Giles Fraser’s attack on Evangelical Christians is both ignorant and unnecessary

It’s always easier to be dismissive of people you disagree with rather than trying to find some common ground and attempting to engage productively with them.  I’ve learnt a lot about this over the last year as I’ve observed and entered into the debate over women bishops and in particular gay marriage.  There have been plenty of harsh words and condemnation from both sides and lots of people have been hurt in the process.  Those who Jesus refers to as the peacemakers so often appear to be in short supply.

One of the most upsetting aspects of this has been when I’ve seen Christians attacking each other in a way that defies the Bible’s teaching on judgement, grace and forgiveness, especially in relation to other believers.  In chapter 14 of the book of Romans, Paul talks about how we should treat those fellow believers we disagree with.  The context in this case is food, but what he says is applicable for a whole range of issues:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.  One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them…

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

More well-known is Jesus mention of bits of tree being attached to our faces (his father Joseph was a carpenter after all):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Treating others with respect and being careful about what you say about them in public is something that would make the world a better place, don’t you think?

I’m writing all of this because of Giles Fraser’s article that was published by the Guardian last night.  The title suggests Giles is not happy.  ‘I bang my head against the wall when evangelicals turn Jesus into Cheesus‘ is a difficult read to put it mildly.  Giles has decided that although he likes Justin Welby, he is more than a bit concerned about his links to Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) Church in London.  He writes:

‘Justin Welby is the theological product of Holy Trinity Brompton, the Old Etonian-run church next to Harrods that brought the world the Alpha Course and doubles up as a posh dating agency for west London singles. They are brilliant at PR and have pots of money. And if Christianity is all about success, then you have it hand it to them.

‘But the problem with PR Christianity is that it can easily transform Jesus into Cheesus, which is a form of Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation, a Mills & Boon theology that makes you feel all warm inside.’

Prior to that he is damning of Evangelical Christians in general:

‘After a while, if you say a word enough, over and over again, it loses its meaning. It even begins to sound a little different. Jesus morphs into Cheesus – the es getting steadily elongated. Those who talk about Cheesus do so with a creepy sort of chummyiness. This is what evangelicals call “a personal relationship”, by which they mean that Cheesus has become their boyfriend or best mate.

‘And when such people speak of Cheesus they have to wear that sickly smile too. It’s that I-know-something-you-don’t smile. Patronising, superior and faux caring all at the same time. And if you disagree with them they will pray for you. It makes you want to bang your head against a brick wall.’

Giles has made it quite obvious in the past that Evangelical Christianity is not his thing, but he appears to have fallen in to the trap of assuming that because you don’t like something it must be wrong.  His scathing attack makes little sense and he obviously hasn’t bothered to do his homework.  Certainly there are some Evangelical Christians you meet who are annoying, whose faith is fluffy and don’t seem to be grounded in reality, but that’s no different for liberal Christians or any denomination.  I can’t think of any Christian I’ve met who has this ‘Cheesus’ speech impediment.  You see them sometimes on Christian TV, but they are almost always American.  As I’ve written previously, you can’t lump right-wing US Evangelicals together with Evangelicals in the UK and assume they are exactly the same.

Regarding Fraser’s comments on HTB, There are good reasons why it has become a successful church.  Its Alpha course which is now run in churches all around the world has led to thousands and thousands becoming Christians.  Alpha has not just been embraced by Evangelical churches.  It is also run in Catholic churches in seventy countries.  Pope Francis, when archbishop of Buenos Aires, sent four of his bishops to one of the annual Alpha conferences in London.  Much of the increase in church attendance in London in recent years has been attributed to HTB’s influence and success.  It may be a rich church that has many wealthy people in its congregations, but it uses much of this money to fund the Alpha course internationally along with a whole host of other initiatives that other churches benefit from.

HTB’s William Wilberforce Trust resources and equips churches around the UK and the world to confront injustice and poverty and care for those in need.  At HTB alone they have ministries that deal with care of ex-offenders, debt advice, eating disorders, addiction, depression and counter-sex trafficking. They run a foodbank and a night shelter.  There is a great deal more that they do that I could talk about, but you get the idea.  Whatever you might think of HTB and its professional PR machine it definitely doesn’t do Jesus-lite – not by a long way.

