Opening words from our Minister
If you are single, married, divorced or bereaved – you are welcome here.
If you are straight or gay, cis or transgender – you are welcome here.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, a meat-eater or sweet-eater – you are welcome here.
If you’ve come with a pearl necklace or a body full of tattoos, if you’re wearing Chanel perfume or charity shop chic – you are welcome here.
Whoever you are, whatever your story – God welcomes you here today. And we will too.
Faith & Sexuality
Isaiah 56:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40
First, I want to clear doubts and objections out of the way and assert that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Many people think that all homosexual behaviour is forbidden by Scripture. Let’s look at that for a moment. The main passages are:
Lev 18:22: ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.’
Lev 20:13: ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.’
Rather frightening passages! I must admit that, reading them again, I still had that worrying thought in the back of my mind: what if they are right? The extreme reverence for the Bible with which most of us were brought up is hard to shake off.
We have to remember that the Bible comes to us from a very different culture. There are all sorts of arguments about what the Bible passages really meant at the time and to what circumstances they referred. Homosexual practice was often a way of degrading defeated enemy soldiers by treating them as women – assuming of course that women were inferior! In the New Testament, Paul’s perception of homosexuality was coloured by the extremely oppressive, exploiting and degenerate culture of the Roman Empire at the time. In the biblical culture everybody got married at a young age by arrangement with their families. Men with power or wealth took advantage of their slaves, both male and female, but there were no such people as ‘homosexuals’ in the present meaning of the word.
However we interpret the Bible we must recognise that its writers did not live in our world or experience life in the way we do. They were not infallible. We now know that many people are naturally homosexual, bisexual or transgender, just as some people are naturally left-handed – that too has a bad image in the Bible!
For too long in our culture, and in churches, people of different sexual orientation have been made to feel unnatural and unworthy, thrown out by their families, criminalised, condemned from the pulpit, made a target for ‘cures’, forced into secrecy, destined to a lonely life and driven to self-hatred and even suicide. In the light of the great commandment of love, how can that be right? I am immensely grateful for the enormous changes I have seen in my lifetime and I regret that so many Christians are still refusing to change.
Sexuality is about love, and God is love. Our sexuality is a quest for God – often a misguided quest, often spoiled by selfishness and exploitation of others – but at the core of it is that longing for love that is built into our human nature.
We don’t like talking about sex in church. But then, we don’t much like talking about our spirituality either. We discuss doctrine and ethics, but how much do we share ourselves – our real feelings, experiences, hopes and dreams? So I want to say a bit about what my faith means to me as a gay man. Strangely, the time when I first realised I was homosexual (we didn’t call it ‘gay’ in those days) was about the same time that I felt called to the ministry. The two have gone together, and my faith has helped me to deal with at least three challenges that most gay people have to face.
- The sense of being rejected
In my young days, when homosexuality was thought too disgusting to talk about, I felt I did not belong in the world of ‘normal’ people. I felt it was a misfortune, a cross I had to bear. The comfort I found was in the thought that Jesus was ‘despised and rejected of men’, and he knew what it was to feel forsaken, even to have to say ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Many people have felt the need to say that: their church condemns them, their fundamentalism tells them that the Bible condemns them, so they feel cursed and rejected by God. Thank God, my feelings were neve quite as bad as that. I sometimes said, ‘God, why have you made me homosexual?’, but I never felt God had forsaken me. I have taken comfort in the words of Paul: ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’
In my young days, I assumed that I couldn’t be actively gay and be a minister. Thank God that is no longer the case, but the change came a bit late for me to take full advantage of it.
I used to dread the long years of loneliness I thought were ahead of me. There have certainly been lonely times, but I have also been richly blessed. The older I get, the more I find that there is a lot of love around. I have found inspiration in the prayer of St Francis: ‘May I seek not so much to be loved as to love’. By loving people rather than just looking for someone to love us, we are somehow sharing and experiencing the love of God.
I also sometimes think of the parable of the sower. If you give out love freely wherever you are, it won’t always be returned. It will sometimes feel like a wasted effort. But when it does bear fruit, the fruit is abundant.
- The need to hide one’s true self
There are many people who suffer discrimination in this world – women, black people, Jews, immigrants, disabled people etc. Each kind of discrimination is different. Being gay has two peculiarities about it. First, if you are black, you can’t hide the colour of your skin. If you are physically disabled, it is usually hard to hide, but if you are gay you have to make a choice whether to show it or hide it. Also, if you are one of a racial or cultural minority any discrimination you suffer is shared with your family and your community, but being gay is about you as an individual, and sometimes your biggest problem is your own family.
I was terrified of being found out – not that I was actually doing anything anyone could condemn me for, but I was afraid of people knowing the feelings I had. Many people live their whole lives in secrecy about their sexuality. It affects the personality. It made me shy away from intimate friendship – if people started talking about their love life, I would change the subject in case they started getting curious about mine. I was 30 years old when I first shared my secret with another human being, and it was nearly another 20 years before I had a few friends with whom I could be open. I have been helped by a number of people along the way, people braver than I am. Now at last I have come to the conclusion that there is no longer any point in hiding who I am.
I only pray that my being public about it will help others to be less fearful and realise that they are not alone. Not everyone can ‘come out’ everywhere – there may be special circumstances that call for prudence and concern for other people’s feelings. My testimony is that it is not easy, but well worthwhile. ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’