Category Archives: Sexuality

Steve Chalke Continues the Conversation

Steve Chalke has done a follow up video to his recent article and responses to it. Within it he makes a number of appeals for people to move to an “open evangelicalism”.

From what he says it is clear that the view of “open evangelicalism” he is advocating is similar in most ways to what has been labelled “progressive evangelicalism” or “progressive Christianity” within the United States  (See the Progressive Christianity channel on Patheos for examples). In the US some such as Tony Campollo have eschewed this “progressive” label and have preferred to use Red Letter Christians – Chalke’s “open evangelicalism” is of this strand.

Looking at what he says it is clear that what he is talking about is a form of theology which blends mainstream evangelical thought with radical theology and wider source criticism of the biblical material.

This is not a new approach and in many ways it was exactly what Wesley was using with the Methodist Quadrilateral which blended tradition, scripture, reason and experience and others have used before and since. It is this type of approach which allows a pastoral response to be juxtaposed with theological response. It is not the easy approach which some of his critics claim. As Chalke says it involves wrestling with the bible to make sense of it as well as looking at experience and what wider culture and scholarship is saying.

In terms of there being one clear response in the bible he says if you study the critiques of his article without needing to explore widely you can see this is not true. He says there is a spectrum of understanding which is why we need to wrestle.

This approach to faith is not easy, it can lead to feelings of dissonance and even doubt that is why, as he says, it is painful for church leaders. It leads to disagreement and the possibility of being wrong which is painful, however as Chalke says it isn’t as painful as the rejection gay people have felt who have often had to deal with the same questions and issues but without support and without the ability to discuss the issues with detachment.

He then deals with criticism that his hermeneutic is wrong. Says that often this has been levelled at him by those who have seen soundbite but not looked at detail. He says his hermeneutic is not trajectory but centred. He takes a Jesus centred approach saying we should look through Jesus and his responses. This illustrates how the foundation of Chalke’s approach is using radical theology and where the problem lies. Radical theology lies beyond the boundaries which people seek to put up between evangelical, liberal, catholic and orthodox religion. Rather it overlays all of these whilst sitting comfortably in none.

Chalke’s video gives plenty of examples of where radical theology has been in conflict and influenced on specific issues. He does this whilst answering the allegation that he is trying to change tradition. He counters criticism by first pointing out nothing he is saying is new. Then he looks at variety of voices there have been throughout history, identifying that the dominant view has been the majority one but not the only one. In showing how paradigms do change he talks about Copernicus and Galileo  and how the view the world is not flat or centre of universe stood for 1500 years and then moves onto slavery and women in leadership. What he says is there has always been a minority view giving the alternative. He goes on further to say how views of divorce and remarriage have also changed.

He says we need to look at what are biblical views and what are cultural positions. I would argue  what we need, as much as a discussion on homosexuality, is an honest and open discussion about the nature and place of radical theology and the challenges and opportunities it poses for us. Often it is sidelined or characterised in an extreme form, but in practice it is a rich strand of theological thought which has sometimes influenced and sometimes been in direct conflict with other stands of thought.

With regards to the place of source criticism he makes the point the bible is not a private book. He makes the point that the church does not have a monopoly of ownership on it and so the church cannot say this is our private book and we have the right interpretation of it and everybody else looking at it is wrong. Within this he is talking about meaning of specific greek words.

With regards to gay people who have chosen to be celibate and those who have entered into heterosexual marriage he says they have made painful sacrifice with difficult consequences in many cases. In looking at this he looks at attitudes towards divorce in the past and how victims of domestic violence in the past suffered because they didn’t think they could leave unless adultery had been committed. He says it is good this has changed and he believes that thinking on gay faithful relationships needs to change too.

He says evangelicals always think God must agree with them and we have the truth but our views due change as we develop and get older. What we do is shift the truth in line with our thinking. Nobody has the whole truth. Like Brian McLaren and others it is clear that the academic deconstructionism of late (post) modernism and the related approach of critical realism have influenced his thought.

