Presented by Anthony Venn-Brown at the final meeting of Note: This article is fairly extensive (6,500 words), so I’ve listed below the various sections covered so if you don’t want to read the entire piece you can scroll down to the relevant section. Would you like a PDF copy of this article for yourself or to send to others then click on this link and I'll send you the doc. email@example.com Introduction
Pioneers and Heterosexual Allies
A Little Story
an encounter with Bishop Spong – not the answer I was expecting
We Have Turned the Corner – The Evidences
1. Changes in the Assemblies of God attitude and beliefs about homosexuality
2. Assemblies of God Bible College Students Assignment 3. 100 Ministers from Evangelical Christian Denominations Apologise to the GLBT Community
4. Pastor Brian Houston’s Statement on Sexuality
5. Australia’s First (and not to be the last) Openly Gay Pentecostal
6. Growing GLBT Pentecostal/Evangelical Church Movement and Welcoming Churches
7. Deconstruction of the Ex-gay Myth
10. The Closeted Masses in Churches - Why Don’t Church Leaders Take the Initiative?
The GLBT Community is a Gift to the Church
The gay rapture – the gifts we bring and the lessons we teach
A Lesson from the Scriptures
Four footed animals, snakes, Gentiles and circumcision
Challenges that Lie Ahead of Us
1. Our churches – what will we build?
2. Giving gay & lesbian Christian youth a sense of morality
3. Gay churches?
4. Strong cultures with a completely heterosexual framework
5. The Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe
Conclusion - Who we need to be to hasten the day 1. People who are authentic 2. People of integrity
3. People with a vision of the future, who don’t live in the past.
4. Gay ambassadors
5. People who focus on the positives
We have much to celebrate. While celebrating we must honour those who have pioneered the gay Christian movement, often at great personal cost. Rev Troy Perry would have to be the father. Troy, a former Assemblies of God minister, after a suicide attempt and witnessing a close friend being arrested by the police who often raided gay bars, felt called to return to his faith and to offer a place for gay people to worship God freely. Troy gathered 12 people in his lounge room back in 1968 and had the first meeting of the Metropolitan Community Church which now has over 250 churches in various parts of the world. Troy was the first person, it seems, that dared to belief that there was no conflict at all between his sexual orientation and Christian faith any more than there is a conflict between a heterosexual orientation and Christianity. Since then the number of voices have grown to many, many 1000’s (Google ‘Gay Christian’). What was once believed inconceivable is happening in our time. Other pioneers also need to be honoured for their important contribution.
Rev Candace Chellew-Hodge – founder of Whosoever
And of course many others that it would take too long to name. They haven’t done it for recognition; they did it because it was the right thing to do and, like myself, have a strong sense of mission that this is our life a purpose. One we had never previously considered but possibly, at a higher (Divine) level, the one mapped out for us.
We should also acknowledge the growing number of heterosexual Christians such as the Dennis and Evelyn Schave, Chuck Smith Jnr, Peggy Campolo, Jay Baker, Australian Baptist minister Rev Mike Hercock (initiator of the 100 Revs) and others who have joined with our voices and by doing so have experienced, misunderstanding, rejection and even hatred (the things that many of us have known to be a part of our journeys as gays and lesbians), because they dared to stand with the GLBT community and say to the church, ‘We got it wrong’.
So to all who’ve contributed to bring us to where we are today, we say thank you. We look to a more perfect day when all the Christian Church and other religions will treat each human being with dignity and respect no matter what their gender, race or sexual orientation.
Bishop Spong, who has been a great advocate for GLBT equality in the Episcopal Church and the church at large, was in Sydney last year. I’m not usually one to avail myself of the opportunity of a question time but I really felt this was a good chance to draw on the wisdom of the retired Bishop. I joined the queue of questioners and rehearsed my question over and over in my mind to make sure it was clear.
Taking the microphone, I posed my question. “Bishop Spong, we know that eventually the church will realise they have been wrong about gays and lesbians as they have been wrong about so many issues, including the role so women. I wonder though, from your experience, if you could suggest what we could do that would hasten the day and what things would hold up the progress.” I thought it was a fair question.
