|L to R Anthony Venn-Brown, Rev Rod Bower, Rev Matt Glover|
is a challenge. A huge challenge. Of all the things that I have done I think
working in the space of shifting the churches understanding of sexual and
gender diversity has been and is the most challenging.
is no more controversial or volatile space than the homosexuality/Christianity
debate. Generally speaking it
is a space of conflict with two diametrically opposed views expressed at times
with hatred, anger and vilification. It's challenging to find middle ground.
But there is middle ground if people are willing to take it. It's called GRACE
and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE – two profoundly biblical concepts but so frequently
Marin, in his book "Love is an Orientation" put it well when he
described the challenge of existing in this space of bridge building; likening
it to standing in the middle of the field during a storm. We become lightening
we are seeing a shift in the church. It's slow though. Annoyingly slow. It's
like trying to shift the direction of a large ocean tanker.
tells us this has always been the way it's been.
Movement in the United States commenced in
1833 when the American Anti-Slavery
Society was founded. In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, banning slavery. That took 32
The Women's Rights
Movement in the United States began in 1848
with the Seneca Falls Women's
Rights Convention. In 1920 the
19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally eliminating sex discrimination
and gave women the right to vote. That took 72 years. But it gets worse.
twenty years later Maryland ratified the amendment in 1941. After another ten
years, in 1952, Virginia ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, followed by Alabama
in 1953. After another 16 years Florida and South Carolina passed the necessary
votes to ratify in 1969, followed two years later by Georgia[,
Louisiana in 1971 but Mississippi did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until
1984, sixty four years after the law was enacted nationally.
began their struggle for equal rights in 1909 with the founding of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Civil Rights were granted in 1964 and Voting
Rights Act passed in 1965. That was a struggle of 56 years.
there has been a shift in societies consciousness about equality, not only has
the church usually been the church the last to embrace it, but have also actively
resisted and opposed change. If you spent the time
to read through the parliamentary speeches and debates of the time you would
find bible verses often quoted – for and against. Sound familiar.
So what history tells
us is that Christians are often slow learners and the church has learning
disabilities. When I began this work in 2004 I had a 30 year strategy. I hope
I'm around to see my end goal.
Of course the belief
that homosexuality is a sin, same sex orientation and transgender people are unnatural
and that people can change is not necessarily a Christian concept. It was
societies belief for many decades. Society began to grow in its understanding of
these beginning with the research of Evelyn Hooker in 1957. I was 6 then. I
turn 63 in few weeks and today I can live in a society and family that accepts
me thanks to the increased knowledge that shifted societies understanding of
sexual orientation. It's a very different story in my Pentecostal world
At some Pentecostal churches
I would not even be allowed attend. Some wouldn't let me play an instrument or
be on the platform to sing or even serve coffee in the foyer. An insignificant
number of them would allow me to lead a home group or serve in a small leadership
capacity. But I'd have to live in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" closeted
culture. In other words they are expecting me to live with a sense of shame as
if I had something to hide, be inauthentic and to lie. And not one of them
would allow me to be ordained or make a public commitment of love, exclusivity
for life, to the man I love.
Yes this is an
incredibly challenging space to talk about same sex issues.
The three main areas of
challenges that bridge-builders face
Every time I hear
another story of a church who has separated a lesbian couple of 8 years, with
kids because they believe their relationship is immoral - I get angry.
Every time I hear
that a youth pastor has told a young 16 year kid that God doesn't want them to
be gay and He can change them, knowing this will lead to depression and at some
point he will think about taking his own life and may actually do that,.– I get
Every time I hear of
a pastor who has told a man struggling with their same sex orientation that this
woman is a gift from God and that by marrying them it will demonstrate God's
'miracle knowing that around mid life he will come to the reality that nothing
has changed leaving him devastated, the wife feeling betrayed and the children
confused – I get angry.
So what do I do with
that anger. Suppress it. Because if I really let out how I feel then I wouldn't
be able to engage in a dialogue. People don’t like to talk with angry people. I
don’t. Do you? The challenge is to continue to be loving, respectful and
gracious even when you are not afforded the same qualities or values.
The need for patience
As I've mentioned
change happens over time. Churches and church leaders transform at a pace. It's
different for each person. No one moves from being anti-gay to becoming gay
affirming overnight. The challenge is to allow them time to journey. I am often
helped by reminding myself that it took me 28 years to resolve my faith and
sexuality so I can't expect overnight results and must be committed to be in
this game for the long haul.
with personal attacks
You'd be surprised
where these come from actually. I am sure you think it is just the Christian
conservatives – of course I get this regularly but I would expect them to say
cruel, unkind things and lies. They are speaking out of their ignorance and bigotry.
Would we expect anything else? But there are other sources of attack as well.
Hurt and damaged people
from Christian backgrounds project their own pain on to me for a whole variety
of things I have done in attempting to build bridges with churches and church
leaders. Coping with this and not allow it to get you down is a challenge.
Some people in the
LGBT community are staunch atheists and hate anything to do with religion. It
doesn't take a lot of intelligence to realise why this is. The Christian church
has opposed every piece of legislation that created equality and a better life
for LGBT people. So some attack me for even engaging with churches and
religious leaders and say things like "you
can go to hell with all your Christian friends as far as I am concerned"
.....and that's one of the nicer ones..
thing about betrayal is that it never comes from our enemies".
challenges for the straight allies
Many of you learnt
that even saying sorry to the LGBT community for the way the church had treated them came at a
price. In 1998 the 100 REVS first signed the apology to our community Some people signed but had to withdraw because
of threats from their denominational leaders. Names appeared and disappeared.
