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Experience will decide

08 March 2010

Malcolm Johnson considers an existential matter


Living It Out: A survival guide for lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians and their friends, families and churches
Rachel Hagger-Holt and Sarah Hagger-Holt
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THIS book will be bad for your blood pres­sure if you believe homosexuals to be “in­trinsically disordered” or their behaviour to be contrary to scripture. Nevertheless, risk reading it, because it presents the experiences of 54 men and women aged 18-70 who are nearly all lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB).

They are Christian, and about half are Anglican, and they share with us the survival kits that enable them to remain in the churches. Each chapter ends with a prayer and suggested actions. Also useful are the 11 pages of “Where to go next”, containing re­commended books and a list of organisations.

One of the contributors is Jeremy Marks, who in 1988 founded (and still leads) Courage — initially an ex-gay organisation, which became fully gay-affirming some years ago. He writes: “Very rarely does one change one’s understanding of Scripture without a strong external imperative to do it,” and that is the keynote of the book: experience will decide.

It is all very earnest — there is only one joke — but I enjoyed the drawings of Jon Birch.

Living it Out will be a useful resource for school and parish study groups, because it is often difficult to find LGB Christians who will share their experiences. Here, 54 people do just that. Despite the recent changes in society’s views, there is still very little coverage on the media of ordinary LGB people. Stonewall research into BBC output found that during 168 hours of programmes, gay lives were represented positively for just six minutes. So I also hope that young Christians wanting to put their faith and sexuality to­gether will be given a copy.

The challenges facing homosexuals of HIV/AIDS, physical faithfulness to lovers, civil partnerships, celibacy, and adoption need more attention, and the most painful of the nine chapters is “Career Path Christianity”, which discusses homosexual clergy. There are only four Anglican ministers among the 54, two of whom are in training and one is moving to America after a stormy curacy.

To tackle these subjects would need another book, but for all the reasons I have given, and in the face of so much ignorance today, Living it Out is a godsend.

The Revd Malcolm Johnson was formerly the Master of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, in the East End of London.

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