Why I am voting Remain

I count among the people who have given me so much in my life’s journey so far French, Swiss, Belgians, Congolese, Iraqis, Austrians, Germans, Spanish, Hungarians, Greeks, Irish, Kenyans, Burundians, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Zambians, Finns, Armenians, Americans, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Canadians. And that is just off the top of my head – I am sure there are more. I owe them all so much.

I have lived and worked in two other countries besides the UK. Every time I go away I am moved on return by the sight of Blighty, of the white cliffs, of this green and pleasant land. I feel grateful to be British. I know what it is to have lived in a place where there was no security, no justice, rampant corruption and no education or health service worth mentioning. What we have here is astonishing, and most of us don’t know how lucky we are.

But I want a world of peace and hope for my children and grandchildren, and I know it can only be achieved by co-operation. The EU is an amazing project that has given us more than we have ever had to give, and has changed our lives in the UK for the better in all kinds of ways that have not been spelt out in this referendum campaign. The economic case is overwhelming. Jobs, structural and cultural renewal, business; all have benefitted hugely from the co-operative project that has kept us out of a European war all my life. Its failings are obvious and many – but then so are those of our national political system. It can change and has changed a lot in the last forty years. The rise of right-wing nationalisms with their huge attendant dangers will only be encouraged by a vote to leave.

For peace, for co-operation, for the future, because being inside influencing is better than pretending we can go it alone, for people who don’t have much, for jobs and prosperity, against the tides of suspicion and hatred that divide, looking for common solutions to our problems, proud of human diversity and cultural richness, and grateful to be part of Europe throughout our history, I vote remain.

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Hope and her daughters

On the Changing Attitude Facebook page, a recent post has pointed to a Guardian article about the guidance given to Synod members in their forthcoming Shared Conversations. Comments on this have revealed quite a sharp disagreement between those who are feeling optimistic about change coming in the church, and those who suspect the whole exercise is window-dressing and delaying tactics. A particular concern has been about whether people would encourage young LGBT+ people to offer for ordained ministry in the present climate. Reflecting on the disagreement, I remembered this quotation from St Augustine:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to make sure they don’t stay that way.”
Much of the disagreement is about history and experience. The angrier comments have behind them a background of mistreatment, experienced discrimination, rejection, disappointment and sometimes, disillusionment with the church and its way of treating LGBT+ people. The optimists are either younger and have less experience of what the church can do to you, or they are allies who have not had direct experience of discrimination.
I don’t think that Christians in either group (not all the comments are from Christians) have a monopoly on faith or hope. I can understand why some of us would not encourage any young LGBT+ people to offer for ordination at the present time. I don’t think I would. But I can remember the power of knowing I have to respond to this call way back in the 1970s, and I don’t think anything, at that point, would have put me off, though, as I was not out to myself at that point let alone anyone else, it is hard to know whether that would have made any difference.
I want to hold on to hope (which perhaps holds on to me more than the other way round). I would love to spare others some of the pain they are going to experience if they go further down that road. But I can’t. All I can do is everything I can to to help move our church towards full inclusion. Some people leave, and I don’t blame them. I can’t deny the unpleasantness, the wrongness or the cruelty of much of what is done to LGBT+people by those who hold power in our church at the moment – but I want all of us who want a better church to hold together, to combine our anger and our courage to bring a new future to birth.

Lamenting Orlando

Sometimes place names get meanings they would rather not. From now on, Orlando will always mean the Pulse massacre – the biggest loss of life in any American mass shooting in modern times. It will live like Sandy Hook, or Dunblane, or Hungerford in our consciousness of horror and terror.

But it will not be as puzzling as those terrible events and the places marked by them. The motivations of the killers in Sandy Hook and Dunblane and Hungerford remain something of a mystery. Not so in Orlando. This was homophobically motivated violence. It was killing LGBT people just because they are who they are. This bad enough in itself. But there is more.

For the homophobia of Omar Mateen, who got so angry when he saw two men kissing, and then plotted and carried out this heinous attack, was likely nourished by his religion. It was supported by a reading of Islam to which so-called IS subscribes. This reading says that gay people are worse than animals and should be put to death. This reading accompanies every poor young gay man thrown to their death from buildings in Syria, or mown down in Orlando. If this were not so then we could perhaps ascribe this act solely to the will of an unbalanced and dangerous man (according to his ex-wife).

