Why I’m walking

Thirteen years ago, I raised my hand in a church meeting to vote against the ordination of “practising homosexuals” as ministers. This reflected an attitude that I adopted shortly after becoming a Christian in my late teens. I not only rejected the morality of same-sex relationships. I actively campaigned against them.

To say that I regret this is an understatement. I am appalled that I did it. I repent of it.

In June 2011, I will walk from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia.

Repentance is an underused word in today’s churches. But repentance is exciting, something which should be joyful as well as challenging and disturbing. It involves recognising God’s forgiveness and the potential for change.

In the New Testament, “repentance” is a translation of “metanoia”. An alternative translation of this word is “thinking differently”. To repent is to reorient ourselves and our thoughts away from sin and towards God.

Repentance is thus a lifelong process, yet is also needed for particular actions. My walk next year, which will take a circuitous route over around three weeks, will be a chance to pray, reflect and ask for forgiveness from those harmed by my prejudices. It is an opportunity to speak with others and urge the Church as a whole to think differently about sexuality.

I had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before I became a Christian. But I chose to support a narrow homophobic position, partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. I stifled doubts about the flimsiness of the arguments used to back up hostility to same-sex relationships. Although that church played an important role in guiding me towards Christ, I am now convinced they were severely mistaken about sexuality.

I have struggled for years with issues of sexuality – through prayer, reflection, personal experience and of course through reading the Bible. And I have come to the conclusion that it is not homosexuality, but homophobia, that is sinful and contrary to the Gospel of Christ.

My homophobia caused direct harm to several people. My support for policies that excluded gay, lesbian and bisexual people from churches contributed to the harm caused to many others. I also harmed my own integrity by suppressing feelings that seemed to go against the human construction that I imagined to be God’s rules for my sexuality.

As Paul repeatedly tells us, Christ fulfils the Law and makes it possible to live by God’s Spirit. It is this Spirit, not the values, priorities and prejudices around us, that we are called to follow. Discerning God’s leadings is far more challenging than relying on convenient rules, but it must be possible if we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is a source of God’s dynamic guidance that points us towards Christ, yet we so often devalue it by treating it as a human rulebook, from which lines can be snatched out of context to back up prejudices. Lines relating to homosexual prostitution are twisted to condemn loving same-sex relationships. This is as unfair as opposing heterosexual marriage on the grounds of verses condemning adultery.

I am appealing for churches to offer accommodation and/or to invite me to speak during my walk. I am keen on dialogue and happy to speak alongside others with different views. I respect people who struggle with the issues but reach different conclusions to my own. They are a million miles from the bigots who condemn homosexuality without a second thought.

Seeking God’s guidance together is even harder when we do not agree, yet it is essential if we are serious about the power of God to lead us into all truth. All truth is of God. As Christians, we need not fear to seek it.


20 comments so far

  1. Felix Sermon on

    Finally, a sensible person! I commend you, sir!

    Though not Christian myself, this is still something I have felt strongly about for many years, having a Christian family. For the most part, they are not inclined to listen to my views on the subject, however! I think it is a message that needs to come from within, and I wish you well on your travels, both physical and otherwise!

  2. Symon on

    Thanks for your encouragement, Felix! It’s much appreciated.

    • Felix Sermon on

      You are very welcome! If it were not for the fact that my father’s churches (he’s a minister) are well out of your way I’d see if I could convince him to invite you to speak at them, heh. I will be bringing your endeavours to his attention, at least. Best of luck to you!

  3. David Jennings on

    Well done, Symon. It’s a brave thing to change your mind, and to be so honest and public about it.

    You will have my prayers for your endeavour.

  4. Sophie, Surrey on

    I am so pleased to read this. I totally agree with you – I’m a Christian too, a widow with children at home. We were very happily married and I can only wish the same happiness and commitment to any loving couple – straight or gay.

