Steve Chalke is a Baptist minister and an admirable campaigner for social justice.
He founded a the Charity Oasis. A few years ago he adopted a progressive and liberal theology of sexuality. Recently he launched a video that was widely reported (see this link for the Church Times – https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/14-july/news/uk/chalke-unearths-ancient-erotica-to-combat-a-conservative-reading-of-scripture
-in which he believes that an understanding of Graeco-Roman sexual culture requires that we abandon the teaching of marriage and sexual ethics as Christians have universally understood them. This essay is an answer to the issues he raises.
Steve Chalke has been doing some research into the Classical world of the Greeks and the Romans, and has come up with some discoveries that have startled him. He has found a world that as he describes was “utterly saturated with sex.”
Perhaps Mr Chalke may have led a sheltered life in his reading. But this description of classical culture comes as no surprise to many.Tom Holland, in his recent book on the Romans called ‘Rubicon’, documents how even Julius Caesar put in his time as a ‘rent-boy’ to some elderly lascivious ruler, King Nikomedes of Bythinia. The shame, such as there was amongst the Romans, was not so much in the homoerotic sex; It lay more in being the ‘receptive’ partner; effeminate; humiliating.
But this has come as news to Steve Chalke. He treats us to the fruit of his research: –
“Because of widespread ignorance of the ancient world and Graeco-Roman culture in churches across the West, we throw Bible verses around without understanding their context.”
Actually, if it is he who did not understand the historical context, then perhaps he should have been a bit more honest and up front about it, rather than just assuming others didn’t either.
“So ingrained was this way of thinking and behaving that it became incorporated into religion. Drug- and alcohol-fuelled orgies featuring men sleeping with women, men sleeping with men, and women sleeping with women and men were even classed as acts of worship.”
At this point, Mr Chalke makes a leap.
“Every Christian believes God to be a God of love. It is no wonder that these abusive practices are condemned by inspired scripture. But it is a disingenuous misreading of the text to conclude that what Paul describes in Romans 1 can be used to prevent people forming loving, faithful, and nurturing relationships with people of the same-sex. Instead, the contentious passages have become “weaponised” and used to “destroy LGBT people and their lives and their credibility and their sense of peace”.
This is such a shallow (albeit common) argument that it needs looking at and holding to account.
“Every Christian believes God to be a God of love.”
Yes, indeed, but what kind of love. A God who is to be most fully expressed in romantic and erotic love? No, that was Venus and Aphrodite, not Yahweh. So if Christians believe that God is love, it is the kind of love shown in mercy by a holy God who does not hold us accountable for our fractured disobedience, – not a God who gets cheered up when we fall in love and go to bed with someone for a bit of passionate erotic satisfaction. It’s not that kind of ‘love’.
But a quick read through the Bible would demonstrate that.
It’s comforting to know that Mr Chalke allows for both Christ and St Paul to want to reign in sexual freedom and license a little.
But he goes much further, and here is the main plank of his argument again: –
“But it is a disingenuous misreading of the text to conclude that what Paul describes in Romans 1 can be used to prevent people forming loving, faithful, and nurturing relationships with people of the same-sex.”
Let’s start with our culture and then look at what the Bible offers instead.
If anyone is disingenuous, sadly it is not orthodox Christians. Mt Chalke is in fact misrepresenting many of the relationships that he is promoting as loving, faithful and nurturing. Far too many are in fact largely something else; promiscuous, violent and unstable.
Let’s look at these homosexual relationships that he tells us are loving faithful and nurturing,
Let us ask a gay internet magazine for evidence: –
“Roughly 1,000 gay men were surveyed. Of that number, 41 percent reported that they were either in, or have previously been in, an open relationship. Now let’s dig into the data, shall we?
When it comes to the politics of open relationships, here’s what FS learned:
74 percent of men who are currently in an open relationship said opening was a mutual decision between both partners.
12 percent of them said they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
75 percent of them said they have rules in place with their relationship, but…
21 percent admitted to breaking those rules at least once. (Tisk, tisk!)_
53 percent of single men with no experience of open relationships and 54 percent of coupled men with no experience of open relationships said they’d rather be single than in an open relationship.”
