Tag Archives: Sexuality

Changing Families – Part 2

So I’m continuing to look at the changing nature of family and what this might mean practically for the church, based on looking at what Dr. Katherine Rake said in her Family and Parenting Institute address.

The first set of changes she noted related to the ways that families can be started. She said:
Over the past 10 years, the very ways that families can be started has changed:
By the beginning of this year almost 33,956 civil partnerships had been contracted since their introduction at the end of 2005.
Assisted reproduction counts for the conception of about 10,000 children a year or about 1 per cent of children born in the UK.”

With regard to the second part of that I am going to say very little apart from the church needs to get a real grip on the struggles involved in this one to support those who face infertility. I have been very moved reading Marmite on Toast and about her journey through IVF as I was listening to a friend who was describing her ethical wrestling, as a Catholic, with the issues involved and the decisions that led her to. I have also been moved listening to the journey of some friends who are going through the adoption process. Childlessness and the desire for a child are very real things which hurt many people inside and outside our churches deeply. We need to realise that and act with real sensitivity and support, coming alongside those facing these struggles.

The other change she identifies is the introduction of civil partnerships. There have already, I think, been too many words written on sexuality on this blog. Yet, I cannot ignore the issues this raises for the church. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul was addressing a church on the subject of what to do when believers were married to non-believers and about singleness. Having heard a sermon on this on Sunday I realised that we might have much to learn from this passage. In our society there will, inevitably, be people in civil partnerships who come to faith. They will be in committed, monogomous, loving relationships which they have legally sealed. Churches will be faced with the question of what to do with these people. Do they tell people to leave those relationships, do they tell people to no longer have sex in those relationships or what? Do they tell those people they can come to church but not be fully involved in serving? I think Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 gives us the answer. Those people should be encouraged in the relationships they are in. If a non-believing partner then chooses to leave that is fine, but the Christian should not leave just because they have come to faith.

This in turn leads us onto the churches whole attitude to civil partnerships. An excellent talk on the subject I heard was one given a few years ago at Baptist Assembly by Nigel G. Wright. Centreing the margins In that talk Wright talks about how civil partnerships give important rights to gay and lesbian couples which are basic human rights and so should be supported. He also gives his view that homosexual activity is unbiblical. Thus we are in a situation where he advocates civil partnerships but not sexual activity between gay and lesbian couples. He also effectively advocates civil partnerships for those outside the church, but not within it.

If we are serious about outreach and mission though this quandry needs to be dealt with. What is our view on monogomous, committed, loving gay couples and our outreach and mission to them? When it comes to gay and lesbian couples within our church communities are we going to encourage them in the ideals of commitment, monogomy and sex within that type of relationship or are we going to prefer to take the view of what we don’t see isn’t taking place? Are we going to put up barriers for these couples, sending the message that loving, monogomous commitment is something we can’t support if you happen to be gay? Or are we going to start producing civil partnership preperation classes, just as we produce marriage preperation classes? Are we going to start openly blessing commitment rather than trying to deny it? What are our motives for the denial of the celebration of these partnerships? Is it just the biblical stuff or is it that in forming a civil partnership the couple are publicly showing that the myths put forward about homosexuals all being deviant and promiscuous is a heterosexist lie? I personally find it mad that many churches deny gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to make a public commitment outside of a registry office setting, saying they want to commit to a loving, monogomous, committed life long relationship.

For a bit of a laugh which highlights how wider society has changed on this issue I leave you with the Gay Son sketch from Goodness Gracious Me. We watched it on GCN retreat last year and it always makes me smile.

Merry Christmas…..war is over

There is a sense I have that war is over in the UK. By that I don’t mean the Afgahanistan war or anything I mean the war in the church. Of course there are still squirmishes and apparent battles, but something is happening in the peace making process. People have gotten weary of what’s been happening. People are searching for peace making solutions.

I say this partly through some of the things I have been hearing, but also through things like The Baptist Times is publishing articles like this one by Glen Marshall which seek to expose the differences in opinon which exist. Books like Living it Out and And It Can Be are giving a space for people to tell stories. The Marshall article is sad because it shows the way there are still many casualties of the war unsure of the nature of the peace making and reconciliation that is occuring.

What is sad though is there are now alot of resources like the one mentioned by Marshall in the article, a couple mentioned above and like the GCN DVD Through My Eyes, which is becoming available soon for international ordering, which people don’t use to help in the peace making process.

Much like the Good Friday agreement this is not about one side having won it is about a peace agreement where very differing views are respected and discussed constructively to reach conclusions – thus reducing the casualities. As I say I think the number of green shoots we are seeing is indicadive of the fact war in this country is actually over…we are now in the process of working towards finding a lasting peaceful solution. As the forgiveness project exhibition, currently on in Durham shows peace making and forgiveness on all sides takes risk.
For Nah Then, Marshall’s blog where he has also published the article see here.

DIY Board Game

I have designed the following board game. The idea is it gives you the chance to think about some issues that both church leaders and LGB Christians face when dealing with issues of sexuality in a light hearted way. The idea is to get people seeing the pain and decisions that are involved on both sides of the debate for lots of people.

