Westboro Baptist church. The Catholic Church. The Salvation Army.
Each of these movements have recently hit the international press because of their homophobic outbursts. It could be seen that they are certainly not demystifying the myth that the church is judgmental, homophobic and hypocritical(1). The public haven’t found confidence in the The Church of England either, after the embarrassingly failed synod vote regarding women bishops.
I cannot speak for The Catholic Church and would find it hard to be gracious about WBc (I am repeating in my head WWJD, as I the delete the colourful, unholy, expletives I would really like to use. I’ll keep them between the Big Guy and I). However I do have a sense of calling, attachment and commitment to Christ’s Church and more specifically The Salvation Army. I can speak from the perspective of firstly being served by this movement; secondly from serving in this movement both as a solider and from the “inner-workings” (it’s not as exciting as it sounds, about 40% you are in the company of paperwork); thirdly as someone who has great a sense of calling to mission with real desire for renewal and progression; lastly as someone who happens to be gay.
‘In my lifetime, homosexuality has gone from the prison cell to the alter’s threshold’
writes Birrell(2) in his article this Independent this week. Critiquing the Catholic Church, it saddens me to think that the whole Church is being rendered with such a crime; the crime of ignorance. Birrell is right when he challenges the men and women of faith who are speaking out against sexual equality. However, what he fails to see past the macro and into the micro.
Those who stand at the top of the church ladder, professing opinions and directing policies, godly as they may be, can be far removed from the reality of LGBT people. For they don’t sit with people in their offices who may be openly gay. If they do it may be a case of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ or ‘don’t know, don’t care’. They are unlikely to indulge in coffee-room conversation about what Dave and his civil partner got up to on their weekend off. It is easy then to spout this hatred, as the LGBT person becomes dangerously abstract and therefore easy to target.
The power of the church cannot be seen solely in the leadership of that movement. Clergy, if they be Reverend; Pastor; Bishop or Salvation Army Officer, are only part of the picture. The real power of the church, through Christ and His spirit, stands with the laity – the very people it is made up of. We have the choice to accept or not accept these opinions in order that reconciliation happens.
The church’s unique selling point is its potential for reconciliation: between God and mankind, and mankind itself. The specifics of sexual equality between the Church and the public isn’t going to be resolved through the lofty rhetoric of misinformed leadership. The practice of reconciliation will be seen in the ordinary conversations of His people, by actions and words where grace reigns, where dignity is practiced and understanding sought. There are stories of reconciliation I see, day in day out I see through my work with the movement of The Salvation Army.(3) I saw this particularly over this Christmas period as I delivered presents to needy families, witnessed as people served the lonely meals, as siblings were being reunited and addictions were being recovered from.
This can be, and is, the story for LGBT people within the movement. I thank God for those in influence over The Army and those with greater influence in the world ‘out there’. These individuals have accepted me, been gracious, asked questioned and stood with me as I struggle with my sexuality and faith. It does happen, it’s just never going to hit the press. The voices of divisive opinion will sound over these stories. Only if we let them. For those standing with the LGBT community, thank you. For those who are yet to, take up your position. Your silence only breeds an atmosphere that is bruising and breaking reconciliation.
For LGBT people where this isn’t the story: may grace reign over you and your people. May see you opportunities for practicing reconciliation, in order that the Reconciler stands in your situation.
3. The Salvation Army Northern Division, Central Territory released a statement with regard to its inclusive nature of LGBT people in their social mission. However, question is still raised about their spiritual mission through corps, plants and projects. The UKI has not released any such statement.