To follow is Chapter 10 in a series that is my personal tranformative journey from my early years. This story began with me living as a long term unemployed single parent with two children with different fathers, never being married. I was definitely on the bottom rung of society. I lived in the highest unemployed town in the UK with the demise of its Iron and Steel, Chemical and Shipbuilding industries, thus experiencing years of poverty and ostracisation. This is the story of how, supported by a strong Christian faith, I deeply analysed and navigated my way through it all, to an absolutely fulfilling life.
In the light of what’s happening in this chaotic world today, I feel moved to tell my story with all its different facets, because my main hope is that the reader will see the human face of the marginalised. Then, hopefully, gain a more compassionate understanding of all those who live on the margins of society. I hope the reader finds clues on how to make connections with people different from them, or to change the top down competitive economic system so all people are justly valued whether they were in paid work or out of paid work.
I invite the reader to pick any chapter and, if it resonates with you, to organise a zoom working group in the New Republic of the Heart community to discuss and explore any particular issue or let it inform the work you are already doing.
I acknowledge that every single one of us has our own unique experience from our own unique perspective waiting to be heard and learned from. This is simply my experience. I’d love to maybe one day hear and learn from yours.
To read Chapter 9, click HERE.
CHAPTER 10 ~ RELIGION, HOMOPHOBIA AND FAITH
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, for your sake we face death all the day long.
We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No in all these things we are more than conquerors
through Him who loves us.“
~ Romans 8: V35-37 New International Bible
Many years ago while studying to be a counsellor using Carl Rogers’ ‘person centred’ approach, I learned the importance of the meaning of ‘congruence’ – being REAL with self and others. We were given an example:
“A young boy may feel he is more attracted to males than females. If he enjoys the experience, he puts a positive value on his self concept. “I’m attracted to males and like it,” (a healthy self concept). If the boy’s significant others, his parent or church, evaluates the experience and he takes this evaluation as if it was his own, this is called interjection. Their interjection could be negative by saying, “It’s evil and unnatural.” His self-concept tells him, “I’m attracted to males, therefore I must be evil and unnatural.” His self concept isn’t congruent with his core self. Perpetuating this incongruence throughout his life could lead to denial.”
(Frankland A Sanders 1995, Next Steps in Counselling)
The boy could reluctantly stay celibate or get married to a woman to be seen by society as ‘normal.’ This could ruin two lives. He could live a life of secrecy, in fear of society’s judgments and the uniquely inhumane consequences of those judgements. The first inkling that I ever had about the homosexual issue in my Christian faith was years ago when two girls rented a room from my friend. One confided in me about a personal problem she had. I invited her to come to church with me. She declined. As the conversation evolved she blurted …”I didn’t know you knew we were lesbians. We always thought if you ever found out, you would never bother with us BECAUSE YOU GO TO CHURCH.” I replied, “Of course I knew…I’ve known you for three years!” The issue just hadn’t cropped up before. I was shocked. How could anybody not feel a welcome from the church that I loved and firmly believed that God’s UNCONDITIONAL love was open to everybody.
The second incident was at the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz, Austria where ten thousand Christians from across Europe met on the theme of Reconciliation. I went to an interactive workshop on Welcoming Diversity, which I talked about in an earlier chapter. During the workshop the Swiss facilitator revealed he was gay. I congratulated him on his fantastic workshop and asked if he had enjoyed facilitating it as I had taken part. He replied, “I was a bit worried about this one, Linda, because I KNEW I’D BE TALKING TO A ROOM FULL OF CHRISTIANS.” Again this troubled me deeply.
The third incident, was related to a sermon about The Woman At The Well, that I was to write at Theological College.
The story goes…
“Having heard that the Pharisees are aware of the success of his baptisms administered by the disciples, Jesus retires to Galilee. This obliged him to pass through Samaria unless he chose the longer route often adopted by strict Jews to avoid defilement. So he came to a Samaritan city named Sychar. Jacob’s well was there and Jesus, tired by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water.”