I tried to get the board to copy over, but it has just come up as numbers. You should copy these into a 10 by 10 table.

100 99 98 97 96 95 94 93 92 91
81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90
80 79 78 77 76 75 74 73 72 71
61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70
60 59 58 57 56 55 54 53 52 51
41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
40 39 38 37 36 35 34 33 32 31
21 22 23 24 25 26 26 28 29 30
20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Instructions to make the game:

Copy and paste the board and cards into word. Enlarge to the desired size and then print out and paste to cardboard or laminate, if desired.

You should add your own cards based on the dilemmas you are aware of.

You should also have a standard six sided dice

Instructions to play the game which is designed for 2 or more players:

Decide if you are going to be a church leader or a Christian struggling with their sexuality in this game. (I know the two are not mutually exclusive, but for the purposes of the exercise you choose one role).

Roll the dice and move forward the number of spaces which corresponds with what the dice is saying.

Each time it is your turn pick up one card. It will direct you to move forward, move backwards, stay where you are or pick up another card according to what it says. There are a couple of cards which may move you to specific squares.

Once you have read the card out loud you should put it on the bottom of the pile.

You should have a discussion amongst yourselves about any other cards you wish to add once you have been through the whole pile once and add them in. If positive the other members of the group decide the consequence, if negative the player affected should decide the consequence on these new dilemmas. You may also wish to add in cards, for both sets, which reflect how much of a difficulty integrity on this issue is in different denominations saying things like you are a Quaker – move forward 2 spaces, you are an Anglican – move backwards 4 spaces

The winner is the first person to reach square 100. You all start at square one.

Church leader cards:

You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong, but believe civil partnerships are a human rights issue – Move forward 5 squares

You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong, but are ready to welcome LGB people into your church as you believe it is the Holy Spirit which convicts of sin – Move forward 4 squares

You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong, but seek to engage in discussion to understand the other sides of the issue – Move forward 4 squares

You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong, but are not sure whether the teaching still applies in the modern context and whether it just related to abusive relationship – stay where you are
You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong and so preach a sermon where you explain this – move forward 3 squares

You are an Anglo-Catholic Anglican who believes that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong and that your faith is being compromised within the Anglican-Communion. You are torn as to whether to move to Rome or not – move backwards 3 squares

You believe that LGB people should be celibate and gently give this view to all who come to you for pastoral care – move forward 3 squares

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and give this view to all who come to you for pastoral care – move forward 3 squares

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and so preach a sermon where you explain this – move forward 3 squares

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem but seek to engage in discussion to understand the other sides of the issue – Move forward 4 squares

You like to believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem but find yourself worried by some areas of scripture and the range of interpretations – stay where you are
You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and are a supporter of Inclusive Church. At a diocesan meeting you find yourself in an argument with a member of Reform where both of you fail to show any kind of love – move backwards 5 squares

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem, but live in a diocese/ district where your bishop/ chair does not agree. You have to follow the official line but want to support a gay person in a relationship when they are going through the discernment process – go back 5 squares

You are a bishop who on a personal level believes that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem, but wish to maintain the unity of the Church you are part of – stay where you are

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and are a supporter of civil partnerships, when a couple ask you to perform a blessing service at church after they have been for their civil partnership you have to decline due to the rules of your denomination – move back to square 6 (or if not yet at square 6 stay where you are)

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem but have been instructed by your church to vote against a motion to allow practicing LGB clergy within your denomination at a synod / assembly – move back 3 squares

On a personal level you believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem but lead a congregation where this is not the majority view and so feel you have to officially give the line you believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong – go back to square 1

On a personal level you believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem but lead a congregation where this is not the majority view and so feel you have to officially give the line you believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong. In pastoral situations you will direct people to GCN stressing they give a side B aswell as side A perspective – go to square 72, (or if you are past 72 move forward 6 squares)

You have no idea what to think on this issue and so just tell everybody what you think they want to hear – move backwards 8 squares

You have no idea what to think on this issue and are honest about this. Trying to wrestle anew with it each time it comes up – move forward 8 squares

You believe that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong but when a member of your congregation comes out just give them a hug – move forward 5 squares

You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and when a member of your congregation comes out just give them a hug – move forward 5 squares

You belong to a congregation where the majority view is that scripture teaches homosexuality is wrong and so when a gifted worship leader comes out to you feel you have to tell them that they have to give up their involvement in that ministry – stay where you are

You are a DDO who finds out that one of those going through the discernment process is gay you tell them that if they can’t sign Issues in Human Sexuality that they can’t go forward to BAP – move forward 3 spaces

You are a DDO who finds out that one of those going through the discernment process is gay you tell them that if they can’t sign Issues in Human Sexuality with integrity they should pretend that they can, the fault is with the church not them – move backward 5 spaces

LGB Christian cards:
You know you are gay but believe this is a sin and so don’t tell anybody – move backwards 4 spaces
You are in a LGB relationship, but are in a church where the majority view is that homosexual relationships are wrong. You pretend you are single in order to remain involved in the ministries you are in. Go back to square 6, (unless you are not yet at square 6 and then stay where you are)

You know you are gay but believe this is a sin, you take the risk of going to speak to your pastor about this – go to square 78 (unless you have already reached there in which case you should move forward 6 spaces)

