THIS book is a must-read and deserves to be a bestseller. There is a battle going on for the soul of the Church, and Jarel Robinson-Brown’s new book makes a courageous contribution to the discussion. It really should be compulsory reading for any church leader who has never thought through how we privilege the White and the heterosexual in our church life, and what this means for those among us who are Black and LGBTQ+.
Robinson-Brown wrestles with the question how LGBTQ+ people can live and enjoy their lives in a Christian world that historically has not provided them with any “living space” — especially if they are Black. The book seeks to discover what God’s grace is for this diverse group of people, and to challenge Christians who have not yet embraced an anti-racist and pro-diversity stance to do so.
The author documents how, despite its rhetoric of love, the Church fails to love those who are not “straightforwardly heterosexual”. This lack of love by the straight Church has a severe effect on those whom it excludes. The Church has “baptised, confirmed and consecrated” heteronormativity and Whiteness, and in doing so has excluded everyone else from God’s grace.
Robinson-Brown seeks to re-draw the right/wrong boundary that the Church’s inherited reading of scripture has created. He asks the crucial question: “Can the lives of those who grow up to realise that they are attracted to people of the same sex, or that the gender assigned to them at birth isn’t the gender they identify with, really be contrary to a God who in Jesus says that every life is precious from the first breath to the last?”.
The author systematically applies the questions articulated by James Cone in relation to race — “when does the church cease to be the church of Jesus Christ — when do the church’s actions deny the faith that it verbalises?” — to sexuality. He argues that it is undeniable that the Church as it stands is simply not offering grace to LGBTQ+ people.
This book offers a fresh and sustained argument, beginning with our doctrine of grace, and working in successive chapters through the incarnation, the cross, ecclesiology, and pastoral ethics. He puts his finger on the fundamental issue that church leaders need urgently to address: “theologians and clergy need to say categorically that human sexuality expressed consensually in loving acts, including intercourse, is not sin.”
This book will, I hope, convince many more people within the Church of the truth proclaimed by Bishop Frank Weston — omnes amandi: “all are worthy of love” — equally and with no preconditions or reprogramming required.
AlamyAt a protest in Irvington, New York, on 24 April, Emilce Suarez-Lipton holds a sign that reads “Trans Black Lives Matter, Queer Black Lives Matter, Poor Black Lives Matter, Young Black Lives Matter, Old Black Lives Matter, All Black Lives Matter‘’; and Noah Lipton holds a sign that reads “Color Is Not A Human Or A Personal Reality, It Is a Political Reality — James Baldwin”. They joined a rally for justice for Daunte Wright, a young black man killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota, that month
Surely the Church is facing a Copernican moment with regard to race and sexuality, and we need to rethink what has been handed down to us in our tradition and re-read scripture in the light of experience. Living a godly and responsible life does not have to mean conforming to a single heterosexual mode of existence.
When Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely accepted, the Church looked again at the Book of Genesis and realised that it had been reading it wrong with regard to Geology and Biology for 1800 years. If we do the same again in our generation, we will see that we have been reading it wrong with regard to anthropology and sexuality for 1900 years. Humanity, as created by God, contains a spectrum of possibilities, and all should be able to find a place of honour within God’s Church.
The Revd Brunel James is the Vicar of Cleckheaton, in the diocese of Leeds. He was a member of the Windrush Group on the last General Synod.
Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer: The Church and the famine of grace
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £15.99
Read an extract here.