Tag Archives: Election

The ‘Christian Hustings’

Following on from an earlier post, last night I went to the ‘Christian Hustings’ hosted by ‘Christians and Candidates’ with TractorGirl. Chairing the event was the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, and the Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and UKIP candidates were there. It was held on my home territory, in Elvet Methodist Church, and all the downstairs and about a third of the balcony was full of young people, a remarkable sight given I’m used to seeing a mostly empty church. The organisers had a clear agenda, to address what they considered to be vital issues for Christians, namely freedom of speech, homosexuality, the family, abortion, embryo research and euthanasia. As one can see from the links above, the view taken on these issues was mostly a conservative evangelical one, with which I often find myself being deeply uncomfortable.

I was not impressed with the UKIP candidate, Nigel Coghill-Marshall. He came out with some sexist gems like working women “have their Gucci handbags, now they want a child” and some of his other views were racist. TractorGirl tells me that he was articulate and thoughtful for a UKIP candidate, which is worrying.

The Conservative candidate, Nick Varley, is a twenty year-old local lad and I have to admit I was impressed by him. He talked sense and while I don’t share all his views, was impressed with his integrity, how he handled disagreeing with the vast majority of the audience and dealt with the Bishop’s questioning. He was against section 28, which is important, as I’ll explain later.

The Lib Dem candidate, Carol Woods, came across as very nervous and uncomfortable dealing with a religious group with whom she disagreed. I was uncomfortable with her statement that religion and politics should be kept separate in public life and her desire to see the bishops removed from the House of Lords. Having said that, the rest of what she said was good stuff and I liked her, even her focus was perhaps too ‘town not gown’ given the audience.

The Labour candidate, Roberta Blackman-Woods really impressed me. I admired her for sticking to her guns over the Equality Bill and other issues like abortion, and I felt that she cared about representing all of her constituents. She seemed a genuinely warm person and handled the disagreements with the Bishop and audience members well.

For the most part, the debate consisted of a grilling of the candidates by the Bishop, who was genuine, gracious and fair. While I struggle with the assumption that the conservative evangelical view is the biblical view, he did, in fairness, give me the opportunity to take the mic when TractorGirl and I were the only ones applauding Nick Varley’s disagreement with Section 28 in a church with about 400 people in it!

I felt it was really important to challenge the idea that there is only one Christian view on issues like human sexuality. Before the debate began, TractorGirl was nervous of introducing me to a fellow Streetlights person as her partner, and this confirmed to me the need to speak out, even though I must admit that given 95% of the audience disagreed with me I was terrified, and there were cameras there for some sort of Christian TV channel.

When given the unexpected opportunity, I explained that I am both a Christian and gay, that Section 28 was a bad thing because ‘no promotion of homosexuality’ was interpreted by my school to mean ‘no discussion of homosexuality’, which left me feeling that my sexual orientation was a dirty secret to keep hidden (not least to avoid being bullied any more than I already was – I was different enough already!), and that where I am is a painful place to be as one gets a hard time both from the gay community (who often assume conservative Christians are homophobic, which is mostly not the case) and from the Church (I’ve been told I’m going to hell several times and either insulted, humiliated or at best just blanked by people). The Bishop was very gracious in response to this, and we had a lovely chat afterwards. I collected another picture for my ‘Me with Bishops’ collection of photos (an odd hobby of mine), which I’ll post when TractorGirl gets it developed.

The evening has convinced me that I will vote for Roberta, despite my reservations about some aspects of Labour Party policy, which has moved so far to the right as to be vastly different from the ‘democratic, socialist party’ on my old membership card. I had been worried the candidates would be bullied into submission, but they all held their own and liberal Christians like me will hopefully have a representative who listens to their views as well as engaging with more conservative folks. I was upset a bit by the nasty looks some people I know from Christchurch gave me as I left, but I think I did the right thing in standing up for what I believe, while doing my best to respect others.

In response to a discussion on Facebook, I’ve got some book and website suggestions:

Rowan Williams, ‘The Body’s Grace’

Gene Robinson, ‘In The Eye of the Storm’

Michael Vasey, ‘Strangers and Friends’

Daniel Helminiak, ‘What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality’

Robin Scrogg, ‘The New Testament and Homosexuality’

Kim Frabricius, ‘Ten Propositions on the Church and Same-Sex Relationships’

Homosexuality and Elections

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook their reasons for not signing the Westminster Declaration which is currently doing the rounds with the election looming and the perceived threat of Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill to Christianity in Britain. It’ll be pretty obvious to anyone who knows me that I won’t be signing and have profound issues with it, not just relating to sexuality but the whole idealisation of the nuclear family. It got me to thinking about various encounters I’ve had with people in the Church in the last few months:

Person A is heterosexual and, due to the teaching of the church they belong to, believes that sex is wrong outside of heterosexual marriage.