“The debate is over. Walk in the victory”, Bishop Spong replied slowly with a great sense of authority, in his strong American accent. I thought it was a strange answer, certainly not the one I was expecting. I almost felt a little rebuked for asking the question as I returned to my seat, like somewhere along the line I’d missed the point. The statement “walk in the victory” was a statement I’d expect from a Pentecostal preacher not from a retired Episcopal bishop.
What he said that day has stayed with me and in many ways has influenced my mindset and approach. You see, there is a lot of truth in what he said as once the question is asked then the end has begun and heralds the arrival of a new understanding and consciousness.
In the past people dared to challenge common beliefs and ask questions like.
- Are women equal to men and should they be given the right to vote?
- Are white skinned human beings really superior to those of a different colour?
- Is it right to make interracial marriages illegal?
- If two people love each other does it matter what colour their skin is?
And many more questions that were the catalysts for change. And 40 years ago people dared to ask, “Can a person be gay or lesbian and a Christian?” We Have Turned the Corner – The Evidences If we look take a close look we see that there are many evidences we have turned the corner. Our future is more of these evidences and more widespread. In my country, Australia, we see that the tide is turning. Let me give you some examples.
1. Changes in the Assemblies of God attitude and beliefs about homosexuality
In 1991, when I resigned from the ministry, the Assemblies of God in Australia, issued it’s first statement on homosexuality. It’s tone and content was what one might expect from a traditional, bible believing denomination and included such statements as:-
- Paul also lists homosexuality as a sin
- The Old Testament also explicitly prohibited homosexuality
- Homosexuality abuses the body, often causing physical injury and trauma.
- Homosexuality is a chosen behaviour. It is a choice not a natural, biological, hormonal or genetically governed behaviour.
- We conclude that the scripture clearly forbids the Christian to engage in or practise any form of homosexuality or lesbianism, and we oppose the legalisation of homosexuality.
After the first edition of my autobiography (‘A Life of Unlearning – Coming Out of the Church, One Man’s Struggle’) was released, I received 100’s of emails telling horrific stories from those who had a similar journey to mine. Also emails from family and friends telling me of the heartache caused by unwise counsel given by church pastors and leaders. I was so deeply moved by these stories that I requested a meeting with National Executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia to discuss some of these issues (full letter and details of that meeting are in the second edition of my autobiography ‘A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the Truth’). In that meeting, late 2005, I shared my story and others, asking that they might consider a change in attitude and to look at the mounting scientific evidence that same sex orientation is pre-wired in us genetically and hormonally in the womb.
In March 2006 the old statement disappeared from the website and was replaced with one that reflected a change in tone and also a shift in concept.
The statement commenced: Jesus Christ embraces and accepts everyone whatever their nationality, colour, creed or gender. He died for all of us and loves us equally. He gave every human being dignity and honour and so should we. (A more loving and gracious tone) However, the Bible makes it clear that certain behaviour is unacceptable to God and harmful to us. This is true for all of us, whatever our personal preferences, social norms or cultural practices. For instance, the Bible teaches that the only place for sexual expression is within the context of a marriage between a man and a woman who are not closely related. Any sexual activity outside this Biblical model of marriage is considered to be immoral (1 Cor 6:12-20) (1 Thess 4:1-8). The homosexual lifestyle therefore is contrary to the Biblical teaching on marriage and the practice of homosexuality is described as immoral in both the Old and the New Testaments (Lev 18:22) (Lev 20:13) (Rom 1:24-27) (1 Cor 6:9-11) (1 Tim 1:10).(Traditional beliefs still exist) However, we need to distinguish between a person's identity and activity. There is a great deal of difference between a homosexual preference and homosexual practice. It is the latter that is the issue here. People may argue about how easy it is to choose or change our sexual preference but we can definitely choose our sexual behaviour. (Change in concept) We are each responsible for our own actions and have to live with the consequences of our choices. However, whatever our current inclination or previous conduct, there is always the hope and possibility of change through Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11). (Emphasis mine) (Comments mine) While this certainly is not a statement of affirmation or equality, it does reflect some significant changes and those of us who have been a part of the Christian world, understand their importance more than anyone. In essence, they are saying you can be gay and a Christian, but if you love someone of the same sex and want a life long partnership with them, you can never express that love physically. This is a major shift from all homosexuals are an abomination and going to hell. 2. Assemblies of God Bible College Students Assignment
In 2006, a group of students from the Southern Cross Bible College (official AOG college), who attended the class on ethics (which covers a range of contemporary issues such as abortion, stem cell research and homosexuality) were selected to research each topic.
