We’re coming out

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 18.31.14
Whatipu, 2014

As it is plainly obvious I have been very quiet on here for the past six or seven months. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is that there has been something going on in my personal life, and to be honest, writing pithy pieces about politics, religion or pop culture has been pretty low on the priority order.

Many of you know my wife Idoya, and many of you know that we have collaborated on content like elephantTV and that we have advocated for the LGBTI community for a long time. What many of you may not know is that a couple of years ago Idoya came out as bisexual and has identified as such since then. It’s not that it has been a secret, Idoya has written about it openly on her blog, but as most of you here read my writing mostly, it may not be as well known to you.

In the second half of last year, Idoya came to a realisation that she wasn’t bisexual, she was in fact gay. As I am sure you can imagine this created many questions about our relationship and what it meant for us as a couple and as a family unit. To me it was obvious that if one is bisexual then a partner can be male or female, but if one is gay…then a member of the opposite sex is outside the circle of people one can be in a sexual relationship with. 

It has been a difficult time for us and I would like to say today, to the very few people who knew the journey we were on, thank you so much for your support.

I want to let you know that Idoya and I are very much committed to one another and to the kids (obviously) but our marriage as it was…is no more. We are living together in the same house, albeit in separate bedrooms, which is exactly how we want life to be right now and it means the kids have lost neither mum nor dad. We are here as a family unit going through this stage of life together and strong. What we have now is a new commitment to a relationship that will likely be very different to any other you have seen before. We still love each other, we are still committed to each other and to the family unit, we still support one another and want what is best for one another. Who we are to one another is hard to quantify right now and we sometimes (jokingly) call each other our ‘ITH’ which stands for ‘insert title here’…what that title will be in the future, who knows.

From researching what feels like hundreds of instances where, within an apparent straight relationship, one party realises that they are gay, these are the four most common scenarios:

  1. The gay spouse has always known and has either lied to themselves and their partner, or they have suppressed their true feelings in order to maintain some kind of expected societal norm.
  2. There has been infidelity where the gay spouse has come to this realisation and then experimented in their new found understanding of their orientation.
  3. There have been clear signs that are obvious to the both people (e.g. “Oh that’ll explain why we haven’t had sex for two years”) as they look back once the revelation has occurred.
  4. The couple split immediately and it’s fairly ugly.

None of these four scenarios describe our situation, although on reflection Idoya does connect the dots and can ‘see signs’ but maybe it’s just the ‘bloke’ in me but I didn’t see them, and still don’t really. Even in a situation that is not that common, our story seems unique and not-the-norm. Idoya and I have had our difficult times over the past few months as this has been incredibly stressful, but I constantly come back to the position that Idoya has done nothing wrong. She has discovered a truth about herself and she has not wronged me or the children. So how can I do anything but support her in her journey and, in turn, go on my own journey as well to find out what this all means for me, for us and for the whole family?

As far as our daughters go, this is now their new normal. Currently all three of my precious girls are thriving and going from strength to strength. The choices we’ve made in handling this, particularly in working so hard to keep our family unit as together as it possibly can be, may seem weird to some, but I see our daughters as canaries in the coal mine who show us that so far we are doing well.  We have done our best at every step to move forward with integrity and love, and because of that, for now anyway, they are taking it in their stride.

Idoya is a writer and has written in a far more eloquent way than I and if you have an interest in what I am going through, then I think it’s important for you to read her perspective as well.

Finally I want to address the ‘religious’ elephant in the room. Many of you will know my involvement within the church and within church organisations. Many of you in those communities will be questioning how it is that we can be accepting of this new life which such apparent confidence. I can only say this: the Bible states in the Book of Psalms that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is the idea that as humans we were created as unique and special right from the womb. I want to state publicly that I see what Idoya has realised about herself as precious. She is as fearfully and wonderfully created today, as an out lesbian, as she was on the day I married her. This is who she is and I am proud of her and fully support her.

Where does a progressive charismatic go?

Adversaries 1So many of you know, in fact for many of you it may be the primary reason we are connected, that I am, for want of a better word, religious. I have never fitted well into any box. Most other people use the word ‘Christian’ when they talk about me but I don’t and never really have as I feel it doesn’t represent me accurately, especially when so much of my work over the past 20 years has been in a public setting and that public setting has already decided what the word ‘Christian’ means, and their definition is not what I am.

One of the reasons I have never felt comfortable with the term “Christian” is that I look at the community that identifies with that word and I don’t see people like me, who think like me, who act like me, or who represent their faith in the way I represent my faith. So if I’m nothing like them, then I’m not one of them…right?

