Tag Archives: Sexuality

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.

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.

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 :)

Retreat

Today I am off on a retreat with Courage. I am really looking forward to it, not least because I have had such a tiring week and I am looking forward to not having to look after myself this weekend. All my meals are provided, I have a bed to sleep in and I can spend time with people who I love and who are such fun. Not least I get to have some time with God in a totally different environment.

One of the best things about Courage is the singing! It is totally heavenly; mainly men, often singing in harmony and I adore it. The subject is “From Certainty to Serenity” and it seems to be mainly about the questions we ask. Lord knows I have asked so many questions over the last few years, and whilst I have had answers to some of them, it is the ones that haven’t been answered that I am more interested in.

The weeping woman

DSCN5008There was one other thing that was a little unexpected for me last night. As I sat and listened to Peterson’s presentation I was thinking I was home and dry – it wouldn’t affect me as I had heard it already….. or not, as the case may be.

I was listening to the end of one the extracts that Peterson was performing, talking about Lazarus coming out of the tomb and being carefully and gently unwrapped by the disciples. I found myself weeping at this story, recognising that for me part of the role I feel fulfill for my gay Christian friends is this unwrapping. Helping them to reveal their true self; the authentic, congruent, honest, genuine, open, gentle, beautiful self that God has truly created them to be.

This story has helped me to see more clearly that like the women who stood at the tomb and wept over Lazarus, the depth of sorrow that I feel for my friends who suffer in the tomb of their denial and fear is just as profound. So often I question my place to stand alongside people, knowing that I haven’t faced the struggles they go through, that I cannot possibly understand the complexities of emotions and their fears. Yet, I cannot deny that God has called me to such a place as this.

Helping to unwrap the grave clothes of an individual does not mean that we know what the person is going to look like underneath, but God doesn’t always tell us what to expect when we follow his instructions. For me, the call has been to stand alongside, to be supportive and often to painfully reflect back honesty and truth with love, compassion and integrity.

On the website Beyond Ex-Gay Peterson includes a poem he wrote called Grave Robbers. He concludes his play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House with it and says “I end the performance by reciting this poem dedicating it to all the people who helped me to become me.”

Whilst these are Peterson’s words, they are also my story.

Grave Robbers

Lazarus came forth, gleaming white,
A pillar wrapped tight outside his tomb.
Jesus looked at us, “Take off the grave clothes,
And let him go.”

Panic twisted my gut like a wet washrag
Wringing out courage.

Who knows how to undress a mummy raised from the dead?
Does one start at the heart or close to the head?
We circled him as if he were a bomb to diffuse.
Then we began in earnest,
Unbinding, tearing, speaking comfort as we went.
The crowd pressed in hurling advice like stones.

Lazarus stood like marble, cold from his grave,
While we sweated in the cruel sun,
Unwrapping his trappings.
But suddenly, (or did it take years?)
It was complete.
Mary and Martha washed their brother in tears:
He was free — naked and in his right mind.

Peterson and the Archbishop of Wales

DSCN5039OK, now I am home and almost unpacked, I feel that I just might be also be able to unpack a little of my head-space.

Going to the Lambeth Conference was undoubtedly an unexpected pleasure. I would never in a million of years have expected to be able to go, not least because in many ways it didn’t interest me in the slightest. However, having decided to tag along with Peterson (I was even asked by someone if I was his minder!! Do I look that butch?) I was curious to see what it was like. As a member of the public it is possible to wander around the campus with any students who are left, to watch the Bishops and their spouses coming and going, and to look around the Market Place tent. There were stands selling gorgeous outfits for the clergy right next to stands promoting right for LGBT folks. It was an interesting mix to say the least.

Peterson performed shows in Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The one on Thursday was particularly interesting as BBC Wales were filming a documentary or something about Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales. Peterson’s performance was fab, but what was especially moving was that at the end of the show the archbishop gave the most wonderfully affirming comments to Peterson. It was very moving to hear him talk about how he was surprised that Peterson had maintained any kind of faith after going through such difficult things, and to hear him congratulate him and encourage him in his work.

It seems to me that having hung around and watched the comings and goings at Lambeth there was so much expectation on it being a big deal and that there were going to be fireworks happening all over the place. The sense I got from the people I spoke to is that there has been a lot of relationship building going on and much of this has happened through spending time talking and in what they called the Indaba groups. Apparently Indaba is “a Zulu word for a gathering for purposeful discussion. It is both a process and method of engagement as we listen to one another concerning challenges that face our community and by extension the Anglican Communion.”

Whilst I am not sure that any resolution was reached there was a definite sense of hope floating around. Of course, that may be my wishful thinking, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

(The picture is actually Peterson with the Archbishop of Canterbury Christmas tree ornament, but I thought it was kind of funny!!)

Maris

In The Independent on 4 July 2008 there was an article about a friend of mine called Maris. He is an amazing individual who has been forced to flee his home country of Latvia due to homophobia Here is an extract from the article,

Maris
“I am from Latvia. And two weeks ago I quit my country to move to London. My reasons for leaving were not economic – I was operating a thriving psychotherapy business. Nor were they for family reasons… It was homophobia. I am gay and over the last few years, I have been physically and verbally assaulted many times. …

Before I came out in 2002, the rumours about my sexuality had already had huge ramifications on my life. I was a pastor in the Latvian church and I had a column in the church newspaper and that was stopped. My weekly radio sermon was taken off the air, and I was kicked out of the cathedral I served in.

On 22 May 2002, I was ex-communicated from the church. Back then there were only three openly gay people in Latvia. My story was on the front pages of all the Latvian newspapers and I have suffered dozens of personal attacks since then. I have been verbally abused, spat at and physically attacked. Last year, two guys ambushed me as I went to baptise a child. Since then my sight started to deteriorate, which my doctor blamed squarely on the stress caused by the attacks. “

The full article can be found here. It mentions quite a lot about the support that Amnesty International have given to Maris and their ongoing work with gay people around the world who are oppressed in their own countries.

Please continue to pray for Maris and other people who are in similar situations for him. The fact that he has chosen to be true to himself, but also to his faith has meant that he has suffered immensely, and yet he is one of the most amazing people I know.

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.

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.