In anticipation of next week’s Liberty Conference (August 20,21, 23, 2019 in Sydney or via livestream), we present this interview with keynote speaker Ed Shaw
TGCA: Ed Shaw, you are juggling lots of ministries. First, tell us a bit about Living Out, tell us what that organisation was established to do?
Sam Allberry, Sean Doherty and I founded Living Out in 2013. It came out of a group of same-sex attracted church leaders who realised that our alternative stories of living with our sexualities under the lordship of Christ weren’t being told. We wanted to get our stories out there, so our website was launched. We then discovered that there was a need to equip churches and train church leaders so our leadership training “LOCAL Course” was developed. This has, in turn, led to various other activities like writing books, producing short films, establishing Living Out as a UK charity and involvement in the conversations over sexuality in the Church of England (I’m on it’s General Synod and the Archbishops’ Pastoral Advisory Group).
Living Out came out of a group of same-sex attracted church leaders who realised that our alternative stories of living with our sexualities under the lordship of Christ weren’t being told.
I now work for Living Out part-time and travel and speak around the UK (and elsewhere). This includes leading “LOCAL Course” leaders training courses all over the place, and speaking at other events too.
We’re up to well over 1,000 church leaders who have completed our leader’s training (LOCAL Course) around the world. We keep running the courses and people keep coming. We are encouraged by that and want to see those numbers continue to grow.
We’re also wanting to improve the resources available on the Living Out website both for Christians who experience same-sex attraction like myself; and also for other church leaders. So we’ve got plans to make sure that the website is increasingly the place that church pastors go to when they’ve got questions surrounding issues of gender, sexuality and identity.
TGCA: And you are the pastor at Emmanuel City Centre church in Bristol too?
In fact, the entire founding team from Living Out are all involved in our own local churches and other ministries. So we are all addressing these issues not just from the perspective of people experiencing same-sex attraction; but also from experience of local church leadership. We’re all engaged, not just in the theology and ethics of this, but also in caring for people better in a local church context too.
TGCA: Pastoral ministry can be an all-consuming role. What motivates you to take on multiple ministries?
I think that when it comes to the controversy surrounding sexuality, gender and identity, God is being good to us by making us think hard about these issues at this moment in history. We have increasingly lost contact with a lot of what the Bible teaches about each of those areas; and all the cultural changes are making us really think and re-articulate biblical truths which we have rather ignored and not particularly lived out. So, I’m really stirred by the thought that this is a chance for a bit of a Reformation – a return to the Bible in areas in which we haven’t been thinking biblically for a while; ideas of gender, sexuality and identity in particular.
TGCA: Is that symptomatic of a disconnection from what God wants us to do, in the church?
Well, yes – and also suggests a form of idolatry towards marriage and family that’s blinded us to the fact that lots of people live their lives as single people, and that some people are same-sex attracted and that not everybody gets married and settles down with 2.4 children. You can be just as effective in Christian life and ministry as a single.
We are encouraged by the number of people who recognise that the church could do better. There are nightmare stories which the media often tell us, but our experience is that there are lots of positive stories, but that most churches also recognise that they have a lot to learn.
TGCA: Did you feel a strong calling from God to the path you are walking?
Well, with both pastoral ministry and Living Out, I was dragged kicking and screaming into them!! My Grandfather and father were both Vicars! And the very last thing I was going to do was work for a church! And the other LAST thing I was going to do was talk to people about my sexuality! So I am doing the two last things I thought I would do, which is God’s sense of humour – and a good challenge for me.
I never say I’m never going to do anything now, because the things I’ve said I will never do are things I’ve ended up doing. My calling to pastor a church came from a lot of people telling me that this is what I ought to be doing; God calling through his people. On the Living Out side of things it was just a strong sense that something needed to be said and done that wasn’t being said or done. So I felt I should step up, and speak out because the need was great—OUand I was able to speak into the situation.
TGCA: In Australia we have most recently had some strong and emotional public debates that have played out through the media and in the public arena on the subject of same-sex attraction, homosexuality and the bible. Do you find your efforts result in some hostility?
Sadly, the people who are most offended are other Christians—usually in the United States—who think that we are “liberal”. We don’t usually get much grief from secular campaigners. Sadly it is usually from Christians.
TGCA: What drives that?
Sometimes it is confusion around the terminology we use and other times because we have pushed back on investing in methods and thinking of the past in terms of reparative therapy; or thinking that to be godly you have to be heterosexual; and that healing, in the here and now, must mean getting married and having 2.4 children. But overt hostility actually comes from very few people, really.
TGCA: Do you find encouragement?
Yes, and what I am most encouraged by is that in most evangelical churches (which we are always told are horrible places for LGBT people), there are Christians who are same-sex attracted who are living for Jesus. I’ve been really encouraged to find that to be a reality, in evangelical churches all over the UK. It’s really important to also understand that there are people becoming Christians from the LGBT community, today. Now, some people think that that is an impossibility, but it is happening across the UK, and that is actually what encourages me most. What’s more, God is using same-sex attracted people to make the church increasingly friendly to all kinds of single people.
In most evangelical churches (which we are always told are horrible places for LGBT people), there are Christians who are same-sex attracted who are living for Jesus.
TGCA: While in Sydney you’ll be conducting a series of talks on behalf of Liberty Christian Ministries. Can we expect your series of talks to draw strongly from the LOCAL course? What does it entail?
So our LOCAL Course is a one-day course, suitable for church leaders, leadership teams including para-church organisations, helping them to see how they can become ‘biblically inclusive’ of sexual minority groups.
With language here, we have to be careful because you win some people and antagonise others with it. We want to stress and re-embrace the inclusive language, but define it in a biblical way. And the aim of the course is to help churches to be inclusive of LGBT people in that biblical way, a distinctively Christian way. This course is designed to help churches and church leaders to see how they could be educated and equipped to do better.
TGCA: What format will this course take while you are in Sydney?
Our day for ministry leaders called “Creating a biblically inclusive church” will contain the main ingredients of a LOCAL Course—including sessions on our changing culture, how to better share the Bible’s teaching and how to build a church family that welcomes LGBT people in a Christ-like way. There will also elective streams with some Australian accents providing a break from my English one.
TGCA: What advice do you have for the average Sydney churchgoer when it comes to attitudes to same-sex attraction?
We need to recognise that all human beings have always struggled to cope with difference and that often someone’s different experience when it comes to their sexual orientation can leave them feeling isolated and us struggling to empathise with them. As a result we need to work hard to better understand LGBT experiences and how the Gospel treats all people the same – one way of seeking to do that would be joining in one of the events I’m doing in Sydney and/ or visiting the Living Out website.
TGCA: Tell us about your plans for the youth night on Friday night? Do you see youth as a particularly vulnerable age for confusion on matters of sexuality?
I’m wanting the young people who come to this event to know that Jesus is the one person that they can fully trust with their sexualities, identities and gender because he is both their Creator God and a human being who knows what it is like to grapple with a sexuality, identity and gender. Teenagers today are being presented with such a confusing range of options that they especially need the tender care that Jesus offers all of us as we struggle with what it means to be a human being.
Ed Shaw will be speaking at three events hosted by Liberty Christian Ministries during August. To find out more about each event, visit Liberty’s website www.liberty.sydney. Ed will also be presenting a seminar on singleness and sexuality for Single Minded Conference. Visit www.singlemindedconference.com for more details