Within the content talking about previous evangelical approaches to the subject he makes a really important differentiation between toleration and inclusion. He makes clear one is positive whilst the other is more negative. One allows full participation whilst the other puts in barriers to participation which say “this person is viewed as less”.

In looking at where this view of the person having less value can lead he reminds us that homosexuality was something people got killed for in the holocaust. He uses this to explain homosexuality is not a choice.

A final question levelled against him and often against those who seek to follow a theological approach which seeks to blend radical theology with evangelicalism is that if you’re not condemning homosexuality (and various other activities) then what is church for? He says he finds that view confusing. Christians are defined by what they are for not what they are against he says.

What he says is he wants to call people to live faithfully and live well.

In this last point we have the other key difference between Chalke’s approach and that of more traditional or conservative evangelicals. It is some time now since Chalke was embroiled in another controversy when he said he didn’t agree with the idea of penal substitution. He does not require to see us all as bad people in need of punishment rather he comes from the perspective of seeing us all as people who need to be better connected to God so we might live more fully.

Discernibly Different

I watched the first half of the debate yesterday afternoon and was struck by how many of the MPs on both sides of the debate were proclaiming their faith.

There was one MP who particularly struck me because his whole approach was discernibly different to the others and that was Toby Perkins MP for Chesterfield. Yes, he happened to be coming from broadly the same position I was on the whole thing,  but it wasn’t that what grabbed my respect. There was something noticeably different in the way he was speaking. There wasn’t the same style of “making a point” which most of the others were doing, he was talking more gently and from a different position.

The first thing he did was to make the point that this was the second reading of the bill and not the final reading. As he said if things were constantly voted out at second reading, before committee got to change some of the detail and correct some of the flaws, nothing would ever get passed. That point is important. Many people were talking as if the bill before them was the final version which they were having to decide upon, it wasn’t. There is now the committee stage and the opportunity for amendments to be tabled.

Then he said something very important about what he believed faith wise in regards to the bill:

As a Christian, I see Christianity as a tremendously generous religion. As I have said previously, I think that Jesus Christ led the way on promoting equalities. There are any number of stories in the Bible that make it absolutely clear that Jesus stuck up for groups that had been oppressed over the years. As a Christian, I feel entirely comfortable voting in favour of this Bill.”

This is important he felt comfortable supporting the bill. We need to remember that there would have been some people voting against who were not comfortable supporting it because of their beliefs, that needs to be respected. Whilst I don’t agree with them I was happy this was a free vote and think we should see more of these votes in parliament, where MPs are allowed to vote according to their beliefs and able to represent their constituents interests without fear of recrimination from the whips. People were being allowed to vote according to conscience, and this was clearer with some than with others.

There was also a personal element to his contribution which he referred to in regard to his mother. I think this may also have influenced the way in which he spoke.

This gives the report of all the contributions to the debate and the ones relating to Toby Perkins speech and the replies he gave when giving way, (not deciding to decline to do so because “it wasn’t in his interest” as one MP did) can be found at 2pm.

In terms of my local MP Mark Lancaster he voted against the bill, which was what was expected, (statement here). I want to reiterate to anybody reading that having met Mr. Lancaster and heard his reasons for voting as he has, that he is certainly not homophobic. He agrees that the inequalities which exist in relation to transgender issues and inequalities between civil partnership and marriage need dealing with but did not feel this was the right way to go about it. Interestingly, depending upon amendments it is possible he may not vote the same way at the final reading – although I suspect he is likely to.

The other MK MP Iain Stewart was always going to vote for the bill with pride as his speech during the debate indicated. It was a speech which shows how at the end of the days enduring, faithful relationships are what people want – whatever you call it. I have to admit having met him a couple of times now I like Iain, finding him much more of the sort of Tory I can warm to to some extent – even though I am unlikely to agree with him on most things -, but I do worry that in his eagerness to support this bill he has not recognised its shortcomings.

