Category Archives: Conference papers

Panel Discussion on Adrian Thatcher’s Address, “Redefining Marriage”.

Discussion of the talk given by Adrian Thatcher, led by a panel comprising John Gladwin (chair), Terry Weldon, Daphne & John Cook and Anthony Woollard.

Summary by Jane Fraser of key points made in discussion

 If we are re-defining marriage, we need to re-define weddings. The modern Christian wedding has little to do with the theology of marriage. The person in charge is akin to a wedding planner. What do we make of the symbolism of the bride in virginal white and the groom in black, and that of the bride being given away by one man to another?  It is commonplace for the bride to be pregnant or have children present and a baptism incorporated. Half of all children are born outside of marriage. The purpose of marriage is not therefore the procreation of children but to create a sound foundation to raise them.

Marriage is traditionally patriarchal – but we are becoming more egalitarian, going back to an earlier period when it was usual to have co-habitation before marriage. We need to spend more time thinking about preparation – as we do for confirmation. More time is now spent on a stag week for example!

A number of other relationships raise ethical issues. For example, polyamory, which is deeply rooted in biblical practice.  In the polygamous form found in the Old Testament, it is inherently patriarchal and unequal in nature. But in a genuinely egalitarian relationship, what is the ethical objection? It may well be difficult to make such relationships work – but does that make them wrong?   When considering ‘open’ relationships, which some gay men promote, there are some serious thinkers who argue that some flexibility at the edges helps the core relationship to endure more successfully. BDSM relationships are based either on giving and receiving pain, or on domination and submission in the relationship. It is axiomatic that there must be full mutual consent, but what are we to make of a situation where someone freely consents to submit, and finds satisfaction simply in giving pleasure to a partner?

An example was given of a different approach to the wedding by a young couple active in youth work for the church. Their focus was on the sharing and giving of vows and this was embodied in the Eucharist within the service. This was simply followed by some drinks and nibbles rather than the usual wedding reception and their parents had difficulty understanding this.

There are alternative approaches possible to the ritual of “giving away” the bride, though they are not widely taken up in church marriages.  Clearly, this is particularly problematic in same-sex unions.  An example was given of a lesbian couple who sought a church blessing of their relationship. They wanted their fathers to walk each of them down the aisle and hand each to her partner. Their families were very traditional and they wanted to demonstrate this to symbolise both fathers being happy with the union and the uniting of the two families.

The speaker agreed that ‘giving away’ of the bride presents a liturgical problem. Fathers say this is significant for them and feel immense relief that they are no longer responsible for bills, student loans etc. He stressed that the Church is suffering from amnesia since the Hardwick Act changed the process of entry to marriage. It was not just history that changed, but the whole nature of growth into marriage. At present engagement is an empty ritual and has nothing to compare with the richness of betrothal and the promises made at that time.

It was noted that change was happening in some Roman Catholic churches. Under the new Papacy the ‘words’ of the doctrine haven’t changed but the ‘music’ has because of what is coming out from Rome. There are many good pastors who are proactive in this process, and pastoral practice is influencing the thinking of the ‘words’. A priest at the baptism of the 3rd child asked if the couple had thought about getting married. They had assumed that as they already had children, they wouldn’t be able to marry in church.

It was suggested that the Church’s provisions need stripping down to the bare bones, leaving space to relate better to people’s experience. The liturgy on marriage is too set, whereas funerals have more liberty allowed. There is scope for negotiation over the details of the marriage service to take place, but this is not widely appreciated.

It was also noted that traditional rites give no clear role for the mother of the bride (and groom) and, for all that the ‘giving away’ is felt to be so meaningful to many fathers, it would be just as poignant for the mothers who are ‘losing’ their daughters.

