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Be honest about stance on sexuality, Student Christian Movement tells churches

30 September 2022

Honest Church

The Honest Church logo

The Honest Church logo

THE Student Christian Movement (SCM) is urging churches to be open about their position on LGBTQ+ inclusivity, as part of a new campaign, Honest Church.

“We’re not in ‘Don’t ask don’t tell’ territory any more,” the CEO of SCM, the Revd Naomi Nixon, said on Wednesday.

The campaign was launched last month at the Greenbelt festival, and Ms Nixon said this week that she had been “utterly thrilled” by the response.

SCM has produced a toolkit, available to download on its website, that seeks to embolden churches to reflect on the welcome — or lack of welcome — they afford to LGBTQ+ people.

The purpose of the campaign is not to try to convince churches to be more inclusive, Ms Nixon said, but simply to promote that honesty and openness that would help young people, in particular, to find a church in which they feel comfortable.

The campaign did not replicate Inclusive Church, Ms Nixon said, but it was about communication: it was as important for churches that held a conservative line on LGBTQ+ relationships to be honest as it was for those that were more liberal.

“As ministers, we should all be aiming to signpost people to a church where they feel welcome, even if it is not our own,” said Ms Nixon, who, alongside her position at SCM, is an associate pioneer minister at Coventry Cathedral.

At Greenbelt, several SCM members members spoke to the Church Times about their experiences, and the value of churches’ being more honest about their position.

Jacob Holme attended a conservative Evangelical church in Bolton from the age of 11. Returning from university in 2018, he accepted a one-year internship as its youth worker. Two-thirds of the way through the internship, he came out as a gay man. The Vicar’s response was to tell him that, had the church known earlier, they would not have employed him. “It completely obliterated my faith for six months. Suddenly, I didn’t have a church.”

He chose to carry on to the end of his contract and ease himself out of the post. They allowed him to take the children on a residential holiday, but he could no longer preach.

He acknowledged that he would have stuck with the church as a young teenager, even had it been more open about its conservative stance. “But I wouldn’t have gone back to work there had I known.”

Tom Packer-Stucki’s experience was more positive. Having grown up in a Pentecostal Charismatic church, he looked for something similar when he went to university.

He went with a gay friend to a church belonging to the Vineyard partnership, and asked what their approach to LGBTQ+ people was.

“They said to me: ‘We’re not really sure. We’re on a journey. We’re thinking about it, but what we want to be is really open about it.”

He chose to join, and, while there, came out as bisexual, which he said was a very positive experience. The church has since become fully affirming of same-sex marriage — a position that he feels sure was helped by its LGBTQ+ members.

He wishes that the church had been more public about its position or journey. (He is not sure how their declaration has been received in the wider Vineyard community.) “I wonder about somebody who didn’t have the courage to ask, and how many more people they’d have attracted if they’d had something on their website — if they’d communicated this stance better.”

He was sure that SCM members wanted churches to be more inclusive. “But let’s just start by being more honest. . . What we’re trying to campaign against is nasty surprises.”

More details about the Honest Church campaign, and links to resources, can be found on the SCM website.

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