Monthly Archives: January 2013

Please pray for marriage – regardless of gender

The UK Parliament will vote on Tuesday 5th February on legislation to give legal recognition to same-sex marriages in England and Wales.Supporters of equal marriage will be praying for it on the Sunday beforehand.We’re asking you to take a moment to pray about the issue at 12.00 noon (or at another time if you find it more appropriate). We’re also asking churches to pray for marriage equality in their Sunday services. You can click here to visit Facebook and add your name to those who will pray.

We will pray for:

  • All marriages and similarly committed, loving relationships, regardless of the gender of those involved.
  • The success of legislation to give equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
  • God’s forgiveness for any occasions on which we have promoted prejudice against same-sex couples, whether by word, deed or silence.
  • God’s guidance for all those affected by this issue and involved in debates on it, whatever their views.

The event is supported by Queers for Jesus and by Christians for Equal Marriage as well as a number of individuals, including Christians and people of different faiths.

May we treat those who disagree with us with love and humility, while standing up firmly for love and marriage as principles that are greater than social convention and legalism.

Christianity, conscience and the European Court

by Symon Hill

I’m delighted with the news from the European Court of Human Rights this morning. The court has thrown out three of the four cases brought by Christians who claim that they suffered discrimination because of their religion. Two of the rejected cases were brought by people claiming that they had the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. 

The news of the ruling came through as I was discussing the cases on Radio Five Live Breakfast shortly after 9.00am.

I strongly believe that opponents of same-sex relationships should have the right not only to hold their own views but also to publicise and promote them. What they do not have a right to do is to use their jobs to deprive gay and bisexual people of their rights. Far from being the victims of discrimination, these individuals are wanting the freedom to discriminate against others.

On Radio Five Live, I debated with David Landrum from the Evangelical Alliance. While I don’t agree with the Alliance on sexuality, their comments are usually more measured than those of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, the groups behind the cases at the European Court.

I found myself having a relatively healthy dialogue with David, until he claimed that his views were shared by “Christians who take the Bible seriously”. The implication was that people who interpret the Bible differently to him are taking it less seriously. I’m sure that the claim was made in the past by Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery, racism and domestic abuse. They could not see the wood for the trees: Jesus’ message of radical love that is a challenge to both legalism and self-interest.

Later on in the programme, I was up against Alan Craig of the Christian People’s Alliance. Alan repeatedly talked of the importance of “tolerance”. This is a bit rich from a man who regularly comes out with the most viciously homophobic rhetoric and who has compared the promotion of gay and bisexual civil rights to the Nazi conquest of Europe.

Alan claimed that there was a “parallel” between the rights granted by the UK to conscientious objectors (COs) in wartime and the rights claimed by people who don’t want to work with same-sex couples. I’m not sure if this is an argument he uses generally or one he chose particularly to use against me, knowing that I’m a Christian pacifist.

The “parallel” is inaccurate in a number of ways. Firstly, the rights of pacifists in the UK have been limited: dozens of COs died in prison in the first world war while anti-war publications and campaigns were banned in the second world war – a point rarely made in the airbrushed history of the war with which we are presented in schools and popular culture. Secondly, I am not denying that people such as Lilian Ladele – the civil registrar who refused to register same-sex civil partnerships – have a right to express their views. What I am saying is that they don’t have a right to use their employment to discriminate against others.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that Alan Craig’s argument completely misrepresents the nature of conscientious objection to war. Pacifism is not about opting out. It is about standing up for something different. It is good that there is at least some right to conscientious objection recognised in UK law. But let’s not forget that it is only there because the law maintains the right of the government to conscript people to carry out violence in its name. Conscientious objection is not about asking for rights for ourselves; it is about pointing the way to a different way of doing things.

In recent years, a number of Christians in the UK have gone to prison after taking nonviolent direct action against the arms trade and preparations for war. They are not backed by the Christian Legal Centre. They rarely make headline news. Their conscience and their faith have compelled them to act. As the apostle Paul says, Christians should not “conform to the patterns of this world”. We need to challenge greed, war, inequality – and homophobia. 

Submission: Christianity and BDSM

by Jemima

The world of BDSM can appear very obsessed with the surface, a place of outlandish outfits and shocking behaviour. Certain books have not helped and create the idea that it is as far from spirituality as can be. My personal experience is that as I have learnt more about myself through BDSM, so my faith has also deepened.

BDSM stands for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sado-masochism. BDSM involves consensual exploration of some or all of these between people in the role of submissive (less powerful person) and Dominant (more powerful person). 

My pastor describes me as servant-hearted, and it is true I am more likely to be found in the kitchen than the pulpit. However, I think I am more Mary than Martha, and that willingness to sit, to learn, to let go is something that I think as Christians we all need. To live fully of, and in, the moment rather than worrying about tomorrow.

