London, UK - February 23, 2009 Several groups of evangelical Christians who believe that the churches need a positive change of heart and mind on the issue of homosexuality have called on church organisations condemning an American anti- gay hate group to face up to their own discriminatory policies and behaviour.
Accepting Evangelicals, Courage, the Network of Baptists Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians, the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian & Gay Christians, and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia have issued a joint statement saying that opposition to the Westboro Baptist Church USA's hate-stance towards gay people does not go far enough.
"The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves," they say. "This means: engaging more fully and openly with lesbian and gay Christians and accepting them as equal under God; examining the way prejudice against gay people has distorted biblical understanding; prayerfully re-thinking church policies of exclusion and acknowledging the harm they cause; and recognising the growing number of evangelicals who have had a heart-change and now affirm faithful gay relationships."
The full statement is as follows:
Joint statement from Gay Affirming Evangelical Groups
23 February 2009
Following the Home Office ban on members of Westboro Baptist Church USA from entering Britain to picket an anti-homophobia play in Basingstoke, there has been a flurry of activity amongst UK Evangelicals. The play deals with the murder of a gay student, Matthew Shepherd, whose funeral was also picketed by the Westboro church, declaring that he was "burning in hell".
In particular, we are encouraged by the recent clear rejection by six major UK Christian groups, among them the Evangelical Alliance and the Baptist Union, of the proposed visit.
Their statement on 20th February claimed that:
"We do not share their hatred of lesbian and gay people. We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities."
This is indeed good news for all in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, but beneath this rejection of open hatred towards homosexuals, there is a much deeper issue which groups like the Evangelical Alliance still have to face.
We would now call upon these groups to reflect on their own attitudes and prayerfully consider what their "hate the sin, love the sinner" teaching does to the minds and souls of faithful Christians who are gay.
This well rehearsed mantra clearly enables some evangelical groups to reject the "God hates fags" approach of Westboro Baptists, but when put under the spotlight, begins to look more like the recent case of Geert Wilders when he claims that he "Loves Muslims but hates Islam".
To hide behind such a mantra in regard to sexual orientation simply ignores the damaging messages which it sends, both to gay Christians struggling with their identity, and to the world beyond which simply hears it as a call to reject, or worse, an excuse to harm gay men and women.
In the Gospels, Jesus warns his followers not to avoid their own failings by pointing to the failings of others - even if they are much larger. Westboro Baptist Church operates as a hate group and is an easy target. The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves.
In particular, this means: engaging more fully and openly with lesbian and gay Christians and accepting them as equal under God; examining the way prejudice against gay people has distorted biblical understanding; prayerfully re-thinking church policies of exclusion and acknowledging the harm they cause; and recognising the growing number of evangelicals who have had a heart-change and now affirm faithful gay relationships.
Rev Benny Hazlehurst,
Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian & Gay Christians
Network of Baptists Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians