Living in Love and Faith: Two - Predictably Discriminatory
Her final words are:
When they launched LLF, our Archbishops assured us that no one was an issue or a problem. I’d like to believe it. Were that true, though, my experience of LLF would have been very different.
I am genuinely delighted with chapter 10 of the Living in Love and Faith book, and its unambiguous theology of equality and diversity. But I lived through nearly two years as a member of the project, and in most of that time I too experienced more out-and-out homophobia than I have experienced anywhere for a very long time. Tina is right.
Talking about details feels a little bit like bringing dirty laundry out in public, and my grandmother brought me up better than that. But maybe I should list some of the sorts of things I experienced during my time on LLF:
* LGBTQ people being repeatedly ignored
* LGBTQ people not being noted in minutes
* Questions raised by LGBTQ people being omitted from the official record
* LGBTQ people not being treated as equals
* Off-colour comments being made by straight project officers as ‘humorous’ asides, comments which made LGBTQ members feel very uncomfortable
* LGBTQ people being attacked in character terms when straight people who spoke out were not regarded that way
* Power abuse by straight senior members against LGBTQ people
* Promises to LGBTQ people about involvement and consultation being repeatedly broken
I’ll tell one personal story.
At a meeting of a small group in Lambeth Palace, toward the end of a meeting, pretty much out of the blue, someone turned to me and told me that they had spent thirty years dealing with sinful gay people like me. They had had a successful ministry changing people like me and taking people like me out of sin. They were praying for me now. They said this publicly and clearly in front of the whole meeting.
Nobody in the room said a word.
I guess every LGBTQ evangelical person in the church has had this said to them in one form or another. We’ve all faced some kind of conversion-therapy ministry/prayer/bullying. I’m not sure we’ve all faced it in Lambeth Palace. In an LLF group.
I was aware that no-one else was speaking, no-one was coming to defend me or even slightly questioning what had been said. So it felt like anything I said here reflected on every LGBTQ person who had ever had this done to them. This happens: we get attacked, we defend ourselves - and not only ourselves…
My reply went something like: I too have had a thirty year ministry, and on the whole I hope I may have helped one or two folk over that time. But thank you, it’s always nice to know people are praying.
Inside I was a wreck. But I was determined not to let it show. And I was both furious and deeply disappointed that no-one - not one person - thought that such a personal attack was bad enough behaviour to make them speak out and defend me.
In Lambeth Palace.
So why did I not follow Tina’s example and walk away from the project?
Honestly, I asked myself that question many, many times. And ultimately it was because I felt called to be in the room. And never called to leave.
I stayed because the Church Times connected me to Stan Underhill, a retired priest in his nineties, forty years my senior, and did an interview with us together. His life is just like mine - except in his day, things were even worse. And that makes me think of people forty years my junior. What will life be like for them? I felt called to stay so that someday some young gay person somewhere might have a better chance at life and faith than I have had, and might never know that the rooms we sit in ever existed.
These rooms where we talk and debate and where endless ill-informed straight people make decisions about LGBTQ people need us in our day to take our turn at sharing the pain so that someday soon they no longer exist. So that someday soon the ill-informed are outnumbered by those who care. By friends. And by more of us. So that platitudes like ‘nothing about us without us’ stop being cheap words and become real.
I stayed because I had a darned good question and I wanted it to be heard and answered. And - amazingly - gloriously - there came a moment when I realised someone had actually heard it.
As I thought about Stan and his life, I thought about my life. I thought about the life I haven’t had, the kind of life I really hope that young LGBTQ Christians will one day be able to have - open, free, faithful, without fear or prejudice. Equal. And I found myself grieving deeply for that life I have not had - grieving so deeply that my bishop paid for me to see a therapist for a while.
And during that period of hurt and grief, I got the chance to speak with a small number of bishops. I got the chance to talk about my big question, my life, my hope for change and my reason for staying in the room. And then I sort of withdrew from the project for a bit. I was too broken to be active.
But then I read a new draft of the LLF book. It was - I think - draft four or five. And in it, for the first time, was the beginning of what is now chapter 10. To be clear: I didn’t write this stuff. I fought for it to be there. But someone else took it up and made it fly. I have no idea what made the difference. I have no idea who wrote those words. But…
Of course this doesn’t mean it all ended well!
More not listening, more not consulting, more non-inclusion followed. Right up to publication. Even when it wasn’t just me pointing stuff out. I watched friends gradually detach themselves and wander to the edges of the project without quite leaving, because (as Tina pointed out) they felt like they had been reduced to issues and problems and were never, ever treated like people. There was no point in saying goodbye - they weren’t sure anyone noticed if they were there or not anyway.
For a project about inclusion, the way that LLF happened was repeatedly a case-study in how not to do it. There are key elements of the project which members of the project have not seen before publication.
But please: there are also words on the page that will outlive the awfulness of the days past. And my third and final piece in this series - Stubbornly Hopeful - will look at the challenges and hopes of what may come next. You can find this by clicking here.