Both Mark and Luke give accounts where Jesus knows what the future brings. He directs his disciples to find the donkey that will bear him, predicting who they will find and what to say. This prescience does not stop with Palm Sunday of course; he rides through the cheering crowd knowing they will be baying for his blood by the end of the week. Yet he still chooses to go, to follow a path that leads to immense pain and suffering, he submits.

Now to some it will seem sacrilegious to discuss sex and God in the same piece. However I believe we are natural, sexual creatures, that God created us to be so and He does not make mistakes. When we look at the New Testament if we can relate it to our own lives and experiences then we are far more likely to treat it as a living document that can change our lives than a bunch of ancient stories with no relevance to us.

Submission is a word that comes up in two very different parts of my life, and yet as my understanding of it grows, it informs both. Look at how Jesus entered Jerusalem, not grudgingly or secretly, he did not just accept the end was inevitable but that it was right. When my Dominant photographs me, his favourite pictures are those which show a smile. People might imagine a sadist would want to see someone writhing in pain, but that does not show submission. If you just want to make someone cry out in pain then you could punch a random stranger. Submission cannot exist without choice, and if it is to be meaningful and rewarding, it should be a willing, joyful choice.

Now no-one can know the mind of God, but when we look at Jesus’ behaviour in Jerusalem there seems a freedom to it that contrasts with so much of the rest of the Gospels. Free to confront the authorities of the Temple, He behaves in a way that many, knowing they were to be executed in a week,  might avoid. Turning over the tables of the moneychangers, sitting disputing law in the Temple grounds, he draws attention, rather than avoids it. This freedom that comes from submission is one that in my own small way I also recognise. When we submit we become free of the fear of consequences, the path has been laid out by someone else and all we need to do is walk it.

So how does this affect my day-to-day life, both as a Christian and as a submissive? In one way, it is the same lesson to be  learnt. It is easy to say “I submit”, that we are willing to bow our heads, whether it be to God or a cane-wielding sadist. However, when the difficult times happen, when a planned event does not happen or not as soon as you might wish, does the submission remain a joyful choice or become a grudging “if I must”?

So often, “If thy will be done” is a question not a statement. As a submissive, I have learnt that in fact it is a liberating statement. The trust that is at the heart of BDSM means that I put my life in the hands of another, another bigger, stronger more powerful than me, and say, do what you will. If we can do this with another human how can we fight it with God? It may seem an odd question, but so often we do fight, thinking we can cajole or bargain, instead of that sublime submission, instead of saying, “Thy will be done.”

Gay bishops: Church of England offers crumbs from the table

Symon Hill

Church of England lifts opposition to gay bishops” declared the headlines. It took only a glance to realise that the news is not as good as it sounds. Clergy in same-sex relationships will be allowed to become bishops – as long as they don’t have sex.

Gay bishops in the Church of England must be “celibate”. What’s celibate? Will a bishop with a same-sex partner be allowed to kiss him? To hold his hand as they walk down the street? To engage in genital activity short of penetration? Celibacy, like sex, is rarely defined.

Celibacy (like marriage) is a gift from God. It is a calling. Some are called to it, others are not. What an insult to people with the gift of celibacy to present their calling as some sort of second-rate option for people treated as second-rate Christians.

The announcement may, or may not, come as good news to gay and bisexual clergy with a hope of becoming bishops. But many more people will be affected by this news.

For queer Christians, it is another message telling us that we are not welcome as equals in the Church of Christ. For many lesbian, gay and bisexual people outside the Church, as well as others committed to equality, it is the latest announcement of Christian hostility to them, the latest factor on top of many others to deter them from Christianity.

With some Christians preaching blatant homophobia, and others failing to challenge it, it is understandable that some grasp at any sign of progress towards equality and justice. With right-wing Christian lobby groups leading the virulent opposition to equal marriage, with Tory MPs using Christianity to justify homophobic comments in the House of Commons and with homophobic “therapy” on the rise, it is tempting to welcome any sign of change in churches with open arms. I suggest it is a temptation into which we should not be led.

This announcement is not progress, however much it may have annoyed the most extreme homophobes, who claim to be concerned about sexual behaviour but don’t want gay or bisexual bishops even if they don’t have sex. The Church of England has merely clarified that its bishops must abide by the same discriminatory rules as its clergy: rules that have already pushed many able, devout and Godly individuals from the ranks of the Church.

Theologically speaking, this ruling is another triumph of law over faith, of human rules over human love, of the letter that kills over the Holy Spirit that gives life. It is an insult to the Gospel proclaimed by the Christ who said that rules were made for people, not people for rules and who modelled relationships based on love, equality and integrity rather than selfishness or convention.

