Wednesday 29 April 2009

Changing Attitude’s vision of a new global Christian paradigm

Sitting meditating and watching the sun climb slowly through a Wiltshire mist this morning, my thoughts turned to Jamaica and the Anglican Consultative Council meeting which begins on Saturday. I reflected on the difference in relationships between Changing Attitude and the Communion and the conservative networks and the Communion.

Bishop Duncan and the conservative leaders talk up the status of the newly created North American Province with which they aim to replace the Episcopal Church, along with the split in the Communion and the irreparable tear in the fabric. Are they committed to the Communion – really? Conservative bishops stayed away from the Lambeth Conference and conservative Primates have refused to receive communion with their brother and sister Primates.

Changing Attitude has a critical stance towards the Communion (who hasn’t?). We have criticised the Covenant (which has slowly been revised in a more acceptable direction). We reject the moratoria that inhibit rites of blessing and the election of bishops in same-gender unions. In contrast to the conservative alliances we are faithfully committed to the structures and instruments of the Communion. We have been present at Lambeth, Primates and ACC meetings to demonstrate our fidelity as well as represent LGBT voices and build relationships.

We are committed to a new vision, not simply of a Communion which welcomes and affirms LGBT people, but to a new paradigm for Christianity, one which is radically open, inclusive and loving. Conservatives claim that there are now two religions and state openly that they are Christian and others no longer are. This is a claim designed to poison relationships. And it is untrue, a lie. They may not like the new paradigm into which many are living, but it is a profoundly Christian one. For many it is the only hope for the salvation of humankind and our planet, faced with the twin crises of global warming and economic meltdown.

The vision of the new paradigm is focussed on justice, truth, love, radical openness and inclusion and a Christian pattern of life which responds tenderly to the needs of our planet.

The various Global South alliances claim superiority of numbers – we are bigger than you, we have the most members now. It seems a childish game.

The tragedy is, conservatives are trapping the whole Communion in a petty, infantile vision of God. Those who support Virtueonline and Stand Firm spread poison across the Communion. There is nothing Christian in many of the ideas and views expressed on their blogs.

I firmly believe the Communion is edging towards a new paradigm, however painfully and slowly. There is no other direction in which to go if every Province of the Communion is to honour and be faithful to God’s creation at a macro level and to their LGBT members at a micro level, welcoming them into the church and opposing political and cultural oppression.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Conservative Christian prejudices challenged again

What is to be done with Christians who hold what they claim to be ‘Biblical’ views on homosexuality, and how society should therefore act towards lesbian and gay people? Another case has come to light, that of Kwabena Peat, a history teacher at Park View Academy in Tottenham North London. Mr Peat was one of several Christian staff who walked out of an In-Service Education and Training day during which staff were required to attend a session on child protection issues.

A presentation was given by Sue Sanders, co-founder of Schools Out, an organisation which campaigns for gay equality in education. According to Mr Peat, Ms Sanders said that staff who did not accept that being gay was normal had ‘issues’ they had to deal with. Mr Peat said he had expected her merely to provide information to help teachers handle homophobic bullying, but she had gone much further.

‘She started promoting homosexual lifestyles and suggesting those who had objections should sort out their prejudices. She said, “What makes you all think that to be heterosexual is natural?” It was at that point I walked out.’

Mr Peat wrote privately to the three staff members who organised the session, complaining about Ms Sanders’ ‘aggressive’ presentation. In the letter he cited the Bible and warned that practising homosexuals risked God’s ‘wrath’. The staff to whom he wrote complained to the school’s principal that they felt ‘harassed and intimidated’ by the letter.

Mr Peat said he was very supportive of ‘equality and diversity’ programmes but was upset that people who disagreed on religious grounds had no chance to respond. ‘I am very disappointed, although not shocked. I am the one who has been harassed and intimidated – for expressing my religious views.’

Conservative Christians, with the help of the Christian Legal Centre, are conducting an organised campaign against the legal reforms intended to provide equality in society for LGBT people. The many Christian conservative groups refuse to accept the legitimacy of these reforms.

Christians such as Kwabena Peat reveal the attitudes lying behind this denial of reality. Anyone who says that for a minority to be lesbian or gay rather than heterosexual is accused of making an aggressive presentation.