My hope is that as we move towards the third reading that the critical, objective (?), eye of the likes of Mark Lancaster may work with the emotional understandings of people like Iain Stewart in order to see a final bill which meets the needs and concerns of the population at large and that it is debated with the sensitivity of people like Toby Perkins.

All that said my main hope is that we might see this and the whole Womens Bishops issue settled once and for all – in a way which brings about equality but also seeks to allow for compromise and where necessary real options for individuals and congregations to opt out (or in) – and that we may may be able to get on with focusing on our response to issues such as poverty. My hope is people may unite around issues such as opposition to the removal of benefit which is proposed under the welfare proposals, particularly for those effected by what has become known as “the bedroom tax” – understanding that people cannot always easily move and be uprooted, particularly if they are living in poverty to start with and around the IF campaign, which Tearfund and others are promoting.

And as ever with anything touching on sexuality or gender identity issues what I have writtenand the opinions given are entirely personal and given in my personal capacity.

Amendment Required

Another private and personal post declaimer.

This is the link to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which is currently going through parliament, due for 2nd reading on 5th February.

I support the aim of the bill and would ask you, if you are able, to write to your MP if you are in favour so that they are aware. If you do write I would also ask that you ask for an amendment. The bill confirms that people in a civil partnership will have to convert to marriage if one partner is transsexual and wishes to gain a full gender recognition certificate. Karl and I have our civil partnership coming up this summer, as some of you will be aware. For various reasons we wish to keep it as a civil partnership rather than register it as a marriage – this bill will not allow us to do so.

Part of what Maria Miller said in this statement in December was that she wished to take away the pain of people who were supporting their trans partner having to change their marital status because one of them was transsexual. Whilst she is keeping this promise to married people where one of the couple is trans it won’t apply to those in civil partnerships. That seems like an unintentional(?) discrimination to me, an amendment would solve this.

Strange Week

It’s been a strange week or so in which things I care about and which have a personal relevance have come into the media spotlight somewhat. In certain ways the axis of the world has turned a smidgen over the last week and certain conversations have opened up.

First there was the opening up of the trans debate. Whilst this has been messy and the fallout is yet to be fully seen (Observer publishing own comments later today apparently, and PCC now launching enquiry into Burchill article) according to this on the Greenslade blog it has I think achieved something. I think through articles such as Deborah Orr’s comment is free piece something has been added to people’s understanding of the issue and made them think more about the relationship between feminism and transgender issues. Certainly discussion has taken place. For those wondering what I’m talking about see what Karl wrote last week – although events have moved on, Observer removed Burchill piece and Moore apologised for initial remark – although she also put it in context in further article.

Then there was the whole discussion around the Steve Chalke article which has taken up quite alot of blog space on here this week. As I said in my initial post on the subject it was a definite breaking of a public silence, which saw what was being said publicly come into line with what was being said and done semi-publicly or privately.

The nature of response has varied. In addition to the EA/ Steve Clifford response I have referred to previously the EA have also put up this interesting article by Steve Holmes. In the States where Wendell Berry was publicly speaking out in a similar manner Tony Campollo put out this post on Red Letter Christians and Brian McLaren who also had the public coming into line with the widely known private knowledge in the Christianity editorial gave this response. In the UK Adrian Warnock responded with this post in response, Premier Christian Radio had this range of responses and so I could go on. Charlotte Norton summed up the significance well in this post when she said,

“People haven’t changed their minds, but they have become willing to talk about it.” .

Finally this week I have become through several conversations even more aware of what is happening and what has the potential to happen as a result of the cuts. That is one conversation which needs to open up much more widely and I hope other conversations aren’t used to obscure this.

That all said we need to remember these conversations will have little or no significance to many people and will have passed them by. I was reminded of this yesterday when I was very grateful for having caught a couple of episodes of Celebrity Big Brother this week and so being able to chat about that with somebody for whom life doesn’t revolve around either the Guardian or evangelical sub-culture debates.

