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Vaughan Roberts, same sex attraction and celibacy

Two summers ago Vaughan Roberts was the main speaker at New Horizon and I had, as part of the planning team, the privilege of spending 4 days in his company. On stage he was engaging, biblical, compassionate, gracious, honest, and clear. Behind the scenes, away from the potential adulation of a conference crowd, he was even more than this. He was humble, unpretentious, unassuming, ever helpful, with a sincere heart, and a willingness to simply be there to serve God and serve the event. It was a genuine pleasure to be in his company. In the past few days Vaughan has given an interview to accompany the 5th edition of his book Battles Christians Face, a text first penned in 2000 about how Christians are to live distinctively in the world. In a preface to the new edition Vaughan writes..

This ‘is the most personal of my books, partly … because I wrote out of my own experience. We all face battles in the Christian life, some of which are common to each of us, while others are shared only by a few. Of the many battles I could have written about, I chose to focus on eight which, to a greater or lesser degree, I face myself’. 

 What’s the big deal about this? Well, Vaughan Roberts, evangelical Rector of St Ebbes in Oxford and  President of Proclamation Trust, wrote a chapter about homosexuality back at the turn of the century, that we now know is written from his perspective and struggle with same-sex attraction. In an interview just last week with Evangelicals Now Vaughan speaks about this further. The interview is found here entitled ‘A battle I face’. It is everything I would have expected from the guy I remember from last summer. Engaging, biblical, compassionate, gracious, honest, clear. It is humble, unassuming, unpretentious, helpful, and full of the servant heart that is speaking now out of a heartfelt conviction to help others. It is a reminder of another minority that exists in the war of words about human sexuality. The group of men and women who have only ever experienced same sex attraction, and who have chosen to remain sexually celibate because of their Christian faith. For some this has always been their practice, for others they have come to choose this after having been sexually active in the past. Men like Jonathan Berry who continues to work quietly and powerfully through True Freedom Trust, or the searingly honest writings of Wesley Hill in Washed and Waiting. Theirs is a voice that is not often heard, either by those who want to change attitudes of church, state, or both, or by those who simply assert (and impose) the ‘truth’, often with little compassion or genuine understanding. 

The danger for Vaughan is that he now simply becomes a poster child for the heterosexual evangelical community, brought up on stage to speak about the gay issue as if somehow that defines him, when actually Vaughan has so much more to say. Much, much more. More so, the travesty of getting individuals like Vaughan or Jonathan to bare their sexual struggles from the podium for a congregation of voyeurs whose curtains are firmly shut on their own struggles, sexual proclivities, fears and failings. There is little doubt that in being open about his journey with his sexuality and faith Vaughan, as a public figure, has invited himself into the public arena of debate. But I pray that in days and weeks to come this does not come to define him, nor is there a rush to judge (though why there would be I have no idea) or idolise him. All I want to say is to echo the words of another great guy, Krish Kandiah, Thank you Vaughan Roberts. May God Bless you for your honesty, protect you from the rest of us, and help all of us to deal compassionately, sincerely, biblically and honestly with one another.

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