The group assigned to research homosexuality produced an excellent DVD that asked two questions. Has the Pentecostal churches response to the gay community been appropriate?
Does the Pentecostal church need to look again at his position on homosexuality?
3. 100 Ministers from Evangelical Christian Denominations Apologise to the GLBT Community After listening to our stories, Ps Mike Hercock, and others, realised how many Christians attitude had not only damaged gay and lesbian people but had actually created a wall of separation. 100 ministers signed an apology to the GLBT community and on Saturday the 1st of March 2008, at the 30th Anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 35 ministers from the 100 Revs group joined the parade to show that these were not just empty words. Many did so at the threat of losing their positions in the church. Five of those on the list were Pentecostal pastors. See video here. 4. Pastor Brian Houston’s Statement on Sexuality Just before I left to come to speak at this conference (2008) Pastor Brian Houston (Senior Pastor of Hillsong and President of the Assemblies of God in Australia) released this statement on the churches website. Once again it demonstrates that attitudes are changing.
As a church we always endeavour to treat people compassionately whatever they may be facing in life.
We are a Christian Church and as such believe the Bible provides us with clear teaching on sexuality and sexual expression - heterosexual and homosexual. But I do not believe this is about rules and regulations as much as God wanting what is best for each of us.
The heart of God is toward people, and I believe that is also the heart of our church.
God has created each of us as sexual beings, and I do not believe it is His will for it to be complicated. However, I recognise that people face very real issues in regards to sexuality. I have seen this both in my wider family, our church and society more generally.
This is a global challenge that most of the world’s churches are grappling with, and we, like them, are trying to balance theology with compassion.
We do not profess to have all the answers, nor has the church worldwide always got it right, but we will continue to try and connect people to Jesus because we know that hope and answers for every situation and circumstance can be found in Him. (Emphasis mine)
5. Australia’s First, but not the Last, Openly Gay Pentecostal (Anthony Venn-Brown) If you know anything about the Rosa Parks story you will know that it only takes one ordinary person to say ‘NO! enough is enough. I won’t allow you to treat as an inferior. I am a human being like you and deserve to be treated me with dignity and respect.’ Being prepared to stand up and be counted has given courage to others. The organisation Freedom 2 b[e] has created a safe space for more and more to come out and tell their stories. Some coming out in their late teens and early 20’s, so unlike many of us, who took decades to work it out. Read stories here. 6. Growing GLBT Pentecostal/Evangelical Church Movement and Welcoming Churches There are well over 200 churches here in the US now that have either a gay man or lesbian as the pastor, whose theology and style of worship is Pentecostal/charismatic. It’s not that long ago most of us would have considered this inconceivable.
According to 2007 Welcoming Church Survey there is an exponential growth of mainline churches that have become welcoming of GLBT Christians. By the end of the first 20 years (1970-1990) there were 1,000 churches. In 10 more years (1991-2001) that number had doubled to over 2,000 and within 5 more years (2002-2006) the number doubled again to over 4,200 welcoming churches. In 2007 576 more churches had been added to the list bringing the total to 4, 806 welcoming Christian churches.
7. Deconstruction of the Ex-gay Myth There was a time when the Exodus Global Alliance made claims that 1,000 and 1,000’s of people had left the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ and were now living as normal heterosexuals. Through the work of Beyond Ex-gay, The Ex-gay Watch, The Boxed Turtle Bulletin and Truth Wins Out, the credibility of such claims has been severely challenged. The scientific research that has been done in this area now tells us the truth. No-one changes from gay to straight. All that is achieved is a degree of heterosexual functionality and that the majority of those who are bold enough to make claims of change are only those who make a living from the ex-gay industry. Everyone else has either accepted their gayness, is still ‘struggling’ or celibate. In Australia, the statements and apologies I released from former Exodus leaders has further weakened an already unstable position. The Director of Exodus Asia Pacific, Peter Lane, in a media interview, said the criticism had hurt his organization. To their credit, many ex-gay leaders are being honest with people coming to them for help and admitting that even after years of prayer, believing etc . the gay never really goes away. To quote one Ex-gay leader in Australia, ‘you will always walk with a limp’ he told one man looking for an answer to try and save his marriage. Another important change has also happened with the language. Instead of telling everyone homosexual person they need to change, ex-gay ministries in Australia are only working with those who have ‘unwanted same sex attraction’. Of course the question needs to be asked, why is it ‘unwanted’. From my observation of those who are going through these programs or have been, they are yet to sort out the fundamental differences of sexual orientation, sexual addiction and sexual abuse. With the constant challenges and monitoring of these ministries, as well as the ever increasing stories of those it didn’t work for, revealing the enormous harm (including depression and suicide) these programs produce, it is only a matter of time before they cease to exist. We welcome that day.