In 1964, fresh from the wave of civil rights demonstrations that had swept the US, Martin Luther King wrote of “those people who seek to apportion to us the rights that they have always enjoyed”. He suggested that they were asking people who were facing inequality to “accept half the loaf and to pay for that half by waiting willingly for the other half to be distributed in crumbs over a hard and protracted winter of injustice.”

Today, queer Christians – and others affected by church discrimination – are treated as if we have to bargain with church leaders for the equality that rightly belongs to us. It is no more possible to be half equal than it is to be half alive.

R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long live Soho Masses!

Terence Weldon

News out yesterday is that the regular twice monthly masses with a particular outreach to gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and friends, popularly but incorrectly known as the Soho “gay Masses”, will be moving out of their present home in Warwick Street, and relocating to a new home at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the well-known Jesuit parish in Farm Street.  For many members of the congregation, the news will be received with deep sadness, and inversely, the few but vocal opponents of these Masses will be jubilant, seeing it as a sign of their supposed victory. Both responses could be short-sighted and misplaced.

In this and other monarchies, news of the death of a reigning king or queen is typically received with the standard response, “The queen is dead. Long live the king/queen”. I suggest that for the Soho Masses congregation, that could be a more appropriate response, than simply one of grief. Our congregation is emphatically not being “shut down”, as the opponents will claim, but simply being relocated. With that relocation will come significant opportunities for further growth and expansion – just as occurred with our earlier moves, from Camden to St Anne’s, and later from St Anne’s to Warwick Street. As one who was involved in the original discussions over that earlier move from Dean St to our present home, I want to reflect here on just what it is that we lost in that move – and what we gained. From that, we could more easily reflect on what we might be losing, and gaining, in the next phase of our evolution.

The key, I think, lies in that little word “congregation”.  What we lost was undoubtedly a degree of independence, of being somehow swallowed up by the Catholic establishment. Since the move, I often heard a sense of nostalgia, at having lost that sense of being somehow “on the edge”. But the biggest asset we had was never that independence, or our premises, but simply ourselves, as a strong and vigorous congregation. During the often frank conversations between ourselves about the value and potential risks of the proposed move to Warwick Street, it was observed that as long as we retained our congregation, we would continue to flourish So it proved, and flourish we have.

In retrospect, we can see that at St Anne’s, we were already pushing against our limits. We were in effect meeting for not much more than just two Masses a month, the space was comfortable but could not have accommodated any increase in numbers, and the congregation consisted overwhelmingly of older, White men. Since the move, the transformation has been astonishing. Numbers have doubled, and the degree of active participation has simultaneously increased. We are now far more diverse in age, ethnicity and gender balance, and offer far, far more than just two Masses a month, with a steadily expanding range of support groups and activities, social and spiritual, outside of the Masses themselves. The SMPC has been considering some possible ways of extending these still further.  We have identified a need, for instance, to provide for an RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), and an obvious need for structures for people to discuss and share their experience of faith and sexuality in a more structured, private setting than informally over refreshments after Mass.

But once again, we are pushing at the limits of what is possible in our present home.  In purely physical terms, the basement space where we serve refreshments is becoming increasingly unsuitable: crowded, not easily accessible and with poor toilet facilities. It is at present extremely well patronized even so, filling a vitally important part of the overall experience, but could scarcely cope with any further increase in numbers. Accommodating the need for additional activities as discussed above, would also be difficult (even if just about manageable). With a move to Farm Street, which has extensive physical and spiritual resources already in place, these difficulties will largely disappear. The parish has extensive meeting rooms, a far superior hall for after Mass refreshments and conversation, and existing structures for faith sharing and spiritual growth, which could be easily extended to meet our needs.

It is true that there will, inevitably, be a loss of independence: but therein could also be a new benefit. The downside of independence, is the danger of hiding in a gay ghetto. I am increasingly convinced that one of the major challenges facing the LGBT Catholic community, is that of achieving visibility in the wider Church, and engaging openly and honestly with others. I have myself become heavily active in my local parish in a small, deeply conservative (and Conservative) country town – and have found this experience of open and honest engagement richly rewarding. By merging our activities into an existing, strong parish, we will have the opportunity to meet with and engage other Catholics, exposing them to our particular difficulties – and listening also to theirs.

The real issue here is not simply one of a “gay Mass”, but of the wider issue of effective  Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the “Soho Masses” may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.

When we moved from St Anne’s to Warwick Street, we did not “end” the Soho Masses, but entered a new phase – one which proved, despite some reservations and misgivings, a source of growth for the congregation. As we move from Warwick Street to Farm Street, this too will not “end” the Soho Masses (except in name), but will simply mark a new phase, and probably a further period of growth for our present congregation.

R.I.P. Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses LGBT Catholic ministry!

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This article appeared originally on Queering the Church. Many thanks to Terence Weldon for permission to reproduce it.