(Holy Bible: John: Chapter 4:-V 3-29)
Imagine being the woman. It was noon, the sun at its highest. The scorching heat of the mid-day sun making the task of getting water from the well even more tiring. Not a popular time to draw water. What was it then that led her to draw water at noon. On reading the full story, it was clear that she was an outcast, and there at noon to avoid other people.
On approaching the well she saw a man sitting. Closer now she saw that he was not a Samaritan but a Jew. Possibly even more judgemental toward her than her own kind.
“Give me a drink,” Jesus said.
What a shock! A Jew talking to a Samaritan and a woman at that! There was something about his voice.
”How is it that you ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you ‘living’ water.”
I could almost imagine that this woman picked up, perhaps unconsciously, on the word ‘living,’ knowing that as a woman and an outcast, she had no life.
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep.'”
She didn’t offer the use of her own bucket. On one level she was almost warning Jesus to avoid her, aware she was an outcast. However metaphorically within her lay her deep well of experience, and there’s a sense that her true painful experience would never be understood. Who takes time to understand an outcast?
“Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep.”
Later in the story Jesus says to her…
“Go call your husband and come back.”
“Sir, I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying you have no husband, for you’ve had seven husbands and the one you’re with now is not your husband. What you have said is TRUE!”
Jesus had finally found somebody who didn’t pretend, who owned her own truth and one can imagine Jesus, after encountering so many hypocritical Pharisees (leaders of the synagogue), she was food for his soul. Later when the disciples returned, Jesus said to them,
“I’ve had food to eat that you do not know about.”
At the same time of writing this sermon I had a friend who came to me crying. On asking what was wrong she said her daughter had just told her she was a lesbian. I asked, “So why are you crying?” She replied, “Oh, I’m not crying because she’s a lesbian, because whatever my daughter is or does, my love for her could never be diminished. But I’m crying because I feel she’s going to have to battle through a lifetime of oppression. It’s going to be hard for her all the way.” She continued, “But you know her, Linda. She’s a very deep person, wiser than most. Actually I’m very proud of her. I LOVE HER MORE, BECAUSE SHE’S OWNING HER OWN TRUTH.”
I could almost hear the voice of Jesus speaking through the words of my friend. “My love for her can never be diminished.” “I love her more because she’s owning her own truth.” And that’s what Jesus felt while talking to the woman at the well. During this time, I attended the Northern Synod of the United Reformed Church when they were debating Motion 34 which stated: “Homosexuals would be welcomed in the church with open arms; however just as long as he or she doesn’t indulge in homosexual practices.” This motion condemns a homosexual to live a lie.
Jesus, in the bible passage, later said,
“True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
I heard some synod members wanting to leave this debate to, as they said, “get on with the real business of the church.”
Significantly, Jesus not only travelled through defiled territory, but he stopped in the heat of the midday sun, metaphorically in the heat of the sexuality debate, at a deserted well…without a bucket. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave. Why did he stop? Without a bucket he couldn’t draw water. He knew the ‘good’ people of the town would never come to the well at noon. How could he expect to get a drink?
It’s not inconceivable to think that he had heard of the perceived reputation of this particular woman. After all, she’d had seven husbands and the one she had now was not her husband. In his deep empathic understanding, he would know exactly where and when to find her. Jesus apparently had searched her out.
“The father seeks such as these to worship him.”
The woman had been deeply influenced, but then negatively treated by a strict religious group which had discarded her as an outcast.
It begs the question, do some of us today, who ostracise others in the name of a strict uncompromising religion, worship what we do not know?
The end of the story reveals the woman dropping her bucket at the well, metaphorically dropping all her interjected religious condemnations. She listened to her own voice.
“Liberation! …I’ve been worshipping what I do not know! I’ve been sought after, spoken with, accepted for who I am, warts and all.” She ran to her city and said to them,
‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?‘…
Many Samaritans from that City believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony. She became the first Evangelist to the Gentiles.
I respected many genuine Christian friends doing excellent work alongside a lot of needy people, but who had one deep inner conflict that concerned me. They believed in the UNCONDITIONAL love of God, but were against homosexuality. They took the bible literally, believing every word, but without seeing some of its ambiguities. Not to question the ambiguities, I believe, blinded them to the fullness of God’s universal UNCONDITIONAL love.