There was a time you would walk into any bookshop and find it difficult to locate a book on personal development or spirituality. Nowadays though, it is a multi-million industry with entire sections and specialist bookshops on the topics. Have you also noticed that there was a time when you could never find a book that talked about being gay and a Christian in gay bookshop? Once again, there are now rows and rows of books by many authors, not only telling their stories but also theologians and academics who inform and educate those who are seeking for truth and greater understanding. Another exciting development is the recent appearance of books about being a gay Moslem on the shelves. Things we thought impossible are happening in our time.
10. The Closeted Masses in Churches I’m talking here about closeted heterosexuals not homosexuals. There are an ever increasing number of people across all denominations, who no longer hold the outdated view that same sex orientation is an illness or the result of a dysfunctional upbringing, yet they remain silent, fearful to challenge church leadership and hierarchies. I’ve found them in most Pentecostal churches in Australia and Bible colleges. Just as gay Christians exist, so do heterosexual Christians who’ve had a change of heart and belief. More than we realise. Some have been brave enough to openly share their opinions such as music celebrities who attend Hillsong like Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian & Brooke Fraser. In Australia, a 2004 survey revealed that only 34% Catholics believe homosexuality is immoral with similar numbers in Anglican and Uniting Churches. In 2001, when asked anonymously, ‘Should homosexuals be accepted as members in the church on the same basis as heterosexuals? 59% of Pentecostals surveyed said YES. So obviously, when an official statement is issued by a denomination they are not speaking on behalf of the majority of their adherants. In April this year, LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, surveyed 1,201 adults to determine their attitudes about homosexuality. Forty-eight percent responded that homosexual behaviour is sinful, but 45 percent said that it is not -- basically a statistical tie when the margin of error is taken into account. What is even more surprising is that the number of born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians who consider homosexual behaviour to be morally acceptable stands at 17 percent. I’m sure this is much higher than many of us would have considered. According to the spin of media savvy religious right personalities that figure is zero. Old hardliners, from a less informed generation on sexual orientation, like the Reverend Jerry Falwell and James Kennedy, are dying out. A new generation will take their place. In September 2007, The Barna Group survey found that 80% of young churchgoers say the phrase "anti-homosexual” describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians. It’s only a matter of time before this younger generation has greater influence. Why Don’t Church Leadership Take the Initiative? I have a theory as to why this change hasn’t moved up from the ranks of the congregations to the leadership. Possibly two things have influenced this. Firstly, in most denominations, the higher one’s position within the structure the more likely you are to be locked in an exclusively Christian culture and removed from what is happening in real world. This is probably more so some traditional denominations such as the Catholic Church then the less conventional churches, but it is still a fact I know from my own experience. The second factor is possibly the fear church leaders have of creating division in their denominations. The whole world has looked on at the centuries old institution of the Anglican/Episcopal Church as it splits in two. They haven’t given us a very good model of how to resolve this issue. The issue: homosexuality and the ordination of the first openly gay bishop Gene Robinson. Of course he is not the only gay bishop in that or the Catholic denomination; he is just the first one to be open and honest with everyone. For decades, Catholic and Episcopal churches have used the gifts and years of service of gay men and lesbians to further the work of Christ but maintained an inauthentic ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Eventually though, church leaders will have to acknowledge they have wrongly condemned a percentage of their congregations and society. All these things inform us that, even though there is still much to do, in many ways we have already turned the corner. The new consciousness has been and is being created. Apologies and requests for forgiveness will bring a long awaited healing. The GLBT Community is a Gift to the Church (They just haven’t realised it yet)
We know that homosexual men and women, over the ages, have frequently been associated with artistic talent and highly aesthetic taste. History tells us that many painters, sculptors, writers, thinkers and philosophers were gay. The contribution is enormous. We also know that, as culture, we have certain gifts and talents and that is why you will find a large proportion of us in certain industries and professions. What if there was a gay rapture? Would planes fall out of the sky, as was predicted with second coming in the year 2000? No, but who would serve you the chicken or the beef (forgive the stereotyping).
