Steve Chalke Dodging the Crucial Question

Steve ChalkeWhen I had a public conversation with Steve Chalke last month, one of the questions I asked him was how he was going to handle people like myself. Where do people who choose to be celibate fit into your model? What about those of us who see some form of sexual orientation change or who marry? Are we doing the right thing?

In the video below, Chalke attempts to answer this question, but actually avoids responding to it. Fast forward to 24 minutes and 50 seconds and see what I mean.

So here’s a summary of what Chalke says,

  • Many people, because of what they have been taught, have chosen to live a celibate life
  • Jesus said some people had a gift of celibacy (really? where?)
  • Some people choose to get married – sometimes to “prove credentials” or to “prove been healed” and sometimes that leads to “catastrophe” down the line. Note how he never affirms any of the those choices or gives examples of those who have married and are happy
  • However, truth is truth. We should be stating what we believe to be true
  • Talks about divorce (but this is irrelevant to proving whether homosexual activity is sinful or not). Raises an example of poor pastoral practice around divorce and physical abuse (but what has this to do with homosexuality?)
  • Our theological understanding of homosexuality has grown
  • Permanent, Faithful, Stable homosexual relationships are good and the church should endorse them
  • This is better then gay people “pretending” to be something they are not or “live lives of deception
  • It’s the Church’s task to call everyone to lifelong, committed relationships

Now, reflect on what the question was that he was trying to answer was. That was, “Is there a danger that your article undermines the difficult choices celibate gay Christians have made?”. From his response I’m not sure what his answer actually is. He spends time criticising the examples of celibacy and marriage which have had poor outcomes (without exploring why those poor outcomes occur) but doesn’t spend even a single second affirming those who live successful celibate or married lives. He brings in an example of poor pastoral practice in another area and tries to use that as a justification for changing pastoral practice in the area of homosexuality. The whole response has a feel of dodging the question.

I think Steve Chalke needs to be prepared to give a direct answer in this area. Here are the kinds of questions he should be prepared to give a straight response to.

  1. Do you think that I (Peter Ould) made the right choice in pursuing first celibacy and then marriage? What about others who are now happily married or committedly single?
  2. If yes, why can you not encourage other gay Christians to do the same?
  3. If no, why can you not simply say so directly?
  4. If “It was right for you”, how can one tell whether it might be right or not for another?

It strikes me that as long as Chalke does not give straight answers to these straight questions he is essentially saying to people like me that we were wrong.

27 Comments on “Steve Chalke Dodging the Crucial Question

  1. I know you want to deal with the responses poor pastoral response to gay Christians, but actually, it’s a poor pastoral response to everyone.

    Chalke feels that the Church’s task is to call everyone (is that everyone or everyone-in-the-Church?) to marriage. The Church’s task is surely to call everyone to relationship with Christ, and those in Christ to purity (inside or outside marriage)? Not to call everyone to marriage (whatever happened to Paul’s ‘it is good to remain single as I am’?).

    This is an approach that creates more marriages like the ex-/post-gay ones that Chalke discusses that lead to a “catastrophe” down the line. Straight people can get married for bad reasons too! And that the Church has put a shotgun to the back of dating couples with a strong pressure that singleness isn’t ideal is a big one. I know at least one Christian couple who refuse to label themselves as dating due to the predicted pressure that will come from their Christian friends to stay together and get married.

    I don’t want the Church to be an additional pressure on me:as a straight single, I’ve (from time to time) found myself trying (and failing – normally as I can feel that it is forced) to artificially produce a desire to marry one of the (very few) single sisters-in-Christ in my life, due to pressures (internal and external) to get married, but I just don’t feel that way about that specific lady.

    Chalke also pushes the myth of ‘a few’ having ‘gift of celibacy’ (I presume he’s conflated the ‘some were born eunuchs, some were made eunuchs, some choose to be eunuchs’ with Paul in 1Cor 7:6 talking about ‘each has their own gift from God’ wrt singleness and marriage). I typically see similar ideas in (American) conservative circles: that marriage is the norm, but some people have the gift to be single (surely it’s that everyone starts adulthood with the gift of singleness, and many have it swapped for the gift of marriage, with about half of those getting it back. It seems to be a situational not Spiritual, gifting) – if you don’t have the gift of singleness marry and soon (certainly before you reach your thirties, if not your late 20s).

