Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Long And Slow Path To Church Approval

“Many Christians hold that the bible teaches that same sex sexual relationships and changing gender identity are contrary to God's plan for humanity."
- Reverend Jonathan Coore

Picture by Matt Buck

Society as a whole has become more tolerant of the LGBT community. A good albeit unexpected example of that is the world’s reaction to Olympic Gold medallist Bruce Jenner public announcement that he was becoming a woman.

In the UK, homophobia is also far less of a trouble than it was a decade or so ago.

However, same-sex marriage is still an issue. Yes, gays and lesbians living in Britain have been able to unite themselves before the town hall, but the Church of England still doesn’t recognize their union.

“Many Christians hold that the bible teaches that same sex sexual relationships and changing gender identity are contrary to God's plan for humanity. What produces the discomfort is that holding to biblical truth can jar with everyday and personal experience,” explains Jonathan Coore, the Reverend at Christ Church Southwark in Southwark.

The problem is that the Church tends to follow their Holy Scripture by heart, for any and every situations that arise.

“Traditionally for the last 1500 years of Christendom the bible has been read in a certain way, it has been believed to be the inspired word of God, infallible and holding the absolute truth,” says Karen Stallard the minister at Union Chapel, a church situated in Islington. 

Yet, despite the weight of their millenary long stance on anyone expressing love for a person of the same sex, the Church is becoming more tolerant of the LGBT community.

In her days within the church, Stallard has seen her share of homophobia.

“My experience in the past has been that the church felt sorry for LGBT people, that they want LGBT people to change into being normal, they feel that LGBT people have lost their way and need saving,” she says.

The Union Chapel Minister felt that her counterpart’s modus operanti when it came to the LGBT community was “love the sinner but not the sin.” But she believed that disgust lay behind all the pretty words. 

However, she thinks that mentalities within the Church of England are currently shifting.

“More and more key Christian leaders are speaking out about the injustice of the discrimination which the LGBT community have suffered. Churches are talking about it loudly, where as in the past it was only whispered about or not spoken about at all,” she explains
Picture by See-ming Lee

Reverend Coore shares Stallard’s view.

“The Church of England tries to hold together differing viewpoints and there are those who are either biblically or culturally opposed to LGBT lifestyles. At least the church is talking about it which is an improvement,” he says.

It was revealed this year by a poll from The Times that one in five people in Britain identify as atheist.

In an age where an increasing number of people are steering away from religions, it might be argued that whether same sex marriage has the church stamp of approval or not doesn’t matter much.

But this is without taking into account that for some members of the LGBT community, it does matter. 

Lukasz Konieczka is the centre manager of Mosaic Youth, a youth centre created to support teenage LGBT. Mr Konieczka has seen many teenagers struggle with the church’s rejection of their sexuality.

“It’s a conflict for them because they’re not supposed to be Christian or Muslim while being gay at the same time,” he says.

Another issue is that within the LGBT community, a lot of people are atheist and passionate about it. And they try to convert those who approve of religion.

“There is a strong belief that people shouldn’t have a religion, that religion isn’t compatible with being gay and that you have to choose between being gay or being Christian,” explains the centre manager.
Many seem to believe that you have to choose between your religious identity or your LGBT identity; thus they become surprised when they find out that I am gay and also Catholic.- Marc Manera

Lukasz himself broke up with religion a long time ago. Born into a Catholic household, he embraced atheism because he felt they were too many inconsistencies within all religions. In spite of that, he considers that anyone should be able to worship whatever he wants.

“You should be allowed to be gay and Christian or be gay and Muslim,” he says. 

Marc Manera, a 35-year-old Research Associate at the University College London, is the living proof that having to choose between your sexuality and your faith is a misplaced assumption.

Manera is homosexual and a regular church goer. He’s also a member of Farm Street church LGBT group, a support group created within the Westminster based church for Christians gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual. Manera’s peers are often surprised when they find out he’s a religious man.

“I have good news here. You can be a wonderful Catholic without renouncing to your LGBT identity,” Manera says joyfully.

For him, the Church is more and more seen as hypocrite, notably among young people because while preaching to love your neighbours, it also publicly oppose homosexual relationships and marriage. 

“In my opinion, regardless of whether or not the reality of the Church corresponds to this image, this perceived tension drives people away from religion, especially in the LGBT community,” he says.

Like Lukasz, he thinks that because of that, many in the community feel that they can’t be religious while maintaining their sexual identity.

“Many seem to believe that you have to choose between your religious identity or your LGBT identity; thus they become surprised when they find out that I am gay and also Catholic,” he explains.

Despite his love and trust of the Church, Manera doesn’t get his hope up too high. He doubts that it will allow same sex marriage or officially include partnered people in leadership roles "anytime soon.”

And it seems that he's right.

The Minister at St Mary's Upper Street Church in Islington, Simon Harvey, considers that even though the Church of England is now open-minded enough to discuss LGBT issues, it won't change in the next couple of years.

"The Church of England takes its time over big issues like this. We've done a lot in recent years to change the nature of our engagement. It's moving from debate to conversation. Who knows if and when the position on marriage will change but I doubt if anything will happen in the near future," he says. 

The priest of St George The Matyr, Jonathan Sedgwick shares his opinion about the relationship that the Church of England has with the LGBT Community. 

Tell us what you think!

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