An influential and senior evangelical minister has risked a backlash after calling on the Church of England to stop treating gay people as pariahs.
Reverend Steve Chalke, a Baptist minister, said the time is now for the church to demonstrate its compassion and commitment to inclusivity.
The senior minister’s comments come as the Church of England is heavily divided in its view on the government’s plans for same-sex marriage.
In an article for Christianity magazine, Chalke says: ‘I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches; when we blame them for what we are; when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.’
Chalke, 57, is the creator of Christian charity Oasis, who believes every person is created by a God who loves them unconditionally.
Christians need to acknowledge the emotional and physical pain many gay people feel, he says, and urges ‘traditional’ religious people to find ways to support those who wish to enter into faithful same-sex partnerships.
Chalke writes of the conflict between the ‘principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion [that] sit at the very heart of Jesus’ message’, and the Bible’s teaching homosexuality is a sin.
He says: ‘Some will think that I have strayed from scripture – that I am no longer an evangelical.
‘I have formed my view, however, not out of any disregard for the Bible’s authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously.’
Steve Clifford, director of the Evangelical Alliance, said he was ‘disappointed’ Chalke had distanced himself from the preaching community in the UK, and from ‘2000 years of biblical interpretation.’
He said: ‘Generations of Christians have faced the challenge of making the gospel relevant within their cultural settings.
‘The danger we all face, and I fear Steve has succumbed to, is that we produce ‘a god’ in our own likeness or in the likeness of the culture in which we find ourselves.’
The Church of England and Wales will have special precautions in the government’s plans for marriage equality – essentially banning it from blessing same-sex unions.