Discussion then focused on a wider issue which was highlighted by problems such as “giving away”.  Traditionally, marriage has been seen as a communal act; “it takes a village” (not even simply two families) to help build the new unit in society which a sexual commitment represents.  This is problematic in our increasingly individualised society, and Christians as well as others could struggle with it.  There could be a case for witnessing against the way in which social practice had suppressed individuality.  The paraphernalia of marriage – the ideal of the “big wedding” in particular – are in danger of substituting the form for the reality.  And patriarchal assumptions remain deep-rooted.  As one participant asked:  “Why do brides wear white?  Not (these days) to symbolise virginity, but so that they will match the rest of the household chattels!”  Alternative approaches to sexual relationships need to challenge such assumptions.

And finally, it was noted that the C of E Bishops’ rejection of same-sex marriage was very much at odds with the ideal of communal support of sexual commitment.  Hence the decision of the conference to protest against the Valentine’s Day Statement.

Gender Varying Faith:  Our Genders – Our Stories

CSCS Annual Conference 2013 & Sibyls

Presentation by Christina Beardsley

Preparing an earlier version of this presentation a song came to mind:

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me

Getting to know you
Putting it my way but nicely
You are precisely
My cup of tea

T for trans! This conference has been planned to provide information about transgender people by trans people. If Trans hasn’t been your cup of tea we hope that today will change that.

Many of us have been brought up with very rigid stereotypes of gender. Trans people appear to undermine that. But few of us are 100% masculine or 100% feminine.

How many people here have knowingly met a trans person (in the course of work/socially)? You may have done so unknowingly.

Some people ‘pass’ in their ‘acquired’/ ‘confirmed’ gender: men and women with no signs of their trans history.  Some retain tell -tale signs – they should not be stigmatised for that. Maybe they are in the early stages of transition. Maybe they are happy to combine aspects of the masculine & feminine.

In this presentation you’ll hear some of my story. Born male but, as a child, given to girly play. I grew up in chilly West Yorkshire, so appreciated my liberty bodice – a gender neutral foundation garment. Cowboys & Indians? I identified with the Indians because they wore their hair in plaits.  I didn’t know then that North American Native culture, like many traditional societies, in the past & today, recognised and honoured ‘two spirit’ people – people recognised a link between gender variance and spirituality: in those cultures gender variance denotes transcendence rather than transgression, e.g. the Hijras of the Indian subcontinent.

Western history too has many examples of gender variant people – when taking round the collection plat at Mass the Abbe de Choisey reckoned people gave more when he was cross-dressed; also shown fencing – he spent the first half of his life as a man and the second as a woman – diplomat and spy the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont: – hence the older term Eonism for cross-dressing & the Beaumont Society the pioneering UK support group for transvestite and transsexual people.

But the gender binary has always been strong. My favourite Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, whose teaching is all about controlling one’s passions, went uncharacteristically ballistic when approached by a young student of rhetoric whose hair was somewhat too elaborately dressed and attire highly embellished!

Sunday newspapers at this time told exotic tales of cabaret performers, like April Ashley, who went to Casablanca for ‘the operation’, performed by Dr Georges Burou.

Aged 16 I read I Want What I Want by Geoff Brown about someone who wanted to ‘change sex’.  Early on in the book, the hero is sectioned in a mental hospital just for saying he is female. That scared me.

Trans is about gender identity not sexual orientation. Trans people can be straight, lesbian, gay, asexual. Sometimes sexual orientation changes post transition. (Masculine and feminine varies in everyone). If you feel at home in your gender identity you are a cis gendered person and unlikely to have experienced the discomfort. Trans people feel with their birth gender and how imperative it can become for us to align our appearance/bodies/lives with our gender identity.

Intersex conditions are physical. So of course is brain sex. Trans diagnosis presupposes one is a normal female with male gender identity but sometimes atypical sex characteristics are present as well.

The shift from trans (implying crossing), and sexual, to gender identity was appropriate. The additional term ‘disorder’ was not.

December 2012: DSM-V: Gender Identity Disorder is replaced by Gender Dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria) in response to consultation: emotional distress rather than mental disorder.

