Forgive us for we haven’t a clue

Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 8:25 UTC 10 comments

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.

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Entry filed under: Church, Gay Rights, Religion, Sexuality, Theology.

Stretching the limits Idolising History

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 11:54 UTC

    Quite how are the definitions ‘outdated’? Surely they’re either right or wrong? And when you talk about the church’s supposed definition of being bi, do you mean they think that bi people want to be in two relationships at once, or just that they’ll go either way?

    Reply
  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 12:41 UTC

    Well, “Issues in Human Sexuality” and “Some Issue in Human Sexuality” (so nice to see imaginative naming) both essentially treat bisexuality as wanting to have relationships with people of both sexes at once (in answer to your question, the former rather than the latter).
    To call someone a homosexual is not ‘wrong’, its just a very old fashioned term based on very old fashioned understandings. Its only really the church which uses that term still.

    Reply
  • 3. Greg  |  Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 17:11 UTC

    Only in church? Really? Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear the word “gay” from a non-christian, and at least 90% of the time the speakers would place identical meanings on “gay” and “homosexual”. I hear the word “homosexual” a decent amount, too. Are you sure you haven’t been living in an oh-so socially aware liberal bubble?

    Reply
  • 4. Jonathan  |  Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 18:04 UTC

    “To call someone a homosexual is not ‘wrong’, its just a very old fashioned term based on very old fashioned understandings. Its only really the church which uses that term still.”

    …say what now?

    I see and hear “homosexual” pretty frequently and don’t have much contact wi th the CoE…

    Reply
  • 5. Greg  |  Wednesday, 14th November 2007 at 18:18 UTC

    Oh and this got into Christis, by the way.

    Reply
  • 6. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 16th November 2007 at 0:01 UTC

    Yays on the 5th comment.

    If you say “homosexual” you are defining an activity, whereas “Gay” or “Lesbian” defines an identity (and “bisexual” defines activity while “Bi” defines identity.

    If the speakers are not Gay, then maybe they need to go and catch up on what the Gay community wants to be called these days. I’m not interested in what society chooses to label people, I’m interested in what people are labelling themselves.

    The term Gay is still in common circulation, both in common society and within the identity community (and “the scene”, shudder) and will be for some years yet, but tonight I was at a meeting where someone commented that “It seems the term Queer is getting used a lot more these days”.

    Reply
  • 7. Jonathan  |  Friday, 16th November 2007 at 11:03 UTC

    “If you say “homosexual” you are defining an activity, whereas “Gay” or “Lesbian” defines an identity (and “bisexual” defines activity while “Bi” defines identity.”

    that’s one definition but by no means the only one – and outside of the gay rights scene/movement/whatever the two are used pretty much interchangeably, at least in my experience.

    “If the speakers are not Gay, then maybe they need to go and catch up on what the Gay community wants to be called these days. I’m not interested in what society chooses to label people, I’m interested in what people are labelling themselves.”

    who is “the gay community”? how does “the gay community” decide what “it” wants to be referred to as?

    Reply
  • 8. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 16th November 2007 at 18:52 UTC

    Yes, but outside the “scene/movement/whatever” its largely acceptable to describe something as being “a bit gay” if you find it pathetic or silly. Does that mean its a good thing people use that language?

    OK, so the Gay Community is a bit uncertain as to what it is these days. But its still fair to say that attempting self-definition is better than just accepting a label from the rest of society.

    Reply
  • 9. Jonathan  |  Friday, 16th November 2007 at 19:56 UTC

    “Yes, but outside the “scene/movement/whatever” its largely acceptable to describe something as being “a bit gay” if you find it pathetic or silly. Does that mean its a good thing people use that language?”

    That’s an absolutely ridiculous comparison. what I was referring to is people who are gay who, themselves, refer to themselves using a variety of terms and often use them interchangeably.

    the entire world isn’t quite as obsessed with putting the right descriptor on everything as many would like it to be.

    “OK, so the Gay Community is a bit uncertain as to what it is these days. But its still fair to say that attempting self-definition is better than just accepting a label from the rest of society.”

    my point is that it’s a mistake to try and see “the” gay community just as much as it is to see any other community as one monolithic entity which will come to a single conclusion about what terms it wants to use.

    if you’re talking about self-definition rather than a societal label surely that rules out having “the gay community” reach one single word to go with as that in itself would be pushing a particular label onto individuals?

    Reply
  • 10. Betty  |  Tuesday, 20th November 2007 at 11:40 UTC

    This begins to remind me of a discusson we had in class last year over what is Russian for “South London Gay’s Mens Choir”. The guy wanting to name it as one of his hobbies had found “gai” in the dictionary but the our teacher disapproved, favouring “gomoseksualnyi” claiming “The trouble with ‘gai’ is that it doesn’t decline like a proper adjective”.

    Reply

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