Fraser’s biggest insult though, is not against HTB.  He implies that Evangelicals can’t deal with tragedy and suffering, because Evangelicalism has to put a positive spin on everything by ignoring Christ’s sufferings.  I thank God that I’ve not been through serious personal tragedy, but I’ve been in a position of praying for months for the six-year-old son of friends who had a brain tumour, holding out hope that God would heal him before he eventually died.  This wasn’t fluffy Christianity.  This was raw and painful where faith and doubt collided.  There are plenty of Christians of all backgrounds who have been through immensely difficult and challenging situations who will find Giles Fraser’s comments insensitive and callous.

It’s hard to understand what has led Fraser to write this piece.  Judging by his comments on Twitter, he’s quite enjoyed it as if he deliberately went out to cause offence.  He is in a very privileged position amongst Christians in this country.  He has a high-profile in the media through his appearances on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day slot along with various television programmes including Question Time and Newsnight.  His Guardian column gives him the chance to set his own agenda and talk about what he cares about.  He has used this to good effect in the past to challenge government policies, but this time round he has abused this position.  Judging by the reaction on Twitter since the article was published, it seems only right that I offer a response on behalf of those who have been upset and angered by his comments and try to set the record straight.

Jesus in the gospels talks a lot about fruit.  What he’s referring to when discussing trees producing good and bad fruit is that what makes a good fruit tree is not its size or how pretty it looks, but on the quality of its crop.  A church might have good PR or have lots of people attending, but that doesn’t make it a good church in God’s eyes.  What is important is how well those who attend are discipled and how it lives out the gospel.  In a simliar vein being a successful Christian is not about how popular you are or how much influence you have.  It’s about living a life that follows Jesus’ calling.  On this occasion Giles Fraser has been throwing bad fruit at many who are producing good fruit.  In doing so he has done absolutely nothing to enhance the reputation of the faith he cares so much about, just the opposite in fact.  It’s not funny and it’s not clever and it was entirely unnecessary.

Giles, if you want to be taken seriously, please don’t go around insulting people for no good reason.

Categories: Church, Faith in society, Media

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35 replies

  1. here here, brilliantly put. Thanks for expressing what so many evangelicals would like to say to Giles. I will be disappointed if he does not respond or apologise (at least to some extent) in his next piece.

  2. Well put & timely. Let’s pray that the confusion, perhaps fed by the adulation of the relativist intelligecia, that flows through Giles’ mind will be cleared and the bad fruit falls off his tree.

  3. Reblogged this on greystew and commented:
    Intelligent response to comments made by a popular churchman…

  4. I couldn’t agree more… I blogged similarly this morning…..

  5. Giles Fraser is beloved by the media, particularly the BBC, because his is the only brand of Christianity they find acceptable.

    The man is a bully, and thinks he can say what he likes.

  6. I agree with GF. Jesus was neither popular or respectable. Holy Brompton is both. The good works are a kind of Victorian veneer on a fundamental individual Conservativism. Where is their voice on this evil government, gay marriage, the welfare cap, immigration (cp the brave words Bp of Dudley)? no their motto Is populism at any price.

    • Doesn’t Paul say something about the gospel being proclaimed by any means? So what if a church is popular and respectable, would HTB be more praiseworthy if we’d never heard of it? If I recall, the temple of the Lord was famous throughout the land for it’s splendour in the time of Solomon, so how much more should it be after Christ as it is more than overlaid with gold. I agree with Gillan, GF is stirring for nothing and earning a bad name in the process.

      • Not with me he’s not; one problem with evangelicals is that you talk to yourselves in a very incestuous way; |Giles Fraser likeJesus is out in the market place.

  7. Doesn’t Paul say something about the gospel being proclaimed by any means? So what if a church is popular and respectable, would HTB be more praiseworthy if we’d never heard of it? If I recall, the temple of the Lord was famous throughout the land for it’s splendour in the time of Solomon, so how much more should it be after Christ as it is more than overlaid with gold. I agree with Gillan, GF is stirring for nothing and earning a bad name in the process.

  8. Fraser is not in an enviable position. The people who offer him all those media spots would delighted to hear him renounce Christianity altogether.

