Tag Archives: lesbian

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.

On Being an Ally

Once again Peterson has written a particularly thoughtful blog post about being an ally to trans-folk. He mailed me and asked me to post a comment answering these two questions…

What have you learned from knowing transgender folks?
How has your life been enriched?

This was my response…

I am a straight woman.

I am an ally.

For me being an ally to trans-folk is no different to being an ally to gay men and women. Being an ally is a personal learning experience; one filled with pain and tears, but ultimately an experience that not to be missed. Being an ally has helped me change. My opinions and presumptions have shifted. My willingness to question what I believe to be true has increased and my belief in the goodness and the God in each person has become more and more important. A chance meeting with a gay man when I was 19 started this lifelong change, and more encounters with people who are different to me has continued this exciting journey. However, standing alongside those who are broken and weeping is hard, and standing as a shield to them when they are in the line of fire is even harder.

So, to answer the question, ‘What have you learned from knowing transgender folks?’ I probably need to change the question to ‘What have you learned from being ally?’ as it is more inclusive. The answer is simple. I have learnt to be myself. Their struggles have helped me find out who I am. Being an ally isn’t a selfish thing, but it has helped me to grow into the woman I believe God intended me to be.

To answer the second question ‘How has your life been enriched?’ – well that is easy! My life has been changed beyond recognition. Without meeting those people to whom I became an ally I would probably have married when I was 21 and be happily ensconced in a charismatic evangelical church with a quiver-full of children. My life has been enriched by the most wonderful people. Those who challenge my perception of what is right, or what justice looks like and ultimately what God looks like. Oh, and not to mention these wonderful people have the best parties and the most outrageous fun. Life would be distinctly duller without them!!!!

Being an ally is painful, but more than that it is a pleasure and privilege.

I wouldn’t change it.

I am not sure that being an ally is something you choose to do… it is much more organic than that. You meet gay/lesbian/bi/trans people and you defend them, support them and love them. It seems to me that being ally just means loving people enough to want to protect them, even if they don’t think they need protecting.

In my humble opinion being an ally means showing that you can love.

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

The retreat

DSCN5225Well now I have finally had time to catch up with myself I can think a little bit about the weekend. As usual it was fab to spend some time with the boys and girls of Courage in the beautiful Charney Manor. The company was fabulous, the surroundings wonderful and the food spectacular.

DSCN5222The subject matter for this years retreat was ”From Certainty to Serenity” and it was mainly about the the questions we ask ourselves and others. Questions about God, the church, life, relationships, where we’re going, why we are here. Any and every question possible. Instead of shying away from those questions the retreat encouraged us to keep asking and keep searching, and more importantly to enjoy the journey even if we didn’t get the answers we wanted or expected. The last session we had was communion. There is something particularly wonderful about sharing communion with such a diverse group of people. The singing, as always, was divine, harmonies all over the place. The weaving together of the voices seemed to reflect the fact that the differences we all had didn’t matter too much when we all came together for a common reason.

DSCN5230This retreat wasn’t quite what I expected but during the middle of it I realised just how far I have come since I first started attending Courage retreats about 8 years ago. Back then I was just a sobbing mess in the corner with someone supplying me with a constant stream of tissues. I was insecure and naive and whilst I still have moments when I feel like that the majority of the time I am more confident about who I am, and more importantly who God has called me to be.

Courage has done me good. It has given me the space to find out who the real me is, and the safe space to explore what that really means. The retreat gave me space to reflect and consider what was in the past, to look at the present and to wonder what the future might be like. I also laughed my socks off and drank plenty of wine… but that was an added bonus :)

RC Part 52 – Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks

I have just finished reading Exhanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks.

This is Jeremy’s story of how he founded Courage and how over the years the focus of Courage has changed and transformed into something very different from that which he expected. In the early years Courage encouraged gay men and women to pursue celibacy and whilst (I don’t believe) they encouraged people to change from being gay to being straight, they did advise and counsel people that they would have to suppress their same-sex attractions in order to live a Godly life. Over time Jeremy became increasingly uncomfortable with this position and in 2001 they changed their pastoral approach to one which fully supports same-sex partnerships. As a result they lost many supporters, had to leave Exodus International and the Evangelical Alliance.

