By Eden Watkins
In 2013, during the run-up to the Parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage, my parish priest ended the mass by making his beliefs and the teaching of the church clear to the congregation. He described how people like me, who are attracted to others of the same sex, did not need marriage.
He also said that legislating to allow us to marry would lead society down a slippery slope towards the collapse of the family unit and sexual immorality. He even cracked a few jokes about people marrying animals, and got some laughs, at which point I got up, quietly left the church, and didn’t return for about eighteen months.
What he said was neither extraordinary nor unorthodox within Catholicism or Christianity more widely. Even his derisory attitude, which I sincerely believe he didn’t realise was so hurtful, is relatively commonplace in my faith. The community that provides me with the structure to talk about and worship God actively rejects my right to enjoy sex, marry and build a family.
Being raised Catholic means that there are people very close to me who truly believe that the way I experience love is naturally disordered and morally wrong. It breaks my heart, but it’s true.
I have been deeply hurt by my faith, and I understand how liberating it can be for people like me to find spaces in which religion has no power or presence. I first encountered this liberation in the godless paradise of London’s gay scene, but that certainly isn’t for everyone.
I know many LGBT+ students at Durham who faced prejudice at home and were freed from it for the first time when they came here. This is why the work of the LGBT+ Association and other groups with effective outreach is so vital and deserves our appreciation.
Living in a society or culture that has no place for you is exhausting.
It is generally good in principle that marginalised groups are under no obligation to engage with their oppressors, but this thought process can also go too far. The decision of the JCR of Balliol College, Oxford to prohibit the Christian Union from holding a stall at this year’s freshers’ fair is a case in point.
Living in a society or culture that has no place for you is exhausting. There are people in this world that believe I should not exist and feel entitled at any time to demand an explanation from me on what I do. Spaces that provide respite from this behaviour are deeply valuable, but attempting to make an entire diverse college community one of those spaces is counterproductive.
As was made clear in an email exchange between JCR vice president Freddy Potts and a CU representative, the decision was taken to protect “freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.” I think this in itself is a noble motivation.
Yet in practice, their decision had an unintended consequence. The real solution to discrimination in Christianity is in interaction with marginalised groups, not separation. As well as preventing marginalised students from interacting with the CU, the JCR prevented the CU from interacting with marginalised students.
In the work I‘ve done with church groups and the LGBT+ community, I’ve met many diligent and holy LGBT+ people who are working hard to build a respectful space in their churches where no one feels unwelcome for their particular gifts. Making the decision for all marginalised people that they need protection from Christianity fails to recognise those who are changing it for the better.
And things are getting better. The Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow same-sex marriage this year and here in Durham the Joint Anglican and Methodist Society are hosting an event on church inclusivity on the 28th of October, for which I’m running a workshop.
In the Catholic Church, James Martin’s book Building a Bridge encourages respect for the LGBT+ community and identifies our mistreatment, and Pope Francis himself has called for a less judgemental approach to the issue. At Manchester Pride this year I saw an ecumenical Christian group in the parade: one of their placards read “We’re sorry, God loves you.”
I believe in the power, joy and challenge of love, something you can find expressed in both the Bible and your local Pride march.
I am proud to be a queer and I am proud to be a Christian. I even believe that, at their core, queerness and Christianity share a great deal of truth. I believe in the power, joy and challenge of love, something you can find expressed in both the Bible and your local Pride march.
While it can be a huge burden for marginalised groups and individuals, and we do need breaks sometimes, the best way to challenge prejudicial ideas is through a loving, respectful dialogue. I want nothing more than reconciliation between LGBT+ Christians and my faith, but that can’t happen if we aren’t allowed in the same room.
Photograph: Peter O’Connor via Flickr and Creative Commons