Like many churches, my local independent church congregation that’s been going about 40 years is trying to get its head around the idea that LGBT people exist (and aren’t the devil incarnate) and that they might want to get married in our church building and also might want to preach or lead or in fact do anything that everyone else can do. Needless to say, as with the Anglican “Shared Conversations” process it’s somewhat tricky. Having said that, I’m gladdened and encouraged by the tone of most of the people taking part in a series of conversation over a number of Sunday evenings in our church.
So, as an LGBT person of Faith I was asked to share my “story” as it were. Afterwards in the pub my dear friends suggested it might be a good idea to share the text of what I said…. so here it is. You miss out on the great delivery, but you’ll get the gist.
I’ve been asked to speak tonight because I’m an LGBT person. Specifically, I’m Bisexual & Homo-Romantic.
Just so that I’m clear straight out of the gate, I am mostly comfortable and happy with my sexuality, though I haven’t always been and I say “mostly” because it’s quite tricky to shake off what’s been decades of abusive language, harmful words and the negative thought patterns that come from those. Also to be clear at the start, so that there’s no misunderstanding, I hold an affirming view of LGBT people. What does that mean? It means that I believe that LGBT people should be accepted & included equally at all levels of society and within church – when I talk about church tonight I mean the global church. It means that I believe that God loves LGBT people the way we are, because He made us that way. It means that I believe that LGBT Romantic Relationships are NOT inherently sinful & in fact should be celebrated because they can and do fit into what I believe to be the Godly model for Relationships & Marriage. And it means that I believe that LGBT people who are in Committed, Monogomous Relationships & Marriages (and those of us who are single) should be fully welcomed into church life, including being able to participate in preaching, leadership positions, teaching & leading worship, if those are areas we are called to.
However, I have a bit of a problem right now, because I and others like me have been called to serve God & the church but are currently prevented from doing so fully. I have a problem because words and behaviour poured into my life by Christians (and non-christians) about my sexuality have deeply damaged me. I have a problem when I hear & read words & phrases like “intrinsically disordered”, deviant, defective, perverted and my current favourite, “the hijacking of marriage” and I have to struggle quite hard to prevent these harmful words and the hate, fear &/or ignorance that lies behind them from taking root in my life and causing further damage. And when events like last summer’s massacre of LGBT people in a nightclub in Florida happen, I really have a problem with the people who are gleeful at LGBT murders, who say they deserved to die, that LGBT people should be, in their words, “put down”. And yes I do mean like a dog.
And then there are people I come across who would probably see themselves as more moderate, although still holding what they would see as a more traditional view. These moderates would certainly consider themselves welcoming, loving and gracious, but still maintain limits & hedges & conditions around that welcome and their acceptance. They would problematically express the view that something that is fundamental and unchangeable about me is unacceptable to an otherwise all loving God and they continue to use damaging language that implies that my sexuality is deficient or marred in some way and can be “fixed”, if only I was a bit holier and prayed more. I would hope you can see why I have a bit of a problem.
The first time I tried to commit suicide I was 14 years old.
I had by that time gone through years of confusion & torment & I’d done it alone and I utterly despised myself. This was because I had taken in hateful & poisonous words from Christians and society at large about homosexuality & LGBT people that bred such a level of self-loathing that I just knew – or at least I thought I knew – that God hated me and everything about me and if anyone else knew what I was they would hate me too. Turns out with regards to some of the people I was right. Of course I knew that suicide was wrong, but at least if I was dead, I wouldn’t be Gay any more. Since then I have experienced and seen violence, abuse, exclusion, indifference & ignorance towards myself and LGBT people because of our sexuality.
Just as countless other like me have done I spent hours & hours on my knees, weeping & begging God to change me, to “fix” me – to do something, anything to take away these feelings. But of course He hasn’t, because there’s nothing wrong with me. In my mid to late teens my desperation to fit in and be normal led to a very unhealthy relationship with a guy that ended in unfaithfulness on my part – obviously I’m not perfect & yes it was a very bad thing – and violence on his – not really a lot of fun for me.
And then, skipping over my twenties and early thirties, after years of hiding & suppressing who I was – and imagine how much energy it takes to do that – came what turned out to be a life-changing experience. I fell head over heels in love with a woman. This was something more than any of the crushes, passing fancies & flirtations with women that I’d had before. This was the real deal.
You see, I had thought that I’d lost the ability to love properly when my mum died. Don’t get me wrong, I really did care for my friends & family but there was a level I felt that I just couldn’t go to, something that simply shut down when I lost her. And in a way that I don’t understand, the brokenness that came with losing mum was somehow intrinsically linked to the self-loathing & shame imposed on me by church & Christians about my sexuality. And now here I was falling in love with a woman and in what felt like a miracle, she loved me back in the same way. The fact that I’m currently single does of course mean that the relationship ended, and yes it ended rather badly for a number of reasons – not least of which was probably due to fear and the externally imposed shame on both our parts. Keeping things secret put a pressure on the relationship that should never have been there, but at the time, neither of us was ready to go public. And could you honestly blame us?
But what she did give me was priceless & it’s one of the reasons I’m able to stand here tonight.
Because she showed me that I actually could love again. She showed me that I could love unconditionally & she opened the door to allow me to love all my friends & family fully. She opened my heart so that music and poetry could flow again.
And – she showed me that I was touchable, that I was not unclean or disgusting, that it was okay to think of myself as a person who could be desired. I was not alone & I was not a freak. She was as vital to me as breath and I know for a time I was as vital to her. I owe her an unpayable debt – the later part where she ripped out my heart and crushed it notwithstanding.
