Sure of what I hope for
I’ve recently gained a label: ‘faith activist’. I’m as proud of this as I am of my bi label, because it’s taken a long time to get here. I became a Christian before I recognised my bisexuality – at 16 and 23 respectively – and felt I had to leave the evangelical church to work things out for myself. I later returned to a liberal Church of England church. As a faith activist, I’m now the person who brings up LGBT issues in my church, working to make our welcome more reflective of our Brighton & Hove community.
This year I took part in Brighton Pride Parade, representing Changing Attitude Sussex. This Anglican activism group is working closely with the church to achieve the full inclusion of LGBT people. Walking down the streets of my city, out and proud as an Christian in bi purple, I was praying for God to do something incredible in Brighton, the church and our society.
There are UK LGBT groups in every Christian denomination. However, the sad situation is that in 2010 there is still a lot of isolation, exclusion, hypocrisy and even persecution of LGBT people in the church (and, to an extent, of queer Christians in the gay community). At a recent event in Brighton to celebrate gay lives in church, Sharon Ferguson of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement described people being ostracised, refused communion or leadership roles, and sometimes banned from their church. But she went on to give many positive accounts of dialogue between churches and LGBT organisations: a changing landscape in the light of civil partnerships and anti-discrimination legislation, and the out and proud Christian voices building on the work of generations before us.
Events are presently unfolding in the Church of England that point to opportunities for change, if we have the courage to grasp them. The debates on ordaining LGBT clergy and on finding an official tolerant position towards gay people are key to throwing open the church doors at long last and allowing ourselves be changed by those inside and outside the church. The stark truth is that the church hierarchy has already knowingly ordained LGBT people who then often feel forced to lead part of their lives in secret. All the Christian groups and churches in Brighton’s Pride Parade walked together as a symbol of acceptance. But some clergy who took part didn’t feel able to wear their ecclesiastical garments, despite their personal support for the LGBT community.
I’ve often come across the idea that it’s as hard or harder to come out as Christian to the LGBT community than to do the reverse. I’m not shy about telling people about my faith, but to be met with anger or disgust (mainly from people who don’t know me as the decided non-traditionalist I am!) is disheartening. I see my journey with God as an integral part of my identity, rather than an optional extra. Being bisexual in the Anglican church and in the wider Christian community is a challenge – a witness – a walk. I don’t want to be pushed out by hostile groups determined to fix the ever-fluid, living and liberating story of Christianity into a definition that excludes me. To quote Elizabeth Stuart in Religion Is a Queer Thing: ‘Considering the influence Christianity continues to wield, it is counterproductive to long for the day when there will be no queers left in it, for that will be the day when we hand over huge amounts of power to the oppressors.’
My vision is an inclusive church as part of an inclusive society; that we will not be the ones who lag behind the rest of society on acceptance, because the essence of Christianity is at the forefront of human rights and loving compassion in an often cold and uncaring world. Despite our often dodgy past and present, there are sterling examples of Christians working to show that Christ’s attitudes really are worth emulating. (For some examples, search: the Quakers on tolerance, liberation theology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Inclusive Church, Gene Robinson, Jeffrey John, Rizi Timane, Metropolitan Community Church.)
I recently heard Jeffrey John speak on how inclusivity isn’t an idea Christians have borrowed from modern liberals, but was the whole point of Jesus’ ministry. In Jesus’ society, as now, there were many people deemed to be unacceptable to God: these included the physically disabled and mentally ill, menstruating women, gay men and unwelcome foreigners. Jesus healed and dignified these very people throughout the course of his life. I hope that in faith activism, queer Christians can live this healing and dignified Spirit, offering a compassionate and joyful way of life through a God who loves as queerly as we do.
Becky Taylor works for Spectrum, the LGBT Community Forum in Brighton. These are her own opinions.