Apparently the worst fear of American conservative Christians. It’s the phrase that’s brought out whenever there’s a small step forward in LGBT rights, whenever society at large decides in a new way that LGBT people are human beings whose love is legitimate, and especially whenever such attitudes begin to penetrate the walls of the church.
In a single phrase, “The Gay Agenda” sums up the fear of the other, the fear that The Gays are not only out to claim their human rights but to convert others to their choice of lifestyle. Give The Gay Agenda a little room to manoeuvre, and before you know it your daughters will be insisting on wearing checked shirts, getting an undercut, and filling your homes with cats. And let’s not get started on what your sons will get up to under the new regime.
For a while, I used to argue defensively against the idea of a Gay Agenda. After all, I’d hope that any rational person, Christian or not, can see that no-one is out to make sparkly little gay converts out of helpless straight school children. No-one is suggesting we replace the Union Flag with a superior rainbow version. Of course we don’t have an agenda. So couldn’t we just live our LGBT lives quietly, avoid stirring up drama, and just ignore those with extreme views about us?
That seemed the obvious stance to me, not all that long ago. Although in the last few years, I’ve become increasingly clear on my own sexuality, I hadn’t spent much time with other LGBT people, particularly LGBT Christians. I hadn’t realised how much we need a gay agenda of a different kind.
The thing about being bisexual, especially when most of your romantic relationships have been with men, is that you get to cruise through life with a lot of straight-privilege. Unless you make a point of it, people assume heterosexuality as a default, and take your relationships as normal.
Although the churches I’ve been part of have generally been churches with a conservative view on sexuality, I haven’t had to worry if I’ll be welcome there. And I don’t just mean they’ve allowed me to take part in worship – as if that’s what counts as a welcome. No, as long as I’ve been with men:
When I’ve had positions of leadership or responsibility in those churches, I haven’t lost sleep over being found out.
When I’ve started new relationships, I haven’t had to agonise over whether I can mention it to my friends.
When I’ve been struggling with a break-up, I’ve not had to question if it’ll be okay to ask for prayer from my home-group.
I’ve never had to consider that my love life could make others feel awkward.
I’ve never been self-conscious about holding hands in church.
I’ve never stopped myself from showing off pictures of my new love, and giggling over them with friends.
As long as I’ve been with men, I’ve sailed through on a wave of social acceptability.
But in the last 6 months or so, I’ve had the privilege of connecting with an incredible community of LGBT Christians, through Diverse Church, Two:23 Network, Accepting Evangelicals and others. I’ve had chance to listen over cocktails, cider, coffee and Facebook threads.
It’s hit me square in the eyes that gay Christians, and others in same-sex relationships, have to put up with a whole load of invisible oppression. It’s not just the outward, obvious homophobia that cuts deep – although that’s damaging enough. It’s the unspoken rules, the awkwardness, the difference. It’s the little things that you’re made to feel uncomfortable about, the being constantly conscious of your use of pronouns, aware of what physical contact you make, censoring your own social media, remembering who can know what, keeping track of who might be listening.
I’ve been regularly astounded by prayer requests of LGBT Christians who are being hurt by their churches, their families, their friends. There’s anger, there’s confusion, there’s pain – but the prayers are so often for grace. Help me to find the strength to deal with this graciously. Help me to forgive these people who are hurting me. Help me be like Jesus when other people aren’t. These are the prayers of people who deserve to be welcomed – in reality, not just in theory.
Churches, when you say you’re welcoming to LGBT people, do you know what a welcome means?
You who say you can love people while condemning their relationships, do you know what you’re trying to claim?
Can I be just as much myself in your church when I’m dating a girl as when I’m dating a guy? Will you really welcome me?
It’s no secret that the Church of England is monumentally dragging its heels on LGBT equality – and making a total hash of dealing with the fact that so many of its members and ministers are moving forwards. Take, for instance, the case of Jeremy Timm, a licensed Reader who had his ministry taken away from him by the Archbishop of York because he chose to convert his civil partnership to marriage. And this from a Church which is supposed to value marriage.
There’s no escaping the fact that our Church teaching on this is not only outdated but in places, just plain wrong. Would-be-priests are still required to (depending on who you ask) read and understand, or agree to live by, the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality. Here’s what it’s got to say about bisexual folk:
Ambiguous. Always wrong. Inevitably unfaithful. Counselling. Inner healing.
Surely even the most conservative views of sexuality have, by now, seen that bisexual people exist who are not just… confused? It’s not that I keep changing my mind. It’s not that I’m going through a phase. It’s not that I need to ‘discover the truth’. I know the truth: I can be attracted to either men or women. And where on earth did this idea come from that bisexual = unfaithful? As if because I’m attracted to more than one gender, I’m a liar and a cheat? Could I possibly be welcome in a Church that requires its priests to see me this way?
There’s no doubt that as an institution, we have a lot of mess to clear up.
This is why we need a gay agenda. This is why I’ll keep banging that LGBT drum. Not because I want to rid the world of straight people and convert your kids. Not because I’ve got nothing better to talk about.
But because there’s a generation of gay young people growing up in the Church, needing to know if they’ll be really welcome to stay. Because there are bisexual people drawn to Jesus, but appalled by a Church that calls them sick, confused, unfaithful. Because there are faithful Christian trans people staying away from the Church they want to call home, because it’s not safe while people won’t use the right pronouns.
An LGBT agenda is a justice agenda, and the Church won’t reflect the justice of the Kingdom of God until we get it.