Steve Chalke drops opposition to homosexuality

Leading evangelical Steve Chalke has changed his biblical understanding of gays and lesbians.

In the latest edition of Christianity magazine, out today, the Baptist minister argues that the Bible is more inclusive than many acknowledge.

After years as a traditionalist on the issue he now believes that permanent, faithful, stable homosexual relationships are not sinful.

His change of heart has led him to call upon the church to be more accepting of gay people.

"Rather than condemn and exclude, can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about; where the virtues of loyalty, respect, interdependence and faithfulness can be nurtured, and where exclusive and permanent same-sex relationships can be supported?" he writes.

Chalke, who has shared the stage with Billy Graham and is a regular conference speaker, said his views would cause some Christians to think he has "strayed from scripture" and is "no longer an evangelical".

"However, I have formed my view not out of disregard for the Bible's authority, but by way of grappling with it and, through prayerful reflection, seeking to take it seriously," he said.

The article follows Chalke's recent decision to hold a service of blessing in his church for a gay couple.

The magazine's resident theologian Greg Downes also appears in the latest edition of Christianity to argue that the Bible is "uniformly negative" about homosexuality.

"The sobering fact is that out of all the Bible references to homosexuality, every one is negative regarding its practice," he writes.

"Those who say the Bible does not teach homosexual practice is wrong are simply engaging in hermeneutical gymnastics, in which they embrace a revisionist interpretation which is completely alien to the original meaning of the text.

"Since the scriptures are crystal clear on the issue, my fear is that any shift to embrace this new interpretation is nothing short of a denial of the authority of the Bible itself," he declares.

Christianity editor Ruth Dickinson concludes that Chalke's turn-about may cause controversy in the evangelical wing of the church for years to come.

"Chalke is going against the majority of UK evangelical opinion. Furthermore, many see this as a primary issue, not a secondary one and one for which liberals will suffer grave consequences," she said.

"Others, of course, will welcome his announcement, seeing it as an opportunity to make the Church more open and welcoming to homosexual people."