For me, any questions about whether the Church should welcome Gay people is a question that doesn’t need to be raised. Of course the answer is a resounding YES. But why anyone who is gay may ever wish to go into a church is much more difficult to answer, for the worldwide church has (with a few exceptions) an abysmal record of failure in relating to the issues of sexuality.
Its problems go right back to that day in AD 312 when the Roman Empire acquired its first Christian Emperor. Suddenly the Church became ‘respectable’ and ‘establishment’, it has never quite got over it.
But Jesus hadn’t come to found a church, but as theologians put it – to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That isn’t about narrow rules, but about bringing openness of Spirit to our living and loving.
I wouldn’t be a priest and pastor, if I didn’t believe that the Church, in Christianity, has a great gift to give.
Many mainstream denominations have a reputation for being anti-gay, but that is not by any means the full story. There are an increasing number of inclusive churches and Christian fellowships worldwide.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said once, “Christ, when he was lifted up did not say ‘I draw some people to myself,’ He said ‘I draw all, all, ALL’ That is the root of it.”
But there are still those who see Homosexual Relationships as wrong and claim that being gay is merely ‘a matter of lifestyle choice’- a claim so far from the mark it has to be farcical. We now understand the nature of sexuality better than before, and with understanding comes recognition of how varied it can be, and also how deep it lies within us. Sexuality is a fundamental part of being human. Gay or Straight, it’s also a blessing.
It is true that the ancient Hebrew law had some pretty uncompromising things to day about homosexuality – but then, it also said some pretty compromising things about eating shellfish as well.
As a modern person, I feel that I cannot read the Bible without also bringing modern insights into human nature to my understanding of it. Two thousand years ago, in the Roman Empire, slavery was quite acceptable, as was the understanding that women should be submissive to men.
In the early 19th Century Christians rightly played a leading part in the abolition of slavery. Today in many mainstream churches and fellowships people still campaign on issues of trade justice. Yet the Church is still tired up in knots when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. There is no real reason why sexuality should split the church.
I believe that any church or fellowship that isn’t inclusive is not living true. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus making beelines for people often seen as unacceptable by the rest of society. He broke down the stifling rules of conformity and drew together a very mixed group of friends and followers who would later form the beginnings of the church. These were people often seen as unclean and avoided by all the religious people of their day.
Its time for the so-called mainstream churches and denominations to play catch up. They need not just say that ‘Gay people are welcome.’ They need to make a celebration of the issues. With churches changing across the globe we also need openly gay people in positions of authority within the Church.
Moreover, with the arrival of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriages and Blessings of Relationships, all churches and denominations should be preparing to provide prayers of dedication and blessings.
Congregations and communities need to celebrate life affirming gay relationships such as those we celebrate with straight marriages.
Is there room in a church for Gay Congregations? You Bet there is!! But I know many gay people in both my own church of St Sebastian’s in Gran Canaria and also within the Inclusive Community of St Sebastian’s are there because it is not solely a gay church. We are an Inclusive Christian Community that welcomes everyone for the unique person they are. That’s the point that we need to get to.
It’s a Christian claim, that we should all listen to the voices of those who are excluded. This means-most attentively – that ALL churches and denominations across the globe must listen to the Gay Community. Will it like what it hears??
At the Community of St Sebastian’s – and also at St Sebastian’s in Gran Canaria – we have made that public declaration of inclusively within our mission statement
We, the Community of St Sebastian’s, believe that God’s love is expansive and unconditional and that, through Christ, God calls us to love one another as God loves us. We recognize that both well-intentioned and ill-intentioned people have raised barriers that exclude some of God’s children from participation in the life of the Church.
We believe that such exclusion is contrary to the fundamental teaching of Jesus and is abhorrent in the eyes of God. Such exclusion creates a rift in the Church and the World, creates separation between our God and ourselves, and creates a need for us to reconcile with those who have been excluded.
We therefore declare that all persons are recipients of God’s love and grace. God intends the Community of St Sebastian’s to be a community that embodies love, grace, and justice for all people.
In particular, we discern that God is challenging our Christian community to accept lesbians and gay men as sisters, brothers and co-workers in the household of faith. We affirm the full participation of lesbians and gay men in every aspect of our Community and society.
Further, we welcome and shall support all persons regardless of gender, race, age, cultural or religious heritage, ethnic background, sexual/affectional orientation or identity, or economic circumstances.
We celebrate the worth, dignity, and gifts of every person as a child of God. We hope that our affirmation of the worth of all persons will bring reconciliation to all people within the community who, because of prejudice, hate, homophobia, or ignorance, find themselves exiled from the body of Christ.
When will others follow the lead?
The Right Rev. Paul Gibson is founder of the Community of St Sebastian’s, which grew in excess of 200 fellowships with a membership exceeding 17,000 people worshipping on a regular basis.