  9. Fraser’s article floated to me in the US, mostly because of the noise from the noise in the CofE Twitter henhouse. I am an Episcopalian. I belong to a low-church Evangelical parish which forged our own identity as “Evo” as early as 1749. The Alpha Course played a huge role in my coming back to faith. I recognize the Evo that Fraser criticizes, but I don’t see that in what I know of Evo churches and clergy whom I know in the CofE. I don’t see that in Evo churches in my branch of the Anglican Communion. I don’t see those criticisms in several solidly evangelical church plants that I know of. In the people and congregations Fraser singles out, I see expressions love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — the Fruit of the Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians 5:22-23. If that’s Happy-Clappy Christianity, I _want_ it all and I want it now! It’s not Christianity lite, it’s _Light,_ as in Light of the World. And in many, many lives, these fruits were sown and nurtured by the Holy Spirit in the Christian darkness: living through hard times and grief, and sharing in Christ’s suffering.

  10. I agree with you on the whole Gillan, but I also know of evidence to suggest that at least some of Giles Fraser’s experience with some in the evangelical community has not been good! Think of the Life of Brian clash on Friday Night, Saturday Morning with Giles Fraser on the receiving end and you get the picture! (I know of one C of E evangelical Vicar who said the protests outside St Paul’s is what happens when you have heretics!) That said, I have met Giles Fraser and he pulls no punches, so what I suspect happens in such situations is that both sides in a meeting go in already looking down on the other as theological inferior, and therefore not that decent a Christian, and they leave confirmed in their prejudices. I hope all concerned become more forgiving and discerning. The real problem is tying our emotions and prejudices with our theology, and I have seen many Christians do that across the board, and I know I have done so in the past 😦

  11. 1. I consider the above use of Romans 14 to be a misuse of scripture. The exhortation not to quarrel over disputable matters applies to matters of conscience on issues where Christians can legitimately differ; in Rom 14 it was the morality of eating meat previously sacrificed to idols, a modern equivalent might be differing views of how much, if any, alcohol a Christian should drink, or the morality of wearing cheap clothing produced by slave labour.
    Issues of gay bishops/women clergy are NOT in the category of ‘disputable’ matters, because the bible forbids homosexuality, and there is no reason to assume that the biblical ban on women teaching or having authority over men does not still apply today.
    Because homosexuality is forbidden, there is no such thing as a gay Christian, because anyone living a gay lifestyle has obviously NOT repented, and turned from their sin.
    – Try excellent ‘Saved by Grace’ blog by ex-lesbian:

    2. There are good arguments for regarding THE ALPHA COURSE as a false gospel which does not save, leading many astray. (That’s why many churches prefer ‘Christianity Explored’.) Alpha fails to explain man’s separation from God through the seriousness of sin, and crucially, does not mention repentance, which is needed for salvation, along with trust in Christ to pay the due penalty for our sins, which we deserve.

    For whats wrong with Alpha, try:’The Gospel According to Alpha’ by Cecil Andrews, or many articles on Lighthouse Trails Research website.

    • Once again the problem of the closed argument and the closed mind brought about by taking the Bible literally true. Literalism and the Bible is a modern heresy; earlychurch did not take the Bible literally true. You evangelicals really have to come to grips with the fact that the Bible was never taken literally until relatively modern times; have to use your brain and God given reason to wrestle with scripture.

      • The comments highlighting intolerance on both sides are a great shame. Both evangelical and the liberal (although the stereotypes are both wrong imho) are shaming themselves and Jesus by this finger pointing. We who follow Christ in faith are coming complex beings seeking God’s love through interpretive learning on His word in the bible, ideally led by the Holy Spirit – We are each prone to error and so in need of great grace. Let’s lay religious dogma down and seek & serve Him.

        • Truth is more important than tolerance, as truth saves, tolerance doesn’t. Of course we can lovingly tolerate a genuine believer disagreeing with us on some minor interpretation/application of scripture, and we can & must react with love & compassion to those who are lost by their refusal to acknowledge Christ’s lordship.

          Try this heartwarming short video clip:’The most terrifying truth of scripture’ ,here:

        • If I’d read your comment earlier, I wouldn’t have written so much myself. You’ve put it really well, we should reserve our energy for serving and seeking. Jesus was always happy for people to ask questions about scripture when they were truly seeking. People who asked questions merely to show off and try to make other people look like fools he didn’t have much time for. Far too much debate over scripture seems to be about that.

