Evangelical leader Steve Chalke shocked evangelicals around the world when he openly endorsed gay marriage earlier this year. The prominent faith leader at Oasis UK, a church in London, England, recently told TheBlaze about his reasons for speaking out so vocally on the issue.
One of the biggest misconceptions, Chalke said, was the notion that his views on homosexuality have changed. Rather than taking a “u-turn,” as he called it, the Christian leader said that his very-public proclamations of late have been in line with what he’s always believed.
That aside, he admitted that his most recent comments about same-sex unions have been stunningly more overt, as the faith leader had never really been so open about his views on the matter.
“I suppose what’s true is that I’ve [never] been explicit about this issue before,” he said. “It’s simply that I’d hoped that it was implicit in everything I said about inclusion and everything Christ is.”
Chalke told TheBlaze that he grew up in “conservative evangelicalism” and that he was taught to believe that homosexuality was sinful. Over time, though, he began to see a wide spectrum of opinion about gay rights and the Bible.
While he noted that some told him that the holy book is absolutely clear on the matter, others contended that it’s a bit more vague. He also highlighted another view he’s encountered frequently — that homosexuality isn’t wrong, but that acting out on the feelings is immoral. Chalke inevitably came to reject this latter notion.
“We employ more than 4,000 people. We have around 20,000 students,” he said of his church. “You can imagine that I’m constantly in relationship with all sorts of people who are struggling with this issue and I slowly came to understand that when you say someone’s practice is wrong but orientation is okay — the truth is, if you call the person a sinner because if the orientation, then you’ve condemned the whole person.”
Besides, Chalke said that he knows many people who are gay and who have decided to abstain from sexual relations. These people, he contended, still feel condemned and disconnected from the church. Thus, the pastor believes that the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra does little more than condemn and crush these individuals’ spirits. For Chalke, the turning point on his recognition of this ideal came back in 2001.
“In 2001, Oasis wrote a document which we called the ‘Faith Works Charter’ and it simply says because of our commitment to Christ…we will be utterly inclusive,” he said. “I think that I began to realize that most Christians talk about being inclusive, but they are not inclusive on this issue and they are homophobic.”
But while he has held these views for quite some time, it seems Chalke is just now voicing them. His hesitation to do so earlier is understandable. Many — if not the majority — of evangelicals and the wider Christian community is not favorable of gay marriage. Considering Chalke’s standing in the evangelical world, voicing such overt support for same-sex marriage carries with it some potentially calamitous risks.
“You get worried about funding. If I say this [or that], will people stop funding [the church]…it’s jobs and it’s security and it’s families and their children,” Chalke told TheBlaze. “You get into a situation where you’re scared of saying what you believe.”
The pastor said that he had many phases of consideration before inevitably publishing his written views on the matter. At one point he considered writing a book for publication now — or even after his death (the latter decision would have allowed him to refrain from hurting Oasis with his views).
“I’ve played all that through my brain,” he admitted, but he noted that he inevitably decided it was time to come clean. “With the gay marriage debate beginning to erupt on this side of the ocean, I had to speak out.”
Before releasing his views on the matter, he called a long list of prominent Christians to let them know what he was planning to say. And here’s the most fascinating part of the story: Many of the “hugely well-known people” he called in the faith sphere told him that they agree with his stance — but that they can’t say so publicly (he described these people as CEOs and leaders).
“What has happened is people phoned and emailed to say, ‘Totally agree with you’ and [they] have said, ‘Well said, well put,” Chalke continued. “Some people have said they can’t say it publicly, but they agree.”
Of the overall response he’s received following his endorsement, the preacher claims that 60 percent of the people who have reached out have been positive in voicing their feedback, 30 percent remain unsure as to where they stand on homosexuality and 10 percent have been negative. Overall, Chalke is content with this statistical break-down.
“People feel they can come back to church,” he said of the response to he public endorsement of same-sex matrimonies.
Naturally, many will think that the preacher is a bleeding-heart liberal, but Chalke isn’t into labels. He told TheBlaze that he grew up in a world that was defined by traditional parameters — something he patently rejects today.
“I grew up in a world where you were conservative or liberal,” he said. “You learn through life that issues are difficult. A black and white response strikes me as not a Jesus response at the end of the day.”
As far as the Bible’s stance on the matter, Chalke doesn’t believe that the issue of gay marriage is cut and dry. He called the book “a very hard thing to read” and compared Biblical understanding to “trying to read Shakespeare.” He said that it’s important that people not only read the Bible, but that they also study it.
“There’s a downside to telling people anybody can read the Bible and God will speak to them through it. I understand that truth…but if you just read the Bible you can [encounter issues],” he continued.
The pastor said that studying the text to understand meaning as well as the societal changes that have unfolded since its many books were written is essential. Unlike conservative theologians, Chalke believes that many of the Bible’s stories (including Genesis) are metaphorical and not literal (he also mentioned slave-holding as another issue that was allowed in the Bible, but that society has moved beyond today).
As for homosexuality, Chalke told TheBlaze that the Bible doesn’t condemn gays who are committed to a long-term relationship. In fact, he said that the book never addresses these individuals.
“In Romans, the words used in the context in which Paul writes…[it's] not about life-long same-sex relationships; it’s about cultic practice about male and female prostitutes that you went to the temples of pagan gods and had sex with them,” he said. “Paul is talking about that behavior and not long-term gay relationships.”
Rather than endorsing gay relationships, Chalke believes the Bible is simply silent on them.
“It’s doesnt endorse them, but it doesn’t condemn them either,” he noted.
Certainly many will disagree, but the faith leader is content with his theological views on the matter.
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