Saturday, 10 May 2014

Steve Chalke - He's not an evangelical he's a very naughty boy!

It seems that the UK evangelical church has got itself into a bit of a tizzy. Baptist mover and shaker the Rev Steve Chalke, who leads the much respected Oasis Trust, followed up his 2003 perceived faux pas, with author Alan Mann, where they questioned some dearly held views about the cross of Christ, with some recent comments questioning the evangelical stand against same sex marriage.

This didn't go down too well in some quarters although, somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't without support. In addition there were a good number of key evangelical voices that remained quiet; perhaps preferring to stay under the radar on this emotive issue.

Then a few days ago the Evangelical Alliance (EA) chose to remove the Oasis Trust from its membership list referencing Chalke's recent comments as being influential in its decision: it seems that he is not individually a member of the organisation so they couldn't take direct action. (Edit note - I had read that Chalke was not a member but at present cannot find the information)

Now on their website this the largest of UK Evangelical groupings says that it represents 'the UK’s 2 million evangelical Christians' seemingly adding weight to its decision to exclude this wayward group.  But let's back the church minibus up a moment and check this rather bold claim.

Indeed Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the EA, said in his submission to the Merits Committee on Marriages and Civil Partnerships of the British Parliament in 2011 that the EA represents 'the majority of the UK's 2 million+ evangelical Christians'.

Furthermore it's website description says that it works 'across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members'. It is worth noting that it appears that the number of individual members comes in at twenty-thousand.

Given that the average British church congregations stands at 84 people it's hard to see how they have reached their figure of representing 2 million. The most generous number I can offer them, using their own figures, is around 400k - it could be as low as 200k.

So how do they feel comfortable claiming to represent 'the' or 'the majority of the' 2 million UK evangelicals.  I have asked them for comment but so far have only received two emails indicating that the recipients are not in a position to comment.

The problems, however, don't end there. Back in 2010 the EA conducted a survey at key evangelical events including New Wine and Spring Harvest. In it they asked around 15000 people to decide whether they agreed with the statement: 'Homosexual actions are always wrong'.  They found that whilst 16% actively disagreed, 11% were unsure; giving a total of 27% of event goers failing to actively affirm the generally accepted position on this subject.

Given this survey, and the questions about their membership roll, are they honestly suggesting that they represent 'all' of UK evangelicals when making their decision to eject dissenting voices? I am not so sure. Given this even their claim to represent the 'majority', made to the parliamentary committee, should be questioned. 

So what does it mean when a group like the Evangelical Alliance ejects a member for looking to question the perceived position on human sexuality? In terms of their day to day running I hope it doesn't affect the Oasis Trust in any significant way. It does however send a signal to all the other potential 'naughty boys and girls' to keep their opinions to themselves when it comes to difficult issues or face the possibility that you too may be given the right hand of disfellowship. 

The Rev Simon Nicholls makes this comment 'The EA want to be broad enough to include all evangelicals' (even if we are not members - my note) he continues 'yet narrow enough to exclude those who want to have a more open conversation'.

Are Chalke and the Oasis Trust any less evangelical for being excluded? I would suggest not. Are they less able to do the excellent work they do in helping thousands of people in the UK? I would suggest not. 

Are they naughty girls and boys? Well possibly, but I for one have always preferred the company of people like this rather than those of a more religious disposition. I suspect that the very Jesus the EA look to represent did too.

10 comments:

  1. Alan, the quote is close enough but to clarify, I am still currently a paid-up member of EA, though "considering my position" in the light of the Oasis affair.

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  2. Thank you Simon. I am happy to rephrase the quote if you wish as I know I joined together two of your tweets. If you don't think it represents your position. Let me know.

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  3. I have made a slight change to clarify my addition. Hope that helps.

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  4. The EA made a point in their Members' Briefing that "an individual's personal membership of the Alliance (such as that of Steve Chalke) was a matter for their own conscience", but that "for an organisation, the expectations of membership are more significant". I took this as implying Steve Chalke is a personal member but the EA has chosen to take no action against him, but only against the organisation.

    Of course this stance on personal members further undermines the EA's claim to represent their views, on matters on which the Basis of Faith takes no position.

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  5. Thanks Peter. I am just going through my notes now. I had written down a reference to Steve no being a member of the EA

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  6. Thank you for bringing these events to my attention. The Easiest certainly do not represent my view, and I am supportive of Steve and Oasis on this issue. I am pleased to see the statistical info you mention, and shall share the 16% and 11% figures with my son and his partner.

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  7. My wife and I think it could be a higher figure if evangelicals removed the three line whip from the issue. That is to say they allowed people to speak openly without fear of being labelled as not evangelical (or excluded).

    There was a survey in the USA amongst evangelicals that showed 19% in favour of same sex marriage. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't 30% if we had an open discussion.

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  8. Thank you so much for this, it is very fair and thought provoking. I must admit I was very saddened by the actions of EA, as I have only found love and acceptance at Oasis, i have been attending there for 6 years and Steve does not expect everyone to agree with him but he does expect conversations and love for all. The web page was asking for a continuing of conversation on the Homosexual subject, it does seem that the EA does not want to keep the conversation going, they also asked Oasis to change the web site to include the traditional view of evangelical Christianity.

    The Evangelical alliance said that Oasis were unwilling to fulfil the council’s request to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view.

    When can we expect the EA to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile an alternative evangelical Christian view?

    Lets' keep the conversation going :)

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    1. Thank you David. I agree that we need to keep the conversation going.

      This has been my biggest problem with this situation. I keep saying to people 'you don't have to agree with Steve Chalke, but we do need to address the issues'.

      Instead the EA has just looked to silence voices - a sign of insecurity I think. Take care. Al

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