The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The narrative is straightforward. They are the victims. They have been damaged by ‘conservative theology’ and they are going to change us evangelicals so that we accept their position.
Brothers and Sisters,
As you may be aware Vicky Beeching is currently doing the circuit in the UK and the US promoting her book Undivided. (See my review here: Undivided – An Open Letter to Vicky Beeching). Many in the church and in the wider culture are lauding her. For example the blurb on her book cover includes this hyperbole from The Guardian.
Beeching is arguably the most influential Christian of her generation… Long admired by evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic. Beeching can hopefully bring about an acceptance of homosexuality amongst Christians.
This article from The Independent is typical of the influence that the gay rights activists are hoping she will have. The Times, BBC, PinkNews and numerous other secular publications offer the same kind of gushing praise and complete acceptance of her narrative.
In the Church we have the Archbishop of Canterbury giving her an award and The Church Times, amongst others supporting her position. Their podcast interview with Vicky is fascinating. All of this is an attempt to impose what is termed ‘Gay Christianity’ upon the evangelical Church.
Vicky herself seems to believe The Guardian’s take on her importance and is posting avidly on social media, doing numerous interviews, podcasts and articles in order to achieve their mission. She is going into companies and promoting LGBT activism (which really means attacking and seeking to ‘re-educate’ and punish those who don’t buy into the whole programme). She makes quite clear what her aim is –
Wonderful to hear from church leaders who read @ChurchTimes & Undivided this weekend & said “we will begin to prayerfully re-examine our views on LGBTQ equality”... “it’s clear conservative theology can damage lives & even cause suicide”. “Forgive us for not understanding sooner” pic.twitter.com/8hE9Eztls2
— Vicky Beeching (@vickybeeching) 25 de juny de 2018
Her narrative is straightforward. She, and others like her are the victims. They have been damaged by ‘conservative theology’ and she is going to change us evangelicals so that we accept her position. Vicky even writes in Undivided that she ‘knows’ that a day will come when all churches will unanimously accept the LGBT position. So we might as well get with the picture.
Vicky thinks it is working. She cites examples such as this tweet.
As an evangelical pastor I would call upon my fellow pastors worldwide to read Undivided by @vickybeeching. It will soften your heart and acknowledge that all human beings are looking for love & shelter. #goodread #LGBTQ #ThankYou #weareone
— Jan Wolsheimer (@JanWolsheimer) 24 de juny de 2018
It is my view that how the evangelical church responds to this is vital. It will call for courage, compassion and wisdom from all of us who profess the name of Christ. As I read the various evangelical responses there are some that are excellent but others that leave a lot to be desired. Part of the reason is that some don’t understand what is going on, or how to respond to someone who says ‘your theology was the cause of my misery’. As someone who has unfortunately found myself in the frontline of this particular battle I hope you will forgive my presumption in offering the following suggestions.
1. WE MUST NOT BE ABUSIVE – WE RESPOND WITH COMPASSION
Those who wish to condemn and attack the evangelical church love every angry and abusive tweet or Facebook message. It allows them to claim victim status and to virtue signal (‘we are not like these horrible people with their twisted theology’). But it’s not just because of image that we should avoid such abuse. It’s just simply that it is sinful, wicked and wrong.
However be careful…don’t let the fear of being accused of abuse prevent you from speaking truth. What Vicky calls abuse sometimes isn’t. She has a neat trick of pointing out the real abuse she has received (death threats, name calling and other disgusting things) and then equating that with those who say that Same Sex Marriage is wrong. In her eyes both constitute abuse. She is wrong. If that were the case then is it not abuse when we are accused of causing anxiety, depression and suicide because we hold these views? Or is it only gay activists who can be ‘triggered’? When I hear Vicky say that teaching the Bible causes people to commit suicide I find that incredibly abusive (and manipulative).
2. WE MUST NOT BE AFRAID - WE RESPOND WITH HOPE
Some Christians are afraid because they see and feel the overwhelming pressure from society, media, their work, friends, family and even the Church to reject the Bible’s teaching. But fear causes anger and does a great deal of harm. We don’t need to be afraid. We know how this all ends! One day every knee will bow before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
3. WE MUST NOT BE PROUD - WE MUST RESPOND WITH HUMILITY
Pride is an emotion, like anger and fear, that does a great deal of harm. The ‘Lord I thank you that I am not like other people’ approach is that of the Pharisees. Ironically it is also the approach of the evangelical liberals. They boast and congratulate each other about how they are not like others – how they are for freedom, diversity and equality. They delight that they are not like nasty, fundamentalist evangelicals. A truly Christian approach is more; ‘there, but for the grace of God…”
4. WE MUST NOT BE DECEIVED - WE RESPOND WITH TRUTH
Undivided is a very deceptive book. Vicky purports to be an evangelical but everything she espouses is classical liberal Protestantism. The teaching and methodology of evangelical liberals like Steve Chalke (who Vicky says is a respected theologian and academic!) is deceptive and manipulative. They are warmly welcomed by those who hate Christ, but rather than challenge the Christ haters, they accept their point of view and seek to bring it into the Bride of Christ. I’m not sure whether Vicky is someone who doesn’t know what she is doing and just being used, or whether she really is aware of the game she is playing. Only the Lord (and Vicky) knows but whatever the case we must respond in love with truth.