He quotes the Bible to claim that practising homosexuals risk God’s wrath. To quote and use the Bible publicly in this way is homophobic and fuels prejudice. Conservatives think their Christian preaching and teaching rights are being inhibited. They are being curtailed, on this particular issue, thank God. The Christian Legal Centre has mostly lost the cases it has supported. They are helping to demonstrate the effectiveness of the new law and at the same time, the need for it.
Conservatives argue reverse discrimination – it is now Christians who are being harassed and intimidated for expressing religious views. They are blind to their own prejudices, unable to see, as in Mr Peat’s case, the effect of his letter on his colleagues.

Mr Peat had the chance to respond appropriately at the training session, but walked out instead. How can he claim to be supportive of equality and diversity programmes and hold the views he does about homosexuality?

This engagement between conservative Christians and society is set to continue, but society has already decided the outcome.

Friday 24 April 2009

Sex and the City – Anglican Mainstream’s homosexual obsession

Anglican Mainstream is not just sex-obsessed – it is homosexual sex-obsessed. I took part in a 30 minute discussion on Premier Radio yesterday afternoon with Joseph Nicolosi, Jeffrey Satinover and Arthur Goldberg, the Sex in the City three, who are speaking today and tomorrow at the conference in London.

It’s about more than homosexuality, they claimed. But homosexuality is the focus of work for all three of them and the discussion was almost entirely focussed on homosexuality. All three are involved with NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. Jeffrey Satinover is the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, distributed to all bishops at Lambeth 1998, a book supporting the view that homosexuality is a changeable, non-innate condition.

I put the question – why the need to fly three heterosexual American men across the Atlantic to speak at a UK conference? If, as they claimed in the discussion, their work is recognised as mainstream by the psychiatric profession, why are there no UK psychiatrists advocating a similar programme of therapy and research available to speak?

Their answer – there’s a conspiracy (clearly a mega, international, co-ordinated conspiracy) in the professional psychiatric community to ignore and judge the work of those involved in ‘reparative’ therapy – the ‘we can make unhappy homosexuals into happy heterosexuals’ school of therapy. Except for these three men, there’s no such thing in reality as ‘a homosexual’ or ‘a gay person’, just people with a homosexual attraction who are really heterosexual at heart.

These men, psychiatrists, live in a world of self-delusion.

Why give homosexuality so much attention if it isn’t real, if there’s no gay gene, if the numbers they are talking about are tiny, so much smaller than the 6% figure used by the British Government? If ‘the homosexual problem’ is, as they claim, a problem caused by unresolved childhood trauma, why can’t it be dealt with by normal psychiatric and psychotherapeutic intervention? In truth, most psychiatry and therapy deals with traumas, usually related to childhood experiences, and homosexuality is different from this.

The three claimed they are up against a political agenda within the psychiatric establishment, and when questioned by me, denied that they were either political or had an agenda themselves. Of course they have an agenda, a fundamentalism, a determination to challenge and change their peers.

To be gay is normal, for those of us who are, as normal as being heterosexual, apart from the ingredient of social and religious prejudice and obsession. We are as healthy or dysfunctional as anyone else, spiritual, prayerful, holy in God’s creation.

Anglican Mainstream is obsessive about working with a tiny minority (unhappy homosexuals who wish to change) of what it falsely claims is an insignificant minority in our society – LGBT people.
Their obsession is dangerous because they attract attention to their unhealthy, control-freak, rule-centred, sin and guilt, judgmental God, sex-obsessed agenda.
It is dangerous for LGBT people because it fuels prejudice and homophobia.
It is dangerous for the church because it reinforces the impression that the church is wildly out of touch, judgmental and dislikes sex – which God created.

They perpetuate false teaching – that heterosexuality is normal and anything else abnormal. As my psychotherapy training taught me, there’s no such thing as normal sex. Why haven’t these three psychiatrists learnt that basic lesson?

Saturday 18 April 2009

Christian teaching about homosexuality IS prejudiced

David Booker has been suspended from his job with the English Churches Housing Group (ECGH) for talking about his faith and expressing his religious views concerning homosexuality and same-sex marriage with another member of staff.

He was suspended for seriously breaching the charity’s Culture and Diversity Code of Conduct “by promoting your religious views which contained discriminatory comments regarding a person’s sexual orientation.”

