This is a guest post from Ruth Preston, who also blogs over at What You Think Matters
World renowned gay rights campaigner came to speak in a Brighton church recently, hosted by ‘Changing Attitudes’, an Anglican gay rights organisation. With recent media spotlight on the gay marriage issue, I decided to go. The meeting was well attended, and during the question time it was apparent that a lot of the audience were themselves LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) and also church goers.
Tatchell spoke well, and highlighted two main reasons why he thought that Gay marriage should be allowed. Firstly, because of love. He argued that no-one could say that the love of a LGBT person was any less than the love of a heterosexual person. Secondly, because of equality. He argued that it was discrimination to not allow homosexual partners to marry, just as it was discrimination not to allow a heterosexual couple to have a civil partnership.
Tatchell addressed the question: Aren’t civil partnerships good enough? He argued that there were technical differences, some of which can have a significant effect financially on older LGBT couples, which I appreciate. But the most powerful way in which he communicated was through his analogies. He gave us an example of historic black and white segregation in America. When the African Americans protested that they wanted to be able to go on the Whites’ beaches, the White Americans responded saying ‘The water is the same on our beach as it is on theirs, and the sand is the same, what is the fuss about?’, Tatchell argued that the same principle could be applied to the gay marriage issue. There was a roar of applause from the crowd, and at the time, I remember thinking: There is something wrong with that analogy. Afterwards I realised what I believed was wrong: context. Black and white segregation was a product of a culture that undermined African Americans, socially, economically and humanly. The isolation was a very physical pressure, and prevented cultural mix. This cannot be applied in quite the same way to the issue of gay marriage, because the limitation to civil partnerships is to do with technical definitions, rather than an attempt to prevent gay couples from getting the same jobs as heterosexual couples, or preventing social mix between the two parties.
However, even if I did not agree with everything that Tatchell said I was grateful for two things that he said; firstly, that he was not campaigning for gay marriage to be forced upon churches. Secondly, that he thanked those Christians who believed that homophobia was wrong even if they still felt that homosexuality was a sin.
Because of the black segregation example above and from Tatchell’s frequently negative comments about ‘conservative evangelicalism’, I was reminded afresh of how victimised the gay community feels, especially from the church. Living in Brighton gives me a familiarity with the gay community, and often prevents me from seeing or feeling any negativity towards them. My church also, despite our traditional views on sexuality, would love to see more people from the LGBT community attending.
Being moved as I was for this group, it was painful for me to hear of how they felt that many in the conservative evangelical arena despised them. One man, about my age asked: ‘Why do people in the church hate us?’ I was therefore prompted to ask my question which was: ‘Do you think that church opposition to gay marriage might not be to do with hate or homophobia, but rather because they are trying to be faithful to biblical doctrine?’ Tatchell’s answer was to list the painful and offensive things that church leaders has said about the gay community, and proceeded to say ‘they often say they don’t hate us, but they say and do things that misrepresent us, which allow their congregations to hate us, and I do not think that can be compatible with the love and compassion of the gospels.’ In short, his answer was: yes, they are homophobic.
Ironically, just as Tatchell is worried about the LGBT being misrepresented by church leadership, I am equally worried that the church leadership will be misrepresented by the LGBT community. If Tatchell’s talk was anything to go by, the audience was left with the impression that many of the churches leaders were homophonic and had no compassion for them. Obviously this is not the case. I cannot speak for every church, but in my experience there is a deep desire within our churches to get to know more of the LGBT community and to understand them better. We want to follow Christ, which means both being true to his teaching in the whole of the New Testament on sexuality, and also being willing to open our hearts to those in the LGBT community.