Open Church conference 2015 to promote dialogue on sexuality

By Savi Hensman
November 16, 2014

On 10-11 April 2015, Christians will gather in Waterloo for Open Church, a conference on ‘The church, sexuality, mission and the future’. It will be held against a background of increasing debate in evangelical circles on sexual ethics.

Some believe that the church has often failed to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and should support faithful relationships. Others urge that ‘traditional’ morality should be upheld.

The conference, organised by Mesa, will include some speakers who believe that committed same-sex partnerships can be morally right and others who do not. It will try to create a safe space where those with different views and experiences can talk and listen to one another.

Vicky Beeching, a Christian singer-songwriter and religious commentator, will speak. She recently made headlines when she came out as lesbian and argued that the church should support committed partnerships.

Another speaker is American evangelist Tony Campolo (via video-link), who describes himself as "conservative on the issue of the Bible and same-sex relationships."

Andrew Marin, president of the Marin Foundation in Chicago, priest and broadcaster Rachel Mann and Alan Wilson, a bishop, will be among the others speaking. So will Baptist minister Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which will host the event.

Oasis was expelled by the Evangelical Alliance amidst controversy over an article Chalke wrote for Christianity magazine in 2013, arguing that committed same-sex partnerships were not unbiblical. Over a pub meal, he explained to several bloggers (including me) how he came to take this public stance.

After becoming the pastor of Oasis church in Waterloo, he found himself ministering to increasing numbers of LGBT people who had become alienated from the church because of the way they were treated.

Then, as the charity he headed took responsibility for several academies, he became acutely aware of his responsibility for pupils as well as staff who might fear rejection because of their sexuality.

In his own opinion, churches cannot fully welcome LGBT people while arguing that loving partnerships are sinful, and there has not been a proper discussion on the theology of sexuality. Others challenged both these claims.

While there has been extensive debate among biblical scholars and other theologians, including evangelicals, I think that this has often not filtered through to grassroots level. Many in the pews are unaware of the extent of controversy.

Some people unconvinced of the case for same-sex relationships do make real efforts to be welcoming and supportive of LGBT people and to challenge hostile or contemptuous attitudes. However all too many churches are off-putting or undermining.

Open Church 2015 will be an opportunity to explore these and other questions, and how Christians with different perspectives and experiences can co-exist as brothers and sisters in Christ.

* Further details are available on http://www.oasisuk.org/openchurch. ‘Early bird’ tickets are available at a reduced rate until the end of December 2014.

* Family as common wealth: a response to 'Men and women in marriage', by Savitri Hensman, (21 December 2013), can be found here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19730

* Ekklesia's proposal to move foreword the debate, Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground (25 November 2013) by Savitri Hensman, which was cited in a recent Synod debate, can be found here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19512

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.