The Daily Beast goes further, and in talking about male gay committed, faithful, permanent (and according to Steve Chalke ‘nurturing’) puts the number of marriages in which partners sleep around at 50%.
The Daily Beast thinks this compares with heterosexual marriages which it puts at 1% who maintain ‘open’ relationships.
“Writer and sex columnist Dan Savage famously described these arrangements as “monogamish”—“mostly monogamous, not swingers, not actively looking.” And even more couples are in them than you think. I’d say that the Alliant and SFU figures are a tad low, at least for gays. I can’t speak for lesbian couples, but few queer men I know—including myself—are in relationships that are exclusively, 100-percent monogamous. Some couples occasionally invite a third into the bedroom for a night of play, while others independently arrange their own casual hookups. Some men might even have long-term partners outside their primary relationship.”
So, whatever male gay ‘marriage’ is – we can say that it is very different from straight marriage, where the expectation and the definition is mutually exclusive faithfulness.
In ‘An Open Secret: The Truth About Gay Male Couples’
Dr Joseph Nicolosi writes,
“In one recent study of gay male couples, 41.3% had open sexual agreements with some conditions or restrictions, and 10% had open sexual agreements with no restrictions on sex with outside partners. One-fifth of participants (21.9%) reported breaking their agreement in the preceding 12 months, and 13.2% of the sample reported having unprotected anal intercourse in the preceding three months with an outside partner of unknown or discordant HIV-status (1).
This study follows the classic research of McWhirter and Mattison, reported in The Male Couple (1984), which found that not a single male pair was able to maintain fidelity in their relationship for more than five years. Outside affairs, the researchers found, were not damaging to the relationship’s endurance, but were in fact essential to it. “The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the ten-year mark is the lack of possessiveness they feel,” says the authors (p. 256).
The gay community has long walked a thin public-relations line, presenting their relationships as equivalent to those of heterosexual married couples. But many gay activists portray a very different cultural ethic. Michelangelo Signorile describes the campaign “to fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution completely–to demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes, but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution.” (1974, p 3).”
The evidence is then, that Mr Chalke is mistaken in characterising many or most of these relationship as “stable, faithful and nurturing”.
What about Lesbian relationships? How stable, faithful and nurturing are they?
Dr Suzanna Rose who produced the “Lesbian Partner Violence Fact Sheet, claims that the answer is that lesbian domestic violence produces 66% more domestic violence that heterosexual marriages.
“The National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes, compared with 7.1 percent and 20.4 percent for men and women, respectively, with a history of only opposite-sex cohabitation. Transgender respondents had an incidence of 34.6 percent over a lifetime according to a Massachusetts survey.”
This raises the number up to 45% saying that many lesbians don’t report the violence.
“How common is lesbian partner violence?
About 17-45% of lesbians report having been the victim of a least one act of physical violence perpetrated by a lesbian partner.”
Why would a lesbian batter another woman?
Lesbians who abuse another woman may do so for reasons similar to those that motivate heterosexual male batterers. Lesbians abuse their partners to gain and maintain control (9). Lesbian batterers are motivated to avoid feelings of loss and abandonment. Therefore, many violent incidents occur during threatened separations”
A study that reported to the UK Parliament provided evidence that lesbian marriages were the most unstable of all partnerships.
Twice as unstable in fact. Where 15% of heterosexual couples failed, within 5 years the comparison amongst lesbians was twice that, at 30%. The reasons why researchers look to Scandinavia for statistics is that they have had progressive ‘marriage’ longest.
“15. Longitudinal Swedish and Norwegian data on 2,819 homosexual and 222,000 opposite-sex marriages included information on characteristics such as age, geographic background, as well as experience of previous opposite-sex marriage, parenthood and education. Breakdown rates in Norway revealed that same-sex male couples were 1.5 times more likely ( and same sex female couples were 2.67 more likely) to break up compared to heterosexual unions: within five years 20% of male and 30% of female same sex unions were terminated, compared to 13% for heterosexuals. Similarly, in Sweden , male unions are 50% more likely to end in divorce than heterosexual marriages and the risk for female partnerships is nearly double that for men. Comparison with childless unions leaves this unchanged as do controls for various demographic and socioeconomic differences.  The instability of same sex unions has been labelled ‘dynamism’ to indicate superiority to the ‘inertia’ of marital stability – a dynamism attributed to the lack of ‘clear power structures’ which supposedly oppress opposite sex relationships.
