For many LGBT Christians, large evangelical conferences like Spring Harvest might seem like the last place you'd expect to find a welcome. Even in recent years, accepting one's gay or trans identity has been positioned as a desperate, but misguided and sinful 'lifestyle choice', of which surely no good can come. Evangelical leaders and preachers who are privately supportive of LGBT people are often nervous of being seen as 'soft on sin' or lacking in Biblical rigour if they acknowledge it in public.
However, this year, Spring Harvest was different.
In the main series of Bible teachings from the main stage, and with the endorsement of the Spring Harvest leadership team, the speaker posed the following question:
'How is it that in the 2000 years since Christ came, we have managed to make generations of gay and lesbian people believe that they are not welcome in our churches?'
Although those speaking fell short of overtly condoning same-sex relationships, much of the teaching appeared to point the way towards a reappraisal of the traditional line on sexuality. Preaching on the circumcision debates in the early church, the question was raised as to what the equivalents for our society might be; what are the unnecessary burdens the church still places on people today as a prerequisite for belonging to the Body of Christ? Exclusion based on sexuality was overtly criticised in the light of this passage. To underline the point, a meditation featuring images of gay and lesbian people was played during worship to help people explore the reality of the fact that God's love extends beyond 'people like me' to include everyone.
All in all, the message was very clear - LGBT people, their partners and their children ARE welcome at Spring Harvest, and should be so in churches which would align themselves with Spring Harvest.
Clearly there is still work to be done in assuring the full inclusion of LGBT people at all levels of leadership in evangelical churches, whether Anglican or not. However, if Spring Harvest is indicative of the mood of the debate in mainstream evangelical Christianity in the UK, then clearly there is not much appetite for falling out of fellowship with other Christians based on issues of sexuality. Encouragingly, it seems that the voices within the church which refuse to acknowledge the experience and faith of LGBT people are increasingly an extremist minority.
To give a sense of the tone of teaching at Spring Harvest this year, a prayer from the main stage:
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbours who are poor.
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