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.