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Revisionist teaching made me leave my church

A number of years ago, the term “agree to disagree” came into popular parlance in relation to compromise over the biblical interpretation of same-sex practice. When encountering a difference in opinion, could we amicably “agree to disagree” with others and continue to fellowship with them? At the time, it was inconceivable that I would ever have to take a stand if faced with my minister changing stance from holding an orthodox, historical view of scripture on sexual relationships to allowing other views to have equal value. Well, that exact instance happened recently. On this first order issue, I found I could not benignly accept any degree of revisionism. I had to leave the church that I had been part of.

We belonged to a small congregation where we took part in outreach, discipleship training and prayer ministry. Before committing to the church, we met with the vicar and his wife to ensure that they would agree with the TFT Basis and its work. I knew that I could not be part of a church where there would be no biblical teaching on this subject or where they would not support my membership of TFT. After speaking to them, we felt happy; we would find a home there and be able to share our life with others in the church.

I had never felt as accepted. I often consider myself as an “edger”, someone who finds it difficult to fit into a traditional church setting and often spends their energy observing from the outside. In my previous churches, it would usually mean making a few firm friendships and quietly using my giftings. For the first time here, I felt embraced for who I was, with freedom to offer my time and skills to the church with or without my husband at my side. There was no living up to people’s expectations or being judged for performance. I started to invest in that church and felt loved by its people. It was a place I wanted to stay into old age. During Covid, two women gave their lives to Jesus. It was thrilling. 

The congregation welcomed them wholeheartedly and, after a year of attending, were confirmed and wanted to study a discipleship course. We were excited to start a course for them and others who would benefit. After one of the women revealed that she was in a same-sex relationship, she brought her partner to church and we prayed for her salvation too. It was an amazing opportunity to welcome them both. They believed and belonged. We prayed that as they read the Bible, the Holy Spirit would teach them His ways and transform their behaviour. 

The pain of experiencing “shifting sand” is that one can lose faith in leaders 

We were under the authority of our vicar and were happy to inform him that the discipleship course was starting. He knew of the same-sex partnership and we presumed that he would meet with the couple, explain to them the scriptural prohibitions on same-sex sexual practice and, in grace and love, discuss the implications for their relationship.

The initial group meeting started really well. We knew the new women, had been to their confirmation and encouraged and prayed for them most weeks. Their gratitude for the group, feeling of acceptance by the church and love of the services was infectious. Everyone could witness God doing amazing things in their lives. Then the bombshell hit. Another group member, out of the blue, asked what the Bible said about same-sex relationships. This was related to “Living in Love and Faith”, an Anglican initiative to explore relationships in a mutual context. My heart sank. We looked at each other knowingly and explained graciously, with trepidation, that the Bible said that any sexual relationship outside heterosexual marriage was not what God had ordained for human flourishing. 

There was an excruciating silence. One of the couple then forcefully quoted that the Bible said we should love one another. There was consternation and anger from them. We knew that this wasn’t the place to open hurts and prolong vulnerabilities, and so we brought the discussion to an end, believing that our vicar would endorse the biblical stance we had taken. We hoped that biblical teaching and care giving would assuage the hurt and judgement the couple felt levelled at their lifestyle.

Undermined by the Minister

A week later, we became aware that our minister was offering one-to-one time for members to discuss their thoughts on “Living in Love and Faith”. We had received an upsetting message from one woman in the same-sex relationship to say that she felt very let down and ostracised by our stance on same-sex relationships. I thought that this time with the minister would help me feel secure in my biblical stance, be supported by the leader of the church and also to be told that he was working with the women in their pain. We agreed a time to talk together after the next Sunday service.

I was nervous in the lead up to the meeting and started by asking him directly what his stance was on same-sex sexual relationships. There was no point beating about the bush! He replied by admitting that, out of everyone in the congregation, he was expecting the conversation with me to be the most difficult. He knew what I believed. Since we had joined the church, he had been on a journey. He had studied scripture, prayed and talked with his spiritual director. 

The conclusion that he had come to was that the unity of the Anglican Church was his paramount concern and quoted Philippians 2:2, “…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” He wanted his church to welcome and unite people, whether they endorsed same-sex relationships or were living in one.

I then learnt that he had told the couple, after the group debacle, that there were different interpretations of scripture, ours being only one. There would be no preaching on marriage or singleness, same-sex relationships or celibacy, no drawing attention to these contentious subjects. There was an admittance of the huge irony of the situation; his position made my position untenable and the unity that he craved was now the cause of me leaving. I was gracious to him. I thanked him for the teaching and fellowship I had so loved. He thanked me for my kindness and said that he hadn’t expected such a calm response from me to his revelation. I walked out of the church with a breaking heart.

Lessons from leaving

I have not been back, but my husband continued to lead the discipleship course until its end. We wanted to act with integrity and not abandon our responsibilities to others. After much prayer I wrote to my minister, explaining my concern for his soul. He was accountable to God for leading his congregation in truth and that accepting same-sex partnerships was an issue of salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). He was giving freedom to the couple to sin by not teaching the gospel in its entirety, leading them to destruction. I know he was upset at what I had written. Jesus embodied truth and grace. I felt I had to balance both as I left the church.

In leaving, I did not want to bow my head in shame, embarrassment or pretence, so I wrote letters to my friends at church with an explanation for my decision. I felt it right to say that scripture was consistent and orthodox on this issue, and that to quote unity as a foundation for embracing alternative views of the Word of God was misrepresenting what Jesus stood for. Some agreed with me, some didn’t, but all said that I had made the right decision, given what I believed. I wanted to leave well and strived to act with wisdom and kindness. 

I miss the church so much. I know we are missed too. We have remained friends with a few couples, but I want to acknowledge that leaving had implications and we took it very seriously. Investing in a church means that when one leaves prematurely, the roots that one has put down are quickly wrenched up. It took me months to want to commit again to another church, because the pain of experiencing “shifting sand” is that one can lose faith in leaders and feel a huge division in friendships. I have learnt to hold church lighter. I now attend a church where, by meeting the minister, I made absolutely sure that he would teach the truth about same-sex attraction. Trusting God resolutely, knowing He is the never changing, great “I Am”, has steadied my walk and guided my way.

This won’t be everyone’s story. Some may remain to influence the minister and be a stalwart biblical presence in their church. For me, staying was untenable. I could not agree to disagree. My explanation of same-sex relationships to a discipleship group was undermined by my minister, under the premise that unity was to be preserved. Unity is very important. “Pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19) and “Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) underscore the necessity of unity, but not at the expense of biblical truth. Paul writes in Romans 16:17, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” I had to adhere to that warning above all else.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Winter 2022 edition of Ascend