Open Debate

Another blog which I need to say comes very much as personal response on a personal blog.

Recently I blogged about the safe spaces for LGBandT Christians mainly providing for people who were already connected with faith communities or who had been. The post illustrated that there are networks and communities which exist both in physical and online spaces. Part of what happens within these spaces is the discussion of where have been found good and bad churches to be part of and who is/ isn’t positive about LGBandT people. What this sharing of knowledge gives is an understanding that there is a much wider debate and spread of ideas within evangelicalism (and other strands of theology and churchmanship) than is often recognised.

Some high profile figures have publicly acknowledged that this diversity of views exists and a few have shared their known opinions publicly.Many of these were mentioned within this recent Independent article. Some other figures have not publicly commented on the issues involved but are known to be supportive, through their practice. Others are known to be privately supportive but unwilling or more often unable to say so publicly for a range of reasons.

The new issue of Christianity Magazine, which is the main evangelical magazine in the UK, has brought the diversity of opinion which exists within the evangelical movement into focus. One of the articles comes from Steve Chalke whose church has been long known to be an affirming church for evangelical LGBandT Christians but who has not thus far publicly spoken out. The term affirming used in relation to churches means a non-exclusive safe space where LGBandT Christians are actively welcomed, as themselves, and encouraged to fully participate at all levels.

This appears to a highly choreographed breaking of the silence, perhaps taking lessons from the last time in which Chalke decided to show the diversity of thought which exists in evangelicalism when he gave his views on the penal substitution theory of atonement. Greg Downes who is Christianity’s theologian in residence gives another response. The Evangelical Alliance’s Steve Clifford has also published an article in response on the EA website and has put up a statement of response. What is interesting about the EA response is the way in which Clifford has signposted people to the Evangelical Relationships Commitment. This is a statement which highlights how there are issues which divide people and in discussing these issues people need to recognise that they cannot question whether people are not Christians simply because they differ in their opinions.

One part of the statement makes the point: “We respect the diversity of culture, experience and doctrinal understanding that God grants to His people, and acknowledge that some differences over issues not essential to salvation may well remain until the end of time.”

The statement then goes on to give a set of principles outlining how discussions where there is disagreement should be conducted. I think that these are useful principals.

I want to turn my attention now to to the content of the various articles and responses.

Ruth Dickinson’s editorial outlines how the culture of public silence which I referred to earlier has operated within evangelicalism. There is an acknowledgement of the fear of reaction which public figures have faced. There is also reference to the fear of driving people away from the church. Brian McLaren is quoted as saying, ‘I’m sensitive to [the silence of many Church leaders], because I struggled with that for many years myself,’ he told Christianity. ‘I was tacitly complicit in the conservative view, even though I didn’t hold it – ever, really. I never was [fully] conservative on the gay issue, but I tried to walk a pastoral road, where I would not drive either gay people away from the Church or conservatives away from the Church. So I think it’s a hard road to walk.’

What is interesting with this last quote is that McLaren’s son is gay, as the editorial says McLaren blessed his sons gay wedding in 2012. As this shows the whole debate hasn’t been just an academic issue for some evangelical leaders it’s been something very personal.

The editorial goes on to talk about the way in which conservatives also fear speaking out and giving their opinion.

What comes out is that we need an honest debate where people can be honest without fear and without it turning into a slagging match.

Steve Chalke’s article takes the approach of looking at inclusion and what this means from a Christian perspective. He also looks at it from a realistic perspective.

One point he makes within this relates to the way in which the church has at times promoted, through the culture it has encouraged, promiscuity rather than commitment. He says,’One tragic outworking of the Church’s historical rejection of faithful gay relationships is our failure to provide homosexual people with any model of how to cope with their sexuality, except for those who have the gift of, or capacity for, celibacy. In this way we have left people vulnerable and isolated. When we refuse to make room for gay people to live in loving, stable relationships, we consign them to lives of loneliness, secrecy, fear and even of deceit.  It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle – but shouldn’t the Church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?’

