Orlando shames the Church

by
24 June 2016

Christians are complicit in the violence against LGBT people, says Charlie Bell

AP

Diversity on high: a rainbow appears behind a US flag flying at half-mast on top of the Tacoma Dome, Washington, a week ago, commemorating the Orlando shootings

Diversity on high: a rainbow appears behind a US flag flying at half-mast on top of the Tacoma Dome, Washington, a week ago, commemorating the Orlando...

LGBT people around the world have felt solidarity with those massacred in Orlando, because it could have been us — and, as far as the killer was concerned, it should have been. We, LGBT people, and those who support us stand in solid­arity with all those who suffered there (News, 17 June).

One group that does not have the right to stand with us, however, has found the need to make its voice heard — that is the Church. I was shocked by how angry I was made by the way my Church, the Angl­ican Church, has responded.

I am a bog-standard Christian. I believe in everything in the creeds, and take part fully in the sacra­mental life of the Church of England. I am also gay, and am in a committed relationship. And, for some people in the Anglican Com­munion, those things do not mix — so much so that they are convinced that I am going to hell because my capacity for love is the same as, but different from, theirs.

In the name of “unity”, however, we stand with such Churches within the Anglican Communion. We put unity with those who hate us above effective mission and ministry to those who are already on the margins of society.

We tacitly endorse hatred on a weekly basis. We go as close as we can to excommunication of a so-called liberal Church, the Epis­copal Church in the United States, which has dared to promote an active and listening ministry to people who were different.

And yet we are happy to remain in full communion with those that have not only broken unity (such as the Anglican Church in North America and GAFCON) but whose members want people like me dead.

 

WHEN I first read the statement about the murders from the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, I found myself feeling silently grateful: they had recognised LGBT people. And yet I wondered where the condemnations of violence were from the Churches that have left the Episcopal Church in the US, and preach hate towards us. There was no mention of homophobia, not even from the English Archbishops.

The Anglican Church does not have the right to pronounce on these things if it is complicit in the cycle of violence that leads LGBT people still to feel out of place, and indeed sees, daily, LGBT teenagers kill themselves, driven by the per­secution of their Churches. Mean­­­while, some Christians claim that they are persecuted because same-sex civil marriage has been made legal.

This is the same Church where I feel uncomfortable mentioning that I have a partner, in case I get the usual knowing looks and pained expressions. This is a Church that preaches the God who comes to give “life in all its fullness” (John 10.10), and yet in reality attempts to stunt the growth that LGBT people yearn for. It is a Church that could not bear to see LGBT people granted the same rights under the civil law as straight people.

In the recent Shared Conversa­tions, we were ex­­pected to lay ourselves bare
in all the gory details of rejection, hurt, frailty, and loss, and then
be lectured on how
we were tear­ing the Church apart and sow­ing discord by people who preach against us, tell us to repress God’s good­ness within us, and call us dis­­­­ordered.

The only thing being torn apart is the heart of Jesus Christ, in anguish at the pain of LGBT people. The Church should be coming to us — its own people and those it has thrown into the gutter — for forgiveness.

 

IT WAS telling to watch the public response to the Orlando murders. The modern secular priests are the likes of the singer Lady Gaga, standing weeping before a crowd, and speaking with integrity. Church leaders do not seem to understand that the way they shun LGBT people is killing their mission.

We spend hours talking about new ways to get young people into Church. Well, here’s a suggestion: stop participating in the cycle of violence towards LGBT people. Start listening to the young people, who understand more than many so-called experts what being LGBT is like. Start listening to those who will not enter through a church door because they cannot reconcile that with love for their LGBT friends.

Some congregations say that they do not have any LGBT members. Perhaps they should open their eyes. It could be that people cannot tell you that they are LGBT precisely because you have that attitude. Or it might be that LGBT people have run away from your parishes because they are not made to feel welcome.

 

THE Church is supposed to preach the Beatitudes, not platitudes. “Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are those who are per­secuted for righteousness sake . . . Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” That sounds rather apt.

If the Church really cared about us, it would not have waited for 50 of us to get slaughtered in a place where we were supposed to feel safe — indeed, a safe space that the Church will not give us. It would have listened to us, instead of publishing insulting booklets in­­form­ing priests how to “deal with” people with same-sex attrac­tion. And it would declare a period of mourning, where it took to heart some of the things that LGBT people have said over the years, and where it tried to understand how to be pastoral to us.

Instead, we will have to wait more years while it sorts itself out. And when it eventually accepts us, and comes begging for the mercy that it has denied us for centuries, it will be too late.

In the mean time, those of us mad enough to try to change things, and to pray with and in the Church, will continue to be hurt. We will continue to be blessed by the ministries of some decent, loving, caring priests, but we will be hurt. And for that the Church should be ashamed.

 

Dr Charlie J. M. Bell is a Bye Fellow in Medical Science at Murray Ed­­wards College, Cambridge, and the lay chairman of Cambridge South Deanery Synod.

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