Tag Archives: Faith

Philippa Stroud, sexuality and me

I was a little bit bemused to take a look at my WibStats and find out in that in the last 24 hours the number of unique visitors to my blog had increased by 166%. Now, by anyone’s standards this is quite impressive. However, I then was meandering through a few groups on Facebook and discovered that someone has posted a link through to my blog from a group called “If Cameron cares an ounce about LGBT people, he’ll sack Philippa Stroud”. They link my blog to the group by stating that “her [Philippa Stroud's] church, New Frontiers, doesn’t just have an issue with lgbt people, but also women”.

I have to admit that I am quite bemused by this link and thought that the subject deserved a mention.

This subject has come up due to an article in The Guardian newspaper entitled “Rising Tory star Philippa Stroud ran prayer sessions to ‘cure’ gay people”. The article stated that the leaders of the church that Philipppa was involved in were praying for people to be ‘released’ from their homosexuality and there is a quote from a transexual girl who said that

“She [Philippa] wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus.”

The interesting thing for me is that I was certainly aware that things like this were going on in the Newfrontiers churches that I was part of about 10-15 years ago. At the time I was wrestling with my own perspective on sexuality and faith and was trying very hard to support friends who were coming out to church leaders who believed that they could be cured of their homosexuality. I am not surprised these issues are coming back to haunt Philippa, and I am equally not surprised that they happened. It would seem that the Newfrontiers view of gender is extremely black and white and if you do not fit into the cultural and social norms and expectations set before you then you are extremely isolated. This is not only for gay people, but also for women with opinions, as I have discussed on this blog many times.

(In an interesting aside, the Ekklesia website has made the point that Newfrontiers believes that women should submit to their husbands, and as a result would the electorate actually be electing Philippa or her husband. If she has to submit to him and this clashes with the Conservative viewpoint what would be the consequences of this? For more info see the link here. Just an interesting aside I thought!!!!)

I loathe the perspective that homosexuality can be cured, and I fully believe that churches, church leaders and the ex-gay movement should be held to account for the pscyhological damage they have done to countless men and women. Thank goodness for organisations such as Beyond Ex Gay and Courage who seek to support people with finding out how they can balance their faith and their sexuality.

However, I would like to make one disclaimer here. I have known of Philippa and her husband David for many, many years, and I do not believe that they are bad people. I believe that they are extremely devoted, committed Christians who do things according to their beliefs. I believe that their strongly held beliefs are in some cases extremely misguided, but in essence they are good people.

David and Philippa Stroud have made a huge difference to many different homeless and addicted people through the work they have done over the years. I hope and pray that this story does not undo this good work. Equally, I hope and pray, that being held to account for previous (and possibly current) beliefs will cause them to reconsider why they hold these beliefs.

To sum up, I believe that this is a difficult issue and the fact that it has hit national newspapers is a good thing. For a start, we need to see what our politicians are made of – both morally and ethically. We also need to have the issues around faith and sexuality continually raised. This homophobia, sometimes expressed and sometimes hidden, needs to be brought out into the light and challenged. Only then will the church be able to move on, and only then will gay men and women be accepted for the wonderful people they are and will be able to contribute to their local church in a meaningful way.

RIP Grandpa

22

My Mum phoned me this morning to tell me that my lovely Grandpa had died peacefully in the early hours of the morning. He had been deteriorating for some time, really since this photo was taken at my Dad’s 60th birthday party a couple of years ago, and he was in a nursing home now.

Grandpa was an amazing man. He told terrible jokes… for example whenever you asked him if he was well he would always reply “You can never be too well” or if you asked him if he was alright he would reply “No, I’m half left”. He had a beautiful wide smile that greeted you every time you walked in the room and his smile always reached his eyes.

He certainly didn’t have an easy life. His first wife Grandma Anita died of breast cancer when my Dad was 19. He then went onto marry Grandma Mary and today would have been their 40th wedding anniversary. They exchanged their gifts just two days ago, and today Grandpa went to be with Jesus. Grandpa was also a Gideon, and I blogged about that here. His faithfulness in talking to people about Jesus was unwavering, and even when in hospital he always had a Gideon Testament ready to give out if he was able to. Such faith, and such conviction.