I fully identify with a quote from Donald Hilton taken from Ian Bradleys’ book, Grace Order Openness and Diversity. It says …
“The opposite of faith is not doubt but rather certainty. Certainty does not need faith because certainty knows. Indeed it knows so well that it doesn’t need to ask any more questions. The one who knows all the answers is literally faith-less. In my Christian faith, there is a ‘not knowing’ as well as a ‘knowing’. It is too big for me to comprehend. Simultaneously, I walk in the light and in the darkness and I call that ambivalence, ‘faith’. It is not that sometimes I have faith and sometimes lose faith, but any definition of faith would have to include the assumption that faith involves the call to live confidently in uncertainty.”
Some Christians don’t give themselves permission to explore or ask questions. They’re afraid that by exploring or asking questions, they are betraying the certainty of their own faith. Searching and questioning inevitably leads us to find new clearer insights into our faith in ways that are not bound by other people’s interpretations. New insights could lead us to doubt some previously imposed interpretations, and if we doubt, others tell us … or else… we erroneously tell ourselves, “How can I possibly be a Christian?”
Jesus never gave straight forward dogmatic answers to questions. Instead he answered in parables, in stories, or answered back with questions to help us work things out for ourselves. He was happy to answer questions which led the listener into a deeper understanding of God. “Who do you say that I am? Do you love me? Who is my neighbour?”
A faith that keeps us afraid of asking questions is not in line with Jesus, and may confine our full understanding of God. Jesus said,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 5: Chapter 3 (Sermon on the Mount’)
Some of his audience must have been stunned with self-righteousness in hearing this, because they were obeying the hundreds of rules which they believed would get them to heaven. Jesus says, “No, it’s actually the broken people, those who recognize their need for God, the poor in spirit, people who are spiritual beggars who inherit the kingdom.” He didn’t say the descendants of Abraham. He didn’t say Jews. He didn’t say Pharisees. He didn’t say good people. He didn’t say moral people. He said broken people. Those are the ones that inherit the kingdom of God.
After theological college, the church sent me to live in New Brighton, Merseyside. I later found there were lots of homosexuals in New Brighton. The town council agreed to build a local centre for specific homosexual medical needs on the condition that a questionnaire distributed around the wider community indicated agreement. The first day of my arrival in New Brighton, newspaper headlines read, ‘Plans for Medical Centre Scrapped.’ I regretted not having moved to the area earlier to vote on it.
I was working with five churches of different denominations and a minister from each church was on my management committee. At my first meeting with them I voiced my concern for those homosexuals who very likely needed the centre. I was adamantly told, from one minister in particular, to stay away from homosexual issues
My dilemma, or maybe opportunity, was that my Church Related Community Work (CRCW) job description stated that I not only would be working with the church, but that my job was to also encourage the churches to look beyond their own buildings to deal with issues affecting the community.
I remembered the Time Banks I had previously set up (mentioned in previous chapters) and decided to set one up here. Time Banks encouraged people and organisations to offer their time and skills to help each other without payment. I knew that, as well as helping people with debt issues, it was a brilliant catalyst to build bridges between different individuals and groups. Our Time Bank committee agreed with me wholeheartedly to make our Time Bank as inclusive as possible.
Different members visited diverse organisations to promote the Time Bank. I visited a local drop-in centre for gay men. On arriving, I recognised a number of men who attended some of the churches that I worked with. Sadly their faces dropped when they saw me. I was fully aware of their understandable apprehension about people who worked for the church. I purposefully introduced myself as a Church Related Community Worker to demonstrate that not all church people were against them. I then mentioned where I lived and how sad I was about the petition that stopped homosexuals getting the medical clinic they needed. Immediately the faces of those I knew from church completely relaxed. I smiled inwardly when somebody said, “We are that same group that applied for the clinic.” Our Time Bank was enhanced when some of their members joined it.
When I moved to Nottingham, the local imam, a colleague from our Faiths in Action Group, gave me a lift to and from the first National Imam and Ministers conference in Leicester. The last imam to speak encouraged us all to talk to each other beyond the surface level. We were having a pleasant conversation on the way home. However, I suppose it was very naïve of me when I said, “What makes me sad is the way most religions, including some in my own, are against homosexuals. It seriously challenges my basic belief system.”