    That said, it could equally be a capitulation to the current ‘you are your sexual relationships’ culture that makes being a ‘virgin’ synonymous with ‘not fully living’, or even ‘not yet an adult’. The idea that post-gays are living “lives of deception” suggests that Chalke leans more this way, though has perhaps taken up some of the conservative discussion points to give a veneer of conservatism.

  2. Peter, I’m sorry but I think that Chalke would easily deflect your four questions in something like the following manner: ‘You were never ‘really’ gay in the first place because you never lived as a sexually active gay man’. Now of course this type of response raises all manner of other questions which you, I and many other posters on your site, as well as any orthodox Christian, would see as critical. But it is however a common response made when I share my personal story, including the addition below. I also find it interesting that the harshest criticism of my interpretation of my personal experience, even now in South Africa, increasingly comes from Christians rather than gay people, who seem to quite easily accept that there is huge variety in human sexuality.

    Essentially, people like you and me are seen by Christians like Chalke as being unqualified to speak on homosexuality as we have never lived in committed gay relationship but have instead addressed the temptation to homosexual behaviour spiritually through the word of God and the power of the Spirit (I am deliberately summarising here – all regular posters know that these two points encompass massive amounts of spiritual work). Our experience is seen as invalid. At best, we will be allowed to claim that we went through a period of mild same-sex attraction that we were able to resist as it was only mild, but we’re still being ‘inauthentic’.

    This is because it runs contrary to the ‘homosexuality is innate’ narrative which most of UK society at large now believes is true and which many Christians, including evangelicals like Chalke, also believe is true. I personally think that it has taken such evangelicals such an effort of intellectual somersaults to get to this place (they do after all proclaim scripture as truth) that they cannot summon up the energy to consider any further issues (such as the increasingly obvious reality that sexuality is a complex construct of spirit, soul, mind and body with almost as many facets as there are people).

    So this leaves me spoilt for choice on how I respond to the following relatively recent experience, doesn’t it? For those that don’t already know, I am a 52 year old white British man permanently resident in South Africa, married with four adult (just) children. In July last year no-one could have been more surprised than me when I visited my gym (sigh – I know, spot the cliché) and experienced a very powerful desire to make love to an attractive, naked young man. I had not felt such a desire in around a quarter of a century. It was very real, accompanied by graphic mental phantasies at the time. I had no disturbance, sexual or otherwise, in my relationship with my wife, which was and remains close. But it was very powerful and very real.

    There no seem to be three emerging responses that I might be advised to apply to this experience from three different ‘camps’, as follows:

    1. From the gay and liberal church ‘camp’: Take this as evidence of a fundamental underlying but repressed homosexuality that I should now start to explore as my true ‘inner nature’ is emerging. The idea that I am straight but have just experienced a gay temptation would not figure, even amongst liberal Christians. I might be lucky and find a liberal Christian who would advise me to proceed by avoiding sex with a gay man and talking to my wife about my ‘true self’ but this is increasingly asking too much of church liberals.

    2. From the ‘affirming evangelical, ‘Chalkite’ camp’: Take this as evidence of a fundamental underlying but deeply repressed homosexuality. They would probably sincerely wrestle in prayer with me over my struggles but the one fixed truth would be that I am emerging as a gay man. They definately wouldn’t like it if I have a relationship with a gay man, although this would be ‘understood’ as part of my trials. They would sincerely and compassionately support me and my wife to come to the understanding that I am gay and support us as we went through a compassionate divorce (??) so that I could live life authentically as a gay man.

    3. From the conservative evangelical ‘camp’: Take this as evidence of a struggle with sin in the particular area of homosexuality and wrestle with me in prayer to overcome it – as with all sin. If I’m lucky I might receive loving, professional and Spirit filled counsel – I stress all three – to explore the spiritual, relational and personal roots of homosexuality in me that they might be brought into the light of God’s Spirit and healed completely. But I would not be affirmed or supported by any counsellor or pastor in the idea that I am gay or that my ‘true inner self’ was homosexual.