- In the Netherlands,there have been 1,078 same sex ‘divorces’ up to 2010 – two thirds were by females and a similar pattern is present elsewhere, as in Massachusetts and Sweden . ”
So however much we love and support our homosexual friends, their relationships involve exponentially higher levels of promiscuity, violence and instability; not as Mr Chalke insists, without evidence, – faithful, loving and nurturing.
It becomes a very serious charge against both the sacred text of the Bible and those who have faithfully interpreted it for 2,000 years to claim,
“Instead, the contentious passages have become “weaponised” and used to “destroy LGBT people and their lives and their credibility and their sense of peace”.
For what has destroyed their lives, credibility and their peace, is not the Bible, but the consequences of celebrating, promoting and living values that are anti-God, destructive to the equilibrium were designed for, and damaging to our peace.
Hollywood and Plato v the Bible.
We should not blame Steve Chalk or the gay community for our present life style. It’s a ‘straight’ problem. We have taken a mixture of Plato and Hollywood and built a whole deceptive culture around it. The most foolish amongst us have then tried to Christianise it with a thin veneer of fake spirituality, and failed. And that’s why it’s important to hold Steve Chalke to account for his twisting the faith out of shape.
His motives are good. His judgement is poor.
It was Plato who told the story in his Dialogue the Symposium about ‘soulmates’. In his narrative, he has Zeus slice the original humans, who were androgynous, in two. This left two halves each of which were looking for ever for their split off soul mate.
It’s a lovely story, designed to explain our human longing for love. The Bible answers that our longing is for Yahweh who made us and rescues us. (St Augustine puts it beautifully when he says “thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in thee.”)
But Hollywood follows Plato and gives us instead a diet of the endless search for the fictional soul-mate.
You might have noticed that the search does not often go very well. People find their soul mate –and are blissfully and erotically happy, until they fall out of love and start looking again; and again; and again.
The gay romantic erotic narrative is no more realistic or successful than the straight one. Actually less so, because it is based on a kind of sterile narcissism – man gazing longingly at man, and woman at woman. In its biological sterility it never even gets to co-create the fruit of the love and produce children.
To those who wonder why the Old Testament gives such short shrift to men who ‘lie together’, the answer lies in part that the Children of Israel were set apart from the other nations to learn and exemplify who God was. God was approached in the ‘Holy of Holies’. God was holy and humanity was unclean.
The whole of the Old Testament was an experience of being brought from far away into the presence of God and exchanging what was unclean for what had been cleansed.
This journey from the unclean to the clean, from sin towards holiness touched everything; as perhaps you might expect. Nothing was exempt – from cooking to clothing. And of course it included sex and marriage.
God’s purity was so nuclear, that humans could not look upon him ‘face to face’ and live.
At the heart of the Old Testament narrative is the realisation that humanity had been twisted out of shape, and God had set about healing, restoring and purifying, using the Law and the Prophets, until He came in person.
Jesus continued this call to purity, locating it, most of all, in the heart.
In Matthew 15 he makes it clear that misused sex corrupts:-
19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.20These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
So what is misused sex? Christian teaching is clear that sex belongs in and works within marriage with the intention of being the delightful means of entering in co-creation with God.
Outside marriage it becomes something different. It ought to be obvious that one should not suddenly think that in the 21st Century you can get around this principle by telling God you have redefined marriage; unless God is a construct of your wish-fulfilling imagination, instead of the all-holy creator of the universe, who holds our life in His hands.
SEX IN OUR CULTURE.
Step by step we have changed and demoted sex, from the bond expressed within marriage with the prime purpose of creating children, to a recreational activity that feeds romantic and erotic desire.
One is pure and holy, and the other is not.
Just because we have done this step by step, by degrees, we can’t be blind to what our culture has done.
First of all by the use of birth control and abortion we saved ourselves from the direct life-giving consequences of sexual intimacy. Then we began to un-glue marriage. The sex outside marriage become ‘normal’ (but at no stage did it become pure, holy or acceptable to God.) Then we redefined marriage to break the link between sex to conception.
One way of describing the move from God’s intended purity and healing towards sin and breakdown, is the move from order to disorder.
