From the New Testament reading (Romans 5.1-10) for this LGBT Liberation Sunday – “suffering produces endurance which produces character which produces hope – and hope doesn’t disappoint because of the Love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Many if not most of us have had some experience of suffering because of our sexual orientation… and although there have been some gains in recent years in terms of freedoms and rights for LGBT people (I’ve even found myself applauding some of the things a tory prime minister has been saying and doing – what’s the world coming to?!) – although we’ve seen some gains, there is still a lot of opposition in the world – and a large part of it comes from parts of the church itself. So I thought it might be useful to have a look at these things and how we might respond.
The Church of course still seems intent on shooting itself in the foot over gay marriage (and a whole load of other stuff too) with an attitude ranging from paternalism through arrogance to offensiveness, nastiness and sadly even violence. And many of us have our own stories of being on the receiving end of these things.
Those of us involved in the debate about issues around sexuality want and expect to be engaged with by our opponents … and we need to genuinely and pro-actively engage with them, otherwise we’re brought down to the same level as those we complain are persecuting us.
At this point I have to confess I’ve sometimes thought, “I wish they’d all just get lost (or words to that effect); if they don’t like LGBT people in the church, – let them just go and found their own bigoted church somewhere else … But imagine for instance, that somewhere today there’s a kind of parallel service to ours going on to celebrate Bigots’ Liberation Sunday! /Homophobes Liberation Day! or whatever…
Some of the thoughts expressed at such a service might well be just like those that have run through my mind in the past:
“Sometimes I wish the gays and lesbians and their friends would all just get lost! Let them go and found their own LGBT church somewhere else… because if LGBT people just went away, we wouldn’t have to engage with them ever again! There’d be no more arguments about sexuality and so forth… we’d be the only members of a purer, leaner, totally heterosexual church and God would be very pleased with us!…
We mustn’t get drawn in to wanting a narrower church of England that would be better if only certain people weren’t in it – because those certain people could be us!
Getting rid of our opponents would mean a narrower CofE and that would be a great shame because Broadchurch means an inclusive church and if we get it right it means enjoying our unity in the spirit because of, not despite, our diversity. By definition, though, broad church also means the potential for being messy and most uncomfortable! So we need to be open and sensitive – and strong enough to be accepting and including of bigots and the narrow-minded, engaging with them – in love.
Wanting God’s punishment on our enemies is something the disciples James & John were well into – when the village refused to receive Jesus, “Shall we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” – BUT he turned and rebuked them…(we’re not called to be crusaders) then they went to another village..(Luke 9.51-56)
· That bit about ‘going to another village’ says something to us about not remaining in hostility, dwelling on rejection, dwelling on persecution and our wounds, fuelling our own resentments and the hostility of both sides. James & John wanted retribution, punishment to fall on their perceived opponents – rather, we have the spirit of Christ who exhorts his followers to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience. To bear with one another and forgive one another – just as he has forgiven and always forgives us… to clothe ourselves with love and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. (Col 3.12-15)
As followers of Jesus we’re called and commanded to
Love God and our neighbour
Love one another as he loved us
Do what is just, love mercy and walk humbly with our God…’
And if all this talk of humility and meekness and love in the cut and thrust of today’s sometimes vicious world seems foolish or weak, St Paul writes about God’s foolishness, so to speak, being wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness being stronger than human strength. God’s so-called weakness of course was supremely demonstrated in Jesus on the cross – apparent weakness actually being the means of reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, new life, ultimateliberation.
· Jesus talked about the poor in spirit, meek, peacemakers, those whose greatest desire is to do what God wills… being blessed. But we’re also called to be a blessing to others. He called his followers the salt of the earth – meaning those who give life flavour, make it worth savouring, enjoying! If we become like the crusaders, hard-hearted, fervent in our demands for judgement and justice, or secretly wishing for the downfall of our opponents, we become devoid of our essential deliciousness – (For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.) (Eph 6.12) … and if the salt loses its savour, it becomes good for nothing and is thrown out and trampled underfoot… (Matt5.13)
So we must watch out for those unseen sins that can creep in and affect our behaviour if we let them – things that we have a blind spot about or we pretend aren’t really there… in our liturgy we often use at the confession, the prayer “We have used our power to dominate and our weakness to manipulate” – both are equally corrosive.
And a final thought about our opponents – our enemies.. or are they? Remember the Canaanite woman – to whom Jesus initially thought to refuse the grace of God – then realised that she was as much in need of God’s grace as the special ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’. Our opponents are actually equally loved by God and are as much in need of God’s grace as we are – and that’s the thing to remember – we are all in need of God’s grace!
There’s a world of difference between arguing a point with someone you see as an enemy and view with fear and hatred, and arguing a point with someone you might not agree with, or like, but whom you know is loved by God and in whom you are seeking the reflection of Christ himself…
Some thoughts about Liberation:
When you think of liberation I wonder what you think about – liberation from what?
Fear, hatred, hurt, oppression, misunderstanding persecution, yes!
But it also seems to me that we need to ‘move on to another village’ – to have in focus not only those things we want to move away from, but also to be looking at what we are working to be liberated TO and FOR –
Firstly, we certainly want to be working towards equality with those who have the freedoms we don’t yet have and, like them, to enjoy those freedoms unconditionally. Secondly, not just being equal to others, but being actively engaged withothers in building up and transforming our communities into places where inclusivity, healing, hope and liberation are the norms.
And thirdly and in my view most importantly, we need to be looking for kind of freedoms that can’t be offered by either victory in debate or by legislation; I’m talking about the freedom of the Kingdom of God, the kind of freedom that is not external but internal, psychological, spiritual… (Jesus said, didn’t he, ‘”The kingdom of God is within you.” We need to be seeking the kind of liberation that isn’t ‘worn’ like a garment or a badge but is like the salt in your food, that not only has a flavour of its own but the whole point of which is to bring out the best flavour of the food that it accompanies. That’s what we’re called to be doing, bringing out the best in the people, the communities, the institutions that we accompany or are part of. ‘Enemies’ included, seeing they too are loved by God. This kind of liberation, although it’s unseen, flows from the heart and affects everything around it positively, powerfully and lovingly, and on Liberation Sunday and the day of Leeds PRIDE, this kind of liberation is worth everything and is something you can be really proud of.