The term “gender variance” which you’ve used today is good. Trans/transgender includes everyone, not just those who transition permanently. Re-assignment could suggest you have changed gender. Realignment & confirmation implies everything else has been brought into line with your innate sense of gender identity. Sex change is a no-no. F2M, M2F etc.

In the UK gender variant children receive specialist care at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust.

Medical intervention began a century ago. Clinicians like Hirschfield recognised that they were dealing with a distinct and real phenomenon.  Gillies had pioneered plastic surgery on the casualties of war. Dillon, born a girl had 13 operations between 1946 and 1949. He served as a ship’s physician but was outed. Later he lived in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

Kinsey referred Benjamin his first trans patient. An endocrinologist he pioneered the use of cross-gender hormones which has been highly therapeutic.

The emphasis today is not so much on the causes (or aetiology) of being trans but on people’s wellbeing so that they can get on with their lives like everyone else. The success rate for treatment is incredibly high: 90s%.

Government is so concerned about trans inequality it has recently produced its first Transgender Action Plan.

Health & employment are the two main areas where trans people encounter problems. Delay in accessing treatment and health professionals’ lack of understanding being key issues.

Being Trans is not a life-style choice. Research shows that it probably begins in the womb. It can’t be ‘cured’ by psychotherapy. There is probably no single ‘cause’

I may identify as a boy but look like a girl. I may identify as a girl but look like a boy.

About 1 in every 11,500 people are transsexual. The number of [presenting] trans people in the UK was estimated at 6000 (2009).  March 2008 – 2,366 had applied for Gender Recognition Certificates (& 3% only were refused). The numbers of people likely to present is rising & likely to increase. Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, West London receives 500 new referrals each year & has 2000 people on its books

 Gender balance – more MtFs than FtMs but the gap is closing

Many Trans people chose not to take these steps or to postpone doing so, but some do.

The standards of care are being updated all the time in response to reflection on clinical practice. Some clinicians put people on hormones as a diagnostic. So-called ‘cross-gender living’ without hormones can be very trying as it means you might be read easily and abused.

Testosterone has a powerful effect on trans men and they often pass unread.

Testosterone often has powerful effects on males who have undergone puberty – it is harder to undo them and hence the need, in some cases, for FFS.

Some trans women have bulked-up or taken on highly masculine roles in an attempt to deny their female gender identity, only to find they can no longer postpone transition

I felt real regret when I read this aged 31 and wished I’d transitioned at 17. I would be in my 40s before I began to transition – but that’s average for trans women.

Not everyone who transitions seeks hormones or surgery. Many Trans men have not, until recently, chosen phalloplasty – the surgery is more successful now. Some androgynous/gender non-conforming folk are assumed to be trans (but would be covered by current equality legislation – and targets for the same abuse!)

More children seem to be articulating their gender variance than ever (or perhaps we just hear about it now) and at an earlier age. Many will grow up to be gay. Some, though, will be trans. And some, like me, will identify as gay until they’re ready to accept themselves as trans. This is, or was, often true of Trans men. Most trans women, however, are heterosexual, and many will have married.

Trans Media Watch has developed a good practice charter for broadcasters and journalists: it also monitors programmes and portrayals and advises documentary makers. As a result of its submission the Leveson Inquiry called for better standards of reporting about trans people, most of whose stories are not in the public interest. . On Twitter and other social media trans women in particular are fighting back when radical feminist journalists seem to imply that we are not real women.  Images: Suzanne Moore & Paris Lees.

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Many trans people around the world are murdered – Transgender Day of Remembrance

But I’m finding that younger trans people really question the gender binary and what transition might mean for them. Get over it!

Sadly, trans people are still susceptible to problems of depression, and very frequently attempt suicide. And at the same time they are dealing with all this many trans people are trying to maintain relationships with spouse/partner/children, strained by their transition.

I had a not so good experience – from the born again Christian CEO (wish I’d had Barbie!) – in the NHS Trust where I was working when I said I was intending to transition; but an excellent one in the Trust where I transitioned. My line manager was incredibly supportive. But even with legal protections in place employers can find excuses to dismiss Trans people.

