Just over a week ago, I sat in a seminar room at Bradford University and ran a workshop on Christianity. Some participants were Christians. Some were not. Many had mixed feelings on religion. I was really moved when one participant told me she thought she had been prejudiced against Christians but the workshop had challenged her and made her realise there were more intelligent, open-minded Christians than she had assumed.
The workshop was called ‘Queer Christianity’ and it took place at BiCon, the UK’s national Bisexual Conference.
I was there mainly as a punter, but I readily agreed to lead a workshop when asked by one of the organisers a few weeks before the event. I have been wanting to go to BiCon since 2009, but this is the first year I have had chance. It was wonderful.
I have rarely, if ever, been to a conference that felt more genuinely inclusive. This concerned not only access for disabled people and a strong emphasis on respect for people regardless of gender identity, sexuality, class background or views on religion. It also extended to personality type and personal interests. Clearly some people wanted to stay up partying all night, others were there for discussions on political activism, some wanted lots of sex and some were happy to have a good chat over a cup of tea and an early night. Some went to the bar dressed up in elaborate outfits. Others turned up in jeans and T-shirts.
What was remarkable was that I never experienced any impression that any of these groups were looking down, or mocking, or seeing themselves as superior to any of the others. Of course, I am only describing my own experiences. Others may not all have had the same feeling. I cannot tell what went on in people’s minds or in private conversations, and I’m not saying everything was perfect. However, I speak as someone who, since childhood, has found it hard to fit in. I still very easily feel out-of-place. The fact that I could be open about my religion without being mocked, even by people who strongly disagreed and said so, meant a great deal. On the last night, I even felt confident enough to dance (almost unheard of). I felt that, however bad anyone considered my dancing to be, this was a place in which they were unlikely to laugh at me.
I am aware that some of the differences at BiCon involve clashing opinions on ethics; for example, when it comes to casual sex. I would not want to see a situation in which no-one could express their ethical views. At BiCon, there were workshops, as well as informal conversations were they could do just that. There was inclusivity with no expectation of uniformity or identical beliefs.
At times, the word “inclusivity” is used to describe a fluffy and superficial unity in which differences are overlooked. Sadly, when it is applied to churches, the term sometimes describes an attempt to make everyone feel comfortable without addressing the challenges that face us in a sinful world. But at its best, a truly inclusive church would mirror the radical inclusivity of Christ, in which all are welcome and all are challenged.
It says a great deal that my best recent experience of inclusion has come not through a church but at a gathering of people who would be condemned by a good many of the churches in this country and around the world. I will never stop being both sad and angry that churches that are supposed to reflect the love of Christ continue to condemn people for falling in love.