You know you are gay but believe that LGB practice is a sin and so commit to a celibate life – move forward 6 spaces

You know you are gay but believe that LGB practice is a sin and so commit to a celibate life, you join the GCN side B forum to support you in this – move forward 8 spaces

You know you are gay and believe that this is a sin and so go into an ex-gay movement to try and get healed – move backwards 8 squares

You know you are gay and believe this is a sin, and are too scared to talk to anyone about it and so you start self-harming as a result – go back to square one

You are LGB and so find an affirming church in your area which also reflects your theological perspectives – move forward 8 squares

You know that the majority of the rest of your church see homosexuality as a sin but you believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem. In a discussion on the subject you loving put your view point – move forward 8 squares

You know that the majority of the rest of your church see homosexuality as a sin but you believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem. In a discussion on the subject you get into a heated argument with everybody else in the room – move back 2 squares

You know that the majority of the rest of your church see homosexuality as a sin but you believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem. You know there is going to be a discussion and so avoid that event – move back 6 squares

You are in a LGB relationship but are in leadership. You are open about this to some, but generally take the don’t ask, don’t say approach – stay where you are

You are in a LGB relationship and going through the discernment process. You say nothing about your relationship and sign anything saying you are going to be living in accordance with the teachings of the church on marriage and sexuality – Go back to square 1

You are in a LGB relationship and going through the discernment process, you struggle greatly with how to deal with teachings of the church on marriage and sexuality and how to move forward in your vocation with integrity – stay where you are and take another card

You are gay and feel “a call” into a specific ministry but ignore Gods leading due to your sexuality – move backwards 8 squares

You are gay and confused, feeling you can’t speak to anybody locally, you go on the internet and find support through a Christian LGB organisation – move forward 10 squares

You are gay and confused and so do some serious reading on the topic – move forward 4 spaces

You are gay and single, and in a church where the majority view is homosexual activity is wrong. You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and hope one day to find a partner. You don’t want to risk being the cause of division in the church if you do find a partner though and so resign your membership whilst still attending. – move forward 3 squares

You are gay and single, and in a church where the majority view is homosexual activity is wrong. You believe that as long as LGB relationships are faithful, loving and monogamous there is no problem and hope one day to find a partner. You do not worry about the implications if you were to find a partner – stay where you are

Human Rights and Wrongs

I was one of those people who was almost convinced by the arguments coming out of Lambeth ’08 and elsewhere that the gay debate was a North American/eurocentric pre-occupation that diverted attention away from the important issues such as poverty. I also bought into the arguments being put forward that the pro-gay rights brigade were in some way involved in a new form of colonialism by trying to impose their views. I was one of those who was ready to say time to end the arguments and live and let live on either side of the debate.

My attitudes have changed today. I see that I am a privileged westerner who has a very comfortable life and no idea. Ok so the latest figures quoted by the Guardian and elsewhere might show homophobic attacks have increased by approximately 14% since April, but I can without fear, generally, have an open and happy relationship with my partner. Debates about sexuality and the church might be an issue here, but we live in a country where Civil Partnerships are available and where our human rights are protected.

Reading through the Ekklesia update today I became aware of the new laws being tabled in Uganda. They are summed up in the Ekklesia article I’ve just linked to and further discussed in these Colin Coward and Savi Hensman articles.

The upshot of these laws are if I and my partner lived in Uganda we could imprisoned for 7 years. If we sought to enter into a civil partnership we could be imprisoned for life. Anybody in authority aware of our relationship who did not report it within twenty four hours could be fined up to two hundred and fifty currency points, (one currency point being equal to twenty thousand shillings), or imprisoned for up to three years. That means, dear reader, if I were to come to you for support or help as a friend, a minister or whatever I would be putting you in an impossible position if you were a minister, teacher, social worker or involved in any other “position of authority”. If I were a Ugandan who came to Britain I would still be subject to these laws and liable to extradition.

For aggrivated homosexuality, where the “victim” is seen as young or vulnerable or the accused has HIV, the penalty may be death.

I believe, as with other commenators linked to, that this is something that should be shifting the church off the fence. I suspect it is our softly, softly approach in the west which has allowed this type of bill to be tabled in a country our aid packages help support. The accomodation of homophobia and to a lesser extent heterosexism within our churches debates leads to a place where the outcry to this type of bill is muted because of wider sensibilities.

My personal view is that yes family life does need to be promoted, but that family life relates to monogomous faithful relationships between either hetero or homosexual couples. Abusive homosexual and heterosexual activity is wrong and needs to be dealt with, in all societies, through the judicial system. However the penalities being proposed are not appropriate.

Finally I believe that in all societies people need to be able to discuss their sexuality freely, particularly with those in authority who might be a source of support. If their feelings cannot be discussed not only does the risk of suicide increase but so does the likelyhood of negative and dangerous sexual behaviour. Celibacy can be discussed as one healthy option in an open society.

It is time for the Western church to confess what the consequences of their political manouvering are and start to act to save lives and freedoms. I am reminded of the Pastor Niemoller poem, “first they came for the Jews”, which refers to a situation where many gay and lebsian men and women were previously imprisoned and slaughtered as a result of their sexuality.