When I transitioned I was able to change all my documents but not, at that stage, my birth certificate. This option was still a few years away.

Prior to Corbett v Corbett (1970) – the April Ashley case – birth certificates were not changed. Mr Justice Ormrod, also a medic, insisted sex/gender  was essentially chromosomal and  Ashley was still male. People in transition could legally change their name and amend passports, bank accounts etc. but not the sex/gender on their birth certificate

Marriage equality would remove the painful demand that married people must divorce in order to obtain full gender recognition. Remaining married means the birth certificate remains as before. It’s a legal matter; the person has ‘fully transitioned’ even without that.

Some religious people admit that trans is not their cup of tea – whether the churches should be seeking such exemptions is debatable

In Changing Attitude, England we have 3 Trans Trustees to ensure that our needs are not overlooked: a trans woman, a trans man and a transgender woman. The Sibyls was once a refuge for Trans people who were rejected by their churches. Nowadays congregations are better informed and more welcoming.

The Bible celebrates human equality. Elaine will talk about why Deuteronomy 22:5 might not apply to trans people! The first Gentile convert was a eunuch – some Trans people identify with eunuchs of the ancient world.

Like many trans people I found the transition journey to be a roller coaster – outed to the press; employment issues – subsequently, I’ve found meaning in the Joseph narrative in Genesis with its dramatic highs and lows. Later, I learned from performance activist Peterson Toscano that it is a Trans narrative – that Joseph’s splendid coat was actually ‘the robe of a virgin daughter of the king of Israel’ in other words, a princess dress, and that it was his femininity that explains his brothers’ hostility. In Egypt he is just the same, dressed to the nines in his robes, he forgives them all.

Theologian Virginia Ramay Mollenkott, has written ‘Seven lessons Religious Congregations Can Learn from Transpeople’. Here are three of them:

2. Help overcome gender stereotypes that alienate men from women & from their own bodies & oppress women & girls the world over.
3. Trans people are constant reminders of human diversity and that our language about diversity needs to be diverse
4. As we noted at the start, traditionally the shamans/priests

You learn most about transgender people from those trans people who are your colleagues, clients, family members or friends.

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“Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”

60 years into a modern resurrection for queer Christians.

Terry Weldon

This year’s national conference of  Quest, the British association for lesbian and gay Catholics, had as its theme “60 Glorious Years”, tying in with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year. For my presentation, I took as my title, “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith, for They Shall Inherit the Church”, later adding as a subtitle, “60 Years Into a Modern Resurrection for LGBT Christians”. With the word “resurrection”  I was suggesting that by the middle of the last century, the collective body of LGBT Christians had in effect been metaphorically killed off in the name of religious belief. But the past 60 years have seen LGBT Christians move from total invisibility, to substantial progress on the road to full inclusion – the beginning (only a beginning) of a modern resurrection!

The Collective Martyrdom of LGBT Christians

By 1952, just 7 years after the Nazi Pink Holocaust and seven centuries after the Inquisition began to hunt down and burn “sodomites”, it was effectively impossible to be openly gay and Christian – to declare oneself as such, was to announce that one was both a criminal by law, and (supposedly) condemned to eternal hellfire by Scripture.

In the West, sodomy no longer earned the death penalty – but legal penalties could include life imprisonment, or castration (eg Alan Turing, currently widely celebrated for his contribution to computer science, in  1954).  Justification was couched in religious language, social penalties included gay bashing, ostracism, career destruction – and often, suicide (including that of Alan Turing)

The persecution in the name of religion continued well into the twentieth century, promoted by the state in some countries, and by individuals and hate groups in others.

Penalties were no longer imposed by the Church – but were often motivated by an insistence that sodomy was the “Sin that cried out to heaven for vengeance”.

And yet – how far we’ve come!