The range of responses I’ve had when coming out to such people goes from ‘I don’t think it’s God’s plan for your life’ to ‘you’re going to hell’, with various in-between views. What I find difficult here is not disagreement itself, as healthy dialogue helps everyone to be better informed, but the lack of respect and willingness to listen inherent in some people’s responses (though liberals (including me, for which I’m sorry) have also done this to more conservative Christians).

Person B is side B and has been deeply hurt by their experiences of the gay scene, which they have found to be exploitative and dehumanising. They share A’s belief but hold it with much greater vehemence than most.

The person I’m specifically thinking of is a good friend of mine and maintaining the friendship in these circumstances has been deeply costly for both of us. While I want to be understanding and there to support them, (partly because I respect their integrity but mostly because I love them) it is painful because of their unwillingness to acknowledge that part of the reason I’m a happier bunny these days is because of being honest with myself about my sexual orientation and being in a loving, faithful, committed relationship. I think admitting this would be too threatening to the religious view that allows this person to move on from their past, and they have been (almost uncertainly unintentionally) very hurtful in how they express their views. Tied in with this is their opposition to the ordination of women.

Person C used to be side B because of the teaching of the church they were in but gradually has become side A. They consider it crucially important that the views of A and B are respected and will go out of their way to avoid offending them.

On the one hand, I agree with this. The command to love one’s neighbour as one’s self does not just apply to those who agree with my own views on issues of human sexuality. On the other hand, there is a fine line between respecting opposing views and compromising integrity. While being ‘in your face’ is not helpful, neither is hiding away. Further, this view can be naïve about how some people will appeal to the Bible or ‘nature’ to justify their existing prejudices. Hatred is hatred, whether or not there are Bible verses to back it up (re. the BNP’s claim to be authentically Christian).

Person D is side A and attends the Metropolitan Community Church. They cannot understand why anyone would want to belong to a mainstream denomination that can make life hard work for gay and lesbian Christians.

I have some sympathy with this as the ordination process in the Church of England makes sexual orientation a defining characteristic (where as I have finally(!) realised that actually it is a very small part of who I am) and reduces relationships to what happens in the bedroom. It can be very difficult to be in a mainstream church and I know people who attend MCC because of their experiences and how much it hurt them. My experience of it is of a loving group of people who made me very welcome. On the other hand, for me, mainstream denominations are not going to change if all LGBT people jump ship, and this does make sexual orientation pivotal, which I am uncomfortable with doing.

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My reason for pondering these encounters is the upcoming election hustings in Durham, chaired by the former Bishop of Rochester, which as the links in TractorGirl’s post on this show, has a definite agenda in terms of the Equality Bill. According to some of these folks, because of my relationship, I am not a real Christian. It seems to me that homosexuality is being used as a set piece issue for people who are struggling with the lack of automatic deference in a post-Christendom age, and is something about which they feel they must ‘make a stand on’ over and against the wider culture.

All four of these encounters, especially that with B, have been difficult as they highlight the loneliness one can experience being Christian, female, gay, in a committed, loving relationship and in a mainstream denomination. I am happy to engage with and hope I manage to respect those whose views are different to my own within the C of E and the wider Church. However, I often feel that I am treated with very little respect and am expected to bend to the opinions of others. Having said that, the churches in Durham of which I am a part have been wonderfully supportive and my sexual orientation is much, much less important than the fact that I am happy.

I’ve drafted this e-mail which I attend to send to the Labour and Lib Dem candidates (as realistically our next MP will be one of them):

Dear Candidate,

I am writing to you about the forthcoming election hustings at Elvet Methodist Church on Friday 30th April. As is clear from my research into the motives of the organisers, there is an agenda in terms of opposition to the recent Equality Bill and a sense that issues like homosexuality are forcing Christians to act against their consciences. Some of the language implies that gay Christians in relationships are not really Christian at all. As someone in this position, I hope that you will bear in mind that there are many Christians who are gay and in committed, faithful and loving relationships, which is a very lonely place to be, given the hostility one sometimes encounters from both the Church and the gay community. The message that the Equality Bill sends out is, in my opinion, very important as it affirms the value of LGBT people in society. While clashes of this with individual conscience are difficult to resolve, please do not forget that those of us stuck in the middle often have the hardest time of all. I pray that instead of getting bogged down in such discussions, these hustings give an opportunity to discuss the issues that really matter, like care for the poor and disadvantaged, climate change and care for creation, and human rights and dignity, which are so central to the Christian Gospel.

TOH