What would happen if all the closeted gay men and lesbians left the church? Overnight, the creative ministries would die. How many gay men have used their gifts in song and music and ushered in amazing sense of the presence of God and led the people of God into the throne room of worship. How many lesbians, knowing they had no desire to be with a man and that they would never be happy in a heterosexual marriage, choose to serve God on the mission field or some other form of Christian service?
God has not only placed us in this world to make a contribution....I believe we have been given to the church to teach them several lessons.
a) What non-judgment is all about. Jesus said ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ yet many Christians live with the mentality that homosexuality = immorality and as soon as they know we are gay or lesbian automatically assume all sorts of things about our lives, behaviours and morality. I personally find this quite offensive. To accept us they must let go of judgment.
b) Grace is the message of the New Testament. Law and Judgment are the messages of the Old Testament. Phillip Yancey, a well respected Christian author, challenges the church to be a church of grace in his best selling book, ‘What’s so Amazing About Grace’. He tells the story of marching in a Pride Parade along side his friend Mel White, This act of grace prompted a flow of hate mail from fellow believers, who as yet, have not discovered what grace is all about.
c) Unconditional love. Unconditional love is exactly what it says it is. Love without conditions. Let me tell you a story that is in the new edition of my book. ‘Anthony broke down frequently as he read me the letters his twenty-six-year-old lover Michael had written to his Christian parents begging them to love him as he was and to accept Anthony, the man he loved, as his partner. In Michael’s letters he pleads for acceptance but the response always comes back, ‘We love you but … we don’t want you to be gay. We love you but … we don’t want you to be with Anthony.’ That one word made all the difference to Michael. ‘BUT' . . .A small word that means the world of difference between love or rejection. What Michael’s parents should have said was, 'We love you, Michael'. FULL STOP! No conditions. Then they would have been showing God’s love. A person in the church in Perth had told Michael, ‘If you don’t change then you’ll be dead before you reach twenty-six.’ These words, like a curse, played on Michael’s mind and even though he had a partner and friends who loved him, the inability to resolve his relationship with his Mum and Dad meant that when Anthony came home to celebrate Michael’s twenty-sixth birthday, he found him dead in the car in the garage.’
To reach out to or engage with the GLBT community the church must let go of the tired, hackneyed cliché ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ and simply say we love you. BTW….It’s not all about us……although to an outsider, one might get the impression that homosexuality is the dividing issue. The issue has never really been homosexuality. There is a much more significant issue at stake here. The church has always been challenged to be inclusive but too often has sort to be exclusive. Jesus ministry was all about inclusion. His parables taught it. His life demonstrated it. Jesus was the great rule breaker whose opposition came from men of religion who should have known better. Over and over again they said to Him. You can’t do that. You can’t mix with those people. You can’t say that. It was constant. Religious leaders who were right according to the law but so wrong according to love. Jesus said to them in Matthew, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. Basically, Jesus was saying, Guys you’ve missed the point. Phariseeism is alive and well today and living in bible believing evangelical and Pentecostal churches under the guise of upholding the authority of the scriptures.
In Acts 10 we read the familiar story of Cornelius the Roman centurion (a gentile) who had a vision that he was to send his servants to Joppa and bring back Peter. Meanwhile God is trying to get through centuries of Jewish separatism and exclusivity and speak to Peter. Let’s pick up the story in verse 9.
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Why three times? Because not only are some of Gods people stubborn…… some are thick.
You know the rest of the story. Peter goes to Cornelius’s house and preaches.