By 2012, things have changed dramatically – at least in some denominations. In just the past few months, one major Christian church has honoured a modern lesbian by declaring her their equivalent of a modern “saint”, and another has unanimously elected an openly gay man as national moderator.

Five Transforming Trends

In attempting to explain how this remarkable transformation has come about, I have identified five distinct but mutually reinforcing and interacting transformative trends that have taken us over the past 60 years from total invisibility, to where we are now: solidly on a path to full LGBT inclusion in church:

  • The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible
  • LGBT clergy emerging from the closet
  • The development of self – ministry & support groups.
  • Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology
  • The visibility of queer families.

 The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible.

A fundamental reassessment of the scriptural verdict on same – sex relationships. We have, in a sense, discovered or rediscovered a rainbow bible. If the bible really is “good news” for modern people, that must mean good news for all, including queer Christians. Beginning early in our period, a series of scholars have done work to show first, that the “traditional” interpretations of a handful of clobber texts are at best less secure than previously believed, and possibly deeply flawed, possibly even amounting to spiritual harm or “textual abuse”. Others have moved beyond defensive attempts to counter the texts of terror, to uncover and celebrate the vastly more numerous affirmative texts, and to read affirmative interpretations into others.

 LGBT clergy emerging from the closet

Ever since Rev Troy Perry responded to his expulsion from Baptist ministry for having had a sexual relationship with a man not by meekly accepting the verdict, but by forming instead a new denomination with an explicit welcome for lesbian and gay Christians, a continuing stream of clergy, and those seeking ordination, have come out, insisting that there is no conflict between their sexuality and their religious faith.  Responses from their denominations have differed, from acceptance and accommodation to outright hostility, but several denominations have already made explicit provision to accept openly LGBT clergy, or on course to do so, or accept them informally, in a clerical version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The visibility of these queer ministers, in public or in local congregations, makes it much easier for individual Christians to find self-acceptance, and to come out in church themselves.

 The development of self – ministry & support groups.

While Troy Perry’s solution for supportive ministry was to found an entirely new denomination, others have formed support groups and ministry structures within mainstream denominations. In the US, Dignity was started by a Catholic priest, originally as a support group for gay Catholic patients in his psychotherapy practice. Similar organizations later followed for Catholics in Australia and the UK, and for just about all other denominations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and on all continents. In many Protestant denominations, there has been a parallel movement aimed not at separate support groups, but at getting local congregations to declare themselves “open and affirming”. This development of an expanding base of straight allies has been key to the succession of LGBT support resolutions adopted, or due to be adopted, at various national assemblies – and to the election of queer candidates to leadership positions.

Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology

 From about the mid 1970′s, there has been the emergence of an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian theologians, contributing to mainstream theology in all its variety, but also creating the brand new academic sub disciplines of gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology. While this remains a minority pursuit, it has developed sufficiently that it now has its own academic journals, shelf space in theological libraries, and academic reviews of the literature to date. In her summary of the development, Elizabeth Stuart identified the origins in the early pioneers emphasising theology drawing strongly on personal experience, then developing into gay liberation theology (especially for men), and into a theology emphasising relationships (especially by lesbians drawing on feminist theology).  After discussing the challenge to gay and lesbian theologies presented by the AIDS pandemic, she describes how this led to a shift from gay/lesbian theologies to queer theology. In a later, more exhaustive account of queer theology specifically, Susannah Cornwall describes several “Controversies in Queer Theology”, in which she argues (among other things) that a queer perspective on theology is useful even for heterosexuals such as herself, and that there are many insights from queer theology making valuable contributions to mainstream theology.  At the other end of the academic scale, Patrick Cheng’s text “Radical Love” is described as an introductory text book on queer theology for junior college students.

The visibility of queer families.

