All Change, All Change!
When I first came to London in 1996, the bane of my existence was public transport and finding my way around. The Underground was fairly straightforward with maps posted everywhere to guide me, but I would never get on a bus unaccompanied as I had no idea where it was going or where to get off. We don’t really do trains in North Carolina and I dreaded having to go anywhere on one in London. For months I kept getting the train from the wrong platform and was sent hurtling off in the wrong direction, only to eventually discover my mistake, get off, and wait for the next train to retrace my steps. Worse still was when the train stopped and “All change, all change” came over the tannoy. It was very easy to get stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting and not knowing if I’d ever reach my destination on time. Thankfully, I’m a more confident traveller these days.
Change is difficult at the best of times. There seems to be an inherent “short circuit” in our human nature, the way we’re wired, that resists change. We often prefer the comfortable, the predictable, the cosy way things are; lulled into complacency and ignorance, surrounded as we are by the majority who see no reason to change. Generation after generation have simply accepted the status quo because they saw no alternative or, if they did, lacked the power to do anything about it. But for those of us who have been gifted with “difference”, change is absolutely vital if we are to flourish, but it only comes if we find our voice and demand it. In the face of opposition, inertia often wins at immeasurable costs to us as individuals and for our wider society.
The Christian churches are among the worst offenders. Never has progress come about because the churches have been “ahead of the curve” theologically or pastorally. The Church is NOT that generous! Or even that self-aware. All progress has come about because an individual has dared to question the way things are, often through painful personal experience and trying to square that experience with Scripture and their deep, abiding faith in God’s goodness. Stanley Hauerwas, not my favourite theologian, once said, “When you are trying to change the questions, you have to realize that many people are quite resistant to such a change. They like the answers they have.” In light of this, the pace of change has been glacial, and what change has come about has come because of the sacrifices made by those brave enough to stand up and be counted. We are not there yet. For the LBGT+ community there is still so much more to do.
Some of us have been fortunate and found our way into affirming denominations like the Quakers and Unitarians, others carving out safer spaces within less welcoming churches. Many still hang on to the fringes trying hard not to “give the game away”, quietly hiding our true selves, so that we can worship God with others. Society has changed and is more open-minded that it was. This change has had a positive influence on all our churches because they can no longer get away with spouting worn-out dogmas and leave it at that. But it isn’t enough to wait for the churches to catch up with society, nor is it time to put away our placards and bide our time. Those who are against our cause are banking on us wearing ourselves out and giving up. So long as they release the occasional “balanced” soundbite and keep giving lip service to tolerance, we will be told to be patient and understanding of the very institutions that have marred countless lives and damaged the most vulnerable. I hear this often enough, sadly, from sympathetic friends and allies. Justice is not a hand-me-down, grudgingly given to be gratefully received, rather, it is our birthright as children of God. God is working hard to bring us justice. We see the Spirit at work moving things forward, but we also have our own part to play.
Every one of us has a gift to offer. We bring insight, wisdom, lived experience that can shape and inform the future. As those who are “different” we know what it is like to be on the outside looking in, to be rejected, our lives devalued. We know pain and heart ache, but like steel tempered in the furnace, we possess great strength because of what we’ve been through. We know full well the power of empathy for the outsider, and that here on the edge is where we meet God, who is closer to us than our opponents realise because we, too, are “other”. As the LGBT+ community we are in good company, siblings together with God in our midst. Always.
So wherever you find yourself placed in life, I want to encourage you to keep making a difference. To question the powers that be in our churches and hold them to account for their failings. Challenge our faith leaders and those we journey with in our congregations and fellowships. Find a Christian community where you can be yourself and then give back to those who are still struggling to find acceptance and welcome. Join one of the many LGBT+ initiatives around the country to offer that safe space many of us missed when we really needed it. If you haven’t done it yet, then do please join us here at OneBodyOneFaith. We need you.
Activism isn’t what it was twenty-three years ago when I first joined LGCM. Then it was boots and court shoes on the pavements, endless letter writing, and grass roots groups storming the barricades and demanding the churches think again. These things still happen but things have moved on presenting new challenges and opportunities. Technology and social media have enabled us to be more connected, but often activism doesn’t get much further than pressing “Like” or “Share” as our tweets get lost in the cacophony of competing voices and ideas out there in cyberspace. In the blink of an eye the news cycle moves on to something more pressing and we’re back where we started from as public attention is diverted. The change we want to see relies on good old-fashioned activism empowered by technology. We need more and more of the younger generation to pick up the baton that our veteran LGBT+ campaigners and allies have carried alone and help us take it forward. Our voices together will continue to speak prophetically to power across the churches, bringing liberation and new life. Change will come. The tide has turned. As we struggle for a place at the table we are making room for others, proclaiming God’s kingdom for all and making his love a reality for all. That day will come, it is here; let us rejoice and be glad in it!