Knowing when it’s safe

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard over the last few years talking about being out of church at the moment after a bad experience; wanting to go back but not knowing where was safe to go to. I’ve also seen various groups compiling lists of “affirming” churches which inevitably will include the MCC, but not so many (if any) other churches. Yesterday this was bought home to me when I picked up the LGBT Associations guide at freshers fair. The faith section has contacts, including a MCC church in Newcastle but there were no details of local churches. Somebody in the position of wanting to know a “safe” church wouldn’t know where to start in Durham, unless they asked somebody who knew.

This got me thinking about why and the issues involved. To say you are an affirming church indicates you are taking a particular position in a complex debate. To be advertised as an affirming church sends out an even stronger message. The truth is in many churches there is a mix of opinion which is being delicately balanced, it would not be appropriate for them to be seen to support one side or the other within the debate. Equally many churches don’t want to get sucked into a messy debate that they think is being given undue prominence and getting in the way of far more important issues. So how do we communicate to people that our church is a “safe space”? If we are to be inclusive spaces where anybody is welcome how do we communicate that this is the reality of the welcome they will recieve if they happen to be in a same sex relationship? The truth is I don’t know. So much of the language used in the debate has been hijacked by one side or other and huge meanings attached. Should churches intentionally use the word inclusive in their promotional literature? If they do will they be able to do this without being seen as taking a political stance.

Additionally I am becoming aware of the way that, particularly in some situations, there is a minefield to be negotiated in terms of knowing when it is safe to be a couple, however discreetly. The other week I was in a very strange situation with my partner, but one I think will become the norm. We were at a denominational event in her church, the sort of event where I feel culture shock anyway. It was quite difficult not knowing with every introduction whether I was going to be introduced as “a friend” or “her partner”. She was having to make judgements with people she regarded as friends as to how it was “safe” to introduce me. This was not only influenced by her knowledge of the person but sometimes also by a value judgement on whether she was talking to them as a friend or in “their official capacity”. I know that for various reasons this is the way it has to be, but I find it frustrating. For me keeping integrity is important; I know that sometimes the only approach to be taken is “don’t ask, don’t say” and it is an approach I am generally ready to take. It is just difficult knowing when that is the approach one must take and when it isn’t necessary.

If we are serious about mission and about having integrity in our faith we need to find ways of communicating where it’s safe and where discretion is required, although hopefully one day it won’t be. We need to find ways, without entering the debate, to let those outside the church know where they will truly find a welcome without them being forced to undertake a fullscale research project.

Coming out and coming in

Back in July last year I put up this blog post which discussed my sexuality and ended with this paragraph:
“I know I hold a position which cannot be justified, and that the secular is sensible enough not to find virtuous therefore, I can’t discuss it with them. The effect of this means I walk around with “the wardrobe on my back”, as the poem says, because it is helping me balance on the fence. It is society’s negative views on evangelical Christianity, rather than society’s more positive, (or atleast indifferent), views on LGBT issues which keeps me with one foot in the closet, but also it is the dominant public messages within evangelical Christianity which keep me holding onto that wardrobe. Yet, through it all I know I am not carrying the wardrobe alone and that each time I feel that I have to deny who I am or ensure that discussion is avoided God who created me fully (and who has intended me to be exactly who I am – both queer and evangelical in a largely secular time and place) is there beside me, absorbing my pain.”

A year on and I find myself in a different place. Largely through the way God has worked and my faith journey has developed this year I am more comfortable with the juxstaposition between my views on sexuality and faith. I have been able to put the wardrobe down. This has meant I have recently got to the position where not only was I in the right place to be in a relationship but I was able to have an honest conversation with somebody very special about how I felt about them. The result of this I am now part of a couple.

This has implications, not least there is now a public coming out to those outside of the church I chose not to discuss my sexuality with because I was worried that it would give them more amunition against the faith I hold as the most important thing in life, and wish to give them every positive reason to engage with. This has raised some questions about why I couldn’t just be honest with them before…after all these are the people for whom it is definately not an issue. I have sought to explain the religion thing, but realise within this I am sending out a negative message about the church – which I don’t want to. I have realised that in my approach I was colluding with the lack of integrity that exists in our culture in many issues around faith and sexuality. I made a mistake, but one which I feel too many of us do.

In our attempts to have a missional focus we become over sensitive, just as in our position in ecclesiological debates we may also suffer from similar problems. Sensitivity is important and within this I do believe that there is a rightful place for discretion and sometimes silence. However, there is also a place for truth telling and for letting go of the fear. If we truly believe in the ability of the Spirit to work within people’s hearts and our own responsibility to be sensitive to the Spirit working within us we should not make value judgements about what we tell and don’t tell people because of the impression it may give of the church. That is not, to reiterate, pushing a total disclosure and spill your guts approach but it is saying we shouldn’t take approaches like the one I did.

For me, taking a trinitarian approach, mission stems from an understanding of the role of God: father, son and spirit in my life and in the life of the wider community, both worshipping and wider. This in turn means that the combined role of bible, tradition, reason, experience (Methodist quadrilatural for those of you into such things) is important for me. What I am increasingly aware of is the need to look at our interactions with others aswell as our own lives in relation to that quadrilateral.

