Evangelical and Inclusive and with stories to tell
Updated: Oct 31
David Runcorn writes on behalf of fellow convenors of Inclusive Evangelicals
Back in the early summer a group of us met for a discussion. We are evangelicals in the Church of England, involved, variously, in parish ministry, theological teaching, senior diocesan leadership, mission and ministry enabling. Three of us are General Synod members. We also welcomed a priest from the Anglican Church of Canada where a large number of dioceses already celebrate same-sex marriages.
"... the loudest public voices from our tradition were
conservative ones. Indeed, the common perception
was that this was the evangelical position.
We knew it wasn’t."
We were frustrated that in the sexuality debates the loudest public voices from our tradition were conservative ones. Indeed, the common perception was that this was the evangelical position. We knew it wasn’t. A wider theological exploration was needed. So we decided to create a place where that could happen.
‘Inclusive Evangelicals’ (IE) is a home (initially) for evangelicals in the Church of England who “support the full welcome of LGBTQI+ folk and are committed to open exploration of the theology of same sex relationships from an evangelical Christian perspective”. We were quickly welcoming members of other denominations who are all on the same journey.
"We were quickly welcoming members of other denominations who are all on the same journey."
Our website contains a growing range of articles and resources on issues of doctrine, scripture and other aspects of the current debate. The strapline declares: “We joyfully proclaim the biblical affirmation of equality and inclusivity”.
“We joyfully proclaim the biblical affirmation of equality
We have created a private Facebook group to offer a place to meet. It was launched in August and already has over 1150 members, confirming the significant presence of open, questioning and exploratory thinking within our evangelical world. Membership is a varied mix of women, men, gay, straight, single, partnered and married, lay and ordained. They come from all walks of life. Many are in local church ministry, church planting and pioneering.
Encouraged by the clear welcome for this initiative, podcasts are planned, local networks and meetings are in discussion, and a national conference is in the diary for September 2024.
IE has been created to offer three things.
Support and fellowship
The IE Facebook group offers support and resources for faith and ministry. Any sharing our convictions can ask to join, but it is a private group out of practical necessity. ‘I cannot be public about my convictions in my present church and among my colleagues’. There is relief at being able to speak freely and ask questions. ‘I am so glad to have found you!’ ‘It is so helpful to be part of this community’. We are at different stages in our theological and biblical journeys but share the conviction that the inherited assumptions from scripture and tradition on this issue need questioning.
"We are at different stages in our theological and biblical journeys but share the conviction that the inherited assumptions from scripture and tradition on this issue need questioning."
Some share from pain and exclusion. ‘Because of this issue I am having to leave a community I have been part of for twenty years’. There is frustration among those belonging to national mission and renewal networks whose leadership has committed its membership to conservative viewpoints without consultation and where a diversity of views is actually found. Others simply welcome the chance to talk aloud, test ideas and deepen understanding. ‘This has encouraged me not to abandon evangelicalism altogether’, writes one.
Positively, there are exciting stories being shared, of congregations that are growing. ‘We are discovering the fruit and gifts of being a wider, inclusive community’. We hear of a new sense of loving purpose, worship and Christian mission. ‘We might be a relatively silent voice within this noisy and fractious debate,’ says Nick, ‘but we are a confident one because we can see the fruit of what is happening in our communities.’ It is clear that, though still to be fully embraced within its structures, transformative journeys of change, welcome and blessing are already happening in the Church of England and beyond – and we want people to know.
"There are exciting stories being shared of congregations that are growing. Of a new sense of loving purpose, worship
and Christian mission"
Theological and biblical resources
We are committed to the high view of scripture that defines our historic tradition, noting this always requires the willingness to live with significant differences of interpretation at times. Evangelical belief has never been ‘one thing’ and therefore is hard to define – a point regularly noted by historians. (1)
"We are committed to the high view of scripture that defines our historic tradition"
Evangelicals know well the unsettling challenge of re-visiting even long-unquestioned biblical convictions under the compelling of the Spirit. Indeed, our view of scripture requires it. We have revised our positions on social and ethical issues which we previously opposed on the grounds of Scripture – recent examples would be divorce and remarriage, and the ordination of women. This requires a continuing reconsideration of what kind of revelation the Bible actually is, the nature of its authority, and how it speaks into the fresh challenges and questions each generation encounters. This is our context once again.
The historic, creative diversity of this tradition has become increasingly narrowed in recent years as the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), long the co-ordinating agency for the diverse evangelical organisations in the Church of England, has become more theologically conservative. In 2017 CEEC added to its basis of faith the belief in ‘the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman’. The change had the immediate effect of excluding many evangelicals from membership and discouraging discussion in the networks under CEEC oversight. In the process ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Orthodox’ have become words reserved for those holding conservative views on same-sex relationships. It has masked the rich, if often conflicted, theological diversity that has always characterised this tradition.
That this addition to the basis of faith was felt needed at all reveals that within the evangelical world differing views were already to be found. And so it is. The debates over sexuality have been forcing many evangelicals to re-think their understanding of how the bible speaks to church and world about human sexuality and same sex partnerships.
"The debates over sexuality have been forcing many evangelicals to re-think their understanding of how the bible speaks to church and world about human sexuality and same sex partnerships."
Within the evangelical world this remains work in progress. One convenor writes, ‘I have met many perplexed, intelligent, evangelical laypeople who feel completely under-resourced to do the necessary hard, personal thinking over the issues. In their day-to-day context they accept, mix with and socialise with gay friends and family, while their church context states that such people are sinful, disordered and in need of healing.’ Not all evangelical congregations have engaged with Living in Love and Faith. The need remains to help Christians to fully explore a range of opinions and experience about this matter in an open, rather than a prescriptive way. This is an urgent pastoral, as well as theological, issue.
Evangelicals, LLF and the Church of England
IE is fully committed to the life, ministry and mission of the Church of England and partnerships with the wider church. We support the outcomes of the Living in Love and Faith process, and the decision of General Synod (Feb 23) to support the bishop’s proposals for prayers and blessing for same-sex couples.
We are committed to playing our part in enabling the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for ‘a radical new Christian inclusion, founded in scripture , in reason, in tradition, in theology, based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.’ (Synod speech, Feb 2017)
"We are committed to playing our part in enabling the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for ‘a radical new Christian inclusion'."
‘We are not another campaigning organisation,’ says Jody Stowell. ‘But we do believe the contribution of evangelicals to this debate needs broadening. We seek a church that is a place of joyful welcome and blessing for all. We respect fellow evangelicals who disagree with us and hope for their respect in return. We do not believe any should be forced to act against their conscience. We are committed to walking together in this. We do not believe it is a matter to divide over. Nor do we in any way seek division as an outcome.'
We are evangelical and inclusive. And we want people to know.
If you recognise yourself in these stories and convictions, you are welcome to join our Facebook group (by the same name).
1. for example, Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones in The Routledge Research Companion to the History of Evangelicalism. Chapter 1: Evangelicals and Evangelicalism – contested identities. 2018.
IE convenors include: David Runcorn, Jody Stowell, Charles Read, Tim Chesterton, Marcus Green, Kate Massey, Simon Butler, Steve Hollinghurst and Malcolm Chamberlain, Nick Bundock.