Every time I went home over the last year I said my goodbyes to him. I always knew that it could, and at some point would, be the last time I could say my goodbyes to him. He prayed for us regularly and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Grandpa loved me passionately. I also know, beyond anything else, that Grandpa is where he most wanted to be. Safe with his beloved Saviour. The one in whom he has put his trust for 90+ years and the one to whom he was continually running, even when he couldn’t get out of his bed.

He kept this little poem in his bible and i think it sums him up perfectly.

From My Heart

I’ve known the Master for many years
And I’ve tried him o’er and o’er,
Honest I can tell you know
I truly love Him more and more
With every passing year.

Nobody loves you like Jesus loves
Nobody cares like He cares.
You’ll never have a truer friend:
He died that you might live again.

He will bring peace to your troubled heart,
Comfort from every pain.
He will bring you joy like you’ve never known.
So trust Him and you will have life again.
Make Jesus your very own.

So, a la perchoine Grandpa. I love you and I know that you are now resting where you have always wanted to be. xxx

Losing Our Religion

My friend William Crawley directed me to a documentary he made about faith in Northern Ireland and this has changed over a period of time. The documentary is called Losing Our Religion and can still be viewed here and is well worth a look.

William’s own story follows through from conversion at a tent mission, to preaching at several churches on a Sunday, to becoming a questioner and ultimately an individual whose faith is based on questions rather than answers. I met William through Peterson Toscano and spent several hours chewing the fat with them both – it was fun and they both made me think a lot.

I was fascinated with this documentary though. Watching William go back to some of his own haunts, re-examine where he has been from and ponder what this might mean him at the moment was really interesting. I wonder where the next stop on this journey will be though.

The Gayification of Greenbelt?

The very kind Dave Walker pointed me in the direction of the Anglican Mainsteam blog, and in particular a post by Lisa Nolland called Greenbelt, ‘gay evangelicalism’ and CMS: Summer 2009. One of the standout quotes is as follows…

Finally, perhaps most galling is the deeply discriminatory nature of the programme, which presents itself as the antithesis of discrimination. Given the resources and people which such recent events as Sex and the City, The Big Question, and the Moral Maze, showcased, there is no reason why Greenbelt should only push one ideological agenda and only grind one axe, unless it is wanting to slant the argument and deprive its audience of expert opinion on the other side. What about equal air time for it? What about poster boys or girls for the ex/post-gay movement being handed the microphone, instead of just Gene Robinson (again), with his sadly amaturish biblical hermeneutic? Given that Greenbelt has invited so many people who strongly promote a different sexual ethic to that of a traditional Christan sexual ethic, the least they could do is allow equal air time for traditional sexual views.

I found this especially interesting in, as she calls, the ‘discriminatory nature of the programme. It seems to be that Greenbelt over the last couple of years has actually decreased the amount of high-profile gay, lesbian, bi and trans people involved in speaking and performing at the festival. Certainly those who are focussing on sexuality as a primary issue anyway. It also irritated me that she describes Athlete and Royksopp as “gay bands”. For a start I didn’t even know they were gay. Surely a band is just a band, if they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexuals or trans does it really matter? Most people will be going to see them play music, not because they are gay or whatever.

Interestingly conversations I have had with gay men and women have seemed to suggest that they feel that Greenbelt has actually built themselves a a gay ghetto with the creation of Outerspace. Instead of having LGBT people involved with every part of the festival they are kind of shunted into a corner and left to get on with it. The label sticks and rather than challenge it directly there is a rather more subversive feel to it. I am not sure how I feel about that perspective myself. I would like to see all parts of the festival being inclusive and I am slightly uncomfortable with the creation of specialist groups such as this. However, I also recognise that there is a need for individuals to be offered a safe space to discuss potentially difficult and emotional subjects.