    What I actually did …

    Let me not minimise the power of this temptation. It was very real, powerful and graphic. For a few minutes I walked outside the gym to my car to gain control of my thoughts and spirit. I was tempted to make an approach to the guy but that was a fairly easy temptation to address as I am a strongly orthodox Christian and I love my wife. Essentially I wrestled back control of my inner self through a mixture of prayer, scripture meditation and reasoning over the roots from which the experience had sprung. It took me about 5 minutes to get back control of my thoughts.

    HEALTH WARNING!!! I most certainly am not arguing, and never would argue, that this is in any way reflective of anyones experience of homosexual temptation. Its certainly not reflective of most of mine! I could only respond in this way as a result of lots of high quality counsel a quarter of a century ago which left me firmly grounded in a sexuality based on Christ. I remain deeply grateful that ‘gay’ – or ‘straight’ for that matter – does not define me but my relationship with Christ, and my identity in Him, does!

    Martine Luther: ‘You can’t stop the birds from flying through the trees but you can stop them from landing there and building nests’.
    You won’t get an answer from Chalke, to your four questions, Peter. People like Chalke have simply expended too much intellectual energy getting to their current point of making circles out of squares to have any anergy left for anything else …

    • Hello Philip,

      What it sounds like from here is that you’re somewhere in the range of bisexual. If you have a genuine relationship with your wife, but are simply tempted to sleep with other people from time to time, then that doesn’t actually make you much different from the whole of the rest of the married population of the world.

      I don’t think that most gay activists would be rushing to say that this means you’re really, fundamentally gay and that you must go and commit adultery at once. They might feel differently if you’d only married your wife as a front, while being completely gay, and had been steadily making her feel unattractive and unloved for the last quarter century.

      Chalke indeed doesn’t answer the question, but I don’t see a fundamental problem: if someone goes to a priest and says ‘I’ve decided to remain celibate, and sometimes need some help and support around that’ I don’t *think* we should assume that Chalke or priests generally would instead encourage them to go off and have a shag. I admit there’s always the security of numbers: I bet it’s easier to be a celibate gay man if all the other gay men you know have also decided to be celibate and don’t think you’re bananas. But it’s ultimately unreasonable to ask people to hold a position they no longer agree with, simply so you feel less of a minority. And as this forum demonstrates, even if you hold an increasingly minority view, it becomes easier to locate and find support from people who take the same line as you.

      • I bet it’s easier to be a monogamous straight man if all the other straight married men you know have also decided to be monogamous and don’t think you’re bananas. And yet Steve doesn’t talk about some Christians having the “gift of monogamy” or many people choosing to remain faithful “because of what they have been taught”.

        • Ah cmon, there’s a considerable difference between having one lover and not only none at all, but no prospect of finding one. And if you are so wired that you just overwhelmingly want to shag *someone* from time to time, then having a stable partner is remarkably helpful with that. I guess that’s what that chap meant when he said ‘better to marry than burn’. (Praps it’s a girl thing, but I can’t say I’ve ever clapped my eyes on a complete stranger and overwhelmingly wanted to shag them on the spot – but if you are like that, it seems just plain unsustainable to tell yourself that there’s no remedy at all for your desires.)

          • I know what you’re saying Sarah and to borrow a tired old phrase – I’m not that judgemental of Christians who cannot accept they must be either married (the original definition) or single. Gay people aren’t the only ones who would be happier if the guidelines were a bit more flexible.

            I just don’t think the best pastoral response is to change the teaching to fit the situation.

            • You seemed to be comparing a married person who has to be monogamous with a completely gay person who believes they have to be celibate. I’m pointing out that one of those straws is an awful lot shorter than the other. (And as for flexibility, I note that Andrew Carey, for instance, is divorced — he seemed very happy to change the teaching to fit the situation, while still holding gay people to a far more difficult standard.) You may or may not agree with Carey, but it’s still the case that you hear conservative Christians fulminating about gay relationships at a level of decibels about thirty times higher than when you hear them fulminating about divorce. That seems inconsistent with Biblical literalism, and makes me assume that their real objections are simply cultural.

