Tag Archives: gender

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.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

Er... what? Dave Warnock helpfully linked to Becki’s blog which made some commentary on the ‘women’s seminars’ at Together with a Mission, the Newfrontiers Conference. The woman who writes this blog comments that…

“I think that’s what modern feminism teaches, that we can have it all – that by giving women loads of life choices, society liberates them. I actually think the reverse is true. A society that tells women they can do everything forces them to strive to be the best mother, wife, employee, and housewife that she can be, which leaves women stressed and trapped. I think I’d got myself into this mindset.”

What Becki is commenting on above is not feminism… it is putting women into a box that has been created for them by men (NB. please note I am specifically talking about men in these sorts of churches). It is confining and squeezing women to a role that men think is appropriate and suitable for their gender. That is not feminism.

My favourite quote about feminism is by Rebecca West, and it says,

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.”

Dave’s comment on Becki’s musings are,

“In my experience Christian feminist thinking is actually freeing for women and men. It sets us free from stereotypes that may not fit and free from rigid expectations, free to be the people that we are created to be. Free to work out our relationships in ways that are appropriate for our personalities, preferences and abilities.”

The Pieta My experience of Becki’s version of “Newfrontiers feminism” is that I was made to feel inferior. I was made to feel inferior by the fact that I was not married by the age of 21 and I had not popped out a quiver full of children by the time I was 25.

I was made to feel substandard by the fact that I was (and am to this day) a questioning, curious, open-minded WOMAN who was truly passionate about the minorities and the broken-hearted; those for whom the church does not necessarily have an answer. Those who are rejected by the church on the basis of their sexuality, gender and identity of romantic choice of partner.

Instead of freeing women up to be creative and dynamic people these churches squeeze women into a ‘gender-appropriate’ role, limiting them to the expectations of the leadership, and not necessarily releasing them into fulfillment of who God has called them to be.

The reality is that many of the women I read about in the bible were not limited by their gender; they were truly counter-cultural. I think of people like Queen Esther, Rahab, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Ruth, Deborah, Lydia, the woman at the well and Abigail. I could go on, but these were all women who shaped biblical history, who in one way or the other made choices that would mark them down as women of great faith.

I don’t see a God who limited his future into one shaped like a man, only choosing men to do his works. Instead I see a God who truly delighted in the women in the Bible… who saw them and their destinies before the world began and, I believe, actively made choices to choose women to fulfill his story. So, it is this God that I choose to lay my hope in.

Newfrontiers and women

This week Newfrontiers is hosting their Leadership Conference in Brighton entitled “Together on a Mission”. They have a variety of different speakers including a load of Newfrontiers leaders, but also they have Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Adrian Warnock is blogging live from the event and summarising some of the main speakers and their messages. Yesterday he blogged about Mark Driscoll’s talk entitled Missional Movements. Whilst I have no problem with quite a lot of what was said (or what was reported by Adrian at least) there is one things that really stood out for me in this blog entry. It is this statement…

“Young men, you need to step up…One prayer is for a bunch of 20 year old guys with hope who will plant churches and preach the gospel with hope. Be looking at all times for men in their 20′s. They will be arrogant, foolish, impetuous, critical, disorganized, and they will be perfect for the task God has for them!”

Now, in many ways I have no problem with this sentiment. I agree that the church needs younger leaders and fresh eyes to interpret and move movements and organisations forward. What I really object to however is this focus on men all the time. In my experience of being in several Newfrontiers churches this is one of the things that is focused on all the time. Men, men, men! Women barely got a look in and certainly for me being a part of one of these churches I always felt that the only way to be validated in any sort of ministry was through marriage . Then you would be freed up and supported in ministry.

This is all very well and good if you happen to be married, but there were plenty of young women who were passionate about God and really desired to serve him and the local church, and yet they were unable to be innovative, forward looking and creative in the ways they chose to serve God because of the barrier of their gender.

As a young(ish) single woman with no potential love interest on the horizon where does that leave me? Does it mean that I have to sit around waiting and searching for Mr. Right, or do I get on with living the life that I currently have and serving God in the places he has called me to? For me, this focus on men and Newfrontiers’ denegration of women was one of the reasons I chose to leave. Whilst Newfrontiers may be critical of the Anglican movement, I have found this to be a more freeing environment as a single woman, something which has come as a complete surprise for me. It seems to me that whereas Newfrontiers churches view the ‘established church’ as being stuck in their ways, it seems to me that often they can be more forward-thinking than they are given credit for.

Transfigurations – Transgressing Gender in the Bible

Today has been a very interesting day. Lots of talks which have given me plenty to think about, but the highlight for me tonight was seeing Peterson Toscano perform his new play Transfigurations – Transgressing Gender in the Bible.

Peterson took us on a very interesting journey, exploring a variety of different characters in the bible who may have been transgender, or who sat outside of gender-normative behaviours. Amongst them we looked at Joseph and his princess dress, Deborah and her big sword, Queen Esther’s eunuch and the part he played in her fulfilling her role in history and the man who was seen carrying water at the Passover.

It was undoubtedly a difficult audience. A mixture of lesbian women, gay men, transgender folk and a couple of straight people thrown in for good measure. Many people did not speak English as a first language and yet I sat and watched people processing what they were seeing and hearing. It seems to me that we are becoming used to hearing gay and lesbian stories told by people who have a variety of different experiences, both positive and negative. However, the stories of transgender people seem to be more invisible. What Peterson managed to do tonight was to bring some of these out, flesh out the people of the bible and provide them with a real and valid voice. Where history seeks to dull the colours of the picture, Transfigurations made everything more vivid for me.

Whilst I had heard snippets of this play, or precursors to it, the whole thing sent shivers up my spine. It is very different to Peterson’s other works, the humour is more subtle although it is still there, but the pace of the story is totally different. It reminded me of the first time I heard him read out Low-Carb Jesus at a meeting. It made me stop in my tracks, made me think and it even made me weep.

This play was beautiful. Centered. Quiet. Honest. Thoughtful. Challenging. Hopeful.

If you get the chance to see it please do. You will undoubtedly leave a changed person.