Mr Booker maintains that he is not homophobic and was merely agreeing with the Church’s teaching.

Here’s the flaw in his defence. The teaching of the Church of England and all other mainstream denominations is prejudiced against homosexuality. To agree with church teaching on homosexuality and share this teaching with other people is to express homophobic attitudes.

The teaching of the Church of England stated in Issues in Human Sexuality and of the Anglican Communion in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 is prejudiced against the proper understanding and full inclusion of LGBT people in our church.

Anyone who bases their attitudes to LGBT people on the official teaching of the church risks making statements which are homophobic. Davis Booker has been suspended for making discriminatory comments about a person’s sexual orientation.

Changing Attitude disagrees radically with official church teaching. The Church has no alternative but to revise its teaching at some point in the future if it is to return to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels – justice and grace for ALL. The teaching of Jesus transcends whatever negative interpretations are put on the teaching in Leviticus and of St Paul about same sex activity.

It is a minority if Christians in the UK who hold prejudiced views about LGBT people based on Leviticus, Issues and Lambeth 1.10.

LGBT people have been and still are the victims of prejudice in our society, and most particularly in the church.

The majority of Christians are shocked not by the attitude and action taken by a Christian organisation towards a Christian employee holding prejudiced views but by the Church’s teaching on marriage, same-sex relationships and homosexuality which are prejudiced and unchristian.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Encouraging news from Spring Harvest for LGBT Christians

For many LGBT Christians, large evangelical conferences like Spring Harvest might seem like the last place you'd expect to find a welcome.   Even in recent years, accepting one's gay or trans identity has been positioned as a desperate, but misguided and sinful 'lifestyle choice', of which surely no good can come.  Evangelical leaders and preachers who are privately supportive of LGBT people are often nervous of being seen as 'soft on sin' or lacking in Biblical rigour if they acknowledge it in public. 

However, this year, Spring Harvest was different.

In the main series of Bible teachings from the main stage, and with the endorsement of the Spring Harvest leadership team, the speaker posed the following question:

'How is it that in the 2000 years since Christ came, we have managed to make generations of gay and lesbian people believe that they are not welcome in our churches?' 

Although those speaking fell short of overtly condoning same-sex relationships, much of the teaching appeared to point the way towards a reappraisal of the traditional line on sexuality.  Preaching on the circumcision debates in the early church, the question was raised as to what the equivalents for our society might be;  what are the unnecessary burdens the church still places on people today as a prerequisite for belonging to the Body of Christ?  Exclusion based on sexuality was overtly criticised in the light of this passage.  To underline the point, a meditation featuring images of gay and lesbian people was played during worship to help people explore the reality of the fact that God's love extends beyond 'people like me' to include everyone.   

All in all, the message was very clear - LGBT people, their partners and their children ARE welcome at Spring Harvest, and should be so in churches which would align themselves with Spring Harvest.

Clearly there is still work to be done in assuring the full inclusion of LGBT people at all levels of leadership in evangelical churches, whether Anglican or not.  However, if Spring Harvest is indicative of the mood of the debate in mainstream evangelical Christianity in the UK, then clearly there is not much appetite for falling out of fellowship with other Christians based on issues of sexuality.  Encouragingly, it seems that the voices within the church which refuse to acknowledge the experience and faith of LGBT people are increasingly an extremist minority.

To give a sense of the tone of teaching at Spring Harvest this year, a prayer from the main stage:

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of God's creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbours who are poor.


Amen indeed.

Unjustified conservative fear of sexual extremes

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church mega-church, the man who delivered the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration, insisted on the Larry King television programme in the USA last week that he isn’t against gays or same sex marriage. He recanted his earlier support for Proposition 8 and claimed that such support had never even been offered, despite the evidence on his own website.

Conservative evangelicals aren’t happy about this. Neither are they happy about the failure of “orthodox” evangelical Christian leaders and bishops in the UK to speak out in opposing the progress to equality for LGBT people.

Posting on Anglican Mainstream, Lisa Nolland claims that gay marriage “is not the last gasp but the first new breath of freedom and ‘coming out’ for a whole host of other sexual ‘lifestyles’ which claim the same authenticity and legitimacy as gays and lesbians.” This means, among other things, the rights of bisexual triads and poly (3,4, 5 or more) sexual unions to be ’married’ as well. Lisa is well researched. She references the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in the USA as a group arguing for the equality of more extreme expressions of human sexuality.