Verse 28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Peter had his personal revelation that God was extending the boundaries. So it is happening today. As gay (GLBT) Christians come out, as people get to know GLBT family members, friends, work colleagues the preconceived ideas, misconceptions are broken down and people realise we are no more different to them except we are attracted to the same sex not the opposite sex. From what I have discovered in churches, more and more individuals are having a personal revelation like Peter and God has shown them that they should not call any man impure or unclean, queer, pervert or abomination. Right now in this country (USA) and others there are many Evangelicals/Charismatic/Pentecostal leaders who have had their personal revelation or Cornelius experience. Some have begun questioning. We can’t, at this stage, talk about who they are or where they are in the process, but they are questioning. The consciousness is shifting. Remember, once the question is asked the end has begun. The next step after Peter’s personal revelation – corporate change Acts 15 The Council at Jerusalem 1 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." (Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved). 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. (Church leaders were in hot debate over the issue – sound familiar). So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised (heterosexual) and required to obey the Law of Moses (and go through an ex-gay program)”. 6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us (heterosexuals) and them (GLBT), for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." 12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. James spoke up: 19 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles (gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people) who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (In other words, if you are a Christian, gay or straight, then live a life that reflects’ that).
Am I stretching the scriptures too far? I don’t think so. As a gay man who has previously been shunned by many of his peers, told he was unacceptable and would have to change in order to be received into the kingdom of God…….it’s entirely relevant. So we see Peter’s individual experience now becomes the corporate experience of the church. How many years between Acts 10 (Peter’s personal experience) and Acts 15 (the church wakes up)? This is the period we are in now. It takes time to transform a corporate belief system. The struggle we are experiencing today is no different to this struggle 2 millennia ago, the abolition of slavery, equal rights for African-Americans or for women to take positions of leadership in the church. It takes time.
1. Our churches – what will we build?
If you are building a congregation or ministry today, the only way you will survive is to be contemporary and culturally relevant. Doing church like we did 20, 30 or 40 years ago won’t work no matter how good the memories are. The test of whether you are hitting the mark will be evident by the number of young people in your churches. Approximately 60% of the world’s population are under 30 years of age. If 60% of your congregation are under 30 then you are obviously doing something right. That should be your target audience.
2. Giving gay & lesbian Christian youth a sense of morality
We know that heterosexual Christian young people are far from pure when it comes to matters of morality and many are sexually active before they get married. Whilst that doesn’t mean it gives license to be promiscuous it is a reality. Often a blind eye is turned towards heterosexual young people in churches, where as a young person, who has shared with the pastor or youth leader that they are gay or lesbian, are watched like hawks. This is a double standard and hypocritical. I think our gay and lesbian Christian youth will be looking for answers. How should I live my Christian faith so that it demonstrates a level of morality that doesn’t conform to those who don’t have a faith? I don’t have the answers to this question but I do know that it will include two things – self respect and respect for others. They will need some guidance.
3. Gay churches?
Is that day over now? Gay churches served a purpose in providing refuge for those who had been rejected but is it the ultimate? I think not. Many have moved on to become inclusive or affirming churches where everyone is welcome: gay or straight. I would also like to think that many of us are being called back to the congregations and denominations we left, to be a living example to those who have never seen or met happy, fulfilled gays and lesbians of faith. We don’t have to wear rainbow flags we just have to be. The impact we can have inside the city walls and the quiet conversations we have are often more powerful than all the shouting outside the walls. We are the myth busters who break down preconceived ideas and misconceptions about gays and lesbians. Believe me, it takes a strong confidence in knowing who you to exist in unwelcoming environments but in the long run it reaps great rewards.
4. Strong cultures with a completely heterosexual framework
In many western cultures the family/societal pressure to conform and be married in order to be accepted is diminishing. Many of us married under that pressure. In Asian cultures such as Chinese, Indian and also Middle Eastern and African there are centuries of tradition that have gone unchallenged with arranged marriages. What will we do for gays and lesbians in those cultures now that we have won many battles of our own?
5. The Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe
These are geographical areas that are as yet untouched by many human rights issues, particularly in the area of homosexuality. Whilst in many African countries homosexuals are still imprisoned and in many eastern European countries, gay activists experience constant threats of violence, in parts of the Middle East boys as young as 14 and 16 are publicly hung for having sex with another boy. What will we be able to do those who are gay and lesbian in these countries while we celebrate our wins of full equality? This challenge is enormous.
Conclusion - Who we need to be to hasten the day 1. People who are authentic
The rainbow revival is on. This is the second coming……. OUT, as I call it. Nothing changed while gay men and lesbians remained in the closet. I’d encourage everyone to live an open and honest life, free of all sense of fear and false shame. Be proud of your faith and equally proud of your who you are. There is no shame in being gay except the one that exists in peoples minds…..them and ours.
