This is going to be a difficult blog to write. I want to set down ideas that will be derided by some. They are notes which may become a book. May, because I am having difficulty clarifying my mind which is trying to disentangle the arguments and ideas that have been flowing since the House of Bishops published their Pastoral Guidelines.
I’m clear about some matters. They have provoked what they least wanted or expected – radical dissent and a rejection of the authority of bishops to determine what adult lesbian and gay Christians may do in their personal, Christ-centred lives. Individuals are determined to marry their same-sex partners. Priests and congregations are determined to bless same-sex relationships and marriages. Legal opinion suggests the bishops have no power to prevent this or act against people.
We have arrived at a critical moment in the Church’s attempt to engage with the presence of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex or transgender in the same way as the majority identify as heterosexual. The argument about this in the Church revolves around whether the LGBTI identity is real or false. For me IT’S 100% REAL and the arguments about identity are a peripheral distraction.
There is something else as REAL for me, that has been real ever since I began to think about God. God is real, but in an elusive, enigmatic, potent, inescapable, life-enveloping way. But God is real in a totally different way from the reality of my sexuality and desires for intimacy and love.
I have always wanted to explore how being a Christian ‘works’. How does being a Christian make a difference to me and to the community of those who follow Jesus and believe in God and are inspired by the Spirit?
Believing in the presentation of events and narratives in the Bible as things that actually happened and ‘prove’ the truth about God and Jesus clearly works for many people. The presentation of Christianity by the Church has become increasingly fundamentalist and literal in my lifetime.
Parallel with this development, many other people are distanced by this form of Christianity, including me and many of my friends and colleagues. God cannot be exactly like the God who acts in the Bible in ways that are abusive and ‘un-Christian’ and is, rightly in my view, to be rejected.
Despite the dominant Christian narrative of God and Jesus which many reject, research shows that the majority still have ‘faith’ and know there is profound truth and core experience in Jesus and the Gospels, despite what I might describe as the Church’s determination to veil and occlude the truth rather than reveal and live it.
The Church teaches a pattern of faith which veils Paul’s grace, Jesus’ preference for the poor, rejected and dispossessed, God’s infinite, unconditional love for all creation and the Spirit’s immanent presence and transformative, subtle, gentle energy.
In my experience of God’s evolving encounter with me, me as a gay man, this experience of faith has always been present, in my teens and twenties in Southwark and Basingstoke, my thirties in Cambridge and back in Southwark, my forties living through the HIV/AIDS crisis and into my fifties when the Church began to lose contact with my reality as a gay man, ordained as a priest, authorised by bishops to proclaim the Gospel, but less and less welcome.
My creative experience of faith, evolving uncertainly but unavoidably, is now being turned into a deeply frustrating experience in which my sanity struggles to survive in a Church which fails in the fundamentals of Christianity.
It’s hard to separate out the strands which cause this state of affairs, but here are some:
- The weakness of the House of Bishops, who allow an unhealthy, unreal gospel held by Biblical fundamentalists, to influence the decisions they take about women (though they seem to have overcome this problem) and LGBTI people – although they do still engage with Jesus’ option for the poor.
- The idea of the unity of the Church as an ultimate good, to be maintained at all cost, whether or not it is built on Gospel values – which at the moment, and obscenely, it isn’t.
- The tolerance of what can only be called manifestations of wickedness in Uganda, Nigeria, Jamaica, Russia, India and elsewhere – the criminalisation fuelled by prejudice of vulnerable LGBTI people.
- The inability of the Church to affirm and celebrate with unequivocal confidence the equality of women in creation, marked by unexamined patriarchal assumptions.
- The burden of buildings which need maintaining and consume time, energy and money – buildings which have huge potential to inspire and nurture communities.
- The enjoyment of status and power, establishment and seats in the Lords – power is addictive but corrupting of the Gospel.
Did Jesus teach that people should be diminished, abused, their human dignity undermined?
Christianity has constructed its belief system and rules in ways that diminish people.
We are always learning about the ways in which the Church constructs Christianity in ways that diminish people because we are all human and wounded people with prejudices we find hard to examine.
Christian teaching at the moment diminishes the dignity of LGBTI people because of our sexuality and gender identity, failing to recognise the natural diversity of God in creation.
For those who are comfortable and confident with their identity as LGBT and I, it is obvious that reparative therapy and labels such as ex-gay and post-gay are ways of dealing with a problem of identity created by the Church.
To those who are comfortable and confident with their identity as LGBTI and Christian it is obvious that for those called to marry, marriage is a common good.
The Church is always and everywhere coming to terms with the teaching of Jesus.
The Church is always challenged by the teaching and example of Jesus. It’s hard to follow his teaching. We are human and we are all prejudiced to a greater or lesser degree. We learn from our parents and social groups and churches to diminish the humanity of other categories of people, on the basis of race, gender, age, sexuality, ability, social class and status – groups of people Jesus repeatedly and deliberately included.
The Church has taken decades and sometimes centuries to revise and change wrong teachings.
The timescale is different now, because of global communications and awareness that we are all members of one human race and dependent on our beautiful, fragile planet.
Christian conflicts are now global, disputed on a global scale and forced to resolution in a more condensed timescale. God help us if it takes a century to repeal the legislation in Uganda and Nigeria and all other countries that criminalise people because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Equal marriage has at a stroke undermined the Church’s conviction that it can maintain control over the lives of LGBTI people. The people know it.
The arguments continue, irrelevant to people’s human needs and desires, a distraction from the teaching of Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, who opened hearts and lives to life in all its fullness.
We, LGBTI Christians, are not going to change our conviction in Christ that God has created us and called us as we are.
We are never going away.
The Church will change and will integrate us into the Body of Christ.
That is the challenge we bring and confront you with.
How you are going to deal with us is the challenge you face, you who hold the authority.
If you haven’t yet booked or decided to come, and live within easy reach of London, come and celebrate the gifts of God’s absolutely fabulous people in God’s unconditional, infinite, transforming, Unadulterated Love with us on Saturday.