  12. It’s the old thing of someone being critical of your family, isn’t it? If you’ve ever been in HTB circles, you’ll have had times when you’ve wanted to bang your head against the wall (in fact, you probably will have banged your head against a wall!), but it’s still completely unacceptable for Giles Fraser to write this. I think if I had known Mother Theresa (kind of the opposite end of the spectrum on theology of suffering!) I would have had some head-banging moments too. All sections of the Church have their good points and blind spots.

    I think Giles Fraser probably sees himself as some kind of Jesus attacking the pharisees figure, but it just comes across as self-righteous hate. Every time I go into a liberal church I hear the same thing ‘aren’t we so lucky that we follow our enlightened form of Christianity. Evangelical Christians are just a lot stupider than us.’ I feel sick to the stomach at the arrogance of it all, and I just have to leave (although I do know one or two more liberal Christians who aren’t like this). The man is very misguided if he thinks this is going to make the Church more attractive to the non-believing public.

    • Also, does anybody know any American Christians with this ‘Cheesus’ speech impediment? The evangelical Americans I know are dedicated, kind people, just living out their faith as best they know how. How many foster kids does Giles Fraser have? How many drug addicts has he prayed with and how many people has he visited in prison? How many teenagers has he sat down with at a youth camp and listened all their problems for 2 hours? Oh, but these people don’t have all the answers, and sometimes their prayers don’t seem to work. This is because they lack Giles Fraser’s sophisticated understanding of the crucifixion and so God turns his nose up and decides to stay put in his cloud reading Rowan Williams’ latest book on Russian Orthodox iconography (which I actually rather enjoy, but that doesn’t make me more spiritual than anyone else).

    • Whose into snide remarks now? You are obviously ignorant of GF’s ministry with the poor in his present Parish, or his resignation over the issue of wealth from St. Paul’s, or his work in his previous Parish, or his chairing of the Fairness commission in his local area-people are remarkably reluctant to engage with the theological isssues; the elephant in the room is biblical fundamentalism/literalism. ‘fundamentalist interpretation, because it insists that the Bible cannot err, not even in historical regards, has been forced to interpret the Bible wrongly…’ James Barr Explorations in Theology7- Ch 5 The problem of Fundamentalism today.I recommend that book and his Book ‘Fundamentalism’ if you can find a copy.

      • This is all so some, surely. GF was wrong to publicly attack family in Jesus, it was not biblical.
        The intolerance and name calling in this string are also wrong, it is not biblical . Let’s debate these points like adult family, not siblings squabbling over a game of “I’m right, your wrong.” Such arrogance discredits who we claim to be, who we represent.
        Such public attacks of family conflict only push people away.
        I see in part and know in part and learn until I see Him face to face.

      • it is also the desire to reduce all people to a common level, dragging down the good by criticism of something said, and never setting out the context of a life lived energetically for Christ.
        Perhaps the greatest betrayal of the Christian message is this endless criticism.
        We can, and should always, find the things to praise, hold up for others to admire, and in doing this we really do encourage people to see the church as a great community, one they’d like to be part of.

      • I am actually aware of his resignation. I thought his actions were very brave. My problem is that his work on poverty/justice issues is seriously undermined by these kind of attacks on other Christians. As it happens, I also get pretty worked up with evangelical churches when they’re dismissive of the ministry of ministers like Giles Fraser, just because they have more liberal theology and don’t go in for the whole high-tech sound-system assisted worship thing. There just isn’t room for this kind of arrogance and self-righteousness. It leaves a really bad taste in the mouth.

      • And, Mike, are you serious? You actually think that after reading a baseless news article mocking people for no good reason that I’m going to sit down and chat with you about the ins-and-outs of biblical exegesis? Are you actually serious? In another context, then, yes, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts, but you have to give people a lot more respect if you want them to engage in a conversation with you.

        • mmmm; as someone who spent 30 years ministering in prisons perhaps I am a bit thick skinned and used to a more robust approach. I don’t think Jesus stood on his sensitivities. The article by GF was not baseless or without reason.

        • I’m sorry if it sounded like I was saying people from other church backgrounds don’t get involved in prison ministry. I really didn’t mean that. But evangelicals have done a huge amount in prison ministry, especially in places like NI where there are political issues in the background. As a result of this (and the ministry of Catholic priests) I’ve seen people from IRA and UVF backgrounds, who’ve lost sons and daughters, embrace one another and work together for peace. That’s the power of the cross.

