Tag Archives: LGBT

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.

 

 

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Love, sex and role play

Perhaps it was the cooking pots which were to blame. Lead, you see. Poison. Whatever it was, Roman women tended to have very few children. Well, I say women, but in fact some were little more then children themselves. Today we would look at many marriages from that age, and say ‘child abuse’. A woman passed from her father to her husband in her girlhood.

The Romans had a lot of angst about having enough children – and honoured women who had good fertility. That may in part have fed the suspicion of recreational sex among Roman Christians. Certainly by the late antique period, sex was, for the Christian, to be directed merely at the creation of children, and not to be enjoyed for itself at all.

Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is without irony. He can imagine that it is perfectly correct for a husband so to break his wife’s spirit that she will simply yield to his mastery. He lives in a world of hierarchy, with the monarch at the top, and then the nobles, the gentry, men, woman and children, all sliding down a pyramid. And marriage shores it up, by making certain that there is a noble self-sacrificing woman under each great man.

It is, of course, very easy to over-emphasise the degree to which women were actually subservient. Lady Macbeth is a monster, and her domination of her husband proves it, but she is very believable monster. Beatrice is a delight, a heroine and anything but subservient. Nobody who listens to Juliet thinks for a moment that the Christians of Shakespeare’s age are avoiding the pleasures of sensual love making.

My point is this – marriage had already changed. Even if the church was still somewhat sniffy about the pleasures of sex, nobody in society was really aiming at joyless sex any longer.

By the time you get to Jane Austen’s writing, women are openly considering the attractions of their potential husbands – whose figures may attract or repel, as well as their characters. Her heroines are seeking what it is posh to call companionate marriage. A marriage based on an equality of regard, if not an equality of power.

Most Victorian women married hoping for children, but plenty of them married past child-bearing age. It is popular to imagine they were too prudish to enjoy the physical aspect of marriage, but private letters, flirtatious, joking, sensual, show that is not so. Nor did they often, or usually, make arranged marriages or merely marry for money. There was a strong romantic attachment to the idea of love and free choice of a partner. In practice, the social circles of many women weer very small, but the ideal was to fall deeply in love, and love excused much.

Marriage changed. There is a huge difference between the Roman girl bride, literally given to a husband, and taught (in Christian circles) that sex should not be enjoyed for itself, and the blushing Victorian bride who has fallen in love with her handsome husband.

Our age has seen other changes. A growth in the belief of the equality of men and women. A much greater emphasis on the free choice of a partner. A strong distaste for particular roles in marriage, at any rate in theory (as usual practice lags behind).

Our society now accepts that some people fall in love with their own gender and make a commitment to go through life with them as a spouse. This arises quite naturally from a belief in the equality of man and women, and of a loving relationship as the basis for marriage. It is the logical conclusion of a path which has stopped seeing marriage as being about gender roles, and accepted that sex is not just about creating children.

Of course not everybody will agree. There are those who still see marriage as being very much about the willingness of a woman to surrender to a particular set of roles. That makes it hard to see that people of the same gender can marry.

Ironically, the emphasis in Christianity on marriage as a symbol of the ‘mystical union between Christ and his church’ really ought to draw Christians to a more modern understanding of marriage as based upon love and not upon role play. For Christians are called to be the body of Christ in the world.We are not called to be something really seriously different to what Christ is, but to be in Him, and to act as he would act. The Christian mystics all speak of the love of Christ, theirs for him, his for them. If we take that seriously, then the gender of a married couple ceases to be relevant.

some of the brightest and certainly the best

I am not alone in my reaction to the Bishop’s guidance. Here some of the most illustrious names in the SEC sign a letter expressing – well, let them speak for themselves. There will be others who had no chance as yet to sign, and as yet the laity have had no chance to register their dismay except as individuals.

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,
Revd Carrie Applegath,
Revd Philip Blackledge,
Revd Maurice Houston,
Revd Canon John McLuckie,
Revd Canon Ian Paton,
Revd Kate Reynolds,
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft,
Dr Darlene Bird (lay reader),
Revd Jim Benton-Evans,
Revd Cedric L. Blakey,
Revd Andrew Bowyer,
Revd Canon Bill Brockie,
Revd Tony Bryer,
Revd Steve Butler,
Revd Christine Barclay,
Revd Lynsay M Downes,
Revd Markus Dünzkofer,
Revd Canon Anne Dyer,
Revd Janet Dyer,
Revd Jennifer Edie,
Revd John L Evans,
Revd Samantha Ferguson,
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood,
Kennedy Fraser,
Revd Kirstin Freeman,
Revd Frances Forshaw,
Revd Ruth Green,
Revd Bob Gould,
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth,
Revd Ruth Innes,
Revd Ken Webb,
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille,
Revd Kenny Macaulay,
Revd Simon Mackenzie,
Revd Duncan MacLaren,
Very Revd Nikki McNelly,
Very Revd Jim Mein,
Revd Nicola Moll,
Revd Bryan Owen,
Revd Canon Clifford Piper,
Revd Donald Reid,
Revd Colin Reed,
Revd Canon John Richardson,
Revd Malcolm Richardson,
The Revd Gareth J M Saunders,
Very Revd Alison J Simpson,
Very Revd Andrew Swift,
Kate Sainsbury (lay reader),
Patsy Thomson (lay reader),
Prof Revd Annalu Waller

Revd John Penman,
Revd Tim Morris,
Revd Anna Garvey,
Revd Bill Eilliot.

