For as long as I can remember the church in the UK has treated people who are gay horrifically. We have denied, we have judged, we have excluded, we have hurt, we have silenced.
The vicious aggression of the recent banned bus ads doesn’t represent the approach of all Christians, but the church as a whole shouldn’t be reaching for their comparative halos.
The worst part of it is that ‘the gay thing’ has been an argument. An issue. A topic. We’ve gone to our Bibles or our church traditions and pronouced and debated on what they say and what they mean in today’s society. In doing so we forgot or ignored that we were talking about a profound part of the identity of real people.
We have failed to see people as people loved and created by God. As soon as we have heard the word ‘Gay’ ‘they’ stopped being human and became a target or a weapon. A target to cajole or convince into abstinence, reorientation or silence. A weapon in our debates about the rights and wrongs of our positions. Again and again people who are gay have got caught up in the cross fire in churches, because we couldn’t have a sensible conversation about how we read the bible without launching the missile of sexual orientation.
For a faith which claims to place such value on each person’s innate worth no matter who they are or what they’ve done we have failed. We thought that by being ‘set apart’ on this ‘issue’ from society that we were therefore doing the right thing. But it is our love that should be radical, different and offensive not our fear.
Giving up our rights
Therefore the church has forfeited the right to have a say in the current public discssion on gay marriage.
The church has lots of really helpful and constructive things to say about marriage in general – healthy living traditions from down the ages. The church may have some insightful things to say about gay marriage as well. The tone of the coalition for marriage petition has generally been positive.
But it doesn’t matter. We’ve blown it.
Whatever we say will be heard as a judgemental scream from a group trying to defend their own rights. In the unlikely event that the church prevented the reforms it would be seen as a dictatorial minority imposing their will.
Lament and forgiveness
The church should give up their right to participate in the discussion. We must trust that God will find other ways to bring His will (whatever it is) into this area. The organisations spearheading the ‘coalition for marriage’ should announce the withdrawal of their petition and lobbying efforts and instead enter a period of lament and seeking forgiveness. Maybe God will call us to influence this area of our national life in the future, maybe not.
This does not mean that everyone has to suddenly (or ever) become pro gay marriage or the blessing of same sex relationships. This is not about people having to toe a ‘politically correct’ party line or feeling coerced into changing deeply held views.
It does mean finding ways of seeking forgiveness from the people we have hurt and targeted. It does mean ensuring that we never again divorce our doctrines and beliefs from the realities of people’s lives around us.
Peoples’ sexual identities are not our theological weapons. It’s time to stop the warfare and lay down our arms.