        • OK. I’ll calm down now. Tell me what it was in GFs article that was helpful or intelligent and I’ll try to give an intelligent reply.

      • Mike, have you ever actually been on an Alpha Course? It’s a discussion based introduction/exploration of the *fundamentals* of the Christian faith believed by both Protestants and Catholics for centuries. I wouldn’t call that fundamentalist or marginal. Or do you think that the whole Church veered off into this aberrant literalist form of Christianity very early on? If so, you can’t really blame that entirely on HTB!

  13. I write as a lifelong Christian, baptised and confirmed into the CofE, who has lived and been actively involved in a wide variety of parishes. These have ranged from tiny village churches through university chaplaincies, evangelical church plants, ultra high churches and cathedral worship. For the past decade I have felt estranged from belonging to any parish because of the division, intolerance, and sometimes near hatred that I have seen expressed in the Anglican church. I have sporadically attended Quaker meetings, which I find warm and welcoming, but they do not meet my need for ritual and beauty, for it is within the ritual and beauty of the liturgy that I can find God.
    God is revealed in different ways, for some their spirituality is mostly cataphatic, for others more apophatic, the darkness of unknowing of St John of the Cross and the mystics.
    I have no great wish to insult evangelicals, but nor do I wish to be told that my way of finding God is wrong. The mystical tradition is long and honourable, and hitherto I have found Anglo-Catholic liturgies offer the right spiritual home for me. Sadly the intolerance of both high and low wings of the church about female priests and bishops, and equal marriage, makes it impossible to properly belong.
    Reading Giles’ article was really empowering for me, as I have increasingly felt that the non-evangelical part of the church has been drowned out by the bible-centric certainty of the evangelicals. I don’t feel that Giles has anything to apologise for. He represents (as far as I can tell) a different tradition. That tradition embraces uncertainty and unknowing. It does not pray for the six year old with brain tumour to be healed (thus asking the impossible and hoping to leap to Easter Sunday) but rather prays for strength to cope with pain and grief and anger and incomprehension. It admits that there are no certainties and no answers.
    So I want to say thank you to Giles for offering me ministry in his article. I want to rejoice in diversity. I want to say that I am glad that some find faith through a bible-centred, positive, evangelical tradition. I respect that. I do not find God in any of that. I find that it is through mystery and unknowing and uncertainty that God is revealed. I ask you to respect that. I do not want to be ‘saved’!

    • Well said; listening to J S Bach – best argument for God

    • “That tradition embraces uncertainty and unknowing. It does not pray for the six year old with brain tumour to be healed (thus asking the impossible and hoping to leap to Easter Sunday) but rather prays for strength to cope with pain and grief and anger and incomprehension. It admits that there are no certainties and no answers.
      So I want to say thank you to Giles for offering me ministry in his article. I want to rejoice in diversity. I want to say that I am glad that some find faith through a bible-centred, positive, evangelical tradition. I respect that. I do not find God in any of that. I find that it is through mystery and unknowing and uncertainty that God is revealed. I ask you to respect that. I do not want to be ‘saved’!”

      Thank you Diana, that is how I too feel, and don’t doubt that there is a largely silent element of the church who do not feel they have to conduct their beliefs in such a public way.
      Why should some parts of the church feel so *strongly* that those not in agreement with them, are totally wrong, and need to be told so?
      In this context it is clear from a google of Giles Fraser that he is involved with a great number of inspiring, mundane, practical, uplifting, pastoral ministries in his parish. In the broadest sense, he is thoroughly ‘biblical’.
      and who says he is “attacking” – the media have a great deal to answer for in widening any ‘divisions’ between Christians. We too have a lot to answer for, that we respond so vigorously to such trigger-points: our calling is to love God and our fellow human beings. . not ‘our fellow Evangelicals/Catholics, or whatever category we invent..!

    • I’m sorry, Diana, but I don’t see how that article was ministering to anything except people’s own prejudices. Of course you don’t have to go to evangelical churches if that’s not where you feel comfortable, but how can it possibly make you feel closer to God reading articles making fun of other people’s faith? St. John of the Cross it certainly ain’t.


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