As someone who hopes to constantly grow in his beliefs, opinions and perspectives on “life, the universe and everything“, I have come to the conclusion in recent times that it doesn’t seem that I fit…because I don’t fit. Simple really.

As with the word “Christianity” I really hate labels as I find them too encompassing, but for the sake of conversation I will try to expand on where I see myself fit in the church.

My personal beliefs, theology and faith fit more comfortably with what many would describe as Progressive Christianity…but my natural style of worship (read ‘style of church’ for you non-religious) is much more like what many would see as Charismatic Christianity. Let me state this for the record to make it very, very clear before the Christian trolls decide to have a crack. I am neither Progressive nor am I Charismatic, but they are areas within the faith that I gravitate towards for aspects of my personal journey and therein lies the problem.

In New Zealand, progressive churches (which support the LGBTI community and treat women as equals) are typically very traditional (think hymns, organs, choirs and a liturgical, repeated service each week) and seem to be to have less of an interest in what the bible describes as “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” On the other hand, a charismatic church will have more life, more youth and have more my preference in style of music. However a charismatic church is much more likely to be very conservative in its beliefs (think anti-same sex marriage, limits on women’s participation in the church) and there is often an implicit message that input from outside the bible is something to be avoided, and everything in the bible is ‘literal’. I realise I am being unfair to pigeon hole all charismatic churches like this, but if you lined up a hundred of each, these trends would be very obvious to see.

So for someone who wants the style of a charismatic church, but the intellect and theology of a progressive church what do they do? What do I do?

In an ideal world I would be finding a church that has progressive leanings and a charismatic style but it would seem that in Dunedin that kind of church doesn’t exist. When we first arrived in Dunedin I tried to attend a church that has progressive leanings knowing that the style wasn’t me, and I hoped that I could make a space for myself and others who wanted more of what I was looking for. Offers were made and accepted, but those doors were quickly closed so here I sit on Sunday morning at my desk with no church affiliation…but still feeling like I want one.

I decided this morning that I actually want to find a church here in Dunedin. In my investigative efforts so far I have failed to find what I am looking for and what I’ve decided to do is start by finding out where churches sit theologically. Obviously I can find out about their style of worship is by visiting. I have three questions to ask the leadership in the churches I am going to approach.

  1. If one of my children was to come out as gay at 15 how would they be received in this churches congregation?
  2. If my child, then as an 18 year old, wanted to be the leader of the youth group, how would the leadership approach that?
  3. If my child, at 22, then wanted to be married to their same-sex partner in this church, by the Pastor, how would that be received by the leadership?

Whilst many know that my connection with and defense of the LGBTI community is a very important part of my faith, it’s not the be-all and end-all. However I find that asking questions around this issue is very enlightening – it gives me a pretty good indication of where the church sits on other issues important to my faith.

Let’s see how I go.

 

 

If you are interested in interacting with me about this post you can comment below, follow me on twitter or facebook or email me directly.

Family First Distorts Facts Surrounding Venue Allowing Same-Sex Marriages

I read with interest an article on stuff.co.nz last week about Living Springs, a Christian venue in Christchurch, that has changed its position on allowing LGBTI couples to get married there. From the tenor of the article it seemed that the venue had come to this policy change in a sensible, rationale and logical way. The director, Denis Aldridge, was quoted saying, “we’ve been on a journey with this one, and we’ve got there… It took a while.”

Part of the journey involves a recent Human Rights Commission complaint against Living Springs after a lesbian couple were refused their request to hire the venue for their wedding. According to the article, Living Springs did not feel coerced by the Human Rights Commission to change their policy. In fact Elizabeth Wiltshire, one half of the couple who made the Human Rights Commission complaint, rang to speak to Aldridge after the change in policy. Wiltshire indicated that Aldridge seemed to be perfectly happy with the outcome.

“It was good, actually. I felt it was genuine. It wasn’t ‘Oh, we’ve had this unlawful policy and now you’re making us change it,’ [he was] very thankful,” she said, “It gave them a mandate to push for change.”

Fast forward one week and lobby group Family First distributes a press release headed “Function Centre Pressured to Allow Same-Sex Weddings.” The Press Release uses Living Springs as a reason to push the narrative that “Faith-based function centres” are being held hostage and forced into holding LGBTI marriages when they don’t feel they should have to. Family First also continues to make allegations that some in government said this would never happen which is factually incorrect as the opposite was clearly signalled at the time.