 Ever since Stonewall, gay men and lesbians have been encouraged to come out, declaring their sexuality publicly.  Many, growing in confidence from the range of faith – based support groups, revisionist interpretations of the biblical evidence, and the insights from gay/ lesbian or queer theology, have done so in church, as well as in the secular world. With growing social acceptance, people of our community are forming stable relationships and families, and taking their place as families in many congregations. Their increasing visibility, coupled with the expanding availability of legal recognition for same – sex unions, is forcing the churches also to consider ways in which they can celebrate these committed, marriage – like relationships, on a basis of equality and free of discrimination.  This is especially so in those denominations which have come to accept the possibility of ordaining openly gay clergy, in partnerships that are committed, faithful and publicly accountable to the community, in a manner comparable to marriage. This requirement is most easily met by providing opportunities for full marriage for all their clergy, gay or straight, without discrimination. It is not surprising then, that while many religious leaders are actively campaigning against marriage equality legislation, some others are actively promoting, or implementing, same – sex marriage, even in church. This is currently available in some denominations and geographic regions, others are likely to approve it in the next few years, and still more are approving arrangements for church blessings of civil unions.

Conclusion: The Modern Resurrection

While many of the features I’ve listed may seem familiar, we tend to be so overwhelmed by the extent of vocal opposition, especially to recognition for marriage and family equality,  that we tend to lose sight of just how far we have come. From the perspective of the grand sweep of history, the past 60 years is a short time indeed, and yet progress, from near invisibility, has been remarkable. What is more, we must remember that each of these five trends continues, and they mutually reinforce each other. The process, and further progress to full LGBT inclusion in church, will surely continue. We really are, I submit, 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.

(This is a summary of a presentation delivered in September 2012, to the annual conference of Quest, a national association of gay and lesbian Catholics. A longer text of the full presentation is published at “Queering the Church“)

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INTERSEX, THEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE

Notice of another upcoming conference

12 March 2013:  The University of Manchester

 Intersex conditions (sometimes called DSDs) are conditions causing a physical variation from male or female. About 1 in 2500 people has an intersex condition, yet intersex remains an area shrouded in secrecy. Intersex has attracted increasing attention in the humanities and social sciences in recent years, not least because of the controversies surrounding treatment protocols, and the terminology used for these conditions by intersex people and their families, the medical profession, activists and society at large.

However, intersex remains understudied within theology, religion and biblical studies. Little existing work focuses on the importance of spirituality and faith for intersex people and their families, or the implications of intersex for Christian theology, biblical interpretation, church policy, and pastoral care. Theological implications for social understandings of intersex also remain under-examined.

This one-day conference, part of the Intersex, Identity and Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church project at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester, brings together scholars and activists from Britain, the USA, Australia and South Africa. We ask what difference intersex might make to the way theology and biblical studies (especially in the areas of sex, gender and human sexuality) are done, and what difference insights from theology and biblical studies might make to social and cultural understandings of intersex.

Speakers:

Nathan Carlin (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas): Middlesex: A Pastoral Theological Reading.”

Megan K. DeFranza (Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts): “Addressing Intersex in Conservative Christian Contexts: The Use and Limitation of Eunuchs.”

Sally Gross (Director, Intersex South Africa): “Not in God’s Image: Intersex, Social Death and Infanticide.”

Patricia Beattie Jung (Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri): “Intersex on Earth as It Is in Heaven?”

Stephen Craig Kerry (Charles Darwin University, Australia) – via Skype: “Revisiting ‘Intersex Individuals’ Religiosity and their Journey to Wellbeing’.”

Joseph A. Marchal (Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana): “What Can Lavender Do When the Baby’s Not (Exactly) Pink or Blue?: Contributions from Feminist and Queer Biblical Studies for Intersex Advocacy.”

Respondent: John Hare

Conference Chair: Susannah Cornwall (Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester)

For more information, including abstracts and speakers’ biographies, and details of how to book, see

http://lincolntheologicalinstitute.com/iid-conference/

 

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A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – A Methodist Perspective

The Revd. John Simmonds

I am a Minister in Leek in a joint URC/Methodist Church that confesses itself to be inclusive, having, down the years given positive votes in support of all people whatever their sexuality. But it is now struggling within itself as it tries to discern how to respond to same-sex couples who come seeking a place where they can ask for God’s blessing on their civil partnerships.

