Saturday, 5 May 2018

Christian LGBT+ Seasons Change Again

Every so often on this blog I used to do updates on where I saw the land lying with regard to the LGBT+ Christian world. It was something I stopped doing because it no longer seemed relevant. LGBT+ Christianity has become much more visible and “mainstream”. I realise that perhaps I had gotten tired with it all, but I am aware we seem to be going into a change of season again, where things which have been growing over time are now coming into bloom. We are also at a time when that new fruit is leading to hard decisions about should some stuff be pruned.

Firstly the stuff coming into bloom. Peterson Toscano is a performance artist many of you will be aware of. He is a Quaker queer environmentalist. Over the years many of his shows have dealt with issues related to sexuality and gender but he has always been a strong environmentalist and increasingly that has influenced his work. This summer and autumn he is coming back to the UK. In addition to being at Greenbelt and he and Ruth Wilde of Christian Peacemaker Teams are going on tour with Everything Is Connected.

Then there are a couple of new autobiographical books coming out from Vicky Beeching and Jane Ozanne. Beeching’s Undivided is out on June 14th and Ozanne’s Just Love 2nd July. These women are ones who have expert knowledge on how to engage with the media and so I won’t be at all surprised if they make a splash outside the usual circles. Vicky will also be appearing at Greenbelt alongside acts including Pussy Riot, Carol Ann Duffy, We Are Scientists, Michael Eavis, Broderick Geer and Jack Monroe.

Another area of bloom are texts looking to support churches engaging with Trans Christians. The first of these is an excellent book Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource by Christina Beardsley, Chris Dowd and Justin Tanis. This is the one I would most strongly recommend if you want to get hold of a resource to support you. It is based on many years experience, research and work in this area. A shorter resource which may also be useful is The Gender Agenda from Steve Chalke and Oasis.

With regard to the campaigning and pastoral care side of things there seems to be a much broader base of support - which is excellent. But the fact is there are still lots of LGBT+ people, particularly young LGBT+ people struggling with the fact they are being told/ or are getting the impression through silence on the subject it’s wrong to be who they are.

The reasons for this include the fact that beyond the new blooming and apparent openness, many of the old battles continue and new ones emerge. Since last time I wrote on this topic, almost a year ago trans people become more visible and that brings with it both positives and negatives for these groups to engage in. The positives the recognition of their existence and the need for specific liturgies and policies and resources such as those mentioned above. The negatives, once apparent invisibility disappears, the amount of vitriol being directed by those who previously ignored increases and this demands these groups respond.

Those giving the alternative interpretations of the bible, which they usually argue is “the truth” and “the word of God” rather than one interpretation of bible, which is the word of God are getting more professional and organised. Ironically their campaigning against trans inclusion bringing them into informal coalition with trans excluding radical feminists in lobbying against changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

This increased professionalization is leading to the need for an equally professional response from the LGBT+ organisations as in the ongoing debates within the church continue. In the Methodist Church this has led to the formation of Dignity and Worth, an excellent membership based organisation which is seeking to change the dialogue from being adversarial to being something which will enable the church to move forward in a way which will allow and celebrate affirmation but also not seek to exclude those of differing opinion.

This new environment is drawing many of the older organisations to a point of asking hard questions, as with Outcome the older Methodist LGBT+ group. The key question they will be addressing at their Day by Day annual public meeting in Coventry on 19th May is what is their future. Are they, as with Affirm the Baptist LGBT+ group and One Body One Faith going to be able to draw in new life and move forward in a fresh way or is it time to say we hand over the batten to others? * Note: It appears the Outcome general meeting is not now happening on that date, but the question still remains to be addressed.

Whatever happens though we must not forget the debt we owe to those who have led and supported Outcome and other LGBT+ Christian organisations over the years. These are the people who often lived before the decriminalisation of homosexuality and fought the hard battles that mean life is so different for many of us now. These are the people who in the Methodist Church took the motions to conference and argued the case for affirmation and inclusion.