On Invasions of the Church
Like the Methodist missionaries two centuries ago who risked their reputations to re-awaken America from its slumbers, many Christians today may need to relearn what it truly means to be convinced of our convictions. You must learn to speak them out, knowing that the world—and even a good deal of Methodists—may never forgive you for it. Christianity will land you in some kind of trouble one way or another. They’ll find out what you believe in the end.
The Tale of a Tweet
On March 8, 2023, I was fired from my job as a lecturer and programme lead at an evangelical Methodist Bible college. I had worked in this role for seven years and had never faced any formal disciplinary action previously. I was dismissed on the charge of “bringing the college into disrepute” due to a tweet I posted on February 19, 2023.
Here is what I said that was deemed so disreputable to so many:
Homosexuality is invading the Church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this because they’re busy apologising for their apparently barbaric homophobia, whether or not it’s true. This is a ‘Gospel issue’, by the way. If sin is no longer sin, we no longer need a Saviour.
The tweet went viral. I was routinely Twitter-mobbed before being publicly denounced by the college on Twitter, who called my tweet “unacceptable” and “inappropriate.” They also posted the following remarkable sentence:
Cliff College is committed to being a safe and hospitable place where those with differing convictions are welcomed and encouraged to live and learn together as faithful disciples of Christ.
The following day, after I had said I could not take down the tweet in good conscience, I was suspended, instructed to leave the college site within half an hour, and banned from all contact with fellow staff or students. Following a disciplinary hearing two weeks later, I was dismissed for misconduct.
The Investigation Report compiled about that single tweet was 17 pages long. It itemized a selection of the many public and private complaints made against me, and the many institutional and reputational risks incurred by the college as a result. Most of the complainants characterized the tweet (incorrectly) as homophobic, whilst some pro-LGBT+ students declared they would now feel “unsafe” in any classroom where I was teaching. The report further noted that the college was reviewing whether the tweet should be reported under the college’s “Prevent” duty (the UK government’s anti-terrorism and hate speech programme).
Cultural Pressure and Ecclesial Compromise
The wider context of my tweet was the recent Church of England decision to offer official blessings for same-sex couples. Even whilst refraining from fully accepting same-sex marriage (for now), the event was disturbing enough to cause ten global Anglican dioceses to publicly break communion with the Church of England. In the weeks prior to my tweet, I had been debating various pro-LGBT+ ministers and theologians on social media, each of whom were speaking as though the affirmation of homosexuality within the Church was inevitable and that sooner or later the Church simply had to “catch up.” Even prominent evangelical bishops like Steven Croft began declaring how sorry he was for all the harm and distress the Church’s position had caused the LGBT+ community, leading him to make a dramatic public u-turn to affirm same-sex marriage. Croft, like many, believed that now was the time to take the brave stand of solidarity with the powerless: by siding with the majority within secular Western society who were already standing precisely there and had been for some time.
It almost goes without saying that the shifting of the Overton Window on homosexuality in the west has been one of the most successful marketing campaigns of the last thirty years. As shown by the tactics employed in Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen’s book, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the ‘90s, this was a concerted campaign to present the for/against narrative at its most extreme in order to enact a dramatic shift in public opinion towards the progressive view. As a result of these determined efforts, the LGBT+ movement today has effectively gained not mere cult status but major religious status.
What I found especially reprehensible about the Anglican situation was that these many pro-LGBT+ vicars, bishops, and theologians refused to admit that their theological position on marriage was determinatively influenced by those shifting cultural currents. They were adamant that their view was simply the fruit of diligent Biblical exegesis and prayer. Apparently, it had nothing at all to do with the pressures exerted upon the Church by secular society, nor any burning desire to keep in step with public opinion on LGBT+. Apparently, God’s sheer delight in homosexuality was in the Bible all along, just sitting there in the text, waiting to be exegeted.
Such disingenuity in defense of the recent shifts is precisely why I used the language of “invasion” (the term which seemed to cause most of the trouble, especially for “winsome” evangelicals). If the affirmation of homosexuality did not come from Biblical exegesis then it came from the world, and if it came from the world then it did not come in peace.
The Apology Complex
My tweet, in essence, was not actually aimed at homosexuals, nor even at pro-LGBT+ Christians. It was aimed towards the safe centrist evangelicals who are not pro-LGBT+ but do not speak up because they find themselves stuck in the endless spiral of apologizing for their beliefs rather than proclaiming them. I had already observed far too often how evangelical leaders could no longer simply declare their non-affirming view on homosexuality without marinating it with lashings of heartfelt woe over just how much hurt the LGBT+ community has suffered at the hands of churches just like theirs.
I am not saying there is never a reason to repent of sinful discrimination against homosexuals, if warranted. But many of the mainstream apologies were exhibitions of reputational safeguarding, stemming more from fear of the world than fear of the Lord. And in any case, just how far back in one’s ecclesial history are these apologies supposed to stretch? If even the nice conscientious evangelicals are guilty of systemic homophobia, then who isn’t? What would be the systemic pastoral and theological implications of that? Surely if we now think that most Christian churches have been actively suppressing homosexual people for most of their history, this would have to be one of the greatest oversights of sin in church history, would it not? Given the lack of any historic precedent for explicit homosexual affirmation in the history of Christendom before the (post)modern west, one does wonder: why did God permit all his people to get it wrong for quite so long? Either God’s people really have no ears to hear after all, or else God has a very serious communication problem.