The Imam completely changed his attitude toward me, strongly telling me I should look to my Christian scriptures. I gently suggested that the scriptures can be ambiguous as suggested by reading the book Being Biblical. He shouted, “Ah, that’s why you should become a Muslim!” I told the Imam of my own liberating experience of being a single parent and the life changing passage Romans 8 v. 31-end, which finished, “Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
“Ah,” he said. “That’s because you repented.” (Repentance is not mentioned in that passage.) The rest of the journey home was in silence. It bewildered me to think why homosexuals should repent for being true to their core self!
I’ve listened to people who equated homosexuality with being paedophiles and likely to molest children. There is absolutely no proof that homosexuals will molest children any more than heterosexuals. Carl Rogers, author of On Becoming a Person, advocated that a relationship of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard (liking the person not necessarily their behaviour) always resulted in a person reaching their full potential.
If any person is inclined to be a paedophile, then some rules are needed to keep a victim safe. A paedophile can subjectively gather his/her facts, become fully aware, perhaps for the first time, of the pain he/she inflicts on victims, and weigh the social/personal consequences to decide what’s right and wrong for him/her. Homosexuality itself does not seek to inflict pain on anybody.
Worrying that I could have naively said something to damage our relationship, I spoke to an elderly member of my management committee. She suddenly yelled blatantly in my face, “You certainly don’t speak on my behalf and neither for half the Christians in the church. I don’t mind the men but those women … well…they make me sick!” She continued, “Do you realise you could be the demise of Christian Muslim relationships in Hyson Green!” (I didn’t realise I had that much power.) She continued, “You have to be careful. You are a CRCW and you can’t think for yourself. You’re responsible for the whole church. Homosexuality isn’t an issue in this area. Christian Muslim relationships are!” As she was talking, I was thinking of the ‘Safe House’ for lesbians a few doors down my street in Hyson Green whose residents suffered harassment, prejudice, death threats, and sometimes death itself because of it.
I felt stuck. Her views were clear – and not representative of my whole management committee. As usual I asked myself, “What would Jesus do?” At that point I hadn’t really studied the bible passages on the subject and was curious about why the Bible was so against it. To try to educate myself I attended a national Lesbian, Gay,Transgender, Bisexual, Questioning, (LGTBQ) interfaith conference. I met and listened to LGTBQ people of all faiths who had suffered many injustices. We analysed biblical and other religious passages.
I could remember seeing a passage in the bible,
“A bastard should not enter the congregation of the LORD; even to the tenth generation.”
(Deuteronomy 23:v 2)
I felt that couldn’t possibly be right. I had two beautiful children out of wedlock. My children were welcomed in church literally from the day they were born throughout their childhood life. Looking through the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, there are hundreds of different rules, but why have the many rules against homosexuality outlived them all to such a degree?
I resonated with a Jewish Rabbi. He said,
“Homophobia originated thousands of years ago with the historical subordination of women, who were, and in many countries still are, deemed the absolute lowest of the low in society. In history’s long, ingrained stringent mindset of a dominant patriarchal society, it was unthinkable for a woman to lay on top of a man putting the man below the woman. To put a man in a woman’s position was also unthinkable.”
So there we have it, all these centuries of pain and homophobic misery has to do with men’s ego, linking millennia to millennia with the unjust subordinate place of women in society.
“In the 20th century, theologians like Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Küng, John Robinson, Bishop David Jenkins, Don Cupitt, and Bishop Jack Spong challenged traditional theological positions and understandings of the Bible; following these developments some have suggested that passages have been mistranslated, are taken out of context, or that they do not refer to what we understand as “homosexuality.’”
(Wikipedia: Homosexuality & Religion)
I also listened to presentations of positive inclusive community initiatives tentatively springing up around the country in schools and other places, including churches and some other faith communities.
Back in Nottingham, I admired the bravery of my Muslim friend who volunteered herself to come with me and a few other Christian friends to a Gay Pride conference during Gay Pride week, even though she was really nervous about what her community or even family would say. She was a beautiful open-hearted brave soul.