The impact of taking this approach is something that I feel is very important and something to be thought through. Taking this approach involves a process of theological reflection. So as individuals, as well as worshipping communities, we need to be aware of how to reflect theologically and relate this to missional activity. This involves us in thinking about issues of faith and practice and how those are engaged in from an accademic, worshipping and social networking perspective.

Here in lies a problem, in our world of professionalised clergy and academics this activity which we all seek to engage in has been largely put into the field of career development for clergy or climbing the career ladder within the academy. I say this because I have, yet again, become aware of the way in which discussions are held between people of faith in social situations and the way the same issues are taken up within “professional study”.

This week I am extremely privilidged to be attending a conference which I am effectively gatecrashing. It is a linked to a qualification which is effectively a professional development qualification for clergy or theological educators. My supervisors suggested I attend because they knew I would find it useful and interesting. Everybody is being lovely and I am really enjoying it. The thing which has struck me most is the way that during the week we have been able to engage intelligently, (using reason), with practical theology (where we have been looking at data gathered as a result of reflecting upon peoples’ experience), but seeking to frame this within a faith based discussion where tradition and scripture have both been referred to during the week.

The types of issues that I have most often found myself discussing with networks of friends I have come to know, primarily, from interenet communities are being discussed within the academic setting. The discussions are almost identical in nature, except for the fact that this week they are involving a bunch of people who have been in a position to gain the evidence and have a greater voice in the discussion. They are the people whose work and discussions will inform the practice that the rest of us have to choose to (or not to) engage in.

Yet again I am wondering why the gap in these discussions exists. I am here largely because I have been extremely lucky and given the chance, to some extent, to ignore the boundaries which exist. The debates and discussions I am hearing though are ones which need the imput of all sides. They are issues which effect and would equally benefit from the critical imput of the layity aswell as professionals.

Greenbelt is great because it allows for some conversation to take place but what I am aware of is the need for smaller scale discussion to take place on a range of issues relating to missional and ecclesiastical issues. Similarly I am becoming increasingly convinced of the need to encourage more lay people to engage in practical theology. Churches are / should be missional centres where the people as a whole reflect on issues of ecclesiology and missiology and how these relate to our current cultures. At the moment I fear that what is happening amongst the layity and “professionals” is a split between “ordianary theology” and “professional theology” which is disenabling mission and is increasing the move to the “professionalisation” of church activity.

Linking this back to where I started, the issue about the expression of my faith and sexuality related to the interplay between missiology and ecclesiology. I cared about how those outside the church would view the practices and beliefs of the church and how this would or wouldn’t point them towards Jesus. Missiology and ecclesiology were important issues for me as a lay person, and not just things for the “professionals”. Similarly in the research I am currently doing, that stems out of my desire to scream out about the need for the church to take mission to single parents seriously and to invest some time and money in the research necessary to underpin good mission initiatives to people who happen to be single parents.

Anyway rant and thinking out loud over.

Breaking out of the Bubble

This year at Greenbelt there were a few things that happened which made me smile about how much I have moved on from the evangelical bubble and also about how some of that still comes into my mind as “natural thinking”.

One of the things that had me thinking about this the subject of mission. The situation was I had just finished my stint on the OuterSpace stall and went wandering to find the relatives who were exploring the resources centre whilst they waited for me. They were at a stall where one of them, an agnostic, was finding out about mission opportunities. Being me I engaged confused mouth before brain and blurted out, “but don’t you have to be a Christian to go on mission?”. Both relative and stall holder decided to answer the question. Relative said that as long as agencies weren’t trying to sell God and were going out to do some good then they were interested in what they were doing. The bloke from the “missionary organisation” explained how whilst they are a faith based organisation they are happy to have involvement from non-believers and those of other faiths. Made me realise that these days in many ways mission, particularly short term mission, means something v. different to what I would automatically think. My evo influenced mind still sees it in many senses through the mid 20th century paradigm which is only….if we’re honest….a few steps away from the colonial model of the 19th century. In reality we now live in a secular world where missionary orgs are essentially just another set of NGO’s, but with an explanation for why they are engaging in this work.

The second thing which got me reflecting on the bubble and how far I had or hadn’t come from the evo bubble was thinking about my experiences of worship at GB this year. I actually ended up in a wider range of worship situations than usual, and several of them had a clear mainstream Anglican litergical influence. This year this didn’t seem like some exotic excursion rather it was like, ok this is what these guys are doing that’s cool. There wasn’t the same sense of relief and yet fear of “soundness” I had had in past years when going to stuff that was “different”. This year I was able to relate it to my ordinary experiences of worship much more and so appreciate it more for what it was. Admittedly the Ikon stuff did challenge because of the way they very quietly punched you in the face with some stuff about what faith does and should mean. The rest of the time I was pretty much just worshipping.