When sexual desire runs counter to one’s own biology, for whatever reason, it represents disorder. The question that faces all Christians, is, – what do we do when our desires and longings find themselves in opposition to what God has called us to be and do?
The answer that Jesus gives to His followers is to crucify them- to struggle with them and give them up. This is as much true for so-called straight people as for so called gay. And where people fail, they ask for forgiveness, and start the process again. For some people the struggle lasts a lifetime.
We can argue about the causes of homosexuality. The only thing we know for certain is that there is no ‘gay gene’, which suggests that it is in large part environmental, though there may be other factors which combine together.
Many Christians have felt deep sympathy for gay people who have been portrayed as victims of their biology. The compassion does them credit, but the claims of this victimhood are much exaggerated and simply not true.
It was part of the campaigning strategy of the normalisation of gay activists to present it that way. There was great political and social advantage to be be had from saying ‘we can’t help ourselves’; but in different contexts we hear a different narrative. Peter Tatchell is on record as saying;
“We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.”
Then he challenges the traditional view that gay and straight are distinct categories:
“Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings – even if they do not act on them.”
In other words, there is a range of sexual desire along a scale that stretches from heterosexual to homosexual.
This is exactly the point that those Christians who pray with people who are struggling with disordered desires make too.
Somehow when Peter Tatchell says it no one blinks an eye, but when Christians say it, it is condemned as homophobia.
Led by the tortured gay activist Jayne Ozanne, the General Synod of the Church of England bought into the myth that change of any kind was not possible. At the same time, it encouraged transgenderism where change is produced chemically or surgically.
In the case of the gender dysphoria, the issue is whether the body or the imagination takes priority. For Christians the direction we are committed to take is that of the renewed and transformed mind and imagination that St Paul writes of in Romans 12.2
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”,
GAY OR LGBT?
Although the political campaign has been well served by just referring to people as gay, it is clear that homosexual men and homosexual women are not two sides of the same coin. At the very simplest level there is a great deal more sexual ‘fluidity’ amongst women. The gay scene comprises of many women who declare themselves ‘gay’ in their late teens and early twenties, and then find themselves ‘straight’ after all, when they find themselves in love with a man, and settling down to start a family.
If there is no ‘gay’ but instead a spectrum of disordered and fluid sexual appetites, this suggests that we are encountering not victims of biology, but wounded and disturbed episodes of disorder expressed in terms of sexual identity and attraction.
When asked to self-define the movement disintegrates into spectrum of varieties of appetite and attitude.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and
Two Q’s to cover both bases (queer and questioning);
I for Intersex, people with two sets of genitalia or various chromosomal differences;
P for Pansexual, people who refuse to be pinned down on the Kinsey scale;
2S for Two-Spirit, a tradition in many First Nations that considers sexual minorities to have both male and female spirits;
A for Asexual, people who do not identify with any orientation; and
A for Allies, recognizing that the community thrives best with loving supporters, although they are not really part of the community itself.
What should the Church’s response be to disorder and desire?
In the realm of sexual difficulty, one might make a comparison with the epidemic of pornography that has accompanied the over-sexualisation of our culture. There it is clear that something that has such power to disorder our appetites and diminish the value of sexual intimacy and encounter has to be treated with the utmost seriousness and resisted.
But the same is true of a culture of people who have been immersed in the over-sexualisation of our society, and drawn into an unstable and wounding series of sexual and romantic encounter. This is as much a heterosexual crisis as a homosexual one.
But in the grip of the love of Christ, with the promise of the help of the transforming Holy Spirit, it is the duty of the Church to resist secularism, sexualisation and disorder, and to work for its healing.
All healing and repair come from repentance. The terrible mistake that people like Steve Chalk and now, apparently, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the General Synod make, is to think that a movement and a trajectory that takes ‘pride’ in refusing to repent, can be baptised by Christian affirmation.
Of course their motivation is compassion. Of course they are moved to want to protect and nurture people who find themselves marginalised, coping with self-rejection and even self-harming, on the edge of things.
But sexual desire and sexual identity does not get a special pass in Scripture and Christian experience and tradition. On the contrary, the more powerful something is, the more is needs so be surrendered to Christ, and not to seek an alternative life outside Him and outside His help.