I have had the privilege of being involved with Courage for about 12 years, so have been with them both as an ex-gay ministry and an affirming ministry. This book charts that progress and the difficulties that have been faced along the way. Jeremy does look at Scripture on the way through the book, but what struck me again and again was what enormous integrity Jeremy Marks has show through the process. I have always known that he is a gentle, kind and Godly man but his strength is something that I have often overlooked.

This is a great read, especially if you are unsure as to how to respond to the issues and, in my opinion, should be a compulsory read for everyone who is in the church!

Courage

I have had a very moving day, in so many ways. Today was the 20th anniversary celebration for Courage. Courage is a Christian organisation which works with lesbian, gay and bisexual men women, as well as being a safe and open place for their friends and families.

I have been involved with Courage since about 1996 when my friend Simon (who obviously at one point I thought I was going to marry because he is lovely!) came out to me. As a very naive 20 year old I didn’t really know how to deal with it, despite wanting to support him and gain some understanding into what he was going through. I was trying to reconcile my faith and beliefs with what Simon was experiencing and my brain was a bit fried really. Simon got involved with Courage and he introduced me to Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage who offered me an amazing amount of support, helping me to try and understand what Simon was going through. At this time Courage was an ex-gay ministry; they believed that it was possible for gay men and women to change, either to become heterosexual, or to live a life of celibacy but not necessarily changing their sexual orientation.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to personal circumstances I stopped going to Courage for a while and when I went back in 2000-and-something I found that they had changed significantly. Instead of being an ex-gay movement Courage had transformed into this wonderful ministry; affirming gay men and women and encouraging them to be real and honest about their personal journies.

Today’s celebration was a very moving and emotional experience. I saw friends I haven’t seen for years and years (including the lovely Maris who still gives the best cuddles ever) and as part of the service we heard testimonies from several people who shared their stories of faith, recovery and hope and the ways in which Courage and Jeremy had helped them. I unashamedly wept throughout some of these stories as the individuals shared about their brokenness.

Having had a train trip home to reflect on today, and the last 12 years, and once again I realised that it is such an awesome privilege to have shared the journey with these men and women. During the service I stood alongside my friend Simon and some of my other close friends, and as we worshipped I know that I have such a depth of connection with them. Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, my journey with these guys has run a parallel course with their journies, intersecting at various points along the way. The pain of their brokenness and the ways in which their churches have treated them have increased my passion for those who are disaffected by our religious institutions and leaders. My desire to stand up for their rights as individuals who are loved by God, to be a straight ally, is undiminished. This role has been costly, being seen as an outsider is difficult, no matter the reason you feel excluded. Indeed being seen as an ally has put me at odds with church groups and leaders, and at times even my family, and yet, I hold onto the belief that this is a place that God has called me to be.

Would I have chosen a different journey if I had known that it would be painful along the way? I doubt it somehow. Their experiences, and mine, have brought such a richness to my life. They have challenged me out of my middle-class, self-righteous, charismatic, straight, evangelical, know-it-all roots.

These days I am happy to live with the not-knowing, with not being able to make things OK for them. I am happy to not have all the answers. I am content to be a safe place for them to come home to. I delight in being a refuge for them when everything is confusing and difficult and I am grateful that they have shared their lives and struggles with me. The extremes of emotions that we have shared is extraordinary and I laugh and cry more with these people than almost anyone else.

These people have made me who I am today.

Thank you.

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Grace

71 Last night I had the most amazing conversation with my younger sister. At times she and I are like chalk and cheese and yet last night I feel as though we met in a much more honest and emotional way than ever before. She had been reading my blog about my recent weird God experiences and she started talking about the fact that for the first time ever she is finally beginning to understand what grace really means.

