s ideas about abusive power dynamics and preying on the weak to our more complex understanding of human sexuality instead of his incorrect one.

  • Madhabmatics

    It’s pretty cool how most of the ethical systems of Abrahamic religions have scripture as perhaps the smallest part. The scriptures are generally so vague (or, to use a softer phrase, not-so-fully-covering) that the meat of our rules comes from attempts to wrestle with the scriptures afterwards, and THOSE attempts are colored by whatever ethical values we hold already.

    Someone reading a scripture in the bible with a Utilitarian view will probably come up with a whole different range of religious regulations + suggestions than a person who approaches it with a view based on virtue ethics, even when they are starting from the same verse. (“We must feed and cloth our neighbor. This is because God wants us to do whatever is good for the greatest amount of people – including humanity. So our solution is to maximize what good we can do in the community – we should use the government to take care of the poor.” vs. “We must feed and cloth our neighbor. That is because doing good things influences the very state of our soul – in order to be worthy of heaven we must be virtuous, personally. So using government to feed and cloth the poor would be bad because it would be removing our opportunity to do it.”)

    (this is the paragraph where I nerd out about Islam) This is what I enjoy about my religion, because we straight up know that is what happens and people are going to disagree based on how they approach the test, so we have the Madhabs so people with similar frameworks can do “Yeah we tend to approach the scripture with this view and we get these rules, you approach differently and get those rules”

  • B

    I don’t get what infallibility has to do with this.

    One, we already know Paul isn’t infallible.  He thought that the second coming of Christ was going to occur in his lifetime.  Yet here we are, almost 2000 years later.

    Two, at the time Paul wrote those letters, that’s exactly what he was doing.  He didn’t know that later generations would take his surviving letters as scripture.  (For one thing, he didn’t think there were going to be later generations: see point one.)  I think taking them as the final word for all time as opposed to what they were — addressed to specific people in a specific time and situation that is NOT our time and our situation.  That doesn’t mean they’re automatically irrelevant, but it does mean we need to read them with that in mind.

    Three, Paul’s contemporaries didn’t think he was infallible.  He and Peter apparently had quite an argument in that regard, actually.

    Four, it’s always worth remembering that not everything “written by Paul” was in fact written by Paul.

  • arcseconds

     Yes, incredibly careless of him not to think through all possible forms of society and human interaction and how sexuality might feature, rather than commenting on the institutions actually present in his society.

    Fortunately, we live in a much more enlightened age, where every comment on actual behaviour is embedded in an extended commentary on all possible behaviour.  

  • Baby_Raptor

    We continue arguing what the Bible doers/doesn’t say about homosexuality because there are so many people out there who completely ignore that their version of gawd cannot be the basis for laws. They believe that what they think the Bible says is the ultimate authority and have no qualms about forcing other people to live by those dictates. 

    Just telling these people “Laws can’t be based on what your Bible says” does no good. So you have to argue with them and show them that they’re wrong about what the Bible says to get them to be capable of basic decency. They won’t show it if they think the Bible says not to.

  • Tricksterson

    Except for the ones who wanted to pledge allegiance to Queen Elizabeth when the Supremes upheld Obamacare.  or to move to Canada or Australia  if Obama was reelected (which they show a conspicuous lack of doing btw).

  •  I agree that were Paul to apply his same thinking and methods today, he would not approve of same-sex relationships. Or, for that matter, most opposite-sex ones. Paul was pretty generally anti-sex.

    That said, I think that once Paul noticed that the world was still here two thousand years later he would very probably come to the conclusion that half of everything he said was based on some faulty assumptions.

  • arcseconds

     Given all three of those countries (especially the UK) have much more ‘socialistic’ health services than the USA, that seems a rather strange thing to do, assuming the point was to avoid socialistic health care.

    The thing to do would be to move to a less regulated country…  which limits one’s options a little, if you’re also wanting a developed English-speaking nation.

    (anyone know of *any* developed country with a less regulated system than the USA? )

  • You make a perfectly fine argument for why Paul would probably not be a fan of gay rights.

    But if that’s what this particular passage is about, then why didn’t Paul use one of the many fine words that contemporary Greek had for homosexuality?, instead using a word that, so far as we can tell,  he made up.

  • Mary

    “It occurred to me, after I’d written the above, that its also worth considering that Paul also had lots of things to say about how celibacy was the best option, and that marriage was acceptable only for those too weak to be celibate. Modern Evangelicals seem to also do a pretty good job of ignoring or explaining away those verses. ”

    I am not arguing at all with your conclusions, but as a side note I want to mention that Paul was down on marriage because he felt that the primary goal was to spread Christianity before the second coming, which was expected within the lifetimes of the apostles. It is harder to evangelize with a wife and children in tow. At least that is the explanation that I have heard.