Within Trinity Church, there are two vocal minorities.

  • One minority is clear that only heterosexual relationships are according to the will of God and these must be conducted faithfully within marriage. Extramarital sexual contacts are specifically prohibited. This group could not entertain the thought of civil partnerships being blessed in church or by a minister outside church.
  • And one minority is equally clear that a variety of sexual relationships can be enjoyed so long as they are conducted with mutual respect and faithfulness. This group would be delighted to welcome civil partnerships for a blessing.

Surrounding these two minorities is a majority of folk, some who are reasonably happy that people of a variety of sexualities are now free from ostracism and public exclusion and can now take their place in pretty well every part of life, police, the forces, politics, etc However, they can’t bear the thought that the ‘fellowship’ of the church might be upset by any kind of precipitate action. They would not like to see people leaving the church as a result of a civil partnership blessing, for example. So, on the whole, people prefer not to raise the issue. ‘Head in the sand’ seems best and the minister who raises this issue is a nuisance! In any case, Leek doesn’t have homosexuals; certainly not the kind who would want a blessing in church!

So far as Methodism is concerned, what pertains in the local also pertains in the connexional. There are two similar minorities (though one is probably more numerous and organised than the other, (viz. Headway), whilst the majority continues to make great claims about the church’s inclusivity, whilst hoping against hope that we are not embarrassed by sexual minorities. Certainly, that is true of the church’s hierarchy (Connexion, District Chairs, Superintendent Ministers). The surprising thing is that the current leadership of the church would largely describe itself as liberal and yet it is singularly unwilling to initiate practical policies, which give flesh to its 1993 Methodist Conference commitment in Resolution 6. Can I remind you of the 1993 Resolutions on
Human Sexuality?

  1. The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God’s gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the  responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
  2. All practices of sexuality, which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purpose for us all.
  3. A person shall not be debarred from church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself
  4. The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this, affirms that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
  5. The Conference resolves that its decision in this debate shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
  6. Conference recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church (and) calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.

The vocal minorities know what they think! The majority talks of ‘living with the tension’, whilst leaving excluded people to pay the price. Now, 13 years on, there are very few churches in Methodism which have an unambiguous practice in respect of sexual minorities. Hardly anyone is prepared to come out of the closet; neither reformers nor traditionalists. In just a few churches, there is a willingness publicly to celebrate same-sex relationships. In only a few, is there a stated same-sex policy. Most prefer to remain silent. The rights of sexual minorities are denied by silence; silenced by silence.

In the USA, there is much more open debate; indeed, conflict, with churches and ministers declaring pro or con. [Here, John referred to recent events]

So where are we now?

  • In a few places same-sex partnerships are enjoyed and celebrated.
  • In a few places there are cases of direct action being taken against lesbian or gay ministers.
  • Most Methodists like to think they are tolerant and committed to human rights. After all, Resolution 6 got massive support. It is simply not likely that it will be rescinded.
  • But most Methodists will not take steps which risk the fellowship of the church.

(Sweetly may we all agree.) So let’s not do anything that disturbs the peace, such as
- Invite a gay minister
- Host a celebration of a civil partnership
- Openly acknowledge and enjoy same-sex friendships in our
communities

When an argument erupts, it’s as if the majority screams (with a beatific smile) a plague of both your houses!

So what is afoot?

  • What will happen when ministers enter civil partnerships and claim equal treatment on housing, pensions, etc?
  • What will happen in June when the Methodist Conference ‘gives advice’ on whether civil partnerships may be conducted in Methodist churches and/or by Methodist Ministers?
  • Will anyone challenge the church’s persistence in discriminating on the grounds of a person’s sexuality in spite of the 1993 resolution?

Thank God that the world, where God dwells, is getting on with compassion. Maybe the church, which God also loves, will catch up!

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