Forgive us for we haven’t a clue
I spent last weekend at Church of England Youth Council, something I’ve had the privilege of doing annually for 3 years now, and which is probably coming to an end. This weekend, after 3 years of saying we would, the council finally got on and discussed ‘Homosexuality’. Indeed we got a nice shiny report to discuss which brought us up to speed with what the church has been saying and doing on the matter over the last 50 years.
The whole experience was incredibly infuriating for a succession of reasons I wouldn’t want to go into, but two of these I found to be symptomatic of the whole approach taken by the church to sexuality. The first of these was contained within the report, where a small section was tacked on the end entitled “bisexuality”. All credit to the person who’d compiled the report, they too had found this section infuriating, but as the remit for the report was basically “tell us what the church has to say”, they had been left in an awkward position.
Apparently the church doesn’t even know the definition of ‘bisexual’, presuming that it means someone who desires to be in both straight and gay relationships at the same time. It also treats bi’s as having a split-identity, i.e. Part-gay, part-straight. The advice is essentially to repress one half of one’s identity, which essentially means repressing the whole identity and passing for straight. Try calling a bi person “half a gay” and you’ll be rightly reported for a hate crime.
Sadly it seems the church hasn’t actually done its homework and still wants to believe the world is the same as it was in 1967 when Gay support groups viewed Bisexuals with suspicion. While the situation is less than perfect these days, at least most everybody fully includes Bisexuals within Gay campaigns.
This carried over into the debate itself; I spent most of my time trying to represent the experiences of my Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Christian friends. My amendment, which basically called on the church to listen to the experiences of Young LGB Christians, was thrown out and never discussed, which pretty much sums up my entire experience in this area: lots of straight (and closeted) people discussing the issues as though they are purely theoretical, while refusing to hear the views of those affected and still brave enough to express them.
No wonder our churches are such uncomfortable places for people to come out. “My best friend slapped me”. “My vicar laughed and told me not to be silly”. “When I go back home I’m a Christian, but at Uni I’m a Lesbian”. These are all things that people have said to me. I’ve had several people come out to me as “the only Christian I’ve told”. Even more tragic was a story I was told earlier this month by another University’s LGBT officer* about a fresher she’d already seen at the LGBT society who wanted to tell her quietly that she was also a Christian, as if doing so would somehow make them less welcome in the society. The church’s hostility towards the LGBT community is now such that many LGBT Christians wish to hide their Christian identity from their LGBT friends.
50 years ago, wider society was talking about homosexuality. Then it got around to talking about gay issues, lesbian issues and bi issues, and lumping them together. It has recently begun to recognise the common ground between LGB people and Trans people of all varieties. Now a debate is emerging on whether ‘Queer’ is a better term, as it encompasses so many more minority sexuality and gender identities.
And where is the church in this? Still stuck using outdated definitions, and only paying vague lip-service to the experiences of it’s members who are affected by the issues concerned. No wonder many Christians find themselves repressing their identity when inside the church. A speaker at this year’s Green Belt put it well when he said “the church always seems to feel under attack from Gay people as if they’re on the outside of the church, but the reality is, they’re already inside and always have been”. Beyond the theoretical theology there are real people who’s pastoral needs can only be taken into account once we’ve recognised their identities. I still hold out for a day when we’ll manage this.