Why we are in business, and why we need you
In a country where, for most people, most of the time, it is not dangerous to be LGBTI+, and in a context where some churches are embracing equality in at least some of their branches (thank you URC and brave Baptists), it might be tempting to think that the struggle for LGBTI equality and inclusion is basically over. That we are going to win and all that is needed is a bit of time. It would be tempting. But it would be wrong.
Today I have heard two stories that have left me flabbergasted. That is to say, they have made me angry, astonished, sad, disturbed. They are stories told by others, and therefore come to me second-hand and thence to you. But I have no reason to doubt my sources.
In the first, a person working in a church as a volunteer youth worker comes out to the leadership of the church. The response is unequivocal; they can no longer be involved in leading the very successful youth ministry, and they should, in fact, leave the church. In the second, a young person, a faithful church member, unable to bear the burden of the secret of their sexuality, takes their own life. The response of their parents, with the connivance of their church, is to try and hush this suicide up and claim it was an accident. Pressure is also brought on a friend of the opposite sex to say that they were their partner, to provide “cover”.
Add to these stories the pressure faced by some of our trans sisters and brothers – stirred up by the “trans nurse” story, which became an excuse for a flurry of transphobia in the press last week, and we start to see what lies under the skin of British society.
I said at the beginning that Britain was safe for most of us for most of the time. But that is not to say that we do not experience prejudice and discrimination and abuse and sometimes violence. And some people have a catalogue of terrible experiences to tell. Being LGBTI+ can still be deadly for some people. And even when the ill-treatment or abuse or violence is not shown openly, that does not mean that it is not there. We know that homophobic and transphobic bullying is rife among young people, and negotiating a safe and healthy way through adolescence for a young LGBTI+ person is far from assured. The mental health impacts on young people are well-known. They are not good.
Churches are not places where the cruder oppositions to LGTBI+ integration and acceptance are found. You won’t get gay-bashed if you go to your local church. Not in the UK anyway. You might well in Russia, or in parts of Africa. But my two stories (which are only illustrative and, sadly, far from unusual) show that too often, for too many of us, church in the UK is not a safe space. It is a place where you can be humiliated, excluded, manipulated and pressured.
This is why OneBodyOneFaith’s mission is as urgent and relevant as ever. This is why we cannot rest until any LGBTI+ person who wants to explore faith and offer their gifts can be confident that they will be treated like any other person. This is not a “rights-agenda-driven” consequence of modernity. It is our divine calling. It is the consequence of following the good shepherd. It is to try and let people see the Jesus who welcomes us all. Our work in 2018 remains as urgent as ever. Pray for us and give us your support. And pray for that youth worker and that young person and their family. God have mercy on us all.
Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of Trustees