It seems to me that grace is one of those theological concepts that we feel we should understand, and yet it is a slippery little monster to get to grips with. Over the last few years my understanding of grace has been one of the most sustaining things for my Christian faith. Where the church has failed in so many ways, the knowledge that no matter what I do God still loves me passionately has continued to hold onto me. Finally my sister is starting to understand what this means, and yet it seems to be rocking her world. I am not entirely sure that is a bad thing either, but it is distinctly uncomfortable for her.

In the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? a Christian counsellor David Seamans is quoted as saying

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of the most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that love, forgiveness and the grace to other people… We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.”

There have been three books which have shaped my view on faith, and in particular my understanding of grace; The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. I read all three of these books quite close together, and in particular the Nouwen and the Manning books really challenged my viewpoint of myself, and how I believe God sees me.

The other interesting thing about our conversation is that I was trying to explain to my sister that one of the reasons I feel so comfortable in the queer Christian community is that many LGBT men and women have good understanding and experience of what grace means. It would seem that for the first time ever my sister may understand why my attraction and inclusion in that community is so important for me. For those people who sit outside of perceived social norms and expectations, especially in the church, grace is vital. Not only it is about grace being directed to other people we meet, but also the ability for individuals to direct grace towards themselves. There is nothing quite like sitting in a large group of people, sharing communion, and knowing that their struggles are held together by grace. I don’t get that in church, but I do get it at Courage. The knowledge that none of us are there because of who we are, but because of who God is is overwhelming.

So why is grace so hard to understand? Is it that we all live in a world which is obsessed with achievement and results? Is it that we all have such low self-esteem that we don’t believe we are worth being given things we have not worked for? I am not sure, but all I know is that my faith is built on grace. Without it I have nothing, and failure to get to grips with it will mean that I will burn myself out, trying so hard to pursue the ideal but gaining nothing of substance.

Grace. It’s more than enough for me.

Final thoughts

A couple of final thoughts on the weekend.

One of the most interesting experiences of my weekend was being a complete minority, that of a straight woman. I told very few people that I was straight, mainly because I didn’t feel it was that important, and also I wondered how people would react because I was at a conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. However, the few people who did find out were totally unfazed by it, although I did get a bit of teasing which was quite funny. It taught me a lot about what it feels like to not be part of ‘the norm’. It was a truly enlightening weekend, in so many ways.
The other unexpected pleasure of the weekend was seeing June Boyce-Tillman who was a lecturer at King Alfred’s College (now the University of Winchester) when I was there over 10 years ago. She conducted the choir that I was part of and to be honest she always scared me a little bit. She is undeniably eccentric, progressive and wonderful and to meet her again was amazing. What I realise now is that when I was at college I was really too young to be dealing with some of the things that I was addressing. I don’t regret going to college then, or studying that subject, but it is only now that I can see just how much I have moved on, both in who I am as a person but also in my thinking and understanding. Seeing June again reminded me of what a privileged grounding I had as an 18-year-old, and now I am reaping the rewards of that background. Before I left June gave me the most wonderful blessing and affirmation. She just reassured me that where I am, both physically and emotionally is a wonderful place and the place that God has called me to be.

Heavenly communion

I have had a very moving day. This morning we had a communion service which was just wonderful. It had none of the same magic tricks that bothered me so much about the service the other day, instead it was truly liberating, enlightening and wonderful.

We did a bit of harmony singing and then one of the clergy in the congregation blessed some water and in groups we gave each other blessings. The most humbling part for me came when we came to communion though. It was very simply done, with people just passing around and sharing the bread and wine, and yet as we started I began to weep, and I could not stop.

There was something about the whole experience, being joined together with other believers who come from different denominations, countries and yet as we gathered together around the bread and wine the similarities between us made more sense than the differences. The knowledge that some of the people there come from environments which make it very difficult for them to be honest about who they are made the whole experience even more profound for me. As I looked around I realised that it wasn’t just me who was weeping. It seemed that not only were we joined together in a celebration, but also in our sadness, fears, hopes and dreams. It was a truly heavenly experience and one which I feel will continue to be real to me for some time.

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.