Just as we should not be the deceived nor should we be the deceivers. Vicky boasts about how her main work is having private conversations with us as evangelical leaders – and getting us individually to change our positions privately, before eventually attempting to change our congregations. That is deceitful. If you are an evangelical who has changed your views – be consistent and do the honourable thing. Go to a liberal church that shares those views and don’t take money to undermine what you are being paid to teach!
5. WE MUST NOT DEVIATE ONE IOTA FROM THE WORD OF GOD- WE RESPOND WITH FIRM ADHERENCE TO THE BIBLE AS THE WORD OF GOD
That is an absolute. We do not have a choice. If we profess to love Christ and follow him, we cannot twist his word nor turn away from it.
6. WE MUST NOT BE DIVIDED - WE RESPOND TOGETHER
The tactic of the enemy is to divide and conquer. It was wonderful to see how the recent GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem represented the majority of Anglicans in the world and displayed a unity that comes from sticking to Christ and his word. When evangelicals in the West compromise on this we are letting down not only our Lord, but our African, Asian and South American brothers and sisters. It is also surely right to point out that we have far more in common (on this and many other issues) with the Catholic and Orthodox churches than we do with liberal Protestants.
It really is not helpful when mainstream evangelical churches and publications present this as an in-house discussion within evangelicalism, like baptism or gifts of the Spirit. The “on the one hand this and ‘on the other hand that” approach sows division. I’m tired of evangelical leaders who say ‘I accept the Bible’s teaching but we need to understand that there are equally faithful Christians who have a different perspective’. They are not equally faithful and it is not just a different perspective – it is a different Gospel.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-9).
7. WE MUST NOT BE FOOLISH – WE RESPOND WITH WISDOM
Wise as serpents harmless as doves. There are a lot of traps that are set up for us. We need to understand the times, discern the devils tactics, develop media savvy, use the Internet properly and learn how to tell a better story. Let me commend to you two resources – Glynn Harrison’s book ‘A Better Story’ and anything by Rosario Butterfield.
8. WE MUST NOT BE COWARDS - WE RESPOND WITH COURAGE
One person wrote and told me that after they posted a ‘like’ to my review on ‘Undivided’, they were reported to a British Government institution for being homophobic! This is the kind of intimidation that causes many to be silent. Vicky talks about British evangelical churches putting their heads in the sand and being silent. She is right. We need to speak out against the intimidation and the lies… even, or especially, when it comes from those who are pleasant and plausible. Are you prepared to speak out with grace and truth? And we need the courage to rebuke those who would take the same view as us but are abusive and full of hatred.
9. WE MUST NOT BE SIDETRACKED FROM OUR MISSION – WE RESPOND WITH CHRIST
Whilst we remain firm on the bibles teaching about sex and sexuality, that is not our primary message. Our aim is always to proclaim Christ. People could have all the right biblical views about marriage and still not know Christ. Our message is not morality but the message of the Cross – repentance, forgiveness, faith and grace. The world seeks to sidetrack us, or get us to accept their agenda, but we will not be moved one inch from the Gospel.
One final lesson I have gleaned from Vicky’s book and interviews. In her woundedness and hurt she has become a very intolerant and demanding person. She won’t attend churches that hold non-affirming theology, like HTB. She demands that churches she goes to should never have someone in the pulpit who says that marriage should be between a man and a woman – because otherwise she might be triggered. (I note in passing that there is not a great deal of humility or tolerance in her approach…’ do what I want or I will condemn you’ is the mantra. She has also ‘unfollowed’ me on Twitter… which kind of gives the lie to ‘lets have respectful discussion’ – I find that most liberals are like that – we have to agree with them, or we are beyond the pale). She wants the warmth and friendliness of the evangelical church – just without the evangel. My fear is that there are far too many of us evangelicals who are dangerously close to a similar position – in private if not in public.
I was once approached by a young woman who said that she loved the church and everything in it…’but can you not just have it without Jesus?” That is in effect what Vicky Beeching and her friends are asking for – the Church without Jesus. Of course they deny that and say that they are the true followers of Jesus They are not stupid – they know that the idea of claiming to be a Christian without following Jesus is daft, but, given that they don’t accept the Bible, they find it remarkably easy to just invent their own personal Jesus, who amazingly, happens to share all their views!
Liberal evangelicals want a God without judgement, a Cross without atonement, a Bible without hard things and a church without the Jesus of the Bible. Those of us who believe in that Jesus must hold fast and not be intimidated or deceived into giving up on him. I leave you with these apposite words from that Jesus to the church in Thyatira – Words that today would see him accused of ‘hate speech’ and condemned by the liberal evangelicals of being ‘unChristlike’!
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Brothers and sisters, are we as evangelicals going to listen to the Head of the Church? Or are we going to follow the demands of the culture?