The third thing that struck me was about how those outside church experience us and what we have to offer. I admit I, in a tongue in cheek way, figured that taking my ickle bro to GB might help “convert him”. Um, I was the one who the joke ended up being on. I saw whilst I see GB as another way to encounter Christianity it is much more than that. What impressed my bro was the way that GB was based around anarchism and was engaging loads of people under the age of 50 in activism. Now, I’m not sure about the level of anarchism he could apparently see, but I am aware of the activist element. As someone who sees that type of social justice emphasis as “normal” I didn’t realise the appeal it has to others. He didn’t engage in the way I would have “hoped” as an ickle evo, but he did experience and appreciate a range of things that GB had to offer. He understood the meaning of Tomlinson’s church without boundaries in a way I couldn’t.

The final thing that got me was the way that GB was rationally talking about issues of sexuality in a way which has gotten past alot of the nonsense. Yes there had been a ridiculous amount of nonsense about Gene Robinson coming to the festival, and apparently division about it, according to Christian Today, (although as Richard Hall says this article is slightly questionable if you were there). They have moved on from going on about the rights and wrongs in many ways and into looking at the practical implications of engaging with spirituality in a faithful way whatever your sexuality. That is not to say they don’t recognise the realities of life today for some gay Christians, rather it is to say that they are reflecting the situation that for many of us in our churches it is kind of a non-issue much of the time, in terms of it is not our sexual orientation that is the issue but rather how we all approach relationships and live our lives generally which matters whatever our orientation. This is a subtle change which I became aware of over the weekend as I thought about it. One of the things that reflected this was the OuterSpace programme this year. Rather than just focusing on the politics they were looking at the practicalities of life for LGBT people. They had Jeff Heskins talking about the practical issues involved in civil partnership blessings and in trying to keep integrity if you happened to be LGBT and going through the discernment process, (mainly related to the CofE). Whilst it is interesting that The Changing Attitude Blog uses the language of politics and rights in relation to these sessions what I liked in the OuterSpace session I attended was the way the discussion was about the practicalities rather than the shouting. Similarly their Sunday night worship session was focused on honestly and simply bringing our lives as Christians, (some of whom happen to be LGBT), to God in worship rather than being an attempt to do inclusive worship. Can’t quite explain but I really witnessed a subtle but encouraging change this year. Also for reasons I’m not going into I realised that, at GB and in many other places, your sexuality makes absolutely no difference to anything…the world has moved on and so, I think, has more of the church than we might realise if we only believe the media headlines.

Finally, on the sexuality thing, what I liked about Gene Robinsons session was the way he didn’t seek to points score, rather he sought to point to people back to God and to love for the bible. Also totally unrelated he was v. lovely when faced with a bunch of slightly mad Durham (& ex Durham) students and a camera at his book signing.

Think that in another post The Changing Attitude Blog summed it up totally in their post “On Being Unremarkable“. Personally I am discovering that in the evo bubble people would like us to think there is something different or remarkable about being x, y or z….in reality all of it is far more unremarkable and simply ordinary than we would like to admit. We often talk about wanting to find God in the ordinary, well perhaps the secret is first for us to appreciate what the ordinary is.

(mis)Adventures in Scotland pt 3**warning adult content**

Wednesday afternoon was spent mainly at the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art). I had particularly gone to look at the infamous sh(out) exhibition. JTL has already blogged about her visit, and I would encourage you to read her excellent reflection aswell as my perspective on it.

Before reaching “that exhibition” I explored the lower floors, encountering first “Echo and Transend“, a collection of abstract art. More beautiful to me than any of the actual art on this floor, even John Houston’s “October Sunset” is the view you get of the backdoor of Boarders, as you walk into the main part of the gallery. Framed between two mock Roman pillars is a thick backdoor with the Boarders sign acting as a header above it. In the glass window above the door hangs a large, circular, Starbucks sign. It is an absolutely beautiful picture representing late modernity.

Anyway, enough of me getting lost in the beauty of contemporary consumer culture and back to the official art. Balcony one contained Rendering Gender, works by David Sherry with Transforming Arts. This was a collection of stuff by a transgender group, exploring their experiences. Three pieces on this floor caught my imagination. The first one was a picture in a set of four images by Sara Griffin. It contained a body wrapped in bandages and strapped to a table in a 1950’s B movie type lab. Superimposed in a kind of pink neon were the words “OF COURSE I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING I’M A GATE KEEPER”. I considered how many things this could be a metaphor for. For a moment looking at it I found my mind focused on my forthcoming trip to Greenbelt and encounters with the “emerging church” & with a slight shudder I wondered. The other two pieces on this floor which caught my attention were both by Kristi Taylor, one film and one text. Totally unrelated to the main exhbition on this floor is a film area showing work by local and international artists. On the day I went it was showing Gobstopper by Roderick Buchanan which was a rather strange piece showing a series of kids in the back of a vehicle holding their breath and being quiet as they went through a tunnel.

Then onwards and upwards to the controversy. I entered “Made in Gods Image“, which is a collection of work created by LGBTI people from different faith communities. Anthony Schrag and David Malone have worked with members of MCC, Quest, Al-Jannah aswell as individuals from a variety of faiths, beliefs and religions (according to the blurb).

