Category Archives: public events

Helping it

His eyes sweep the room, and he kind of smiles at my partner: ‘All the girls are at the meeting. Except you. And you are not really a girl, are you? Ha ha.’

Words from the Episcopal Church of Scotland’s Cascade conversations on LGBT relationships: ‘They can’t help it.’

The Bishop of the Church of England who stands in the Lords to deplore the hate-crime murders in Orlando does not mention that they were hate crimes, directed against the LGBT community.

Owen Jones leaves a Sky news programme when the other presenters will not acknowledge that the Orlando attack is a hate crime.

The thing is this. If you want to own the pain, and the bishop plainly does, you have to be prepared to be part of the solution. You have to be out there, fighting hard, and taking some of the flack. There is, currently, only one C of E bishop doing this, and Alan Wilson is not in the Lords.

If you are fighting hard, then you will see at once that an attack on a gay nightclub is an attack on gay people.  Some have seen this. Gay Pride events are promised stepped-up policing.

The C of E, not so much. If you are part of a same-sex clergy couple, you risk losing your job. Same sex couples cannot marry in C of E churches. And that sends a clear signal that the relationships of LGBT people are not of equal value to those of opposite sex couples. It is because ‘they’ cannot help it. It is because lesbians are not really women and gay men not really blokes. And that, all of it, the snide comments, the nasty little prohibitions, is the very fertile ground which fed the American gunman who killed fifty people on Sunday night.



Je suis Charlie

There are European values. I became more aware of them watching the BBC 4 Saturday night European subtitled drama slot. European values lean heavily to laughter, mockery and forgiveness. Police dramas still focus on discovering who did the crime, but are not, in general, much interested in vengeance against them. They are (and I hope American friends will forgive me for saying so) much gentler towards the offenders than most USA dramas tend to be.

The ghastly killings at Charlie Hebdo cut right into our sense of shared European values. Cruel, vengeful, unable to tolerate humour, they cut at the very heart of what we hold dear. The suggestion we stop laughing, even that we stop some of our cruder humour, in order to avoid making ourselves targets is, well it just goes against everything we might believe.

Yet there is another European value, and to this we have not paid enough attention. Justice. There was no justice in invading Iraq, and even less in doing so without a plan to then help the country arrive at peace and prosperity. There was little justice in our actions in Afghanistan, where we made more trouble than we were capable of solving.

Least of all is there any justice in how we approach the Israel/Palestine conflict, a conflict which urgently needs resolved, and would have been easier to resolve earlier.

The roots of the Charlie Hebdo murders lie far back, and a fertile breeding ground we ourselves have helped to create. The murders are wicked and disproportionate. There is no excuse or justification for them.

But if we want to prevent such things, the answers do not lie in police protection or in greater vigilance against terrorism. They lie in a more just world order, where it is easier for wicked men to be stopped in their tracks much sooner.

With or without the spur of fear, the duty of all of us is to work unceasingly for justice. We must have justice and courtesy for all those from minority faiths and communities in our lands. Justice in our trade polices, and justice in our foreign policies. Anything else is, ultimately, as unEuropean as shooting dead people who make jokes.

How to avoid being party to a huge, vile, cruel injustice.

Of course I know, really I know, that the slow process of changing minds and warming hearts cannot be hurried. It is a matter of example and quiet words and funny stories. Sometimes, however, the bossy little girl who still lives within me gets the upper hand – and she finds the  warming hearts and telling funny stories unbearably slow. So, just for her, and based on this week’s news and eves-droppings, public and private, are some useful rules for living.

Never fear asking the idiot question. Others may be unsure of what is going on too. They may be afraid to ask. You will do everybody a favour by being the one prepared to look an idiot.

Never ever be afraid to stop a meeting by pointing out just what it is doing.  Stay polite to individuals, but point out in graphic detail just where they are going and what hurt they are causing. There are worse things than a whole room full of people looking at you in disgust. Yes, honestly, there are.

Justice and truth always matter more than pleasing people. There is no real comfort without them.

You do not need everybody to like you.

Never sign a joint report without knowing what is in the rest of it. There may be a can you are unwilling to carry.

There are always ways of avoiding being a party to joint responsibility for evil actions. They may be painful, but there you go.

Dear readers, follow these rules, and you will never, ever find yourself in the position the current members of the English House of Bishops finds itself today (all bar one member, we are led to understand).

That position is the most painful I can imagine, and I am more glad than I can tell you that I have no part of it on my conscience.

It’s time – for smiles, joy, love.

It is the smiling faces I love. I can only too clearly remember when the faces were not smiling. I remember my Uncle Alan, whose life was totally messed up by the fact he was gay. To be gay was to be guilty of a crime, or it was if you tried to love another person. Alan was never caught, never found guilty of love, but he internalised the guilt and it dogged and harassed him. It did not stop him being there at all the great family events, smiling, engaging. His charm, his caring for a little girl, to whom he was not, in fact, related, because he was an Uncle only by virtue of being my father’s friend, ensured that from my first years I had a face to put to the word ‘homosexual’. That face was not a face of fear, of disgust, but a happy smiling family face. I got lucky there.