  • Mary

    “My response to the clobber verses is basically ‘so what’. We’ve found ways to work around the Bible’s endorsement of slavery, largely based on the Golden Rule, so why not use the Golden Rule to find a way to work around the cobbler verses on having sex with a member of the same sex”

    The way people have gotten past the bible’s endorsement of slavery, aside from the Golden Rule, is to recognize that the bible was written by fallible men. On the same note, do we really think that Paul always had it right? He was a victim of his own societal predudices and it is evident that he struggled with that a great deal. For example, he had to overcome many of the strict and unnecessary rules that had been part of his training as a traditional Jew and reconcile this with his new faith. Even so, i think he probably considered himself to be a theologian or a philosipher, rather than a mouthpiece for God and I wonder if he would have ever considered the idea that his thoughts should be taken without question. It seems to me his biggest concern was to keep the fledgling church afloat and to keep divisiveness in the church to a minimum.

  • Katie

     “I am not arguing at all with your conclusions, but as a side note I want
    to mention that Paul was down on marriage because he felt that the
    primary goal was to spread Christianity before the second coming, which
    was expected within the lifetimes of the apostles.”

    I also agree with your point here, and its a perfect illustration of what  I (and then Lunchmeat and other people came in and did it better) were suggesting should be done with the anti-gay clobber verses.  That is, to say that Paul was giving advice to a particular group of people in a particular set of circumstances, and with a particular understanding of how the world worked.  Since we, being modern people, have a different set of circumstances, and a different understanding of how the world works, we don’t have to be bound by Paul’s advice.  If it works for explaining why marriage is no longer a poor second place compared to celibacy, why can’t it work for explaining why same sex marriage is ok?

  • The thing is, I don’t think that it’s irrelevant at all!

  •  Well, there’re a bunch of former fundamentalists and members of other sects that are now atheist activists who give logical reasons for their deconversion (John Loftus, for instance). 

  • “application impared by significant gaps in his knowledge and experience”

    Which does mean that Paul was mistaken on that issue. It’s fine, but you pretty much have to admit it, instead of attempting to prove that the Bible isn’t anti-gay at all.

  • I am more talking about people like Chalke, then about that community. He kinda hangs in between two arguments.

  •  I do think that he would disapprove of healthy gay relationships, like other Christians after him.

  •  That, definitely true. I guess that could result in his de-conversion :p

  • Well, the fact that direct translation from this word to old Russian meant “homosexual” for quite a long time makes me dubious that people of the time would not have connected it with homosexuality in general.

    Plus, there’s the “thou shalt not lie with a man as you do with a woman” verse.

    I agree that we can’t definitely proclaim that Paul’s anti-gayness based on the verse alone.

  • Mark Z.

    You’re talking about how people become atheists; I’m talking about how people stop being bigoted jerks. There’s very little correlation between the two.

  • arcseconds

     I do think that he would disapprove of healthy gay relationships, like other Christians after him.

    This is completely speculative, though, and I wonder how relevant it really is. Paul’s writings were taken as being important for the Church, and as has already been pointed out they’re mainly letters sent to encourage various fledgling Christian groups in how they should run themselves.  These writings don’t clearly condemn homosexuality.   There’s actually a lot of assumptions that have to be bought to bear to make that interpretation (I suspect the main one bought by many Christian readers is that homosexuality is clearly wrong, so of course Paul would be condemning it).  On the contrary, it’s not really clear what they mean. And it’s these writings that were included in the New Testament, not opinions that Paul may have had if he’d had access to a time machine. As for speculating what Paul might think of modern innovations like homosexuality if he was suddenly transported to the modern day, well, we could speculate that he’d be horrified by many things, including motorcars, television, and the frequency at which people bathe.  I’m not sure why Christians should take their best stab at time-travelling Paul fan-fic as being normative for them. But seeing as we seem to be going down this path anyway, perhaps a more interesting question than Paul’s knee-jerk reaction when he first steps out of the time machine is what he’d think after a similar experience to Chalke: if he travelled to a society that had modern-style homosexual relationships, lived there for 10 years, and found them wanting to join the Church, and then one of his friends discovers he’s gay.  What would he think then? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s obvious he’d stick to his  (presumed) guns about this.  He’s already played fast and loose with the Old Testament, and he’s not going to have the same attitude to his own writings as contemporary Christians do.  He’s not going to be saying “well, it’s in the Bible! That settles it!” — he totally has the possibility of saying “well, I know what I wrote, but I changed my mind since then”.