This is something I think is really important to be recognised, but it has to be recognised that for some it does not lead to promiscuity. Self-harm, depression and turning in on yourself through abuse of work or food are other ways of dealing with  it.

He then makes the point that he has blessed a civil partnership because he judged it right to do so. The debates about whether it is marriage or not he says are secondary and whilst I know others would disagree I personally stand with him on that. What matters is that people are making a commitment to each other, (and in a Christian context before God), not what you call it.

Chalke then goes on to look at biblical passages and seeks to look at tradition as well as scripture.

He makes the final point that he is so passionate about the issue because of the way health and safety as well as lives are at stake. Some may think that this is alarmist but it is based on evidence.

As he says, “Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially young people, are comparatively high.[23] Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which, all too often, drives these statistics.”

He then goes on to give some of the stories he is aware of, stories I recognise all to well.

The counter response is given by Greg Downes who is Christianity Magazines Theologian in residence. He goes through the range of alternative arguments using scripture, tradition and experience. It is this final section that I want to focus upon.

In looking at experience he makes the important point that the voices of gay Christians who have been called to be celibate or who have apparently gone through the ex-gay movement have often not been properly heard. I agree with him, too often their voices have not been heard and I think that due respect has not always been given to them.

I have sat in the safe spaces and heard the pain of those who feel that their position has not respected and that the struggles involved in their celibacy has not been respected. I have a strong belief that they need to be honoured as people doing what they feel is right and some of whom have been given a specific gift of celibacy. I also think those struggling with it should be helped to find positive strategies and support in living out this position if they feel it is right to do so.

He goes on to say, “One concern is that many of the vocal comments in today’s Church on the issue are from Christians who have embraced the gay lifestyle and are very much advocating a change of theology.”

This is something I guess Downes would include myself and this blog within. I therefore feel the need to explain myself.

Firstly, whilst I have entered a committed relationship which was same sex prior to Karl coming out as trans I did not choose to embrace a gay lifestyle. The idea of the ‘gay lifestyle’ is on one level a myth, there are a diversity of lifestyles amongst LGBandT people just as there are other groups.

What I did was go through a long process of prayer and soul searching where I believe God healed me by bringing me to a point of peace with myself as I am. I came to a place after long soul searching and prayer where I believed that a committed relationship was something I could enter into and I happened to fall in love with somebody I believe that God bought into my life.

I have become an activist of sorts, but for me it is not a “gay rights” type of activism. Rather it has been seeking to share my story honesty in order to try and build understanding of Christianity amongst the gay community as much as in order to build understanding of the gay community amongst Christians.

Regarding advocating a change in theology I have discovered that whilst there may be dominant interpretations there is not a single theological position on this issue. I wrestled with scripture and looked long and hard at this, as well as praying through on this issue. I am prepared to admit that I may have come to the wrong interpretation but looking at this in the same way as I do other biblical issues and passages I don’t think I have. I respect though others do see things differently. Just as I know others see issues related to communion and the nature of the sacrament differently from me due to differences in theology and interpretations of scripture so it is with this issue.

In terms of the EA response it is as expected and is giving the response which reflects where they are coming from and the views of many they represent. The language of disappointment again has echoes of the past and the whole penal substitution debate.

Looking overall at these articles on one level I am encouraged, public silences have been broken. However there are a few things which I find worrying about the way in which the debate is being framed and the language being used:

1) The way in which there is no acknowledgement of bisexuality. The debate is framed in a polarised way which does not acknowledge the spectrum of human sexuality.

2) The masculine nature of the language used. The debate has focused around ‘homosexuality’ and ‘gay people’. This is all gendered language.

3) The discussion of the gay lifestyle. I have already talked about the diversity of experience amongst the LGBandT community. The idea one chooses a gay lifestyle is misleading.

