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Becoming blessed

"Silence is never neutral: in the silence we hear the voice we've always heard." This has been said in various ways by various people throughout history but this direct quotation comes from an asylum seeker called Prossy Kakooza who was imprisoned in Uganda for being a lesbian, after her family and church handed her in to the police. She spoke of attending churches in England for years and presuming that they had the same beliefs because the Church was not talking about it. In the silence she heard the same condemning, accusatory tone. She kept her sexuality a secret from her new friends in fear she would be persecuted. It was only later that she discovered the majority of people she had met in these churches had absolutely no problem with her being gay.

The majority of my non-Christian friends and work colleagues think that the Church doesn't like gay people. They believe this for two good reasons. The first is that whenever the Church and sexuality are mentioned in the same breath on mainstream media it is always in a  negative way. It's "Christians" protesting outside a gay wedding, or bishops voting nearly unanimously against changing the Church's doctrine of marriage. The second reason is that when they do attend a church, for a baptism, or a wedding, or at Christmas, on this issue all they hear is silence. And this silence reinforces the voice they've always heard: that being a Christian and being gay is impossible.

I went to school where the word "gay" was thrown about in the playground as a thoughtless insult. I grew up in a church where the sinfulness of homosexuality was presupposed. I obtained a theology degree from bible college without ever having to challenge or question that belief. I had no openly gay friends. When my dad turned to me one day, perhaps hoping on the radical new ideas inherent in the young, and asked how we, as Christians, should respond towards gay people I offered the incredibly original and insightful advice: "love the sinner, hate the sin". I was 21 years old. This was despite my formative years taking place when openly gay people were first allowed to serve in the armed forces, the age of consent for same-sex couples was equalised with that of heterosexual couples, and civil partnerships had just been legalised in the UK. Institutions, and especially the Church, are extremely effective at insulating themselves against changes that are taking place in the wider community. I was able to live comfortably in a society where the acceptance and equality of gay people was becoming enshrined in law, and yet also able to comfortably attend a church where none of these new rights and attitudes seemed to have any purchase.

Thankfully changes are taking place. My own views have radically changed, thanks to the patient and forthright love of friends and family, and a book called Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V Brownson. And so have the views of the Church. The graph shows how negative views towards same-sex marriage have changed over time from being in the majority in 1989 to being in the minority in 2014. The sad part is that Anglicans are now the least supportive group compared to Catholics, other Christian groups and those with no religion - there is plenty of work still to be done.

And that is why at the Church of the Holy Spirit earlier this year we decided to form a group to discuss and support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues, informally known as "gay club" (better suggestions are welcomed!). In this group we aim to look at ways to ensure we are not complicit in the silence, and to actively push for the leadership of the Church to reflect the changing attitudes of their congregations and the wider society in which they serve and aim towards full inclusion for LGBT+ people in the life of the Church. It is not acceptable to allow bigotry or injustice of any form to remain in the Church, or for it to be inferred by our lack of saying otherwise. We have had meetings with the Bishop of Southwark, Bishop Christopher, and other members of the Anglican leadership within Southwark to make our views known and to gain advice on ways forward. We have held an open meeting for our parish to discuss these issues where the mood was unanimously supportive. The church PCC has passed a motion that expresses the desire to move towards the creation of a liturgy for same-sex blessings after marriage, and we will be presenting this motion to Deanery Synod in January. We have also linked in with LGBTI Mission, another group within the CoE working towards similar goals. We are looking at ways to become more involved through the Church structure to influence decision making and to produce a video for the church website that outlines our position. If all the people who felt the same way were prepared to join us in this mission then we would form a voice that could not be silenced. Martin Luther King Jr said that "true peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice". In its silence the Church has tried to bring peace by the absence of tension, to placate the loud minority and steady the ship. Now is the time to strive for true lasting peace, that comes with facing these issues head on, speaking up, and striving for justice for all.

If you are interested in becoming involved with our group then please contact Nathan Woodling, the group secretary, or Mother Ruth for more information.