All welcome

Clearly visible from the Chester city walls is the Albion Inn with its wonderfully not-PC sign:  “Family hostile.”   I enjoyed our visit to this First World War themed pub – and yes, not a child in sight!

Sadly most churches have a similar sign just as visible:  “Gay hostile.”  At our staff meeting last week we discussed our attitude to gay people at Christ Church. Our key task is to share Jesus with everyone beginning in our community.  This has to mean that we are to welcome gay people, gay people as they are without expecting them to pretend to be straight.

After all we are committed to the belong/belief/behave sequence – that is, firstly we welcome everyone, no questions asked.  Then we encourage faith in Christ – and that may take time.  Only then is the Holy Spirit given full access for his work of making us like Jesus.

The challenge facing us as disciples of Jesus is to promote Christian values without appearing to be getting at anyone.  For Jesus himself welcomed everyone – especially those at the margins of society.  Only after Jesus had invited himself to his house did Zacchaeus fall out of the tree to offer generous refunds.

We’ve just had a key vote in the House of Commons on the definition of  marriage.  For the record, Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian observed: “The gay marriage debate, which ended tonight in the Commons, displayed remarkably little intolerance of homosexuality.”

However, the Church’s stance for this key measure can so easily be interpreted as gay hostile.

Marriage is under huge attack but not from gays.  It’s from everyone else.  Today most people, male/female that is, now prefer to live together. Marriage is seen as a lifestyle choice for those who want to formalise their relationship.   For sexual relations are now totally detached from the marriage commitment.

This is the key issue, one which the Church has lost comprehensively – at least that is my view.  There are fellow Christians would differ and consider me traditional and by implication, dated.

Some years ago I gave our Alpha speaker, Jaime Hinde, a lift back to London.  A working actor, he had only fairly recently become a Christian and he shared with me his amazement when he discovered that his Christian friend had reserved sexual relations to his wife, and then only after marriage.  Jaime was utterly gobsmacked – he had never come across such behaviour before.

As Christians we are called to welcome everyone into the Kingdom of God so that all types of people may know and experience God’s love in relationship with each other.

At the same time we are called to promote Christian values in our society. But we do so out of love because we care for people rather than out of a need to preserve a moral system – like Javert in “Les Miserables.” Jaime and many of his friends had been badly damaged by hedonistic lifestyle.

I hugely admire Vaughan Roberts, the rector of St Ebbe’s, a conservative evangelical church in Oxford and regular speaker at the Keswick Convention. He is gay, though he wouldn’t use the term, and celibate.

Coming out through an interview with “Evangelicals Now” was obviously a hugely painful business for him.

Vaughan opens his heart:  “Close family and friends have known for a considerable time that I experience same-sex attraction.”

He continues:

“We in the church are too often heard to be presenting only a negative message (to gay people), which can leave them feeling deep shame and discourage them from emerging from the isolation of a lonely and private battle, which creates a fertile soil where temptation increases and compromise becomes more likely.”

Similarly for the apostle Paul, the gospel is for everyone and so he writes: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ” (Romans 15:7).  May we, by God’s grace, be an accepting church!