To be honest I thought some of it was a bit kak. The photographic stills by MCC were meant to be ironic in terms of reflecting same sex relationships. I just found them ironic for reflecting the nature of Christian am-dram in churches. I did like the Islamic Text in “Two Poems” by annonymous, they were beautifully presented. Also as JTL said in her post the pictures of the life of an ordinary Muslim gay guy were very moving. The MCC did do a think which had within a set of very uninspiring photographs a shot of text saying, “Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light”. If anybody ever sees this on a postcard I would pay v.g. money for a copy.

The Patriots Room by Ian Hamilton Finlay was an interesting take on the whole thing, being influenced by the French Revolution. With heads in baskets on one side and a very basic bedsit room with subversive needlework on the other.

Before returning to talk about Roxanne Claxton’s exhibit, the one which has caused outrage, I will briefly review the rest of Sh(out). The main space on the upper floor had a mixture of art from different mediums. some of it was outrageous and deliberately provocative. I found some of the photography unneccesary and the plastic tree was symbolic of exactly why people mock modern art. Yet arguably the most erotic image in the exhibition I felt was absolutely beautiful. There was a water colour, which you should not open the link of if you are easily offended, “Untitled #115” by Patricia Cronin. It was of two womens hands entering each other as they made love. The way the picture just shows the hands and the crotch area and the delicate colours make it truly beautiful. The fact the genitalia are hidden by the hands means whilst explicit the picture shows the beauty of intimacy. The other picture I appreciated was “The Actresses” by Sadie Lee. It depicts two elderly women in white industrial style underwear on a bed. One is tenderly holding the other, who has her back to her. Whether it is the fact paintings are not as stark as photography or the fact these two pictures reflect intimacy as opposed to raw sex, without relationship, I don’t know but they were beautiful in a way the others weren’t. They were almost out of place amongst the other exhibits.

Then I went back to look at Roxanne Claxton’s work. When I walked into the alcove containing the installation I saw the desecrated bible and felt revulsion. I felt hurt, which I didn’t expect. Then I saw the bible in the box which now has sheets of reflective responses within it on the opposite page to biblical text. Finally I looked at the video of her eating bits of the bible and stuffing them down her top and trousers. I felt very uncomfortable. Then I picked up the headphones and began to listen to the interview she was giving alongside. This was not just an interview, it was a moving testimony. She spoke of wanting to show that the bible is nourishment not something to choke on. I think that if this had been on loudspeaker rather than through one set of headphones some of the reaction to the piece may have been different. Yet the fact remains the images are disturbing and somehow inappropriate.

This is I think my overall feeling about the exhibition; many of the images are provocative and almost confrontational. Yet when you listen, as you can only with headphones to some of the stories accompanying a number of the exhibits, the story and the exhibition alters. This should be, much more clearly, an audio visual exhibition. It would still be uncomfortable but it would be much less confrontational. I know some think the shock factor, the ability to elicit a strong reaction, is what makes good art but…..

My own feelings, as I sat reflecting over a toasted muffin, pot of tea and fix of Rene Mackintosh in Willow Tea Rooms, were mixed. As a queer Christian I have found wholeness and healing through the bible. I have found this through looking at the bible as a whole rather than pulling it apart, as those who would seek to dehumanise me in their pursuit of truth do. It is looking at the whole story of creation and salvation which has healed the pain and enabled me to see myself as a loved child of God, created in his image with my sins atoned blood he chose to shed for all of us. The pain healed has included the injuries to my self-image inflicted by those who focus on certain individual verses. I don’t want the bible pulled apart to nourish, I want it complete to enjoy and celebrate aswell as feed me.

After all the deep art and culture stuff it was good to go and just chill out for the evening with a bunch of the most amazing people I know, and some new friends, at a lovely place called Ad Lib.

Sex ….. and the single

“Sex and the Modern Girl” was an article in yesterday’s Indy…..following hot on the heels of “My Year Without Sex” in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. Auntie Doris wrote a wonderful post looking at the latter of these articles, within which she said: ” It’s an interesting article, and I think in many ways it exposes the culture we now live in. So much is sex-related. The media seem to suggest that if you aren’t having it, in as many different ways as possible with different people of different sexualities then you aren’t normal. The reality is that there are millions of people out there who choose to abstain from sex, either until marriage, or until they meet the right person. It doesn’t make the author of this article more special and different, but it is a reflection of society’s obsession with sex that makes it newsworthy.

Choosing to have lots of sex or choosing to have none are equally valid choices, but I do wish that the latter was given more importance (or at least as much) than the former.”

The Charlotte Philby article on Sex and the Modern Girl is, I think, a clear example of the media obsession AD was talking about. It’s an interesting article though, because beyond the sex party element it draws out some of the complexities in modern society about sex and singleness.

Women these days are happy to admit they have a sex drive and that just because you’re single doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings and urges. The question the article is essentially raising is how should / do modern women who are single meet those needs?

The article essentially gives two ways in which those needs are met: through getting engaging in casual sex of one form or another or through a spot of DIY.

The article indicates, though, that neither of these are a real replacement for sex within a committed relationship and that is what most single women are actually looking for. The getting a bit tipsy and having a quick shag or popping in a couple of batteries are not a replacement for true intimacy…and that is what many single women are actually looking for.