              • Well I am one of those of those gay people – and I don’t think the straw is too short – and no I don’t think I have the “gift of celibacy” either.

                As for divorce – I’m one of the few people who admires the Westboro Baptist Church for their moral consistency when they hold up those “God Hates Divorce” signs. :-)

                Which Andrew Carey are you referring to? George Carey’s son?

              • The Bible allows divorce in some cases – like adultery or if an unbelieving husband/wife leaves the spouse because of their newfound faith.

                  • Also true. I think that’s because everybody can empathise with relationship breakdown, but there’s been a real disconnect between Christian and gay culture. Conservative Christians can’t relate to gay pride parades – they see it as an example of some of the worst excesses of the sexual revolution.

  3. I don’t quite get this. Over the years I have made many choices, both easy and difficult, in all sorts of areas. Reviewing my life so far, I would say that some choices that I made were wrong, and if I had my time over again I would not make them, and that other choices were definitely right, and I would make them again. (I am, I would guess, fairly unremarkable in that respect.) But looking at those choices that I am convinced were the right ones, I fail to see that they are in the slightest danger of being undermined by the recognition that many people in identical or similar circumstances would make quite different choices and, indeed, have quite legitimately done so.

    • I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with one of your posts, Guglielmo :) I have Christian friends who’ve made the decision either way – some in same sex relationships, some celibate, or ended up getting married after all. Is it so strange that different people come to different points of view about something as personal as love and sexuality? Of course, it matters, but does it really matter enough to tear ourselves apart over?

      Where I get irritated is when people represent the second group (celibate/mixed orientation marriage) of people as miserable shells of shuddering self-loathing, and even try to break up their marriages by telling them that they only married to ‘please society’ or ‘escape from their true self’. In my experience this isn’t true, and the gay affirming group perpetuate this myth for their self-serving ends. I would never say to one of my gay friends ‘oh, by the way, you’re relationship isn’t real. It’s just a pretense to please your lycra-wearing pals so you fit in better.’ So I’m afraid Steve Chalke has now alienated me with his patronising comments.

      • OK. Having listened to what he actually said, he was talking about the pain caused in *some* cases by people who’ve married to prove they’re not gay/ have been healed – I think it’s important not to minimise this issue. However, he still gives the worrying impression that there’s this group of people for whom marriage is this easy and fulfilling thing, and another group of people for whom it’s all pain and discomfort. Is it ever a good idea to marry in order to prove something or hide something? It’s not surprising that he then moves swiftly on to divorce. Divorce is based on the idea that if it’s not working, or you’ve married for the wrong reasons, the only right thing to do is to walk away. Yes, sometimes people have to admit defeat, but is this always the right way?

      • Well, it certainly isn’t for me or for anyone else to tell someone that they only married to ‘please society’ or ‘escape from their true self’, and I’ve never actually heard anyone say that. What I WOULD say, however, is that IF a gay person marries for such a reason, then they marry for the wrong reason, and that in doing so they are being fair to nobody.

  4. Sadly I fear that Steve Chalke is lost to the evangelical world. What is even worse, he (or Oasis as an organisation) have declared that no Oasis youth work degree or MA student is allowed to make any comment about what Chalke has said. It just feels like Steve Chalke has decided on a direction of thought and then decided to either stifle debate where he can or just do a “Sir Humphrey” and waffle his way around every difficult question put to him.

    • I get the impression that he’s seen a lot of legalism, poor pastoral responses and suffering, and is trying to find a new direction to take him out of his disillusionment with evangelicalism. I’ve seen this so many times before. Sometimes it leads to a deepening of faith in the end, but, sadly, it often leads to people being lost from the faith (after first developing a very liberal form of it, which gradually becomes simply believing what everybody else around them believes).