But while homophobic readings of religion continue then ordinary, suggestible, and, yes, unbalanced members of all faiths will draw from them the encouragement they need to continue to attack the LGBT community and its innocent members.

This is not a Muslim problem. It is a Christian one just as much. In Hinduism disapproval of homosexuality is cultural rather than having a doctrinal basis. In Buddhism the picture is mixed, but the Dalai Lama has called homosexual orientation “unnatural”, and to be gay is often regarded as a karmic punishment.

It is readings of religion like this that make Uganda and Nigeria so dangerous. The punitive attitudes which are supported, more or less, by leading churchmen, along with the whipping up of anti-gay rhetoric has cost the lives of unknown numbers of LGBT people – David Kato in Uganda being the best known. LGBT people’s lives are circumscribed, shadowy, risky, fearful – never knowing if or when they will be exposed, ridiculed, beaten, arrested, driven from homes and jobs or worse. There is an insistent conflation of homosexuality with paedophilia, which, when combined with anti-Western sentiment makes for a toxic and potent mix for populist politicians, with LGBT people as the scapegoats and targets.

In England, social attitudes have been transformed, though homophobic violence is far from eradicated. But at least society and the law are on the side of the victims. Where much much more remains to be done is inside the religious domain. The Church of England’s leadership will deplore the massacre in Orlando and regularly calls for an end to homophobia. But inside the church discrimination against LGBT people remains firmly in place. What we are not supposed to do is call it homophobic.

I maintain it is impossible to use language that calls for an end to homophobic violence, but holds on to the notion that you can discriminate against LGBT people. The violence exists because LGBT people are in some theological way seen to be lesser forms of human life, or rebellious or corrupt forms of human life, or people who have chosen an immoral way of living. LGBT people are still, in this reading of a theological anthropology, second-class people. If you don’t believe that to be the case, then there is no longer any justification for any kind of discrimination against LGBT people anywhere. And if you do believe it, then, however loud your cries of sorrow at killings or violence, your theology will only continue to sustain the possibility of more actions like this one. It will offer the excuse some will need to fuel their hatred and fan it into destructive violence.

I hope Orlando will help those who hold on to discriminatory and, yes, homophobic attitudes inside my church to think again. When the campaign to end the slave trade was under way in the late eighteenth century, one of the most powerful tokens of the new thinking was Josiah Wedgewood’s anti-slavery medallion “Am I not a man and a brother?”

Am I not

It is time for our church’s leaders to think again – and to hear the cry of their LGBT brothers and sisters whose lives are blighted by the homophobia that gets oxygen from a performance of faith that still thinks of them as not quite worthy of equal treatment. Those leaders need to enact a different way of living the Christian life that embodies equality, not just talks about it.

Lamenting Orlando is not enough – are we not people and brothers and sisters?

Wedding days

We are off to a wedding today. It is going to be a huge joy to share in Laura and Richard’s special day, notwithstanding what looks like very damp weather. There will be laughter and tears, meeting of old friends and new, and all the other good things that go to make up a wedding day. We have long looked forward to this wedding and we wish them every joy and happiness in this new phase of their life together.

They asked me to take their wedding service. I would have loved to have done it. But, of course, I can’t. I don’t think there is any reason why I could not be permitted to do so legally, but the cathedral would not allow it; it would be read as a political action cocking a snook at the bishop. I wouldn’t ever have milked it in that way, but that is the fear.

I shall be honoured and thrilled to read the lesson and to be part of the choir – but it saddens me that a couple that I have known for some years can’t have the priest they want preside when they marry each other. They are not alone. Another couple at the other end of the country who are getting married later this year in a large cathedral wanted me to take the service. They were told that it would not be allowed – the cathedral authorities might have countenanced it, but they dare not agree because of the attitude of the diocesan bishop.

These couples don’t seem to think that my marriage will spoil theirs, as the Church of England does, or that it will make their “learning the disciplines of marriage more difficult to acquire”. They positively want me to do this service for them.  I have married hundreds of couples over the years, and I loved the preparation and the day itself. I see Kate Bottley joyously sharing photos online of herself with the couples she marries and wonder if I will ever again be allowed that part of my ministry.