So where does that leave us? Well, quite honestly in a mess I think. Over the last few years I have come across way too many teenagers, and a few older people, who don’t have any concept of self-respect. They have low self-esteem which they try to deal with through alcohol and sex….and then feel empty, escape only comes when they find a stable, happy, committed relationship. On the other hand I also know many single women who are for faith reasons, particularly, choosing to abstain from the casual sex option and are left feeling equally frustrated and subject to low self-esteem….again until they find a relationship. With this second group the problem is made harder I think because they are often linked to an institution that has only become willing to admit quite recently that sex is fun and pleasurable. Thus, they are likely to hear married people saying sex is really good…..but only if you’re married. That’s like sitting there watching somebody eating a bit of cake, when you’d really like a bit, and having them say, “this cake tastes wonderful…pity you can’t have any”.

As for the DIY option, well…..I think it is something we have to look at in context. The fact that women are now happy to go and buy a Rabbit or whatever is a positive thing I think. It means that many single women are able to fulfil atleast some of their sexual needs and desires without getting sucked into the routine of casual sex or total frustration. It sends out the message that sexuality and sexual needs are a part of all of us. However, as AD points out they are just one part of us and not a totally defining part. This is something I believe as a culture we need to get hold of again.

Additionally, though, we need to think about how the DIY option is used. Are we developing healthy imaginations or unfulfillable fantasies with our increased use of this option? Is the rise in the sale of vibrators also linked to a rise in the use of and acceptablity of porn amongst women? These issues are important because again they are linked to issues of respect both for the self and others. The question is not only how do we encourage people into healthy committed relationships but also how do we encourage people into healthy DIY?

I have no answers, as usual I just raise difficult questions….but questions we need to think about.

Clause 61: Grey Areas of Free Speech

Free speech is something wooly liberals tend to support……it is one of those things that is a “nice” idea. However, in reality free speech becomes something far more complicated. As the discussions regarding the BNP over the years have shown there is a fine line between free speech and discrimination. There are similar issues around faith and LGB sexual orientation.

It appears this is something which has come to a head in recent months, particularly in relation to clause 61 of the Coroners and Justice Bill which is currently going through the Lords. According to the information given by Care and by Stonewall the situation is that the government have acted to introduce protection against hatred on the basis of sexual orientation. Parliament voted to include an amendment put forward by Lord Waddington which read:
‘29JA Protection of freedom of expression (sexual orientation): In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up
hatred.’ (Care have produced an informative briefing in PDF form which for some reason wouldn’t link, www.care.org.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?ID=37546 is the address).
This amendment was included within the first reading of the bill in the Lords. However, in January the government removed the amendment and so the version currently going through the Lords doesn’t include it. This is the position that Stonewall support because they believe that “it is unnecessary and could mean that a very small number of people of extreme views attempt to avoid prosecution by citing a ‘religious defence’.”
Religious organisations, however, are concerned. They believe that cases are already starting to emerge where people who object to homosexual behaviour, for religious reasons, are finding their right to express their views are restricted. In addition to Care, which I have already linked to, Christian Legal Centre and CCFON are fighting for the reinstatement of the amendment.
This conflict is not an easy one to sort out. Personally, I believe the amendment should remain. The reason is that I have been in situations where people of faith have said stuff which could, to the outsider, been interpreted as inciting hatred. However, the individuals making these comments have in no way been inciting hatred against people of different sexual orientations. Rather, they have been expressing (i) their fear of the way secularisation has been moving forward and the way they regard the extension of rights for those with differing sexual orientations as a symbol of this or (ii) what they regard as love for those with non-heterosexual orientations, (where they regard homosexuality as sinful). The fact is their interpretation of the bible and they way they have expressed their understandings has been tactless and advocated a range of views including (i) the need to “heal” homosexuals and lesbians, (ii) the view that LGB people won’t be going to heaven, (iii) Jesus hating the sin of homosexuality and so forth.

Now, don’t get me wrong….I in no way believe that Christians putting forward these views -which leave LGB people who are made in the image of God, (just as all of us are), resentful against the church and deeply hurt – are right in their opinions. However, equally, I understand where many of those who say these things are coming from. I have heard their stories, I know their influences and I know their earnest wish to follow what they see as the biblical will of God by taking literal or very conservative approaches. They see their rights being eroded by conservative secularists who are using equality rights as a trojen horse to attack Christianity, and this is another example.

This is why my own belief is that ex-gay programmes, which have been proven not to work and which cause psychological harm, should be banned and it should be illegal to promote them. It should also be illegal to promote views inciting attacks on gay and lesbian people, whether in churches or elsewhere. However, beyond this as said earlier I believe the amendment should be re-instated. The secular fundamentalists must not be allowed to push forward their agenda.

Additionally, despite what some of the Christian organisations are saying Stonewall should be recognised as an organisation which is seeking to recognise the complexities of the sometimes conflicting positions of LGB campaigners and faith organisations. They have produced this booklet on the subject of “Religion and Sexual Orientation: How to Manage Relations in the Workplace”.

This issue is about protection of civil liberties and free speech, but more importantly it is about the dignity of individuals. Sometimes compromises need to be made and the acceptance of this amendment by some LGB campaigners is one such occassion. Equally, I believe on the other side that some Christians need to make some compromises too.