06 May 2014
Steve Clifford on Oasis’ discontinued membership of the Evangelical Alliance
On 2 May the Evangelical Alliance announced the conclusion of 15 months of conversation between the board of Oasis Trust and that of the Evangelical Alliance by indicating that 'it is with sadness that the Evangelical Alliance have discontinued the membership of Oasis Trust'.
Q. What is the
background to this announcement?
A. First, let me make clear that Steve Chalke is a long-term friend of mine and I have enormous respect for the work of Oasis Trust.
In January 2013 an article was published in Christianity magazine entitled 'A matter of integrity', written by Steve, the founder of Oasis Trust. The article challenged the historic biblical interpretation on issues related to human sexuality. This was followed by a series of events, interviews and the production of numerous materials which were positioned on the Oasis website and supported in social media.
The content of the material, together with the timing of the article, right in the middle of the government's attempts to legislate to redefine marriage (and despite a request from the Alliance that the article's publication be delayed), was regarded as a matter of concern by many of our members and eventually resulted in an official complaint by a member organisation.
Q. How were these concerns considered?
A. The board of the Evangelical Alliance encouraged our chair of board, Mike Talbot, to meet with John Whiter, chair of Oasis Trust, to discuss the matter. It was made clear from the start that an individual's personal membership of the Alliance (such as that of Steve Chalke) was a matter for their own conscience with membership being based on the ability to affirm the Basis of Faith and support the vision of the Alliance (the Alliance has no desire to police tens of thousands of personal members).
However, for an organisation, the expectations of membership are more significant with reference both to the Basis of Faith and also our Evangelical Relationships Commitment (a long-standing collection of expectations as to how evangelical relationships should be conducted in such a way as to honour Jesus and his Church).
A series of meetings took place between Mike and John and the conclusions were fed back to the respective boards and eventually the Evangelical Alliance council.
Q. What was the nature of these discussions?
A. The Oasis board heard the concerns expressed by the Alliance board and council as to what had been perceived by some as a campaign (orchestrated by Oasis and reflected on the Oasis website and resources) to change the Church's historic view on human sexuality. The Oasis board helpfully clarified their position as having 'no corporate view' on the matter of human sexuality, recognising they were a 'mixed' organisation with staff members from many different backgrounds. However, the Oasis board were unwilling to fulfil the request made by the Evangelical Alliance council and board to adjust the content of their website, resources and social media output to equally balance the traditional Christian view alongside the material already available.
After many months of prayerful discussion and with some pain, the Alliance council (made up of more than 80 senior evangelical leaders from a wide range of churches and organisational backgrounds) concluded that a relationship between an organisation and one of its members in which the member was unwilling to comply with a reasonable request from the council, was untenable. In coming to this conclusion both the board and council made clear that this decision was not about whether the Evangelical Alliance should have 'mixed' organisations, such as Oasis, as members. Nor was the issue the evangelical (or indeed the Evangelical Alliance's) position on human sexuality or the redefinition of marriage (although the Evangelical Alliance's publication Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality published in 2012 reflected the position of the vast majority of evangelicals across the UK and indeed the Christian Church worldwide). Nor is the issue about any personal members' views.
The issue which resulted in the eventual withdrawal of Oasis Trust from membership was one of 'relationship' and how that relationship is outworked in the context of an Alliance of fellow evangelical Christians and what can be legitimately expected as that relationship is outworked in the context of a diverse evangelical community.
Q. What next?
A. It is our hope that the matter can now be closed and that both Oasis and ourselves will continue to speak well of each other and affirm the valuable contribution made by both organisations to the Church across the world and to wider UK society.