all of them

One of the most moving responses I have seen so far to the Oxford bishops' letter on inclusion came from someone who said that she was surprised and delighted by the way in which the bishops made her feel part of the church by their words. Usually, this kind of official pronouncement makes gay people feel slightly 'other', a separate order of humanity within the church, but here the respondent was grateful to feel like she was genuinely listened to and part of the same church.

That is no small tribute I think to Bishop Steven Croft, who I have personally experienced as someone who is keen to listen and understand. He stands up for LGBTI+ people in the wider church, knowing that the simple promise of 'nothing about us without us' matters. And indeed, I see in the wording of the letter conversations and challenges and journeys and stories that I have witnessed and known of, and that's part of why I welcome it so strongly and am so grateful for it.

Giles Goddard has a piece on the Via Media site which I feel is a sort of companion to this. He is a member of the co-ordinating group for Living in Faith and Love, the wider C of E bishops' new resource on sexuality which is in preparation. Giles points out that a change must come to the way the church works before the change many of us want in the life of the church can happen. He says that unless the church can see LGBTI+ people as radically included in God's love, unless the church can find a way to stop begrudgingly offering us a place at the table, and unless the church can stop seeing us as being a different kind of sinner (both in kind and in degree), then 'the exercise will be a failure'.

We will still be 'other'. And not just 'slightly'. And that will not do.

Why?

I return again to my recent experience in Atlanta. I was desperately moved at the Center for Civil and Human Rights as I re-read stories of the US civil rights movement. Equality is the constant dream of human beings who find anything but equality being offered to them. It's not much to ask for; it's everything. The first step in changing an oppressive majority is making some in that majority aware of the oppression. The Freedom Riders who were instrumental in the early part of the Civil Rights protests comprised both black and white people. For LGBTI+ people in the church to see the church change, we need friends like Bishop Steven, who will take our journey with us. This is part of how we conquer 'us and them' - by getting the two confused! Then (in Giles Goddard's categories) either all are radically included in God's love or none; all are welcomed fully at God's table or none; and we are all equally sinful and equally offered grace. Because we start to stop being so different.

Anglo-catholics need liturgies and Evangelicals need theologies for this practical change to become real. Well, I'm an evangelical, so...

Where this rubber hits the road theologically is when we suddenly realise that the way we have been talking about the Bible and gay people just won't do at all. I bumped into an old friend recently and they asked about my book; their actual question was, "So what is your angle?" What they were looking for (I guess) was - how do I explain away the six or seven texts that are always used in biblical debates on homosexuality. Here's my response:

First - there is no biblical debate on homosexuality. We are not an issue. We are people.
Second - when did you ever hear anyone ask, 'What are the verses in the Bible that are about straight people?'
That's the 'other-ing' issue right there. No-one asks that question. But they think it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask 'what are the verses in the Bible that are about gay people?'
Well, OK. I'll answer that question, because I'm in a generous mood. Here goes:

What are the verses in the Bible that are about gay people?
All of them.

When Jesus says woe to the pharisees in Matthew 23 because they are religious people who place demands on ordinary folk that they couldn't begin to do themselves if they tried, those verses are for us. We rise, we rejoice, because we have suffered under religious people who have done that to us and in Jesus we find a champion who hears our cry.

When Mary sings her song in Luke 1, promising the upturning of the world, with the poor being exalted and the inane rich being dumped into the dirt, we rise, we rejoice, because in the church for so long we have been the poor, left with nothing, left to watch the inane rich ignore us and feast on food we could only dream of. We hear the promise of Jesus and with Mary say - be it unto me, O Lord.

When Paul pens his hymn to love, patient and kind, and reminds us that love keeps no record of past wrongs, we rise, we rejoice, because we want all the fulness of Jesus' love - and hear his challenge not to inflict on others what they have inflicted on us. That's vengeance, not justice. So we open our hearts to receive as much faith and hope and love as everyone else - along with all the forgiveness that Jesus brings. And maybe together we'll see through that glass a little less darkly.

When John writes that perfect love casts out fear, we rise, we rejoice, because many, many, many of us live in fear. We live in fear of being found out. Of being ostracised. Of being treated as other. Of being physically, emotionally, spiritually pushed away by the people we love the most. In our families. At work. At play. In the church. But Jesus promises it will get better: his perfect love will destroy the fear, and how we pray that this perfect love might grow in us and through us and with us now, in our day. We rise, we rejoice, we pray, we hope, we believe.

What are the verses in the Bible that are about gay people? All the verses. All of them. Six or seven in the whole Bible? What utter tosh. Who told you that? What kind of claptrap half-wit nonsense have we been fooled into considering, masquerading as reasonable Bible teaching and sensible theology?

If we are people, then the whole darn book is for us. It's that simple. And it's Good News. And it's glorious.

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