The struggles of an embattled conservative evangelical priest with a ‘homosexual orientation’

Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbs, Oxford

The challenges for gay conservative Evangelical Christians torment them. The latest tortured evangelical struggling, as he puts it, with homosexuality, is Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St. Ebbes Church, Oxford. An interview with him called The battle I face can be found on Evangelicals Now.

Conservative evangelicals live in a world of constant battle against temptation. Vaughan has given an interview based on his book Battles Christians Face. He writes about eight battles in the Christian life which, to a greater or lesser degree, he has faced. They are image, lust, guilt, doubt, pride, keeping spiritually fresh, an occasional struggle with depression, and homosexuality.

Conservatives live in this tortured dualistic world of good and evil, sin and temptation, guilt and struggle. Humanity according to Vaughan is defined as sinners and sexual sinners. It’s a totally different from my Christian experience. God is infinite love and goodness, life is filled with grace, energy and potential, pain and loss are universal experiences but so are opportunities for joy, laughter, ecstasy and glory. I feel anxiety and guilt, of course, but I am not struggling constantly with a tortured self.

Struggle is the word Vaughan Roberts uses repeatedly in the interview to describe his experiences. One of his personal battles is with same sex attraction. He is not, he says, defining himself as a homosexual but as someone having same sex attraction or a homosexual orientation.

Vaughan’s struggle with being gay only arises because he belongs to a sub-set of the Church which believes love-making between people of the same sex is forbidden by the Bible, taboo, evil, hated by God. It’s a world of their own making, derived from seven Biblical clobber passages and membership of a Christian set which is obsessed  by sexual sin and guilt in particular.

I’ve hear his arguments rehearsed repeatedly by conservative evangelicals.

  • Having a homosexual orientation or same sex attraction is not an identity
  • The Bible teaches that sex is only for heterosexual marriage
  • There are those who continue to seek to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching that the only right context for sexual intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman and those who have moved away from that view
  • The Bible is consistently negative about homosexual sex, and, indeed, about any sex outside heterosexual marriage
  • The Bible presents only two alternatives: heterosexual marriage or celibacy (which books of the Bible has Vaughan not been reading?)
  • Those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction
  • Same sex attraction is an affliction equivalent to blindness, depression, alcoholism, a difficult marriage, or whatever the struggle may have been
  • The world, the flesh and the devil all conspire to make sin appear very attractive, so it will be hard for believers to remain godly in this area for the sake of the kingdom of God
  • You need a clear understanding of the call to self denial in the kingdom
  • God has the power to change their orientation, but he hasn’t promised to

Vaughan’s conservative evangelical Christian worldview means he has to develop strategies for denying or suppressing feelings and desires which are natural, healthy, God-given ways in which LGB&T people create loving, physical, intimate, holy relationships. I feel sad for him, and angry that his brand of Christianity continues to infect the Church.

Vaughan says that conservative evangelicals like him “must face the uncomfortable fact that a significant reason why some Christians leave evangelical churches and choose to enter the gay community instead is because they perceive the alternative to be one of unsustainable isolation and loneliness.”

Elsewhere in the interview he describes Christian life in much more imaginative, creative, inspiring terms. But he’s stuck with his struggle to suppress and control his emotional and erotic feelings which are clearly towards other men. Gay Christians don’t leave evangelical churches to join the gay community. Many will already be part of the so-called ‘gay community’. Those who leave either abandon the church altogether as too toxic for LGB&T people or find themselves a church that isn’t obsessed with homosexuality.

Vaughan looks to the power of God, not to remove our temptations and difficult circumstances, but to give us the strength to persevere and live for him in the midst of them,  transforming our attitude towards all our battles as believers.

There’s another Christian way, Vaughan, a deeply Christ-like way filled with hope and joy. It comes from freeing yourself of the belief structures which internalise guilt and self-hatred and oppression. It’s the way of crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and Pentecost, discovering how to live in joyful and exuberant freedom.

Comments

  1. Richard Ashby says

    ‘…I pray for them (gay people) every Monday from a list that is divided in two: those who continue to seek to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching that the only right context for sexual intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman and those who have moved away from that view. Sadly the second group is growing’.

    At the very least i would have thought that that would tell him that his prayer isn’t working and that maybe God won’t and doesn’t answer such prayers because they don’t actually match with his design for humanity.

  2. ruth crouch says

    This is the second time I have heard attraction to members of the same sex likened to, amongst other things, BLINDNESS. This is an offensive, crass, ignorant and simply wrong statement My husband didn’t choose to be blind. Blindnes is a cruel and evil affliction, the practice of homosexuality (sodomy) is a choice, and contrary to Scripture, there really isn’t any wriggle room about that. Of course God does love and accept us “as we are” BUT He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin. Does His love mean that murder, adultery, theft, and child abuse are also covered “By His Love”? I think not.

  3. Michael Andrews says

    Mr Coward’s article shows a lack of biblical understanding. If he chooses to believe that Mr Robert’s choice not to act on his homosexual feelings is unbiblical or ungodly, where does he derive this from? Society’s changing attitudes towards homosexuality? No doubt, the church should reflect on recent changes in attitudes in society and should repent of its lack of understanding and downright ignorance of the spectrum of sexuality that is present in the world, but to suggest that the church should accept acting on all sexual impulses is absurd. What use is the Bible’s provision of a moral code, specifically the New Testament, if it is ignored at every turn? Mr Coward has removed all parts of the jigsaw puzzle that talk of God’s anger, wrath, punishment, and hatred, which as a result removes the full joy of God’s propitiation, justification, sanctification, and ultimately, glorification of the saints. Mr Coward does not take the Bible seriously by cherry-picking: I find it hard, therefore, to believe that his faith is Christianity in its true form. No wonder atheist fundamentalists are having a field-day with this kind of half-baked theology.

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