It has been a very long road for society from there, from the 1950s, to here, to today. Today the Equality Network launch their ‘It’s Time’ video. Because although it has taken society about sixty years to get there, now so many happy smiling faces are ready to welcome the legislation for Equal Marriage.

They are faces of love, of joy, of caring. I count myself incredibly lucky that some of those faces I also know. They belong to happy, strong, caring people I know. I wish we were completely there. I wish everybody in my church was as supportive of Equal Marriage as the faces in the video and the bloggers blogging on it today. Actually, I cannot seriously think why they are not – usually in my expereince it is fear. Perhaps I will blog about that soon. But not today – today must belong to the smiles, to the love. It is time for that.

Equal marriage! Rejoice!

Scotland is to have equal marriage – not just equal civil marriage, but religious faith marriage for those who want it too.  And I am dancing on the head of a pin with innumerable angels.  For those who need a translating: I am very pleased and giving thanks to God.

Why?   Firstly because the slur implied  by  insisting that same-sex marriages were some how different-and-inferior and only Civil Unions is now to be wiped away.  Justice will be done and love acknowledged.

Secondly because I think in a perverted and back-handed way the opponents of equal marriage are right.  This new acknowledgement does change things, or rather it acknowledges a change which took place a long time ago.  It shifts the understanding of marriage from its being about gender-roles to its being about love between equals.  Far from regretting this, I rejoice in it.

I actually think this change was begun before the Victorian period, and pretty much complete in the early to mid 20th c. – but in as far as some in society have struggled to recognise it, I am delighted to see it even more openly acknowledged.

And yes there will be troubles and tantrums ahead in the Christian denominations, and a great need for inspired and courageous and calm resolute leadership.  But that is for tomorrow.  For tonight – rejoicing.

Once more, with feeling

In brief as I have said this too too often:

it is commitment that makes a marriage, not the gender of those making the commitment

marriage between LGBT people supports the so-called institution of marriage, and strengthens families, it does not weaken them

I totally agree with Beth and Kelvin on the ill-judged, ill-informed and down right stupid statements from the Scottish hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church these last few days.

Shining like a beacon

There are two categories of saint in the Christian Church. There are Saints, like Mary and Francis, and there are saints, who fill the pews. We are used, in the church, to people who are pretty holy, who are dedicated, focused and turned towards God, and we take it as a given that we will often encounter others, on the pews and in the leadership, who are like that. They are holy men and women, saints.

Then one runs quite suddenly into extraordinary holiness, and knows why the church has called some people Holy, or in the Latin, Sanctus, Sancta, Saint, in an unqualified way. People who have human flaws, but in whom the qualities of God shine like a beacon. And I sat, yesterday, and listened to one. He is Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. He is the one bishop of the Ugandan church who has stood steadfastly against the demonisation of gay people. He was careful to tell us he was only an assistant Bishop in the Anglican church (although either one is consecrated as a Bishop or one is not, it is not in fact possible to be a bit a bishop any more than it is to be a bit pregnant) and he came retirement age, retired, but went on working as a counsellor. Then some troubled young LGBT people were brought to him, who were having trouble accepting their sexuality, and having trouble finding a place in a deeply homophobic society.

It seemed natural to Bishop Christopher to start trying to change things, for the individuals and for his society. A blog does not allow one to write of everything he said, but I will pick out a few of the things which most impressed me.

At no point would Bishop Christopher get drawn into the blame-game. He did not blame his church or his society. He blamed ignorance of human sexuality. If there was more education, then people would understand. In the past there had been a superstition against women eating chicken, and with education now people understood that chicken was a good food for both sexes. It would be the same for gay people’s relationships.

He wanted to see a fuller and more authoritative role in his society for women, but he did not blame Islam for the patriarchal nature of his society – it was a cultural thing, he said, ages old, and needing changed. Nor did he blame Islam for attitudes to gay people. It was just ignorance, superstition. It was also down to an unhelpful way of understanding how to read the Bible – but he did not blame American Evangelical missionaries for that, either. Once again, the answer was more education, and more love. Love was a theme he came back to again and again, and I was reminded of stories that St John the Evangelist used to be carried in to his congregations as a very old man and would simply say ‘Only love one another.’

He spoke all the time very calmly, with no agitation, with no fear, with a deep deep kindness. He spoke of six months he has spent in America. His wife had asked him not to return to Uganda, because she was so afraid for his life, so many death threats had been made against him. However, in the end he had gone home. There was no anger in his voice. He blamed nobody.

What would the introduction of the notorious Ugandan bill with its draconian penalties for gay people mean? ‘It would be a disaster, a disaster’ not just for gay people, but because Africa should be tackling problems of disease, and lack of education, real problems and not illusory ones.

It what seems to us in the West like a terrible and sad situation, ever deteriorating, did not cow Bishop Christopher any more then death threats. ‘I am an optimist,’ he said, ‘things can change.’

Let me sum up. A man of retirement age tackled the Ugandan establishment head on over an issue which does not in any way personally involve him, accepting it brought a very real threat to his life, a threat of being beaten to death in very nasty ways, and also accepted the odium heaped on him in his society, and he did this because he felt called to love everybody. He refuses to blame those attacking him in any way.

He asked for our prayers. He asked for our support, that we keep lobbying, because he thinks it helps. I left knowing I had listened to one of the saints. No, to one of the Saints.