Even though there were a 100 names only about 30 marched because they were told
if they did then would lose their jobs. Some have lost jobs, income, housing,
preaching engagements etc because they dared to stand on the side of the
If you are a straight
ally you will be condemned, attacked, vilified and labelled deceived. Depending
on how far you are out there you will pay a price. This will be your challenge.
One step ahead and you are a leader. Two steps ahead and you are an innovator.
Three steps ahead and you a martyr.
I have seen the
implications of straight allies standing with the LGBT community so often I
have a piece that I now cut and paste to send to them. It reads.
Thanks so much for standing with us. It means a lot.
I’m sorry to hear that you been attacked for stating what
you currently believe and for your actions.
When we look at the life of Jesus in the gospels we see a
man who was also attacked. He was the great rule breaker and was constantly
attacked by the conservatives and religious leaders of the day for mixing with
wrong people and going to the wrong places. Does that sound familiar?
Jesus saw human beings not labels. His life and parables
constantly remind us who are neighbours and how we can practically live out the
command ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’.
Phariseeism is alive and well in the church of the 21st
century and some continue to judge, condemn and separate themselves from people
they consider somehow outside of God’s grace. I still find it surprising that
Christians who claim to be people of the Word can’t see the similarities
I’m not sure this will be of enormous comfort but worth
When any straight person from the Christian church
actually stands on the side of the LGBT community they often experience
hostility, vilification, judgment and personal attack. By standing with us
though you get to experience something that is an everyday experience for many
gay and lesbian people. 85% of gay men and lesbians experienced harassment or
violence during their lifetime, with one in four gay men and lesbians being
physically attacked. Not for anything
they have done but simply for being who they are. In the eyes of the attacker
they are abnormal outsiders who do not deserve to be treated like everyone
else, that is, with dignity and respect. This is not a special right the LGBT
community are asking for, it is a basic human right.
Thank you for being like Jesus and being willing to show
unconditional love it has not gone unnoticed by God and those who strive to be
like the Master.
And once we have a new consciousness or understanding we
are empowered. It’s impossible to retreat to a place of ignorance. Too much is
at stake. TRUTH. And it was Jesus who said you will know the truth and the
truth will set you free.
challenges for church leaders
To understand the
challenges ministers and church leaders face we need to understand the context.
You are the pastor of
a relatively healthy church in the suburbs a few 100 in the congregation or you
are the pastor of a mega church with 20,000. You have built this congregation up with your
blood sweat and tears. If you get involved in this 'issue' how will your
congregation respond. Of course what most pastors don't realise is that members
of their congregation are further along this journey than they are as they have
gay and lesbian work colleagues or family and friends. You know there are ultra
conservatives in your congregation. How much power/influence do they have? I
have seen what has happened to churches, denominations and Christian leaders
who have ventured into this space.
One of the big
challenges is that pastors and church leaders are completely unaware of the
harm they are causing to LGBT people. Many of them have pastors hearts and if
they really knew the
suffering that has been caused they would be motivated to do something
about it. Like me, they would weep as they sat down and listened to peoples stories
of the tremendous suffering caused by the churches ignorance and resistance to
The needs of pastors and church leaders
of the big things church leaders need is a space of confidentiality and safety. They are fearful on a number of levels,
one being that their church might split over the issues. I have met secretly
with many church leaders because they trust me..If it gets out that they are
speaking with me then it can cause all sorts of ramifications which unnecessarily
highjack our conversation. Nicodemus
came to Jesus by night for a reason.
2. Giving space for the
– it will take time of the move through the 7 stages on the continuum from
hatred to dislike, dislike to discomfort, discomfort to tolerance, tolerance to
acceptance, acceptance to affirmation, affirmation to advocacy. For some the
journey takes years. Others get stuck at one of the stages.
3. Should I make the gay
issue a priority?.
The gay issue is way down on their priority list. Many have buried their heads in the sand hoping it would
go away. But it hasn't and won't. In Australia we are seriously talking about
marriage equality now. You can't pick up a newspaper today without their being
something about LGBT rights or some similar story. Sometimes its headline news.
You can read
here the reason this should be a priority
for church leaders. Pastor Brian Houston from Hillsong recently mentioned
this to his congregation.
4. The challenge on
– if I take this brick out of the wall and discover we were wrong about
homosexuality, will that mean my entire
wall of faith will collapse
It is not one issue
that needs to be resolved. Its complex and will have ongoing ramifications. When I
work with churches and leaders I let them know there will be 10 separate issues
will be faced at some time. These include a natural aversion to same sex sex,
celibacy, the bible verses themselves that speak about same sex activity, leadership
in the church and finally marriage equality. I say finally marriage equality
because if the other 9 are not ticked off then they will never come to that
place. Moving along through these 10 separate issues can take a couple of
years. Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International works with
churches and leaders and assists them to develop a strategy through those issues
and ensure the pace is right and polarisation on the issue is minimized.
all these challenges we need to remember that we are all entwined in this journey
together. No one person can do it alone. We need to discover ways to work
together to the end goal of a church that loves, accepts and affirms our
humanity. A church that Jesus Christ would be proud of and is a place of
welcome to all people..
while we try and get our shit together people will lose their faith, some will
develop mental health issues, Christians will reject their gay and lesbian family
and friends and young people will take their lives. I trust that this makes us conscious
of the need for urgency. Some people don’t have forever, they need answers now.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.
Labels: gay christian, gay rights