Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gay people are not destroying the Church!

This is an article I have written for my church newsletter coming out this week (yes, I go to church although I dont classify myself as a christian). The editor called me to ask if I really want to publish this because it feels like a 'coming out' to her... lol! Some members already know my sexuality, knows my partner who also comes along together with me and acknwoledge us by giving us christmas cards together or inviting us to lunch; but a good number prefer not to know and would not acknowledge us. Not bothered. A few others asked after my first article on the Shared Conversations last year. So now there is no hiding place for those who'd prefer otherwise and I am ready for whatever follows.
Update: Apparently, the Parish Church Council (PCC) refused to let this article be published because some among them are not comfortable with it. I struggle to find where the threat is.
I was a trustee of Changing Attitude until June this year
Recently, I wrote a piece in this magazine about the Shared Conversations (SC), the most recent process by the Church of England to find concordance on the issue of sexuality. As I stated in that article, I had the chance to take part in the conversation, and saw the power of direct personal experience for some who arrived opposing homosexuality, and left either accepting that it is a reality or half sure as to whether they are right or wrong. Not a bad outcome if you ask me.

Yet, all is not well and smooth. Far from it!

The SC has ended. As was advised at its set-up in 2014, the Church does not hope to issue a statement of outcome from it – something I find strange – but hoped that lessons might have been learnt. The idea is that each Diocese would take it further locally. Southwark is now moving to that phase and I will be attending the Diocesan discussion in October. 

You might have heard in the news recently that a bishop (the suffragan bishop of Grantham) publicly declared that he is in a same-sex relationship thereby making him the first openly gay bishop in the Church of England. Along that, you also have probably heard of priests who got married to their same-sex partner since the new Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, brought in marriage equality. Some of those priests resigned; some married in secret and one or two married while remaining in their jobs but now facing a hell of a treatment.

The question therefore is; what changes when you realise that the ‘amazing, helpful, resourceful, man or woman’ in your congregation is gay, lesbian or transgender, or is married to/has a same-sex partner? Does that simple new information about their sexuality take away from their above [previous?] worth, contributions, resourcefulness, helpfulness, etc? Does the knowledge that they have a same-sex partner and are in honest, romantic love make their ‘once-upon-a-time’ amazing-ness, less amazing? In fact, some of the hymns we sing and so love are written by gay people. 

After my previous article, one member of this church told me that, had they known I am a gay man, they would have found it difficult to associate with me and my work in St Barnabas. It melted my heart, put a smile on my face as well as left me with a thought. I am glad that this person is now one of my best friends and a pillar for my little contribution. Nonetheless, it made me wonder how much we both could have lost had my sexuality been a fore-knowledge.

As a gay man, I face prejudice quite often – though rarely bothered – sometimes even from those that support me when they advise me not to talk about my sexuality. That brings me to ask a second question, what role do we play in making others feel unwelcomed, worthless, excluded, ostracized or even depressed – yes, mental health impact? And all for something that doesn’t change the worth of the person in any way. 

Treating someone differently negative because you do not approve their nature; i.e., sexuality, race, colour, etc, is unjustified since that aspect of them does not make them any less talented or capable.

I am not just my sexuality, colour or gender; all of which by the way, I did not chose. I am so many other things: a Jesus follower, volunteer, servant, family man, lover, singer, trainer, advisor, black man, son, father (even though I have no children of my own [yet]), brother, uncle, cyclist, sports fan, poet, writer, godfather, and so on. I am happy for all these and the contribution I make to my community wherever they are. My sexuality is as important as any of these because it is the core of who I am. But being stereotyped or pigeon-holed for it is unhelpful and demotivating.

Humans have many and different qualities and characteristics: gay, straight, black, white, married, single, divorced, biological, adoptee or foster parent, etc; so it is sad when we are reduced to and measured by just one aspect of us whomever we are. With that one aspect becoming the yardstick for what or where we can take part.

The Church can wrestle with sexuality and use the bible as an excuse, but the truth is, down in parishes like ours, among lay or ordained; gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex, bisexual people are making huge contributions to the life of the church. They have been making that since time immemorial and will continue to do so no matter the obstacles. 

So gay people are not destroying the church; they are contributing to its progress, success, evangelism, outreach and so on. And for those who believe in judgement day, I very much doubt that God will turn you back from heaven because your baptism or salvation was encouraged by a lesbian person.

P.S. If you’d like to discuss any issues raised in this piece, please do not hesitate to talk to me

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