On being a gay man and a conservative Christian at the same time - why this theology can be a 'gift to the church'

For decades the evangelical church has struggled to deal with the reality of same-sex relationships, attraction and disagreement within their congregations.

Along with women's role in leadership, sexuality has become the issue in danger of defining the western Church's identity. And it shows little sign of being conveniently swept under the carpet.

Until now the conservative wing of Christianity has struggled sometimes to offer answers that do not cause offence and further estrangement.

It is to Spring Harvest's credit they are not shying away from these issues. The evangelical conference in Minehead on the Somerset coast, is themed 'One for all', and is trying to promote Church unity while admitting there are deeply opposing views.

Spring Harvest is meeting under the theme 'One for All' this year.Christian Today

'Agreement is man's idea. Unity is God's idea,' said Christy Wimber, one of the guest speakers on a day billed as discussing 'personhood'. The umbrella term covers everything from racism in the church to sexuality, women in leadership and mental health.

'We have a position on sexuality which is a conservative one.' Malcolm Duncan, one of the leaders of the annual conference, is open about where Spring Harvest is coming from.

'But there is a context within which we are having this conversation,' he said on Thursday morning.

'We want to recognise we need to be able to have a conversation respectfully.

'It is possible for two Christians to have a different view on this without throwing darts at each other.'

Another of the conference's leadership team, Luke Aylen, spoke movingly about his own sexuality in a Thursday morning session that managed to cover race, gender and sexuality while still promoting unity over division.

'For me personally this isn't just a theology topic,' said Aylen. 'It is something I walk with everyday day.

'You can call me gay. You can call me same-sex attracted. Whatever you want to say I am attracted to other men.

'I want to honour God wholeheartedly with every area of my life. My sexuality is part of me.'

Luke Aylen is Spring Harvest's Creative CoordinatorSpring Harvest

Aylen holds a conservative stance on sexuality and so remains celibate as a gay man. But rather than seeing it as a problem for the Church, he sees it as an opportunity.

'It is very easy for us to turn this into a conversation about "the gays",' he said.

'Actually it's a conversation that affects every one of us. It probably fills most of us with dread having this conversation.

'But I personally think this could be a really rich gift to the Church.

'The world is watching on as we do this.'

'As we engage, this will impact not just the group of people who experience same-sex attraction but also the people who are straight, who are married and who don't experience same-sex attraction.

'This is something that can bring great theological clarity to a great deal of issues.'

Aylen freely admits a number of his gay friends who are committed Christians completely disagree with his stance.

'Conversation takes listening,' he says of his discussions with them. 'It needs to be coming out of [a place of] relationship. Saying I love you and I want the best for you.

'It takes humility, the ability to listen and must be from that attitude of love.'

He concludes: 'When we deal with people who disagree with us we need to do it gracefully.

'Remember these are people not problems. '

And that strapline seems to be theme of this conference. Conservative in stance and evangelical in background, it is tackling the deep and entrenched divisions in the Church in a way that emphasises love.

And that at least deserves praise.

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