You’re free (because that’s your right) to believe that this relationship was something profane & to be repented of,– I can’t believe that & I won’t. And if I’m perfectly honest, if you do believe that then I think you have a pretty cold heart. Her love and that relationship was something essential to me, which is why I was so devastated when it ended. It was a blessing and it was sacred. Is that kind of love really dependent on the gender of the people involved? Honestly?
So I was left heart broken and devastated. Luckily I had a couple of very dear friends that were there for me through that. Thank You. But the gift she’d given me couldn’t be taken away and the work her love had done in my heart couldn’t be undone – I know now that it was God who had used her to do that work.
So, in this state I knew I didn’t ever want to have to hide a relationship again. And I didn’t ever want anyone else to feel about themselves the way I’d been made to feel by Christians and the church. And both knowing God much better than I had at fourteen and having experienced none of the crushing guilt I do when I actually do something wrong, I truly knew that what I was was okay by God. But there were verses in the bible and words that had been used to bludgeon and clobber me and LGBT people. So I determined to read, to study, to pray and spend time with God, to understand what God really wanted to say about me and my sexuality & what God wanted to say to his people about relationships in general and romantic relationships specifically.
So I went back to the bible & listened to God’s voice.
This bible that tells me that sexual activity between two people of the same sex is harmful WHEN it is exploitative, non-mutual, non-exclusive & non-consensual – in the same way that sexual activity between people of the opposite sex is harmful when it is exploitative, non-mutual, non-exclusive & non-consensual. This bible that tells me we are to welcome strangers and not exploit or degrade them by raping them, whatever gender they are. That we are not to use sex in any way to control or degrade someone, or exert power over them, or use people as commodities, or be unfaithful irrespective of the gender of those involved. This bible which says that actually Celibacy is the best way to be, but that the majority of people cannot bear its burden & it should not be forced on those not gifted with it. This bible that in equal partnership with tradition, reason and experience tells me that marriage is so much more than sex and that sex in all its forms should be with the person’s consent, in the context of a wholehearted commitment & within a mutual, co-operative partnership where both partners submit to each other & neither exerts power or authority over the other one. Consenting, Committed, Co-operative. That’s God’s idea for marriage. And none of those things are governed or restricted by the gender of the partners.
So it turns out that the bible isn’t as “clear” on homosexuality as I was led to believe when I was a struggling, vulnerable, lonely & hurting teenager (and in my 20s & 30s). There is more than one interpretation of the relevant passages and more than just the “clobber” verses that are relevant. And none of the interpretations are heresy…. ah but we have to put a pin in that – becasue that’s where we go back to the problem. The problem comes when the fruit of one of the interpretations is exclusion; oppression; injustice; emotional, mental & physical harm to people made in the image of God and in many cases, death.
Are you okay with all those things??
There’s also the result that if we’re excluding LGBT people in a church context, it’s not necessarily that we’re preventing them from serving God – though we are and I personally find that deeply, deeply hurtful – but actually it’s the church who is missing out. We’re missing out on potential leaders, evangelists, preachers & worshippers and we’re missing out on the perspective of a group of people who understand the outcast.
So what? What do I want? That’s a question I get asked quite a lot, “what is it you want?” I’ll be honest with you and I’ll admit I want to push the Gay agenda. Despite what some of my fellow LGBT sisters & brothers might say there most certainly is a Gay agenda and I’ll let you into what it is tonight. It’s this. Let’s treat LGBT people with the same dignity, equality & honour that we would any other human being. That’s it. It’s that simple.
What is it I want?
I want to be free to use my talents & gifts to serve God & love people. And because of my psychological make-up I find that rather difficult (almost impossible) to do alone. And yes, I’m so grateful for the wonderful friends that God has gifted me. I’m grateful for their love & support, for their companionship, how well we work together, how we smile together & I’m SO grateful that they include me in their lives. They truly are a blessing from God & they too have played their part in teaching me my worth and how to love and in healing my heart. But they can’t be there every day and they shouldn’t have to be; they can’t be there the way a spouse would be. And you know what. My bed is acres wide. It’s cold and it’s empty and it’s a desert.
I just want someone to love with all the fierceness within me and who will love me back. I want someone who will give me comfort and allow me to comfort them. I want all the wonderful, crazy, awful, amazing, boring everyday things that come with sharing your life with someone. And because of the way that God’s made me I simply can’t make that connection with a man, but I could with a woman.
What do I want?
I want LGBT people to know their worth and that they are not alone and that they are not freaks. I want Church to realise that LGBT people are not “that group of people out there”, but we are here in church, part of church. We are church.
I want us as a church to talk to and about people with dignity and respect. I want an end to the language of disgust. I want to practise Jesus’ radical idea of embracing the marginalised and a welcome at the table for all. I want an end to violence (both physical & verbal), an end to injustice and an end to oppression & exclusion and I want church to live up to our calling and lead the charge on that instead of having to be dragged kicking and screaming or being the ones guilty of it.
I simply want God’s best for LGBT people. I want God’s best for All people.
(editor’s note: I then finished with this piece slightly adapted from a lovely post by John Pavlovich here)
And God’s best for people is not isolation, denial, exclusion or conditional acceptance.
God’s best for people is not to have to continually overcome Christians just to get to Jesus.
God’s best for people is being true to themselves.
God’s best for people is being free to Love & be loved, to know & be known, to care and be cared for.
God’s best for people is them recognising that they bear the very likeness of God and that they are amazing. And that they are touchable.
God’s best for people is being allowed to spend a lifetime alongside someone that they love.
God’s best for people is being able to participate fully in the life of the Greater Church and the local church of their choosing.
The story isn’t finished yet. We’re living the next chapter here and now. You can help shape how this story ends.
Thank you for listening.