I am part of YLGC – Young LGBT Christians – and involved in co-ordinating some of the activities of the group. We received an email from a Christian studying the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality for a school project and asking how we reached the conclusion that we could live as openly gay Christians. This is an email I sent in response.
I think you might get a couple of replies from members of YLGC, as we thought that we wouldn’t be able to give ‘standard’ answers to your questions. I do think it’s fantastic that you’ve been given the opportunity to explore this at school.
From my perspective, I think the easiest thing I can do is to try to explain a little about who I am, and how I came to the views I hold today. I’ll try not to bore you with my life story, though!
I’m 24, live in London and I have an archaeology degree from UCL in London. I spent a year working for the students’ union after I graduated and now work for Waterstone’s in the history department of a university branch. I’m also student clergy in the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, based at MCC North London, and I’ve been accepted to Oxford University to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Theology starting in October. I’m also in a relationship with a woman; we’ve been together for three months and are monogamous.
When I was young, until I was five, my family attended church. Mum was raised a Christian, but we stopped going when we moved house. I don’t remember much from that time, other than how to make a palm tree from a roll of newspaper!
Other than six months or so going to school with a friend when I was ten, I didn’t really have much to do with church from then onwards. It wasn’t until I was fifteen, and had begun to realise that I was gay, that a school friend invited me to attend a youth event at her church. I was looking for friends, and a community, more than I was looking for God but I guess we often get more than we bargain for in this life!
I kept going along to the youth group for a few months. Sometimes the discussions made me uncomfortable, but on the whole I enjoyed the company. After a while, I decided I should make a decision about my beliefs before I committed to the group. One Sunday I went to the evening service before the youth group meeting. I don’t remember what the sermon was about, honestly, or who was preaching, but I left feeling convinced. As conversion stories go, it’s not dramatic, I know.
But this was complicated by the fact that I had come out to a couple of my friends at church and I found it very hard to reconcile the church’s teachings on sexuality with my own views. Their teachings on homosexuality centred around a literal interpretation of a few verses (with which I’m sure you’re familiar) to say that God’s view of human sexuality is limited to one man and one woman. Of course, this view of sexual ethics does extend beyond homosexuality, to also forbid heterosexual sexual activity outside marriage.
I always felt instinctively that this didn’t reflect my experience or knowledge of God, and did a great deal of reading around the subject at the time. I spent a lot of time feeling torn between my own, increasingly liberal, view and that of my church.
Essentially what changed my mind was based on how I felt God in my own life. I heard a sermon preached recently in which the preacher said that the Bible is not so much a rule book as a book of stories of how God works in people’s lives. It’s something that I have always loved about the Bible, the fact that it is full of some truly weird and wonderful characters and all of human life and experience is there.
However, if you read these stories, you will not find a preponderance of heterosexual, monogamous couples. There is only one couple which fit in with our modern idealised view of married relationship, and that is Adam and Eve. King David had several wives, and appears to have had a romantic relationship with Jonathan (see, for example, 1 Samuel 18). The words of the Christian marriage were spoken by one woman to another, as Ruth committed to travel with and care for her mother-in law (Ruth 1, especially verses 16-17).
And then there was the instinct, which you allude to in your letter, that if God created all things and saw that it was good, God also created all the facets of human nature. This points to a very deep and complex question about those aspects of our nature that are dark and seem to draw us away from God, and I don’t presume that I can answer that. However, what we can do is look into ourselves and ask which are those darker aspects. For me, they are the things in us which have the capacity to hurt others. Sin is what separates us from God; almost exclusively sin is that which is disrespectful to God by causing pain to God’s creation either by hurting or denying ourselves or others. In my mind, therefore, the act of loving another person is not and cannot be sinful.
It was for that reason that I eventually decided that I could not be part of a church that chose to deny me the opportunity for loving relationship with others. When I arrived in London to study, I spent a lot of time visiting churches and found myself unable to make a church that condemned gay people my home. Of course, there are always many things to consider when choosing a new church and this was by no means the only factor in my decision, but if I felt I could not be open about my identity and my relationships I would leave.
That was how I eventually came to MCC North London. I stayed because it was the single most welcoming church I had ever had the pleasure to visit, and because I realised that MCC changes lives. Organisations like MCC, YLGC and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) have helped countless Christians come to a renewed faith in a God who loves them just as they were made, in God’s image.
I realise I have barely scratched the surface of the many and complex issues that come up when human sexuality is discussed in a Christian context, but if I were to try and cover everything I’m sure that (a) I would fail, and (b) I would bore you! I would recommend a couple of books as further reading, though.
Living it Out was published last November. The authors both used to attend YLGC, and so most of the contributors have some connection to YLGC. Using the voices of over fifty Christians who have wrestled with some of the issues you are discovering in the course of your project, they have compiled a book that looks at the ways in which people live Christian lives as LGB people or their friends and allies. What I particularly love about Living it Out is the emphasis on the reality that there is no one way to be a gay Christian. In fact, there are as many ways to live as a gay or bisexual Christian as there are gay or bisexual Christians! (Incidentally, the reviews on Amazon are themselves interesting). Living it Out also has a website, www.livingitout.com.
In the Eye of the Storm deals with one of the more visible issues of recent years; that of gay bishops in the Anglican Communion. It is Gene Robinson’s theology and life story and is well worth a look. You can also find a talk by him on the website for Greenbelt, a Christian arts festival.
Of the wide range of academic resources available, my favourite is the Blackwell readings in Theology and Sexuality, particularly Rowan Williams’ excellent article: The Body’s Grace, a copy of which can be found here.
It is also worth reading the story of a group called Courage; their ministry was originally to cure gay and lesbian people, but they are now an out-and-proud group of Christians and the story of how they reached that point is truly amazing.
I feel I have gone on for too long, so I shall leave it there. I hope I have answered your questions to a certain extent. Feel free, if you would like, to follow up and to ask more questions. I do not have all the answers, but I think we are called as Christians to challenge ourselves and listen to the challenges of others.
Good luck with your project. It’s wonderful that you’re doing this and I hope it is a real journey for you, whatever you decide in your own life and faith.
With very best wishes,