Day 11: Crumbs from the table

St Columba’s United Reformed Church in Oxford gave me an excellent welcome today. I joined in their lively and thought-provoking service this morning before speaking at the church this afternoon. St Columba’s was one of the first churches to contact me when I announced my intention to undertake this pilgrimage back in December. They have been consistently and actively supportive, as have First Sunday, an LGBT Christian group linked to St Columba’s.

People who turned up to the event this afternoon included both regulars at the church and people who had heard about it through other means. First Sunday had done a good job of publicising it online as well as handing out leaflets at Oxford Pride. There were questions on issues included the nature of the Bible, the meaning of marriage and the Jeffrey John controversy. One of the most interesting questions was about the media’s tendency to focus on homophobic Christians while saying far less about those Christians who support inclusion and equality.

I do not think the media can take all the blame for this. Pro-equality Christians have often failed to speak up as loudly or clearly as their opponents. We have failed to engage with the media and been too keen to avoid controversy. We have also been extremely under-ambitious. A sign of this is the fact that some supporters of equality have welcomed the Church of England’s decision to allow gay people to become bishops as long as they don’t have sex.

The problem is that this is no progress at all. Gay people can theoretically already become bishops if they don’t have sex, because the anti-equality lobby insist that they are concerned with behaviour, not orientation. The very fact that this controversy exists at all gives the lie to this claim. I have no doubt that potential bishops are questioned and challenged on all sorts of moral issues, and rightly so, but why is it this one that causes so much controversy? Imagine the Church of England giving as much time and energy to debating whether a person who owns shares in an arms company can become a bishop.

Allowing gay men to be bishops only if they are “celibate” will mean holding gay people to a higher standard than straight people. It will mean telling bisexual people that they better be careful about who they happen to fall in love with if they want to be accepted.

Another, equally important, point is often overlooked. Some people are called to celibacy as a vocation. Some people choose celibacy, a very legitimate and valuable choice. What an insult to people with a vocation to celibacy to suggest that their calling is nothing more than a second-class option for people that the Church does not really accept.

If we are to defeat homophobia and come anywhere near to the radical inclusivity of Christ, we cannot accept feeble offerings such as the acceptance only of non-sexually active gay men (they’re all still men, remember) as bishops. Accepting this decision would mean nothing more than agreeing to eat the crumbs dropped from the anti-equality table.

Photo credit: Andrew Smith

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3 comments so far

  1. Aidan Coyle on

    Dear Symon

    I only heard about your pilgrimage the other day when I was looking at the United Reformed Church website and I must admit that, as a gay men and a practising Catholic, my jaw dropped in amazement and what you’re doing. There’s something very redolent of episodes from the Hebrew scriptures about your pilgrimage, something very prophetic about it – but also tremendously affirming for lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians. It is good to read of your experience at Oxford URC – a case of a prophetic individual in a prophetic context. May God continue to bless you as you travel and may your witness ultimately bear abundant fruit (and yes, I know that, if that is to happen, it requires me to take positive action too).

    Peace and blessings
    Aidan

  2. Sophie, Surrey on

    Peace and blessings indeed. I love what you’re doing, Symon – brings hope and true brotherly love for all of us, gay or straight. Your pilgrimage is a wonderful thing and it inspires me. The vocal church – the ones who get all the publicity – spread a message that’s so sour, unkind and loveless. The Christian Legal Centre – one of the worst offenders – promotes a view of our faith that is so, so wrong.

    Every time they hit the headlines they must put off so many of the undecided – people who are thinking of becoming more involved with the faith of their childhood. Who would want to join a church if its main message is the condemnation and exclusion of a vulnerable minority?

    What you are doing goes some way to affirming the compassion, equality and humility that should be the mainspring of our love for Jesus.

  3. Wendy on

    66 One of the most interesting questions was about the media’s tendency to focus on homophobic Christians while saying far less about those Christians who support inclusion and equality. I do not think the media can take all the blame for this. Pro-equality Christians have often failed to speak up as loudly or clearly as their opponents. 99

    Like this statement, the media tend to class Christians based on whether they claim same-sex relationships are sinful or not. If they see them as sinful they are classed as ‘homophobic’ which can be very hurtful to those who genuinely care for people they know in such relationships but genuinely believe they are against God’s will. This does not mean to say they have an illogical fear of same sex relationships.

    66 Allowing gay men to be bishops only if they are “celibate” will mean holding gay people to a higher standard than straight people. It will mean telling bisexual people that they better be careful about who they happen to fall in love with if they want to be accepted. 99

    If a hetrosexual bishop-to-be admitted that he was in love with another man’s wife, or an underage girl, I would hop the church would be rather concerned about the situation and if in either case this was a sexual relationship which the potential bishop imagined he would continue then I would imagine the church being very rapid in ruling such a candidate out.


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