My partner and I will be leaving at 10.30 to drive to St Peter’s Church, Frimley, where Brenda’s funeral will take place followed by cremation at Easthampstead Crematorium and refreshments and a celebration of her life at Ye Olde White Hart, Frimley.
There is some anxiety around, not unusual on the day of a funeral but heightened today because Brenda was in a Civil Partnership with Pam and was an evangelical Anglican who very publicly identified as lesbian. Brenda had a public profile as a result of her work with the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups, the Evangelical Fellowship and of course, with Changing Attitude. She played a key role in organising our tenth anniversary service at St Martin-in-the-Fields when Bishop Gene Robinson spoke and our presence at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
There is anxiety, for example, because the Bishop of Guildford has informed Pam that his chaplain is attending in recognition of the work Brenda did as a member of the diocesan human sexuality group. But is the chaplain really coming for this reason, or might he be coming as a spy, to check on who participates in the service and whether it conforms with Church of England policy, the Highton 1987 motion, Issues in Human Sexuality, Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor report?
Isn’t this a ridiculous anxiety? It would be, if there were any truth in the thought that the chaplain might be coming as a spy. Knowing Bishop Christopher Hill reasonably well, it’s extremely unlikely! But there are others in our church who have spied on us – remember the hospital chaplain whose house was spied on to determine which rooms were slept in, which lights were put out when, and whether he might be sleeping with the male lodger? Remember also that Anglican Mainstream is so concerned about the possibility of being spied on iteslf or infiltrated by pro-gay people that it’s last ex-gay conference was held in conditions of extreme secrecy.
And remember that we who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are often anxious about how we are perceived and whether the next person we come out to is going to judge or condemn us. There are good reasons for anxiety today when we come to commend our sister Brenda into the loving care of God. There are some who believe this to be an impossibility because Brenda transgressed God’s immutable laws.
What might it be about me as a gay man or Brenda as a lesbian that places us outside God’s loving mercy?
For I am convinced that there is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in the heights or depths – nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8.38,39 REB
NOTHING. I believe that to be true with all my heart and soul. My being gay and living with a partner and Brenda being lesbian and living with Pam separates neither of us from God’s love nor from the Kingdom.
I believe this to be true for a second, totally subjective reason. I believe myself to be a reasonably emotionally healthy, integrated person. The ex-gay movement likes to think we LGBT suffer from an addiction or a personality disorder. I can think of some in the church to which such an analysis might apply – but to Brenda or myself – no. If we suffer from an addictive or personality disorder then, my friends, we are all doomed – and we are not. Some LGBT people are addictive and do suffer from personality disorders – some are depressed – hardly surprising in the circumstances.
But many of us lead deeply faithful and spiritual lives and I am outraged when told that I am destined for hell-fire and will be judged more severely than anyone else because I am gay. The church’s obsession with homosexuality based on readings of scripture and the tradition of the church will have to change around us. I am not sacrificing my spiritual health or my deep openness to the love of God to enable those opposed to LGBT inclusion to remain members of an inclusive church.
Neither did Brenda, and the celebration today will reflect tearfully and joyfully on the life of a person who gave her all to God, to her friends and her partner. Brenda lived with a deep evangelical faith, immersed in scripture and prayer. She was passionate and creative, perceptive and fun. Conservative evangelicals will dismiss these qualities as irrelevant to Brenda’s salvation. I think they are fundamental. I think the church has been and still is hooked on the law, on ‘getting ourselves right with God’, on wanting us to suppress our deepest, healthiest, holiest loves and desires to conform with a reading of scripture that reflects historical prejudice.
The Kingdom will have drawn a step closer when the funerals of LGBT people (and our Civil Partnerships) can be celebrated in church without fear that we are going to be investigated by the bishop’s spies, however thinly disguised as a chaplain. How can a spy assess the inner workings of my heart and soul? Am I and Brenda wrong in our self-assessment – that we are not addictive nor do we suffer from a personality disorder because we identify as lesbian or gay? Are we wrong to believe that our conservative brothers and sisters are mistaken in their interpretation of Scripture? Are we wrong to believe that we are created in the image of God and that with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God?