“If a church currently hires out their hall for money, they can’t discriminate against any group who chooses to hire out that hall.” Louisa Wall, Q&A.March 2013

I saw Family First’s Press Release on Facebook and it didn’t ring accurate to me after having read the stuff article. The change in Living Springs’ policy seemed more pragmatic than pressured. The conversation on the Facebook post ebbed and flowed between Living Springs and general negative comments about marriage equality. However anytime a contributor suggested the headline of the Press Release may be incorrect Family First director Bob McCoskrie pushed back with the idea that Living Springs “were certainly placed under pressure.”

This really didn’t add up to me, so I phoned Living Springs Director Denis Aldridge myself and requested a formal interview to use for elephantTV. It turns out Aldridge’s story is fascinating.

As a Pastor he was at the forefront of protests in Balclutha in 1986 opposing the Homosexual Law Reform Act. Since then he has been on what he describes as a “journey of thirty years”, where various people came into his life at different stages and challenged his perspective on what it means to be gay. Today Aldridge is an supporter for marriage equality. To have shifted from being someone who led the march against homosexual law reform to someone who is now ‘pro’ marriage equality is simply remarkable.

I wanted to clear up the most important claim by Family First that Living Springs was ‘pressured’ into changing their policy. Aldridge’s response was simple.

“It’s totally wrong and that didn’t come from us, that was the narrative that the guy that rung me wanted and I refuted it” he said. “The reality was [Living Springs] didn’t feel strongly that way, we’d actually come as an organisation [to the place where] we were seeing it, we believe, on a higher level and the higher level was ‘what would Jesus do?’”

Aldridge also made it clear that if they were to take what many Christians believe to be a “biblical interpretation” on marriage and reject marriage equality, then “we have to take a biblical line on re-marriage and divorced people” as well, given that the bible specifically denounces those forms of marriage.

Family First contacted Aldridge looking for comment on their change in policy prior to writing the press release and Aldridge wanted to make clear that he told Bob McCoskrie that they did not “feel coerced [into making the decision to change policy].”

“It’s actually that we have decided it’s the right thing to do” Aldridge said.

Aldridge feels as if Family First has purposely ignored their position.

”They obviously have an agenda, there’s a certain narrative that they wanted to hear and they’ve printed that narrative,” he stated.

Aldridge said they “weren’t pressured into [holding Same Sex marriages]” and they “don’t see it as capitulation.” The issue of Same Sex couples using the venue was already being spoken about at Living Springs, “we’d already had this conversation and that was the words I felt Bob [McCoskrie] was trying to put into my mouth that we were bullied into it, we answered that [we were not] but he’s gone ahead with that story anyways.”

Aldridge finished the interview with a challenge to us all, “I felt really proud of [Living Springs] in the end that we had, I suppose, the humility to say ‘well we haven’t always been right in this thing.’”

To clear up one issue with this whole thing. The law is clear, and it hasn’t changed since Same-Sex marriages were legalised. There is no ambiguity. If you hire a venue to the general public then you must abide by the Human Rights Act of 1993. This doesn’t allow discrimination in twelve main areas, one of which is ‘sexual orientation’. If you hire your venue to the general public for marriages, now that LGBTI couples can marry, then you cannot withhold the venue from them because of their sexual orientation. Prior to marriage equality, if your venue made itself available to the general public and that same LGBTI couple wanted to use it for a birthday party, or a baby dedication, or any kind of celebration that you’d hire it to any heterosexual person for, you also couldn’t refuse them because of their sexual orientation. There is no difference in the law.

I gave Family First the opportunity to retract or correct their statement about Living Springs informing them of the interview I had conducted and the information that came from that interview. They have refused to do so. It is now unequivocally clear that Living Springs were not ‘pressured’ or ‘bullied’ or ‘forced’ into making this policy change. They chose to, and were happy to change.

The full unedited interview with Denis Aldridge is below.

 

Update: 15/04/2016, 3.30pm

I’ve just been contacted by one of the people who I asked to speak to Bob McCoskrie from Family First claiming there is an inaccuracy in the post which I obviously want to correct. Bob maintains that the phrase “he declined to meet with them.” is inaccurate. Bob’s supposition is that the emails between them may be seen as a meeting and, as it was obvious that my representatives were going to support my position of challenging Family First, he felt there was no need to speak about the issue any further.

So, just to be perfectly clear, Bob did exchange emails with the people I asked to meet with him, in which he defended his position and said that there was no reason to meet.

