It took this death to end silence on inclusion, says priest of teenager who took her own life

08 June 2018

John Bell (left) and the Revd Dr Nick Bundock, in conversation

John Bell (left) and the Revd Dr Nick Bundock, in conversation

THE case of a 14-year-old schoolgirl who took her own life because she could not reconcile being Christian and gay has led to the creation of two short films to help church groups initiate discussions on inclusion.

The films, Beyond Inclusion, are based on the story of the Manchester teenager Lizzie Lowe, who died four years ago (News, 9 January 2015). Their creators are two clergy whose lives have been affected by her death.

In one film, the Team Rector of Lizzie’s church, St James and Emmanuel, Didsbury, the Revd Dr Nick Bundock, explains how the community dealt with her death, and how, after much deliberation, it adopted a church statement framed by Inclusive Church, a charity that advocates the full inclusion of all. (Faith, 25 November 2016). He is interviewed by the hymn-writer the Revd John Bell, of the Iona Community, who was prompted by Lizzie’s story to come out during a Greenbelt Festival talk last year (News, 1 September 2017).

In the second film, Mr Bell tells Dr Bundock of his journey to openness about his sexuality. They have been produced to coincide with what would have been Lizzie’s 18th birthday this month.

Dr Bundock said: “I know that many churches are looking for a starting point for discussing inclusion, and Lizzie’s tragic death is a story that has lasting impact on the debate. I would love Lizzie and John’s stories to continue to cause reflection in churches up and down the country.”

In his 20-minute interview, he described how parishioners “crumpled” at the news of Lizzie’s death, and how their initial coming together in grief had, he thought, demonstrated the community’s openness. “It was only three months later, at her inquest, that we discovered that our ‘conspiracy of silence’ around the issue of sexuality had been the crucible in which Lizzie had existed in those months up until her death.

“Those early days will live with me for the rest of my life — and they need to because this must never happen to another teenager, anybody, ever again.”

He said that “the issue of sexuality leads a child or an adult to that point of desperation,” and “the church, in its own way, whether through ignorance, silence, or through deliberate application of theology, creates an environment in which a tragedy like that can take place.

“We were a fairly typical, open, Evangelical community where sexuality was just something we didn’t touch or talk about because we knew that it was a divisive issue. But when you don’t talk about an area like that, it actually begins to close off conversations.

“But, as we began working on inclusion, we found that, far from becoming damaged by the process, the church was actually coming to life. People from all over the country and elsewhere have come to us saying ‘Tell us about this.’ From the tragedy of Lizzie’s death, life is not only growing in our church community, it’s popping up wherever anybody is asking that question. There has been a resurrection out of the tragedy.”

Much missed: Lizzie Lowe

His film concludes with four questions for churches to consider: Which part of this story is most important to you personally? Which part is most important to your church? If Lizzie was a member of your church, would her story have ended differently? What prevents you from making the inclusive church statement?

In his interview Mr Bell ends by asking: “Describe the scripture which forbids divorce and discourages female leadership. The Church has changed its mind on these issues: why is same-sex affection still a stumbling block?

“According to several quoted surveys in the USA, the first thing which many teenagers associate with Christians is that they are anti-gay. Should this perception concern us?

“If we believe that we are all made in God’s image, and that our sexuality is a gift rather than a choice, does it seem consistent with what we know of God, through Jesus, that heterosexual persons should be worthy of a fulfilling and loving relationship while homosexual persons should be destined to lifelong frustration?

The films can be downloaded at stjamesandemmanuel.org/beyond-inclusion

Or watch on Youtube here: 

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