Conservatives fear many things at the moment.

They fear unbridled sexual licence, random and rampant promiscuity, the breakdown of family and marriage and the loss of Christian influence in society.

They are afraid that radical change on an enormous scale is taking place in British society which has “massive implications” for a particular group of Christians, those conservatives who believe that recent legislation forces them to “collude, shut up, get fired, fined, sued or get out”.

They fear that conservative Christian teachers, doctors, nurses, judges and social workers are forced to acknowledge and promote alternative sexual lifestyles.

They fear that all debate and dissent about sexual issues is being silenced because people are fearful of being accused of hate speech and homophobia.

They fear that society says that all sexual lifestyles are equal and must be affirmed and protected culturally, politically and legally, enveloping all present institutions.

They fear this culture will soon be imposed on the church. ’Anti-gay’ churches will be viewed in the same light as society now sees white supremacist ones.

This is an extreme reaction. Conservative Christians want the right to preach and teach that homosexuality is sinful – in the workplace. They want the freedom to express prejudices which are no longer acceptable in British society.

They use dishonest tactics in making their case. They describe extremes of sexual licence and behaviour and imply by association that LGBT Christians and groups like Changing Attitude have a hidden agenda. They imply that we will ultimately seek to abandon the Christian ethical position.

Changing Attitude is a Christian group embodying Christian ethical sexual values. There are appropriate and inappropriate forms of sexual encounter - fidelity and love are the hallmarks. We assume that conservative evangelicals agree with us.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Tony Blair in Attitude on changing attitudes

Tony Blair has been interviewed by Johann Hari in the latest issue of Attitude magazine. Blair talks about political change during his premiership and the changes in religious thinking that he can see happening now. It’s good news for the work of Changing Attitude and salutary news for Christian conservatives. Attitudes change when you engage and truly listen to people – that’s why conservatives resist the Listening Process. Generational change occurs, change occurs, full stop, and can’t be stopped. In a nutshell, this is what Blair said:

Public attitudes have changed fundamentally

Civil partnerships gave people a sense of liberation from prejudice. So many people’s lives have been affected by CPs. Ken Livingstone insisted on the gay agenda when it was unpopular. He taught that conventional wisdom is not necessarily wise: it can be a form of conservatism that hides behind consensus.

Political Correctness

Opposition to prejudice is pilloried as political correctness. Political correctness was used to demonise the move towards equality. Equality isn’t political correctness: it’s justice. Tory politicians said that someone can be persuaded to be gay in the Section 28 debates, I said, “I’m not gay, and there is nothing that would persuade me to be gay –it’s the same for gay people.”

Generational change

A generational shift is happening in evangelical groups in the US. The older generation still quote parts of the Bible. The younger generation of evangelicals are increasingly no longer anti-gay.

Change by engagement

You can change people’s minds by engaging with them. Change comes through the process of engagement. People’s attitudes open up to the possibility of change and reconsideration.

Doctrine and practice

The essential values of faith need to be extracted from a vast accumulation of doctrine and practice. Many people’s religious faith is less to do with doctrine and practice and more to do with love of God and love of your neighbour.

Attitudes get mixed up with doctrine in the institutions of organised religion. It can be hard for religious institutions to break with the past. Can we contemplate a process of modernisation where attitudes towards the word of God change over time?

Religious people need to read texts less literally and more metaphorically. They need to treat religious thought and texts as capable of evolution over time. They need to understand the context and the society in which they were written. Jesus changed the traditional way that people thought. The process of evolution and change carries on the whole time.

Religion and reason

Pitting religion against reason is the single most dangerous thing you can do. If you force people to choose between religious faith and reason, they will choose reason.

Attitudes and thinking evolve over time. Religious leaders fear that if you concede ground on this issue change will be unstoppable. We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which we approach our faith.

In an average congregation people are surprisingly liberal-minded. You find that their faith is not to be found in entrenched attitudes. Ask “what makes you religious?” and “what does your faith mean to you?” and they will answer “compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering”, not “it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong”.