I expect this is a subject that is going to run and run, especially with more mainstream conservative people getting offended with what they perceive as the ‘Gayification of Greenbelt’. Personally I say, BRING IT ON! Big parties, fabulous clothes and a deep sense of joy about a festival that is truly wonderful. The gayer the better :D

Nooma – Rhythm

Tonight at our cell group we watched one of the Nooma DVD’s called Rhythm.

I love these little films. They are generally clever, make me think and encourage me to think about God in different ways. In this film a relationship with God was compared to a song… that the song is God, and it is always going on, but the question is are you in tune with the song? I love the idea of this relationship being like a song… the consistency of the tune, but how many ways can we hear the same thing? How many different instruments can we hear in the whole? How many different ways do we each experience God, and yet the song remains the same.

“Jesus is like God in taking on flesh and blood, and so in his generosity, in his compassion, that’s what God’s like.
In his telling of the truth, that’s what God’s like.
In his love, and forgiveness, and sacrifice, that’s what God’s like.
That’s who God is. That’s how the song goes.”

The question from this statement was “Is God compassionate, truthful, loving and forgiving OR is God compassion, truth, love and forgiveness?”

I simply answered yes because I both believe he IS all these things, but also that he is able to offer all these things.

“The song is playing all around us all the time, the song is playing everywhere, it’s written on our hearts, and everybody is playing the song. See, the question isn’t whether or not you’re playing a song, the question is, “Are you in tune?”

PS) I tried to add a Youtube video but couldn’t work it out… any advice from the experts?

Gay-bashing in Christian love

Beautiful bishops outfits!Tonight I went over for my surrogate Mum and Dad’s house for dinner with a few people they have ‘collected’ over the years, some of whom are in church some aren’t. Tonight we ended up with a very heated discussion about a variety of things, but as usual it ended up with a discussion/argument about homosexuality and Christianity.

There is one couple there that really, really irritate me, especially the woman, who I will call Julie. She and her husband don’t currently attend a local church because the one they really like is too far away. They have been to various local churches, but always have complaints about them because they just aren’t the same as St. Too-Far-Away – in fact they are utterly unwilling to give anything else a chance because they have expectations of their own. Of course, it is never their fault that the church isn’t right; it is too unwelcoming, too liberal, too unfriendly, too big, too small, too this, too that.

Anyway, tonight they started off a discussion about Jeffrey John and how if he is ever made a Bishop they will never be a part of a church that supports him. To be honest, I can cope with that as it is their choice. What really offends me thought is their insistence that they actually have no problem with gay people, just those who are practicing gays. For a start I find this quite an offensive term… most of my friends aren’t practicing, they are experts. Secondly, it is none of their business what another person does in their bedroom. I did ask Julie whether she thought it was acceptable for me to question her sexual behaviour. Of course she wasn’t happy about this comment, but by this time I was on a roll.
Julie also commented that she had no problem with someone who had committed other types of “sinful behaviour” (her words not mine) becoming a Bishop, just those who were gay. It seems to me that this is a very hypocritical attitude to take, regardless of what you think of the individual.

This whole subject makes me very pissed off. This couple are unwilling to be educated. They come from an ultra-conservative background and will only listen to preachers that they know are going to say things they approve of. I suggested a few different speakers they might like to listen to, such as James Alison, but I suspect they would not even entertain the idea, firstly because he is gay, but secondly because he is a Catholic .

Having discussions like this sadly reminds me that we have a huge mountain to climb in trying to address these issues amongst conservative Christians. It is so difficult to try and educate people who have no interest in trying to see things from another person’s perspective. And, yet it also makes me sad. I still think the church misses out by not being opening and accepting to those people who have different sexualities, genders and identities. They still see them as a threat, when really they should be seeing them as a gift. A great and glorious gift which brings true diversity to a church which needs colour, life and most of all, a church that is a reflection of God’s gloriously random Kingdom.