There was no challenge to the accuracy of any of the other information I have provided in the post by either Bob McCoskrie or Family First.

Yahria Law. The only way forward according to Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee

Yahria Law becoming more common

What is Yahria Law you might ask, well just think of Sharia Law for Christians. ‘Yahweh’ plus ‘Sharia Law’ equals Yahria Law and it becoming more and more common.

For clarity, Sharia Law is the body of Islamic law. The term means “way” or “path”; it is the legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islam. Many in the West see Sharia Law as a great concern as who would want a religion, ignoring the laws of the land, and forcing citizens to adhere to a code or belief system that they didn’t buy into.

Welcome to the world of Yahria Law a ” legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on [a particular form of] Christianity”

We are seeing it more and more, Western societies are warning of the ‘dangers’ of Islam, especially amongst the Conservative Christian section of that society, but are happy to support Christian views being forced on their own society when it flows against the tide of public opinion or even at times when contravenes the law.

If you do not support Sharia Law coming into your society, then you cannot support Yahria Law as it’s exactly the same thing…only you agree with it and that’s the problem.

If you don’t support a law/ordinance/by-law/society norm where someone uses the words “because I’m a Qur’an believing Muslim” as a reason to ignore it, then really you can’t support the tagline “because I’m a bible believing Christian”. The other option is to support both. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

You either let anybody use the tagline “it’s my religious freedom” or you let nobody use it.

If you support religious freedom, especially when it contravenes a law, you will, for example, have to support the Rastafarian society using marijuana as part of their religious ceremonies. You will have to support some Mormons having multiple wives. You’ll have to support Muslims praying five times a day…and the list goes on. If you wouldn’t want to support the above examples…and millions of others from people with religious beliefs…then you can’t say “I won’t supply marriage certificates to Gay couples under God’s authority” when your highest court has made it legal for LGBTI couples to marry in your country.  If you are not happy with a business person, a civil servant, an elected official citing Mohammed, or Buddha, or Ganesha as their reason for refusing your business, or your civil rights, then you cannot cite God as to why you do it. Period.

We have seen Yahria Law in all it’s terrible splendour in America since SCOUTUS legalised Same-Sex Marriage with bakers breaking the law, venue owners discriminating illegally and even publicly elected officials refusing to carry out their legal duties by denying gay couples marriage certificates. It’s disgusting and I want to state publicly that I support the fines and penalties put upon those people breaking the law by denying people their civil rights.

There’s a super easy test to see if you are on the right side of the law (let alone history), if you offer that good or service to the general public, and you wouldn’t/couldn’t refuse it to a, let’s say, interracial heterosexual couple, you cannot deny it to an LGBTI couple. If you are a private club, or organisation and don’t offer those goods or services to the general public then you can do what you like (pretty much).

So here’s the solution for those of you, like Mike Huckabee for example, who appear to want to have a society made up with Yahria Law. Form a private group, a sect if you will, a closed society, remove yourself from the outside world and do it. Make the society with large walls so no one from the ‘outside world’ can get in, and live your life…but if you want to be in society, especially as someone who provides a good or a service to the general public, then you need to abide by that society’s laws.

The more I see individuals trying to perpetrate Yahria Law the more I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote to the Danbury Baptists saying “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” No law is to be made using religion as its source and, as I said earlier, you can only interpret the above statement giving you religious freedom above and beyond anything else…if you grant it to every other religion.

This post is the Genesis of the phrase #YahriaLaw, as of this post the phrase does not exist anywhere else on the internet. Use it well.

Yahria Law

UPDATE 12.30 10th September (NZST)

I’m wondering where the rally and support is from the likes of Mike Huckabee for this US citizen who has just been released from her job for not wanting to serve alcohol as it contravenes her religious beliefs…oh, she’s Muslim so her religious freedoms can be ignored #caseinpoint #YahriaLaw

I’m on the bridge – Support for Same-Sex Marriage from within the Church

Turnaround Tuesday as portrayed in the movie Selma
“Turnaround Tuesday” as portrayed in the movie Selma

The post I wrote last week about marriage equality was partly brought about by the movie Selma.  The movie documents the three marches (or part marches) from Montgomery to Selma in 1965. It’s an incredible movie to watch – it brings the civil rights movement to life – and it also impacted me as an example of how intense and dangerous the fight for any civil right can be. As I covered in my previous post, one of the key leaders of the Selma march, John Lewis, has publicly stated that he thinks the resistance to marriage equality for the gay community comes from the same “fear, hatred and intolerance” he himself witnessed in “racism and bigotry” during the civil rights battle in the sixties.

