Insights from the UK and beyond
Christians must reflect after UK bars U.S. anti-gay preacher
The British government has done its bit and barred an American anti-gay Christian preacher and his daughter from entering the country - now it’s up to churches to do theirs, a group of evangelical Christians says.
The Reverend Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, and his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper, were barred from entering Britain after it emerged they planned to protest against a play about the murder of a gay man.
The reverend picketed the funeral of the student in the U.S. declaring he was “burning in hell” and has staged protests outside theatres.
Phelps believes the U.S. is doomed for tolerating homosexuals. The government last week said the pair were anticipated to spread “extremism and hatred”.
Six major British Christian groups, among them the Evangelical Alliance and the Baptist Union (which is not associated with Phelps’ church), issued a statement condemning the proposed visit.
“We do not share their hatred of lesbian and gay people,” they said.
“We believe that God loves all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and we unreservedly stand against their message of hate toward those communities.”
But a group of evangelical groups said Christians had to do more than just condemn with words. They had to face up to their own discriminatory policies and behaviour.
“The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves,” a group which includes Accepting Evangelicals, Courage and the Network of Baptists Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians, says.
“This means: engaging more fully and openly with lesbian and gay Christians and accepting them as equal under God; examining the way prejudice against gay people has distorted biblical understanding; prayerfully re-thinking church policies of exclusion and acknowledging the harm they cause; and recognising the growing number of evangelicals who have had a heart-change and now affirm faithful gay relationships.”
Others signing the joint statement are the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.
They said they recognised a growing trend, nationally and internationally, among evangelicals to challenge “what has been a hardline stance against gay people from within that global segment of Christianity”.
They cited a recent case where the deputy head of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in the U.S. resigned after criticism because he was moving to an “affirming” position on faithful lesbian and gay relationships.
“We would now call upon these groups to reflect on their own attitudes and prayerfully consider what their “hate the sin, love the sinner” teaching does to the minds and souls of faithful Christians who are gay,” they add.
“In the Gospels, Jesus warns his followers not to avoid their own failings by pointing to the failings of others – even if they are much larger. Westboro Baptist Church operates as a hate group and is an easy target. The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change themselves.”