Homosexuality is a big problem for sanctuary seekers too. In Britain there are about ten white-listed countries and people from those countries, usually torn by war or natural disaster, who deservedly find it easy to find sanctuary. However many homosexual sanctuary seekers don’t come from those white listed countries and are being sent back to countries with draconian homosexual policies such as the death sentence or at the very least, life imprisonment. Often homosexuals find it hard to prove they are homosexual to the authorities when applying for sanctuary, because all their life they have had to pretend that they are not homosexual in order to avoid persecution.
Meanwhile, I was absolutely pleased to welcome a Quaker to our Women’s Faith in Action Pastoral Cycle group. While we all shared our personal stories, she comfortably revealed that she was a lesbian. Simply by being herself and owning her own truth, she broke down many misconceptions about lesbians among these women of all faiths. She very soon became a much loved and respected member of the group, often taking on a leadership role. I believe it is in these simple non-judgemental communications among our ordinary fellow human beings that we can genuinely foster understanding, empathy and love.
At my very last service before I retired I was determined to inform the congregation about the issues. Without mentioning homosexuality, I asked for a long line of volunteers, some of whom I knew were homophobic, to stand at the front of the church and hold up a poster. On each poster was the researched name of a country and under the country was a punishment. The two main punishments were ‘The Death Sentence’ or ‘Life Imprisonment’. Even I was surprised to find some of the countries on the long list. The congregation looked curious and sad trying to figure out what it was all about..until I told them that these punishments were levied against homesexuals who simply owned their own truth. I then read my sermon on The Woman at the Well. I had hoped some might realise the serious consequences of any kind of prejudice. Could compassion override dogmatic teachings?
Whatever side of the fence people sit within this situation, it is a fact that not one of us was created with prejudice. Where did that mindset come from? It is a fact that every living thing came from, and was created, from the source of pure love. I have a belief that those who are already ostracised by the church, or mosque, or other religious group for being true to their innermost being, will find a deeper and more meaningful encounter with Christ, as did the Samaritan woman speaking her truth at the well. One day we will all find a path to their well. Until then, I would not presume to preach to them anything.
Sadly and ironically, just in the middle of writing this particular chapter, something happened. I have a lovely sensitive 16 year old grandson who has red hair, wears glasses and stutters. He was bullied at school. For the past three years he has refused to go to school or college and has locked himself alone in his room. While writing this chapter, his caring older gay brother rang me. It was only then when I finally realised the full extent of his bullying. While I was bewailing the fact that he refused to go to college yet again, my gay grandson replied. “Please don’t be too harsh on him, Nan. Over the years I’ve watched it all. He’s been bullied all his life at school. The last time was three years ago when he was pushed to the ground surrounded by a crowd of teenagers, his head kicked, glasses broken, and kicked even more with the teenagers yelling, “His brother’s a Homo!” I don’t know if any reader can ever imagine the heavy thud still remaining in my heart after realizing the harm such judgment and ostracization causes another human being…and in this case my own grandson.
Today we can celebrate a growing trend across the developed world to enact laws supporting LGTBQ rights. Some adherents of many religions are viewing homosexuality and bisexuality positively, and some denominations routinely bless same sex marriages and support LGTBQ rights. To date I’ve come to believe that the oneness of God is the merging of loving core-self relationships. To me, sin is the deliberate obstruction of a self concept into the core self, whether that obstruction comes from parents, peers, teachers, employers tradition, the church, the mosque, etc… or a person’s own misdirected karma, trapped by a lifetime of interjections from others.
I believe that the way to get out of this karma is to meditate – the path to eliminating the regrets of the past and the worry of the future that is generated by the thinking mind. Past and future don’t actually exist, I’ve discovered. The only reality we ever have is NOW. NOW is the source of loving cosmic energy, that stillpoint before any concept is formulated, and where we all are connected, devoid of any interjected baggage. Re-enter life through the heart, feel its vibration, breathe, allow the heart to communicate. Stay lovingly aware in the Now. Now, twirl in the cosmic dance, tentatively emerging into an all inclusive loving society.
To read Chapter 9, click HERE.