St Paul tried to explain something of the understanding he has in the Holy Spirit of the relationship between idolatry and the perversion of our sexual identity.
Since this has to do with the Spirit, not everyone will understand this. Steve Chalke seems so far from an understanding of the metaphysics of the Kingdom, that he sees this as a ‘weaponised’ text depriving the homosexual community of its peace.
St Paul tried to explain that the more idolatrous a society is, the more disruption and disorder will be caused and experienced by people. It’s a kind of ‘ecology of the Spirit’- an interconnectedness of things that are bound together.
This brings us to Chalke’s major idea – that if people ‘love’ each other, they are exempt from Christian ethics.
You only have to apply this to adultery to see how shallow this is. But it’s based on Chalke buying into the heresy of romantic love – perhaps the greatest heresy of the Twentieth Century.
There are many definitions of love. The Greek famously has four words where we only have one. So we need to be careful how we use our single word that contains so many ideas.
St Paul defines Christian love as ‘agape’ a form of selfless compassion. Unlike romantic love, it excludes ‘Eros’ and erotic love.
But it is not at all clear that romantic love really is ‘love.’ The psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love, felt the need to find a word that covered the romanticism of being in love. She coined ‘Limerence’. For many a temporary state of erotic and romantic mental instability.
“Limerence (also infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated.”
This is partly what Steve Chalke is talking about. Most people recover from a serious dose of it after between 6-24 months. It is passionate, unstable, often selfish and sometimes destructive. But it doesn’t give a pass from Christian sexual ethics. In fact the Christian response consistent with the teaching of the Gospels down the ages has been to pray for to exercise self-control.
But Mr Chalke has bought into the heresy of romantic love, and no doubt like other poor lay psychologists he may feel that sexual restrain is bad for you.
He has not looked down the road and seen what the outworking of this careless new doctrine of sexualised limerence is.
Once you fracture the link between sex in Christian marriage with the conception of children, and sanction homosexual love liaisons, there is no logical need to restrain the definition of marriage to two people. It can be extended to three or perhaps four – and of any combination of straight or LGBTQQIP2SAA you care for.
Nor are the rights or psychological needs of the children bought into homosexual or group marriages, defended.
Of all the responsibilities we have towards children, giving them access to their biological father and mother should come at the top of the list. But this new progressive sexual ethic makes the children pay. At least one of their biological parents is out of reach, if not forever, then certainly during their childhood. We know from the Gospels what Jesus thought of those who damaged or wounded children;
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17.2
and this damages and wounds children.
If one buys in uncritically to the culture of romantic love and the primacy of its erotic expression, and then adds to that a strong dose of compassion for those who suffer disorder in their lives, it is easy, in fact inevitable that one ends up by throwing over the authority of Scripture, the weight of Christian experience down the ages, and the witness and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This is what most of liberal Protestantism has done. There is no evidence that this direction or change of priorities has brought more people to Christ, led to a greater holiness amongst Christians or united Christ’s Church. These would be the fruit of a holy discernment.
In fact it has done the opposite. It has split the Church, demoralised those who have struggled with self-sacrifice and sexual continence, and undermined the authority and power of the Scriptures, encouraging people to pick some bits and discard others at will.
It is in fact the baptising of secular search for pleasure and self-fulfilment with a thin veneer of spirituality, that masquerades as Christianity.
Many people on reflection, see it as something even more serious; the assault of spiritual evil on the Bride of Christ, aided and abetted by the well-meaning and spiritually ill-equipped.
It is a matter of such seriousness that is has become the litmus test for what it authentically Christian – belonging to Christ, and what is not. Rooted in ‘the World’ this movement ignores the call of heaven. Rooted in what we call in theological terms ‘the flesh’ it ignores the welfare of the soul.
It has become the crossroads that stands between heaven and hell. It is for that reason, that so many orthodox Christians resist this misrepresentation of the truth with such energy. Not because they lack compassion but because they have compassion,- but compassion for souls that have been wounded by disorder and distance from Christ.
The real shame and blame lies with the Christian leaders who have so turned truth inside out, that they stand between the lost, and their discovery of a change of direction that carries them closer to God; they also stand between the disordered and their healing.
This is a struggle not for relevance, but for salvation.