4) The way in which the framing of the debate acts to further marginalise the experience of transgender people. Whilst gender issues are separate to those of sexual orientation they fit into a wider discussion. The debates around same sex marriage include a trans element.

5) The way in which the missional aspect of the discussion has not been looked at.

 

 

 

 

Safe Space and Standard Space

Before I start I would like to reinforce that this blog is my own personal blog and gives my personal opinion. The following is written entirely in my personal capacity rather than in my professional one.

There were two contrasting articles published by the Huff post yesterday, one in the UK version about the way “Soho Masses” are to end and one in the US about whether MCC is needed as a denomination. They give different perspectives on the same debate about whether specific “safe” spaces are needed for LGBandT Christians and their allies and if those spaces should be temporary or permanent in nature and can/should they be provided within the traditional denominations or not.

I start by saying that whatever labels other people wish to attach to my relationship with a trans guy who was a woman when I met him, I regard my sexual orientation as gay but practice as beyond society’s categorisations. I am also a practicing Christian and have been committed to my faith for many years. I am located at present within an ecumenical church but my identity is still strongly low church non-conformist and is rooted within the Methodist Church with a grateful nod of acknowledgement to the Baptist denomination which nurtured my faith. I have managed to navigate my journey successfully through remaining part of a faith community, I know many others who haven’t. I have been lucky to have had various people around me at key stages who have seen I have what Jonny Baker calls ‘the gift of not fitting in’ and who have known how to encourage it. (Note this gift does not relate specifically to issues of sexual or gender identity  but in my case that has been part of it whilst certainly not all, just as gender identity has been part of Karl’s manifestation of the same gift which is certainly much wider. For an explanation of this gift see Jonny Baker’s Greenbelt talk this year, ‘Another World is Possible‘). My discussion of the topic thus comes from a subjective place.

Safe spaces for LGBandT Christians in the UK take a range of different forms. There are as the US article indicates MCC churches in the UK and they take a range of forms. Middle Ground’s July blog post on Pride explains how she sees ‘MCC fills an important need – that of ministering to LGBT people in an appropriate and affirming way.’

Then there are services such as the ‘Soho Mass’ which are held by individual churches who are part of mainstream denominations to give space for worshippers to be able to come simply as they are without fear of recrimination or discrimination. These services are rare and are often attended by people from a wider area than just the local area.

The next set of safe spaces are local groups for LGBandT people such as MAZE which I was involved in when I was in Durham. These are occasional safe spaces (often meeting on a monthly basis) which seek to network local people who are either worshipping within established ‘standard space’ congregations or who don’t feel they have a place within the established church to worship but who want to meet and have fellowship with other Christians.

The next set of safe spaces are those offered are those which are similar to the local groups but meet less frequently and are often regional or national in nature A few examples of this are the Two:23 network which provides quarterly meetings in London, Gay Christian Europe which is an online community for European Christians which has regular gatherings and an annual retreat, Greenbelt also provides safe space opportunities.

Fitting in with this previous category are also those groups which are linked to specific denominations or theological outlook who also provide occasionally face to face interaction and which often take the form of being both a network for support and a pressure group within a denomination. Amongst these are: Inclusive Church (Anglican and focused and a range of diversity issues), Outcome (Methodist), QLGF (Quaker), QUEST (Catholic), Affirming Baptists (Baptist) and Accepting Evangelicals. Coming into this latter category but also having some local groups and being ecumenical in nature is LGCM.

The final category that gives safe space are communities that largely meet online, I have already mentioned Gay Christian Europe, another which comes into this category is Gay Christian Network which is an international organisation, with an annual conference in the US each year.

When the Christians within these groups meet together, whether it is in physical or non-physical space, there will often be a mix which varies between those who are out and those who are closeted outside of safe spaces. For some, particularly those working for Christian organisations, the issue of safety is important because their jobs can depend upon them not being publicly out. Additionally there will often be those struggling with specific family issues linked to the faith beliefs of those around them as well as those who are struggling with issues of calling and vocation and how that all works out in churches or denominations where certain doors may be closed to them. Finally and to a lesser extent they provide space for people who may not feel safe to be out as Christians amongst the gay community. Trust is a huge issue and so is the relief of not having to pretend or keep silent about that aspect of their identity which many feel.

