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.

The responsibility of each and every one of us

‘Disgraceful’ hardly covers the behaviour of the two English archbishops reported in The Guardian.’ Today I am ashamed to be an Anglican and ashamed to be a Christian. The shouting matches and arm-twisting described have no place in the selection of bishops – and no place in deliberations over the role of gay clergy in the church.

This kind of ungodly, and I use the word advisedly, failure in decent behaviour can only happen because the selection of English bishops happens behind closed doors. It happens because the Church places too much confidence in the wisdom of bishops and senior clergy and too little in the laity – it is a symptom is a symptom of failing to believe the the Holy Spirit is present to the whole Church. Too many members of the clergy tacitly, or even overtly, beginning to believe that clergy are are not merely Christian leaders who have the very special role of being responsible for the Sacraments in the church, but that they are ‘really’ Christians and ‘really’ understand the mind of Christ in a way lay church people cannot. Of course this idea then feeds upon historical periods when it was still seen as acceptable that serious people chose other like-minded serious people for all positions of responsibility. So in England, it is somehow, bizarrely, acceptable to appoint bishops behind closed doors.

Before we north of the border become too smug, considering our duly-elected bishops, we need to consider why this kind of thing happens.
There is a kind of viscous circle in the church.. The lay part of many congregations fails to grow up. They fail to study. Many know little of the contents of the Bible, and even less about the current state of scholarship concerning it. Too many lay leaders in congregations take the astonishing position that they will only lead worship of a kind they personally find enjoyable. Too many congregations contain many only too happy to bully other members of the laity or their own clergy. I could go on, but won’t. It all adds up to failing to take the quest of following Christ at all seriously.

Oh yes, of course there are many conscientious committed lay Christians, and I live in hope some might even count myself among them. That is not the point.. The point is that for all the struggles of my generation, and of the ones who have come after mine, Christian maturity is in many congregations a rarity. I don’t blame the clergy, or even the laity, or rather I don’t blame one more than the other. I do know that unless and until the overwhelming majority of Christians step boldly up to the mark, we will see utterly shaming and disgraceful scenes like that reported being repeated at different levels all over the church. It is not the job of archbishops to discern the will of God and enforce it – it it the job of each and every one of us, working together, disagreeing without bullying, struggling without squabbling, and learning each from the other. No secrets, nothing kept by ‘adults’ from ‘children’ (because we are all learning to be adults in Christ) no collusion, but frank, kind open debate on all things, and each man and woman seeing the face of Christ in each and every face before them. Simples!

Don’t worry

Of course I’m happy with the ruling that hotel owners cannot discriminate against gay guests. Since the case got itself all over the newspapers, I’m sure you have caught up with it. A gay couple in a Civil Partnership could only stay in The Chymorvah if in a twin-bedded room.

Actually my youngest son and his girl-friend would have found themselves in twin beds too. The hotel owners only let married couples have a double bed. The hotel owners were guilty of discrimination because they failed to recognise that Civil Partnership confers the same legal status as marriage. Mistaken as I feel they were in that, I feel they were even more mistaken in not recognising the limits of proper responsibility

Bluntly, I do not think we are bound to police the morals of others. Within limits.

The first limit is this: I think we do have a responsibility to prevent the abuse of one human by another. I thin hotel owners do have a responsibility to prevent the sexual abuse, or the violent abuse, of a child or of what is known in care shorthand as ‘a vulnerable adult’, that is, somebody who from mental or physical infirmity is unable to give real and informed consent to what is going on. This abuse would also include taking advantage of a sleeping or absent fellow hotel guest by stealing from them.

I also think we have a right to be allowed to express in polite and non-confrontational terms what our own moral code is. I think, for instance, that I have a right to tell others that I never buy battery-farmed eggs because I think keeping chicken in small cages is cruel. I do not think that in the real world we can expect we will never hear criticism of our own conduct. I think it would be more politic in a hotel simply to say: ‘all the eggs I serve are free range’, but let us admit that even in doing this I am making a moral statement. If, let us say, Richard Dawkins turned up as a guest at this imaginary hotel, I would not myself think it good sense to tell him I was a Christian, but I think I should have the right to do it. I guess I therefore have (reluctantly) to concede that Mr and Mrs Bull, who own the hotel in question, had a right to inform guests that they thought gay sex was wrong.

There, it seems to me (and if you think otherwise, it might make a good discussion) there my responsibility stops. Christians have a right to follow their own moral codes (plural, mine in no way resembles the Bull’s) but none of us are enjoined to make sure other people follow it too.

Not only I am not obliged to enforce my moral code on others. Indeed, I am obliged not to enforce it. It appears that God, too, takes this approach. He offers advice (and how irritating is it that ‘Don’t worry’ appears high up the list) but he leaves it up to us. If we want to worry, the most he will do is set things up so as to point out, gently, the error of our ways. Even if he could, one cannot imagine him dragging himself through a law court to prove that he had a right to discriminate against people who worry.

‘Getting into a State’

There is behaviour so outrageous that one cannot even begin to see how the people undertaking it manage to justify it to themselves at all.

Israel has just persuaded itself that invading ships it does not own in international waters is, somehow, not piracy, and that shooting dead people on these boats is somehow not murder.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has somehow managed to persuade himself that it is totally fine to welcome into his church those persecuting gays and lesbians and calling for their country to leave the United Nations because that organisation supports civil rights for those in same-sex relationships. On the other hand, it is perfectly impossible to welcome dedicated and faithful Bishops who happen to be LGBT. Moreover he has, outrageously, single-handedly, and as an appointed leader, not even an elected Pope, managed to persuade himself that he can unilaterally ask countries supporting gay bishops to leave certain committees. Which is, as Jim Naughton points out in a deservedly-much-linked-to comment on Episcopal Cafe an action which trivialises and infantilises the whole communion.

What do these actions have in common? The participants have lost all touch with reality. They have lost that sense of groundedness, kindness and proportion which are in fact among the best gifts of our human nature. In fact, they ‘have got themselves into a State.’

It was a phrase of my mother’s. She would see a certain pattern of behaviour develop and say at once: ‘Joe Bloggs is getting into a State about this.’ It implied that Joe was not able to be contacted by those around him. He had shut off the world, and the voice of sanity, and his own feelings and thoughts were feeding themselves.

Groups of people are even worse. When not only you, but your close group, all see things in one way, it is much harder to take on board the broad view. If those you see every day tell you that – oh, beating a woman up, or molesting a child, or condemning people for a sexual orientation is totally fine, you can come to believe it. If you have a group around you, it is much much easier to shut out the cold, hard voice of truth.

And to some degree, we all do it. We convince ourselves that speeding, or over-eating, or -well tell me, what is your secret denial? Because nearly everybody has one! We convince ourselves that it is normal and acceptable and right and proper. And mostly these things do not do that much harm. They don’t lead to international piracy or to the perversion of a whole denomination from love to just the kind of petty miserable actions which Screwtape most loved. Do not be misled by the jokiness of this reference. I think both sets of actions are Evil in a very pure form.

But you can help, gentle reader. Make sure those around you know that either or both actions (and it will depend on which circles you move in) are wrong. Pour in the cold water of scrutiny on the foetid, self-referencing closed circle of the ‘state’. Call the bluff. Stand fast against the hysteria.