The glorious mess of humanity

DSCN4319On 7 October 2008 an article appeared in The Times called ”The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuality”. The reporter Lucy Bannerman took a little trip to an Exodus International conference where she met some people who were intent on kicking their Same Sex Attraction (SSA).

The article is interesting, but it left me feeling sad, unbelievably sad, that beautiful people are still putting themselves through these sorts of programmes. I know of several people who have been involved with these sorts of organisations, all of whom have now accepted their sexuality as part of who they are. The damage that is caused when people try to change their true nature can be catastrophic, and I still believe that some people will never recover from the emotional trauma they are put through. Not only is damage done to those people who attend the programmes but the assertion that ”marriage is evidence of healing” also means that spouses, and children, are damaged too. The idea that getting married and living this fake life is evidence of healing scares me. Living an inauthentic life can never be evidence of true healing.

Instead I believe that individuals who truly find out who they really are, and who learn to celebrate their identity are those who truly find healing. I have been involved with Courage for many years and originally they were an ex-gay ministry… these days though they are gay-affirming and it feels like a very different place to be. Jeremy Marks who heads up Courage is mentioned in the article…

“One ex-gay leader who has come to the same conclusion is Jeremy Marks. A mild-mannered 56-year-old from Surrey, he pioneered one of the first ex-gay networks in the UK. But after ten years, the attempted suicide of a former resident led him to question the value of SSA therapy. He found that, rather than helping people, it led to depression and dysfunctional behaviour. “They stopped going to church, stopped going to work,” he recalls. “The only ones who appeared to be doing well were those who accepted that they were gay and got on with their lives.” Marks is now openly gay and runs Courage, a support group for gay Christians.”

To be honest I think he nails it with this quote…

“Really, what the ex-gay movement is all about is salving the conscience of the Christian leaders who don’t like to be accused of homophobia,” he says. “That way they can say ‘we don’t hate gays – look how we are welcoming them’.”

The article also mentions Peterson Toscano who is an ex-gay survivor and along with Christine Bakke set up an organisation called Beyond Ex-Gay They offer help and support for those who have been through ex-gay movements and allow them to share their stories, often stories that have been hidden for many years behind layers of guilt, shame and a sense of failure.

Whilst organisations such as Exodus exist the need for people like Peterson and Christine will continue. We need those who have gone before to share their stories and show that the pressure that is put on people to conform to a particular set of values, roles and identities is not necessarily the right way. We need people to show that there is light at at what might be a very dark tunnel for those who struggle with their sexuality and identity. We also need those people who are straight allies. Those who will share the pain, stories, tears and the hopes and fears with those who are trying to work things through. We need people to advocate in our churches, who will continue to suggest that ex-gay programmes do not work and in fact will be damaging for the beautiful LGBT people in our congregations.

Life would be so boring if we were all the same. Who wants to be surrounded by people who are identical clones? Let us share in the glorious mess of humanity, the wonderful different people we come across and celebrate the individuality we find around us every day.

A sense of belonging

On 7 October 2007 I went for the first time to a little Anglican church just down the road from me. That means I have been there a whole year now and I still can’t believe that I have found somewhere to call home. My months of wandering around meant that I was becoming disallusioned and desperately needing somewhere that I could feel at home. The church has given me the space to be me, I have hooked up with a cell group that is good fun and that has made a huge difference to my sense of belonging.

The church is at the centre of a village community and it’s focus on community has been one of the most important things to me. It has events for the community, prays for the people of the parish and expects to be central to the life of the village. It is a vibrant place, filled with hope and they have just started a big redevelopment of the building to make it more user friendly. For the first time in years I want to be at church and I miss it when I am not there.

I needed somewhere that I could be authentic, and whilst I am quite sure that many of the people at the church don’t approve of everything I do or say, I am still convinced that they approve of who I am. Last night I went to cell group and the new curate came to join us. We were talking about various things and she gave me a real affirmation of who I am called to be and she encouraged me to be authentic about my faith. A sense of belonging has given me back the confidence to be who I am, without shame and without excuse. You can’t buy that with a Mastercard!