Membership of these groups may be established and long term or may be a transitory part of somebody’s journey, often part of their coming out journey. Often these safe spaces have implicit support from the wider churches and denominations even if it is felt support cannot be publicly expressed, although sometimes it is explicitly expressed. The level of public endorsement is likely to be related to the stance of the denomination on issues of human sexuality and gender identity. For example the Quakers and URC and to a lesser extent Methodist Church have all taken a more positive stance on issues of human sexuality than other denominations, thus support for the activities of these groups is often expressed more explicitly than it would be in other denominations.

What is important about the intervention to stop the Soho Masses is this implicit permission for a safe space has been removed through explicit prohibition. The message sent out is that it is not safe to be out in a Catholic Church context.

So is the answer for LGBandT Christians who find themselves unwelcome within their church or denomination to find refuge within other denominations or in groups beyond the mainstream churches? On one level I want to say no but practically that is what sometimes has to happen for the protection of the individual. Whilst a person is more than their sexual or gender identity when they are forced to repress or hide that aspect of themselves it becomes dangerous and people suffer. That is what has happened in the past and is why MCC emerged as a safe space.

However, as the article indicated MCC has become much more than a “gay church” it is now attracting a wider variety of worshippers, particularly in places like Newcastle. Is this moving out of the ghetto and more into the mainstream evidence that they are no longer needed as a safe space? I would argue no, it is evidence of the maturing of a new religious movement into a denomination in the same way as we are seeing with some denominations which had their roots in the ‘house church’ movement.

The message which has been sent out by the misinformation around the closing relocation of the Soho Masses and much of the recent rhetoric around the same sex marriage debate from a range of organisations, not just the Catholic Church, is that there are those within our churches – including the hierarchy – who see LGBandT people as a threat to be defended against at worst and be welcomed with caution at best. That is why the “LGBandT” focus of MCC is still an important – those who seek refuge there will know that they are moving from an unsafe space into a safe one.

Now I know this is an oversimplification because churches are made up of people of varying opinions and interpretations of the bible. Yet, when the message comes down the barriers are to go up and that the “unofficial practices” must stop it becomes harder for that diversity to exist and I would suggest harder for some safe spaces to remain safe. There is also a huge level of hurt involved, and may be a feeling of rejection. That is when alternative safe spaces which advertise themselves in that way become vital. Thus, I would argue MCC still has a vital role to play as do the Quakers and URC (although due to the congregational nature of the URC there are complicating factors in how far the denominational line of affirmation is carried into individual congregations).

One reason I think the less frequent safe spaces are good is because they enable you to openly discuss how that aspect of your identity relates to your faith without it becoming the overarching lens through which your faith is viewed. By that I mean it gives you space to go to in which you can, without fear of it being viewed as a political thing and without fear of discrimination, go into and discuss what it means to be a gay, trans or queer Christian. With the current debates there are a lot of people who are fed up to the back teeth with the issue and want the church to get away from it, thus in standard spaces it becomes difficult to have those discussions. Thus the more temporary safe spaces provide a benefit for both straight and LGBandT Christians, particularly where they allow straight Christians who do want to engage and provide support access as well. Space becomes created to discuss the issues beyond them being about LGBandT people in leadership or the same sex marriage debate.

This is not to say that standard space should not become safe space. I long and hope for the day in which safe spaces are no longer needed and standard spaces do become entirely safe and sexual or gender identity is not an issue. I long for the day when the committed, monogamous, love between two people can be celebrated in church before God whatever their social characteristics. I long for the day when there is a transgender naming liturgy in every service book. I long for the day when being a Christian within some churches and denominations is not seen by those outside the church as being complicit with an oppressive system of power and by those within it as an issue for debate and battle. Finally, I long for a day when we can all get on with concentrating on living and sharing the gospel and when we can all value what they do at MCC Newcastle:”the fabulous and the beautiful in each of us, a warm, safe, welcoming home, worship that deepens our intimacy with God, the strength we have together when we are each doing what we are passionate about and love, fun and laughter.”

