Chapter 9

Gay Christians and the Church

There are some amazing stories in the New Testament about the early church and the Apostles. There is the remarkable conversion of Saul - a Rabbi and an important Pharisee, taught by Gamaliel himself - a Jew of the Jews, with utmost respect for the Law and separation from the Gentiles. He was to become Paul, 'the apostle to the Gentiles'. You will no doubt be very familiar with his story.

In Acts 10 we find a story that is no less amazing.

It is about a man called Peter - a fisherman, a pillar of the Church. He, like Paul, was fastidious in keeping the Law. As regards the Gentiles, he didn't eat with them, he wouldn't go into their homes, and he would only associate with them when absolutely necessary. That was the Law, and that was how he played it.

Then he had this vision about unclean foods:

'Rise, Peter. Kill and eat!'

'Not so Lord. I have never eaten anything common or unclean.'

Three times the voice challenged:

'What God has cleansed, call not that unclean.' [RSV]

Peter responded amazingly well when he understood what God was saying to him. For it was new truth - difficult new truth. Such truth was to throw to the wind many of the things he formerly considered precious and holy.

But not only did he go to Gentiles to proclaim the gospel; those Gentiles were the hated Roman conquerors. His obedience opened the gate for the Gentile Pentecost!

Yet there is a sadness in what I have to say here. For Peter saw no further than the immediate challenge. It was a big challenge, but he interpreted it only in the sense of what he was called immediately to do. It was a staggering new truth, the breadth of which he did not seem to fully appreciate.

And not only Peter but the Church has interpreted that vision in too narrow a sense. The Church continually has to learn afresh the lesson of Peter's vision. A big struggle is needed to persuade the Church to appreciate how broad the interpretation of this vision could and should be!

The struggle for women in the ministry still going on, 2000 years after this magnificent vision that speaks to us. Traditionalists are still fighting the battle against that great truth.

And the struggle goes on to persuade Christians to welcome homosexual people - men and women - into the full fellowship and ministry of the Church. We are still not listening to that voice which says:

'What God has cleansed, call not that unclean.'

I have come to the conclusion that much of the intolerance in the Church - and it is not universal, thank God - is due to ignorance about the sexuality we call 'homosexuality', and lack of experience of meeting homosexual people while being aware of their sexuality.

This is one of the reasons my wife Carol and I have arranged occasional get-togethers over a buffet meal, for homosexual Christian friends from the Essex LGCM Group and heterosexual Christian friends who have previously been to a Bible study and discussion group where the issue has been properly addressed.

It takes some courage for homosexual Christians to 'come out' to people they have not previously met, as well as for those who meet them. People come apprehensively, but the ice is soon broken, and they go away saying how good it was to meet each other and have the opportunity to talk.

We all know homosexual people because there are so many of them. But so often we just don't know we know them! If we did, many of the false images we had of them would evaporate. We would find we are just like each other!

We would find that they fill many of the posts in our churches, at all levels. They are to be found in all walks of life. There would be so many astonished people if homosexuals, especially those who are Christians, all declared themselves.

The sad thing is that many homosexual people have been hurt so often that they cannot trust us with their truth. This is our problem, and we need to address it. All that most of us know of lesbians and gay men is when one of them fails and we see it in the TV and newspaper headlines.

The good news is that lesbian and gay Christians have so much to offer the Church. Apart from being loving, faithful people, they include many very gifted people among their number.

And they have much to teach us of Christ, who was himself 'despised and rejected'. We need to think how we can work together for the Kingdom of God for we need each other.

From what I have learned, one of the problems homosexual people, especially Christians, struggle with when they enter a loving relationship is the lack of role models. There is no knowledge of homosexuality as we understand it today in the Bible, so there is neither specific guidance nor a 'role model' for those who live in a committed, loving, faithful relationship with a partner of the same sex. The only guidance that the Church offers at present is nearly all negative.

There are of course some general guidelines, such as faithfulness, love and commitment in relationships - values that enrich our most important relationships, and give them stability.

And Christian scholars like Jeffrey John are working at developing role models. His book 'Permanent, Faithful, Stable' says a good deal about the direction this is taking.

Obviously there is a problem about children: homosexual people are denied so much, and I know for some this a great loss. It is easy for those of us who don't understand to say that they should therefore get married.

But pressures on marriage have never been so great, and to add the pressures of a homosexual wife or husband is to place any marriage under almost intolerable strain. While some survive, almost inevitably many such marriages fail.

There is so much for us to think about here - so much to understand. Much compassion needed. Such issues represent the difficult side of the equation.

But there is another side of the equation too - the fact that homosexual Christians are as faithful as, if not more faithful than, most heterosexual Christians. Why?

They have had to struggle with their faith as few other Christians have, and to work through that barrier of tension that has traditionally equated homosexuality with evil. But they know the Lord has called them, though many of them are mystified and mortified at his people's response to them.

I know their love is genuine Christian love, and I know they need to be affirmed - not only to be accepted but to be loved with Christian love. And as Carol and I know from experience, this love is something which will be returned with good measure.

We have shared worship and fellowship with lesbian and gay Christians for a few years now. We have found great understanding for those who have hurt them. And never has there been anything said or any suggestion made that made us feel uncomfortable, or question whether we are doing the right thing.

Rather, have they gone out of their way to welcome us, despite our representing those who cause them problems. We are shown love and respect, even though in our ignorance we have doubtless sometimes said things that have caused some pain or hurt.

Our experience leads us to hold a high opinion of them as Christian people - as faithful, God-loving, Bible-respecting Christians. But they are not to be intimidated. They know who they are. They know they cannot change that part of them that has caused them such problems. In faith they have come to terms with it and know that they are a precious part of God's Kingdom people.

They are not going to go away - or rather I hope they are  not going to go away! We need them for without them we are incomplete.

We in the Church are called by Christ to love them, and  part of loving is seeking to understand. We should  welcome them as Christians into every part of the Church. We should work with them to provide a basis and proper recognition of their 'covenant' relationships. If we do not do these things, we will have failed to obey the command of Christ to 'love one another as I have loved you.'

Carol and I were recently invited to join a weekend conference of Christian fellowship and worship with some 30 lesbian and gay evangelical Christian people. It was a time of Christian love, healing and joy. I gave to them as I opened the scriptures that are in this book, and affirmed them in the love of God. Carol and I received as we shared with them in all the things they had planned - prayer times, worship and sacraments, meals, and of course, conversation and laughter.

Just before that conference, Carol and I had been through emotional turmoil on account of an experience that had befallen one of our family. I was left with deep anger inside. That anger was healed as the agape love of our friends there surrounded us. I was renewed by the love of Christ within them.

Isn't this how it's meant to be? Loving, sharing, supporting one another in the love of Christ.