The movie depicts the first march, often referred to as “Bloody Sunday“, which had 525 black protesters who began the 80 kilometre march without Dr. King at the helm. At the outskirts of Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were stopped by Alabama State Troopers who were ordered there by Governor George Wallace. The Troopers turned back the protesters with brutal violence – you can read about it here from a reporter on the scene – it makes for horrific reading.

In complete contrast, the third march was safe and legal with a federal Judge ruling in favour of the protesters saying it was a Constitutional right for them to march and that right could not be quashed by the State of Alabama.  On the third march there were no police roadblocks, no legislative restrictions, no legal way for the march to be stopped. 25,000 people marched to Selma. It was an incredible moment.

But it is the second march, known as “Turnaround Tuesday”, that I think is the pertinent march for the church at this time.

After Bloody Sunday Martin Luther King decided immediately that they would go back to that bridge and finish what they started. He made a public call to Americans to get involved in the fight, “I am appealing to men and women of God and good will everywhere, white, black and otherwise,” he said, “If you believe all are created equal, come to Selma and join us, join our march against injustice and inhumanity. We need you.” This appeal caused thousands of people from all over the country, many white and many ministers, to travel to Montgomery for the second march.

On Turnaround Tuesday again the marchers got to the Pettus Bridge and this time the number of marchers was 2,500 individuals. They made it half way across the bridge and stopped. Dr. King prayed briefly, then turned the marchers around and walked them back to Montgomery. That night three white preachers were attacked by members of the KKK for supporting civil rights. The injuries sustained by Rev. James Reeb led to his death two days later.

The first march was dangerous, but the danger was unknown. The marchers didn’t realise what was going to happen to them on the Pettus Bridge. They were acting in good faith, having no idea what lay ahead. The second march was dangerous, but this time the danger was known. The 2,000 new marchers knew that they may face the tear gas and night sticks again, but they went anyway to support the cause. The second march gave clear evidence of the widespread growing support for black rights amongst white people. And amongst those people, ministers were a significant number.

It’s apparent, as evidenced in the weekend’s US Supreme Court decision, that the world outside the Church is well on its way to the third march. It is now ‘safe’, in most Western nations, to support Marriage Equality. However there is no denying that LGBTI issues and causes within the church are still on the second march. Turnaround Tuesday is not a safe place to be and there may be consequences ahead for the LGBTI community and their allies within the church. But if history teaches us anything it’s that now is the moment to get on the bridge and show our support for the LGBTI community. It’s not completely safe yet, but it is the right thing to do and I believe the Christ-like thing to do.

My willingness to stand on the bridge stems from these firm beliefs:

  • That marriage is a government institution
  • That marriage provides many legal and social benefits, and that it is discriminatory to withhold those benefits from same-sex couples
  • That recent scientific and psychological developments, as well as the personal experience of thousands of gay Christians, show that gay people don’t “choose” to be gay, and that efforts by the church to “cure” gay Christians have failed (see the closure of Exodus International)
  • That as a Christian, Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40) carries more weight than the passages that have been traditionally viewed as anti-homosexuality in the bible (and there are alternative readings for those passages of which Gushee’s Changing our Mind, and Vines’ God and the Gay Christian are two of many)
  • That the LGBTI community are a minority that are often discriminated against, and in many places persecuted, and that to stand with them in support rather than protest, imitates Christ
  • That Christians should support the LBGTI community even if they believe that gay Christians should be celibate (see Marin’s Love is an Orientation, and the explanation of the “side A and side B” debate on the gay christian network)

If you choose to publicly state you are on the bridge, what you are doing is standing side by side with the LGBTI community and saying ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality and the full inclusion, as Tony Campolo recently stated, and “full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” You are positioning yourself as an ally and as a friend to those who have been denied full welcome in the church, who have been rejected and who have borne the brunt of the church’s spite and violence. It’s time for that to change.

onthebridge

I’m on the bridge and my prayer for you today is to join me on that bridge. Stand with me on that bridge, as an ally, side by side with the LGBTI community.

I echo the words of David Gushee who recently wrote in the Washington Post

“I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.”

If you are already on the bridge, or you want to use this as a chance to join us, then please use the hashtag #imonthebridge to let people know where you stand and spread the word.

It’s Time

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona – a cathedral under construction for more than 130 years

A guest post by Idoya Munn

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history:  Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult.