    We could do with you over on Stuart’s echurch blog where discussions about homosexuality are currently generating far more heat than light. It’s getting me down.

    I’d love to know what you think of the debate at http://blog.echurchwebsites.org.uk/2010/12/10/peter-hazelmary-bull-chymorvah-private-hotel-sued-refusing-civil-partners-steven-preddy-martyn-hall-double-room/comment-page-1/#comment-31680.

    It was a link posted there by Simian that brought me to your inspiring blog.

    I posted my own views in detail on another echurch thread – on August 24th at http://blog.echurchwebsites.org.uk/2010/08/03/4thoughttv-stephen-green-prime-time-tv-hate-gays-spread-fear-islam/

    Have you seen Chet Jones’ piece on the “clobber verses”? There’s a link to what I found an excellent piece in my post in August, if you can be bothered.

    It’s so good to know there are other Christians who don’t feel obliged to condemn LGBT people.

  5. Louis Epstein on

    I am not religious and never have been,but I am appalled that you have abandoned the principled rejection of the unconscionable practice of same-sex sexual relations.You harm anyone you allow to feel comfortable with same-sex sexual attraction just as you harm anyone you encourage to abuse alcohol or drugs.When the first thing people want is the last thing they need and vice versa,the true friend steps up and takes the thankless task of persistently demanding the suppression of the unhealthy desire.

    The evolution of sexual dimorphism in a species necessarily determines opposite-sex sexual relationships to be exclusively normative for that species,and all failures to adhere to this norm are to be deplored and avoided.Desire to violate a standard of conduct does not make that standard inapplicable.

    • Dave on

      What an awful post. Have you ever wondered why we’re the only animal to be over-populating the planet, destroying it even? Because we’re the only animal capable of homophobia, same-sex relationships happen in loads of species including our own. I’m bi myself and I’m not an alcoholic, I’m not a druggie and I’m not to be compared to one. If anyone has deviated from the norm, it is you.

  6. Symon on

    David and Sophie – Many thanks to both of you for your encouragement! I appreciate your prayers and support. I’ll look at the links you suggested, Sophie.

    Louis – I do not encourage the abuse of alochol or other drugs. They are not comparable to loving, healthy same-sex relationships. I am not suggesting that a desire for something makes it acceptable, nor am I advocating the end of reproduction. I am promoting ethical, honest, committed relationships between loving adults regardless of the gender of those involved.

    • Louis E. on

      No sexual relationship between members of a sexually dimorphic species is “healthy” unless the individuals are of opposite sexes.To blind oneself to the overwhelming importance of that distinction is horrifying.To “commit” to error compounds error.

  7. Katherine O on

    Well done Simon! Can’t wait to read more about your wonderful walk.

    @Louis – Interesting! Is every manifest deliniation from our species “norm” to be deplored and avoided? I only ask because I’m a twin, which is rather rare in our species. And my cousin had an abnormally big nose. And my mother is a train-spotter. And my friend is a wheelchair-user…

    Of course, if you’re worried that our species is going to die out, let me reassure you with the stat that the UN have predicted a world population of over ten billion by 2050. So all’s good then!!

  8. Simon Jay on

    This is fascinating, are you going to be doing a talk in London on your walk? I would love to come along and listen to let me know details 🙂

    • Symon on

      Simon – Thanks! I will certainly be speaking in London, probably at some point on Friday 1st July. The venue, time and type of event are yet to be arranged. Such details (for the whole of the walk) largely depend on which churches offer to host me.

      The details will be posted here as soon as they are confirmed. You can also keep up with developments by “liking” the walk on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Walk-of-repentance-for-homophobia/172048302829171.

      Thanks again!

      • Symon on

        Thanks again, Simon, for asking when I’ll be speaking in London. It’s now confirmed that I will be speaking at 7.00pm in Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in Shaftesbury Avenue. It’s the day I arrive in London and the evening before Pride.