*Update – it seems, (not for the first time), that the truth regarding the Soho Mass story is more complicated than the media originally indicated. This story from Ekklessia suggests that the venue is being moved, it indicates the implicit approval has not totally gone, but rather been explicitly removed from a particular space. Hence the editing which I have incorporated.

Gender Identity and Marriage Equality

In my personal capacity I have written this article for Ekklesia on the subject of gender identity and marriage equality. (Couple of regular readers have already picked up the typo in ref to this blog’s name at the end am emailing to get that sorted and so need to comment here 🙂 ).

Two other things you may find it useful to read are Rachel Mann’s post on her blog and this article by Helen Belcher in Gay Star News.

Random Sharing

So it’s one of those points when this blog becomes a bit like a community notice board as I share some random and unconnected things I’ve come across recently.

She Said Lenny is a short film which I discovered on the OML FB site this morning. I am sharing the link because it is a beautiful short film and I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned love story. I’m getting quite into this idea of shorts where you can watch a movie over a cup of tea.

Nominations are currently being taken for the Brook and FPA Sexual Health Awards 2013 which seek to recognise outstanding projects and professionals. We, especially as Christians, are often very quick to bring attention to bad practice in this area, so what about recognising the good practice where you know it’s occurring?

Folk East, the Suffolk folk festival which unfortunately happens over the same weekend as Greenbelt, is moving to a new site. Their new home is Glemham Hall and the first act announced to be playing are Spiers and Boden which are a spin off of Bellowhead, according to this BBC Suffolk article.

TEDx Milton Keynes Women has a TEDx event on Sunday with a range of speakers locally and some being beamed in from a US TED event.

Two:23 Launch

The two:23 network was formally launched today with a gathering/ service at St. Mary Aldermary in London. Whilst it’s most definitely a new network it has been born from the passing of Courage which ended in September this year.

The event and network represents in many ways a 2.0 or even 3.0 Christian group. By this I mean the environment into which it is being born whilst by no means perfect or always entirely safe for LGBandT Christians is very different in many ways to the landscape of the past. There is a broader understanding and recognition of LGBandT Christians and the issues which they face than has existed in the past and there are more safe spaces than previously. The need for secrecy has in many cases diminished.

The network has the vision of creating “a space where absolutely everybody is welcome.” This doesn’t just relate to sexual or gender identity it also applies to churchmanship. Their website says, “Compared to other LGBT Christian organisations, many of us are from evangelical backgrounds, but we now represent a broad church and aim to make all feel welcome.”

This inclusivity also includes positively engaging with mainstream, straight clergy and others who have something positive to bring to the table. Today it was the Very Reverend Dr. David Ison (Dean of St. Pauls Cathedral) who spoke to the 90 or so assembled people and who exemplified the benefit of this approach. His talk was positive and yet challenging and also clearly included reference to the  T part of the community as well as the gay – something sadly missing on so many occasions.

The name of the network comes from Hosea chapter two verse 23 which says, “I will say to those called ‘Not my people’, ‘You are my people’; and they will say ‘You are my God’. There was moving reference to this in a meditation during this afternoon’s event.

The network is meeting four times a year and dates for next year are 23rd Feb, 18th May, 21st September and 30th November. I would encourage anybody who thinks they would benefit from this type of network to put the dates in their diary. I really enjoyed the day and meeting friends old and new as well as having the chance to worship and engage with other LGBandT Christians and their allies.

As a bit of a ps there is another launch happening at the same church this week. Host the cafe at St. Mary’s operated by Moot is being launched on Tuesday 27th.