2. People of integrity.
What is integrity? If you are treating others as you would like to be treated yourself, then you have integrity. There is plenty of opportunity to return hatred for hatred, accusation for accusation, anger for anger, but in the end, it only produces more of the same. Even with my opponents I endeavour to treat them as I would like them to treat me. I can tell you it is a challenge at times. I still believe in the words found in Proverbs ‘A soft answer turns away wrath’. If we act, feel and behave like right wing Christian extremists we are operating under the same energy. And it’s not a good energy as you know.
3. People who live in the future and not the past.
Jamake Highwater, a man who knew rejection on many levels, being adopted, a North American Indian and gay said ‘People who exist at the margins of society are very much like Alice in Wonderland. They are not required to make the tough decision to risk their lives by embarking on an adventure of self-discovery. They have already been thrust beyond the city’s walls that keep ordinary people at a safe distance from the unknown.
For at least some outsiders, “alienation” has destroyed traditional presumptions of identity and opened up the mythic hero’s path to the possibility of discovery. What some outsiders discover in their adventures on the other side of the looking glass is the courage to repudiate self-contempt and recognise their “alienation” as a precious gift of freedom from arbitrary norms that they did not make and did not sanction. At the moment a person questions the validity of the rules, the victim is no longer a victim.’ If you are still holding on to bitterness, resentment and anger for the way you’ve been treated because of you are GLBT then you are still the victim. Too often I find people stuck, reliving over and over again the hurts of the past. ‘You can’t drive forward if you keep looking in the rear view mirror’. Don’t wait for those who victimised you to come and set you free, free yourself by forgiving and moving on. It’s a new day…….move on. Today, I thank God for my rejection, for if I hadn’t been rejected then possibly, I would still be living a tortured closeted life. 4. Be a gay ambassador
I’m very grateful for all the activists who brought so much change in our countries. Their contribution can never be understated. Back in 2004, when I was reluctantly thrust into the work I’m doing now, some people began calling me an activist. Somehow the title didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to be a catalyst for change but I was self aware enough to know that I’m not confrontationalist or militant. I choose instead to be a gay ambassador. To use my personality, communication skills and connections, to create dialogues, have conversations and meet with people behind closed doors. To be a representative for my tribe whenever the opportunity arises. And when it doesn’t arise to seek graciously to create it. If you don’t feel you fit the activist mould there is still much that you can do as a gay ambassador, believe me.
5. Focus on the positives not the negatives
If you want to look around there is still a lot that can upset us. Obsessive people, extremists groups, politicians who use gay and lesbian issues to achieve their own political ends, crazy people like the Westboro Baptist Church. Think about this for a moment. In reality, the Westboro Baptist Church, with their God Hates Fags campaigns, are nothing more than a weird, incestuous Christian cult of about 100 people. No one would ever have heard of them except that the media keeps giving them time. Its not about truth, it’s about sensationalism and we buy into it. I refuse to engage with some people, as it would not serve any purpose except to give them a target for their bigotry and prejudice. Let’s not give the extremists, fruitcakes and right wing activists any more energy than they deserve. Most of the time they deserve to be ignored not challenged. Sometimes our opposition feeds their energy. There are wonderful things happening. Make sure you talk more about them more than the bad things. Always remember ‘the enemy we fight is not individuals, political parties or denominations, the enemy is ignorance’.
Let me close this morning by reading from the final page of my autobiography. In 2000, Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian and a member of the United States House of Representatives, from the district of Wisconsin, spoke from the stage of the Millennium March on Washington: ‘If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk, then put his picture on your desk and you will live in such a world.’ In her inspiring speech to the hundreds of thousands attending, she continued on to say that there are two things that keep homosexuals oppressed: them and us. In other words, we are half of the equation. We shouldn’t wait around for some magical day when everything will be okay. It’s up to us to make that day happen. We can create this day by being true to ourselves. And when I’ve partied all night with twenty thousand people in my community and it’s ten in the morning and I’m still on the dance floor waiting for the final show and I look around at the straight-acting gay boys, the muscle marys’, the cute twinks, the overweight, hairy bears, the scary leather men, the lipstick lesbians, the dykes on bikes, the femmes, the vanillas, and the outrageous drag queens … what can I say? GOD, I LOVE MY TRIBE! Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.
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