Some versions of church history will have you believe that it was all plain sailing after the Reformation. But let’s not forget the Catholic Reformation, the conflicts between Lutherans and Calvinists, the Council of Trent, the Puritans of the New World, Wesley, the Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, Mormanism, William Wilberforce, the Missionary movement, Vatican II, and the development of Ecumenism. All moments or inceptions of change.

Now cast your minds back over the vast range of issues that have caused the church to divide and re-make itself in the last two centuries alone; slavery, segregation, mixed-race marriage, the sexual revolution and changing attitudes towards divorce and re-marriage, the role of women, the division (or not) of church and state, the growth of Pentecostalism and the mega-church, the young people leaving the church in droves, and now what seems to be the greatest controversy of all; the emergence of a brand new sexual ethic. That is, we have come to the conclusion that there is a thing, and this thing is called sexual orientation.

Let us not underestimate how new this thing is. We didn’t have the concept sexual orientation until very recently.  Moses didn’t have it when he wrote Leviticus, the Romans didn’t have it while their military leaders enjoyed their male concubines. Paul didn’t have it when he wrote Romans. Even when the word homosexuality came into common useage in the English language in the early 1900’s, we barely had this thing. The words sexual orientation had not even been formed. The Greek poet Sappho, the tragic Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing – the subject of the film The Imitation Game, and even the vociferous Gertrude Stein, all lived before the concept of sexual orientation as we understand it now was put into words.

So how do we read theology then, in the light of this? How do we read the Bible? How do we make up our minds about LGBTI Christians? How do we decide what we think about same-sex marriage? How do churches and denominations make the daunting decisions that face them about the inclusion of gay couples in parish life, and about the legal changes that are transforming society’s understanding and practice of marriage? And most importantly, how will the church respond to the growing appetite from within its ranks for a new understanding of sexuality? One that is inclusive rather than divisive; one that loves rather than judges; one that sees similarities before it sees differences.

When we talk about same-sex marriage and the brand new civil right of marriage equality, a right so brand new that we are not all convinced it is a civil right, we are not speaking in a vacuum. This issue is not a neat and tidy package that can be responded to with simple logic, or brushed under the carpet with a heavily-wielded stack of bible verses.  This is new territory. We haven’t been here before. History and tradition inform us, but they cannot guide us where they have not been. We bring them with us, tucked into our conversations, allowing them to ground us and challenge us and warn us of the dire consequences of getting this wrong. Let’s be clear: there are lives at stake.  And not lives that would be measured by how well they affirm some universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be a Christian, but individual, uniquely created people. People who get up in the morning and go to bed at night, people who laugh and cry and breathe, who have children, jobs, homes, dreams, passions and loves. People who love.

In Africa, in this century, thirty six nations prescribe jail sentences for homosexuality. In three of those sodomy is punishable by death. Other nations convict with flogging, hard labour, or life-time jail sentences. Even in the few African nations where being gay is not illegal, homophobia and transphobia and related hate violence are rife.  In Russia, despite the fact that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, Putin’s powerful anti-LGBTI propaganda bill means that anyone convicted of LGBTI “propaganda” to minors can be fined or imprisoned. Activists have been detained for acts as simple as carrying “Gay is Normal” banners. And even in seemingly open and tolerant countries such as New Zealand, suicide rates for LGBTI youth are tragically high.

This is not a theological problem, although theology is a vital part of the conversation. This is not an entirely political problem, although politics are changing and clearly need to change. This is not about the denigration of society, or the destruction of the family, or the manipulation of society’s mores by some vast lobby group with a “gay agenda.” This is a human problem. It is about people. And specifically, as it is becoming more and more apparent, it is about people within our churches, people we sit next to in pews and bake cakes for and pray for. People who from the outside may not look any different. Except for one small difference. We understand that difference better now than we did before. It’s those words; sexual orientation.  It’s time to smarten up and allow those words to inform our conversation about sexuality and marriage. And it’s time to listen to the people to whom the conversation matters most.

Christian voices from within the LGBTI community:

 Justin Lee

Vicky Beeching

Jeff Chu

Matthew Vines

Jennifer Knapp

Christian leaders, authors and academics who have come out in support of marriage equality and LGBTI rights… a few names out of many:

David P Gushee

Rachel Held Evans

Tony Campolo

Steve Chalke

Rob Bell

Brian D McLaren

Organisations committed to the conversation:

A Different Conversation

The Reformation Project

Accepting Evangelicals

The Gay Christian Network

The Marin Foundation

Canyonwalker Connections