  5. I don’t think he would claim that people like you are wrong. He is simply using every trick in the amiable Christian chat show repertoire to pooh-pooh his critics. He did that throughout the public conservation you had with him last month. He’s a pro. I’m not convinced he aims for anything more than that. It pulls in the punters, pays the rent and gives him an opportunity to chillax with politicians.

    As John Piper would tweet…. “Farewell Steve Chalke”

  6. Why all the avoidance? Why not just say, ‘Peter, you’re bisexual’ and move on. It;s not something you can prove or disprove.

  7. Off-off topic, but…an exchange of parliamentary genius with Tim Loughton challenging Hugh Robertson to explain how a public servant (doctor) opting out of performing an abortion differs from another public servant (registrar) opting out of a same-sex marriage ceremony. (p.233)

    Tim Loughton: The Minister has just used the phrase “pick and choose”. How is this different from allowing another public servant, a surgeon, to pick and choose whether to perform an abortion?

    Hugh Robertson: Generally speaking, I believe all these cases are different. There are plenty of issues. I spent some time as a young man in the Army, and there are plenty of cases in which the Government take a decision and expect public servants to carry it out. That is not an unfair principle in any way.

    Tim Loughton: Why is it the principle that a surgeon who has strong Catholic views is allowed to pick and choose whether to perform abortions or other surgery, if the same principle cannot be applied to a Catholic registrar with strong views, allowing them to pick and choose whether to perform that other public service? What is so essentially different that we protect one but not the other?

    HughRobertson: It is because they are different functions; that is the short answer.

    Tim Loughton: That is not an answer.

    Hugh Robertson: Yes, it is. They are different functions. One is an abortion; the other is a same-sex marriage.

    Tim Loughton: Why do we protect religious views on abortion but not the religious views of registrars, when in both cases public servants perform a public function, for which the public pay? They are different, but saying they are different is not a justification for treating them differently.

    Hugh Robertson: It is about whether that is in the Bill; that is the short answer. It is relevant that in the extensive consultation period the national body responsible did not ask for that exemption. I do not know whether that was the case when the Abortion Act 1967 was put on the book, and what representations were made by the professional bodies at that point; but the issue was not raised.

    Tim Loughton: To confirm what the Minister says, the Government are picking and choosing who has an exemption and who does not.

  8. I have been in a stable same sex relationship for over 12 years now. The relationship is based on love, tolerance, understanding and the full gamut of tenets upon which ‘traditional’ marriages are based. We have been through good times and bad, we have experienced ‘for richer for pooer’ and we have fully embraced sickness and health. My partner’s grandmother of 92 years passed away yesterday. She was able to embrace our relationship, welcomed me into my partner’s family and attended a blessing service that we arranged a decade ago. Our relationship has not been ‘sexually active’ for the last few years — mainly owing to illness. I hope my comments here contribute a slightly different ‘take’ on the important issue of combatting loneliness in society. Loving relationships are there for the taking in both same sex and traditional relationship contexts. It simply is not morally justified to claim a particular stance that should infiltrate the joyful union of two people working their way through the journey of life because of a convition in a set of values that do not need to be seen as a blueprint for correctness. Steve Chalke’s comments, by the way, are perfectly well reasoned and well articulated in my opinion.

    • The problem with his comments are that they do not stack up as a logical argument. He has argued by misquoting scripture, taking it out of context and avoiding questions that are too difficult. And that is the point that Peter is making in all this. It’s fine to make an argument for something, but if someone does so then they should at least be prepared to actually answer questions put to them, rather than ignore or avoid them. And, if they want their argument to be taken seriously, they should form it based on accurately quoted information.

    • “It simply is not morally justified to claim a particular stance that should infiltrate the joyful union of two people working their way through the journey of life because of a convition in a set of values that do not need to be seen as a blueprint for correctness.”

      What does this mean?

    • ” It simply is not morally justified to claim a particular stance that should infiltrate the joyful union of two people working their way through the journey of life because of a convition in a set of values that do not need to be seen as a blueprint for correctness”

      Jolly good. I look forward to your public endorsement of permanent, stable, faithful incestuous unions any day now.

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