More of a muddy trickle

Writing about a more or less secret event is hard. The rules were clear. We were to repeat nothing said in the small groups. How then to let it trickle down?
I am of course writing about the ‘Cascade conversations’ recently held by the SEC. The secrecy rules were imposed in what one is led to believe was an attempt to make the conversations safe. I have already blogged here about the mistakes made in confusing secrecy with confidentiality.
So what can I usefully say about the process, in which I took part by means of the conversation in Ayr? There were undoubtable people of good will at it. The process began with three people addressing the plenary session concerning their experiences of same sex relationships. There is no doubt that at least a few people were genuinely moved by the kindness, openness and the readiness to make themselves vulnerable of the gay people and those with gay relations who spoke. And there is no doubt at all that those who spoke in that session were most generous with their experiences. Of course the cost was born by those prepared to speak about being gay and having gay people in their family. It is always less costly to be saying that you think gay people should just suffer without a long term supportive spouse, however sincerely you believe this.
The meeting then broke into small groups, which is where things were far less comfortable. Each small group will of course have been different, and each facilitator had different skills, or lack of them. In the group I was allocated, the person with the best skills as a facilitator was not the person facilitating, although they did do a great deal to make the group run smoothly. The people in the group did not, in the most part, have any idea of how to phrase things so as to make that group a safe space, and nothing was done to help them do so.

Again, there were people of good will in the group, but there was also a great deal of language about ‘them’ [gay people] and  ‘their’ experiences. At no point did the group feel like a safe space to me. At one point somebody was in tears, as a direct result of what had been said to them. Nothing was done to address this situation.
The best moment of the day (for me) was when, in the closing plenary session, the use of ‘they’ was as long last challenged. Too little, too late. The whole event was predicated on the belief that it was fine to ask anybody anywhere on the LGBT spectrum to bear the whole cost of the day with no visible support at all – not even the support of going home and finding a loving shoulder to cry upon, given the demand that what was said was kept confidential.
Mine was not, therefore, a happy experience, and I know that some of the gay people at that meeting left it very upset indeed.
I have no idea how this was supposed to trickle down. If others shared my unhappy experience, all they will have been able to do (as far as I can understand it) is to come away and tell their churches that they went and that they did not enjoy it. Not a cascade, more of a muddy trickle

Not in my name

This is a very angry blog post indeed, but bear with me – let us do the house-keeping first. Then we can throw all out toys out of the pram.

Secrets are always kept. Because they have, far far too often, been things which have done damage, we now strive not to have them. Secrets stay hidden, and are potentially dangerous. Adultery and abuse are secrets.

Secrets should not be confused with surprises. A surprise is prepared in private, but its essential nature is to be revealed at a strategic moment.  Birthday cakes are surprises.

Confidentiality is something offered by a stronger to a weaker. It is designed to protect the weaker by limiting potential damaging information to a safe circle, and it can ALWAYS be broken at the request of the weaker person, and it never protects or includes the stronger one. The identity of a rape victim is confidential.

So how has it come about that  the Design Group for Discussions about Same-Sex Relationships has become a secret meeting? A meeting which those invited to participate in, have been asked not to speak about to their nearest and dearest.

We are told that this is to support confidentiality. But see above – confidentiality can always be transparent if those in a vulnerable position wish to share their information. And it NEVER protects those in a position of control.

We are told that this secrecy will make the design group ‘a safe place’ – but if you see the note on secrecy above, you will see that secrecy is always a dangerous place. How can we have any confidence at all that those designing the process of designing the process have any understanding of safety if they do not understand the distinctions I outline above? While our church is structurally discriminatory to gay people, while outrageous things are said about them in its meetings (one is told that at a recent meeting LGBT people were referred to as ‘these people’) they cannot be asked to keep confidentiality about any process.

Let us be quite plain. The issues of LGBT inclusion in our Church (in my Church) affect almost ALL of us. They affect those of us who are LGBT. Those of us who have friends who are LGBT. Those of us who have family who are LGBT. They affect all of us who care about human justice. All of us who care about gender roles, and so all women, everywhere in the church, regardless of orientation. The future of this issue will make or mar our Church. It will either become a dull, sexist, unjust backwater, or it will become part of a new radically just society.

It is outrageous that the process set up is so unsafe, so untransparent that every Christian Episcopal LGBT person I know is boycotting the process. (Including Dr Beth Routledge, who blogs about it here). It is utterly outrageous that this is being done in my name.

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.