  9. Hazel Russman on

    I am glad that you have changed your mind, but I think you are too hard on yourself. Misguided ideas are not homophobia. Homophobia is a hatred of gay people based on a fear that you may be gay yourself. You did not hate gay people; you simply held wrong ideas about the morality of gay relationships. Many Christians hold such ideas, and they surely have as much right to act according to their conscience as you or I have.

    If people are wrong, argue with them. Show them why they are wrong. Just slapping the label “homophobe” on them is not an argument.

    • Lucy on

      @Hazel: Homophobia is a phobia of gay people. The rational is irrelevant.

      True, there are different levels of homophobia, and I suppose one could argue that acting with good intentions is a step better than baseless hatred.

      But I don’t think that you can declare a gay relationship immoral (or even amoral) without attaching that behaviour to the people who carry it out without treading on very thin ice indeed. Implying that all gay people must forgo love in order to live a moral life seems a funny form of expressing one’s lack of hatred to me.

      • Hazel Russman on

        So are you arguing that people should not have the right to follow their conscience because we think they are wrong? Those people would say that you and I are wrong on this particular issue; does that mean that we also have no right to follow our conscience? Or are we going to insist on a right that we deny to them?

        When people disagree about right and wrong, it creates a very difficult situation. The Anglican Communion is splitting apart now because certain people (Jensen, Akinola et al.) do not accept that other Christians have any right to disagree with them. Anyone who does is considered a hopeless sinner and not a real Christian at all. Is that really the kind of example you wish to follow?

    • Lucy on

      (That said, I do agree with you that reasoned argument will always win out over name-calling.)

  10. Symon on

    Hazel and Lucy – Interesting discussion!

    Thanks, Hazel, for your point about being too hard on myself. It’s appreciated. However, please be assured that I’m not approaching this in a “beating-myself-up” sort of way, but with a positive and joyous attitude of welcoming forgiveness and change.

    I agree with you that it’s wrong to automatically label as “homophobic” anyone who struggles to understand or accept same-sex relationships. However, I also agree with Lucy that it is not always easy to distinguish between what is homophobic and what isn’t. It is not simply that I used to oppose same-sex relationships, but that I actively campaigned against inclusivity in the Church and in the ordained ministry. It is this, more than my beliefs, that I am repenting of.

    But while I take a firm stance on these issues, I aim to combine conviction with love for those who disagree and I am very keen to listen to those who are willing to engage in dialogue.

  11. Catherine von Ruhland on

    Dear Symon,
    While in London, you are very welcome to pop into St Anne’s, Dean St, the parish church of Soho. As a member of the PCC of this inclusive church, I’d argue for you to be invited to speak were it not for us being between ministers at the moment and all of us juggling balls.
    All the best with your walk. Great that you are respectful of those who disagree with your stance: dialgue can begin from that point.
    I do have difficulty with the concept of ‘loving/committed relationship’. At what point does a casual pairing become officially more than that? And what of those who have not had the good fortune to find an other half? My own experience and faithwalk has led me to believe that even short-term arrangements can have their value in that connection, growth and healing can take place.
    Continue to speak up. I have learnt through my writing on issues of singleness and sexuality that the very honest voicing of one’s own story gives space and relief to others to do likewise. Often it is not lies but rather remaining silent that is the enemy of truth.

    • Symon on

      Thanks very much for your support, Catherine! I really appreciate it.

      It would be good to drop by St Anne’s, although timing will be tight when I get to London. I’d also be happy to visit or speak at St Anne’s on another occasion.

      I agree that the phrase “committed relationship” is not always clear. And I agree that short-term relationships can be valuable and involve healing. Having been single for most of my life, I’ve often been very frustrated about how churches often regard single people, and appreciate your writing and your concerns in that area.

      Your final point, about sharing personal stories, is really helpful and encouraging. Although I’m used to writing, I’ve never been so personal so openly before, and I’m finding it quite challenging, but not as hard as I feared.

      Thanks again!

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