I think many of us as LGBT Christians at some point have been asked ‘that’ question. Why, if you’re working for acceptance in the Christian community do you run exclusive events or meetings?
Here, one of our members Fi, gives us her perspective on that question.
We’ve been asked quite a few times recently about whether our groups are open to those who don’t define themselves as LGBT+. We are aware of the irony of running a group exclusive to LGBT people while focusing on churches becoming inclusive of us. But I hope I can persuade you that it’s not so much a decision we’ve made about the group, but more a decision that’s been made for us.
1) I am sure you are a lovely person. I’m sure whether you agree or disagree with our beliefs you would still be polite and loving. Sadly, we are surrounded by those who want to use their conservative beliefs to bring us down, to destroy what we are doing and to brand us as the filth at the bottom of the Christian barrel.
Check out twitter if you find this hard to believe, but the threat we perceive is also very real from people who live physically close to us. We can’t yet trust that with open doors we won’t find those people turning up to cause trouble. We had a community support officer at our last open meeting because the perceived threat is very real. There are people out there who really don’t like what we are doing. If the backlash ever dies down then we will be in a far better position to be open to anyone. In the meantime, if you are that lovely (straight) person who genuinely wants to be involved in our group and is put out that you’re ‘not welcome’ then have a word with your not-so-loving peers.
Once we can trust open doors won’t put our members at risk, we could think about opening them. It needs to be safe space for LGBT people.
2) Life looks very different through the eyes of an LGBT person. If we aren’t listening to the House of Lords debating our right to marriage, we’re hearing schoolchildren deride each other with the word gay, all whilst hearing our Christian friends discuss why you can’t be a ‘gay Christian’. We get kicked out of churches, we get shouted at on the street by strangers, we wake up every morning facing the fact that we are caught in this endless supposed dichotomy of being LGBT and people of faith. For some of our members, we deal with all that pretty well, for others it’s a daily battle. But we all have in common those moments of fear, disheartenment, worry, sadness and insecurities about our position as gay people in society, let alone the church.
Don’t get me wrong, our meetings aren’t sobfests of self-pity but we meet together with an unspoken solidarity. We provide uninhibited support for each other and, in my opinion, that’s what makes the group special to me. I go to the group knowing I am going to spend two hours of my life away from all the chaotic and hurtful debates and drama that I face in my daily life. It’s like a quick regroup before going back to the daily grind.
3) We meet with the purpose of enjoying fellowship with other LGBT Christians. As mentioned, this can include support in dark times. It can also mean chatting about your family life without the shifty glances and awkwardness of people who don’t fully understand same-sex relationships. It can be drinking tea and coffee with a cake, feeling like a ‘normal’ person in the middle of a week of feeling like a case study. It is a time of encouraging one another, welcoming one another, getting to know each others’ stories etc. Within our monthly gatherings, we have no intention of educating straight people about being an LGBT Christian (although there are separate resources for this and we look to educate churches and the community, just outside of the monthly gatherings). We aren’t there to persuade people of any opinion, or to be in an LGBT Christian fish tank for others to come and observe us. Basically, we aren’t meeting to cater for the interests or needs of straight people. We just want those 2 hours every month where we can be in fellowship which is 100% LGBT+ and 100% safe.
4) You probably know an LGBT Christian who is out as an illuminated exit sign, happy to talk at length (at any opportunity!) about faith and sexuality… if you don’t know such a Christian then I am happy to provide my services! But whether someone is fully out as I am, or still entirely private about their sexuality, we are all on that same road. We all started at the same point of realisation and all face that journey of reconciliation. As a group, we are able to support one another in that journey as we’ve all been there to some extent. For some of us ‘there’ is a very terrifying part of the journey where we aren’t ready for the world to know about our sexuality and coming out can involve all sorts of risks. Our group is great for those who are happy to sing and shout about being LGBT but it is also great for those who come along completely and utterly incognito.
By having open meetings, we would jeopardise the safety of those who aren’t ready, or simply don’t want to come out.
5) Although we are ‘exclusively LGBT+’ this includes a massive spectrum. We’re talking people who might have an inkling they aren’t completely straight and need a space to explore that, all the way to those who have known they are gay for years. We’re open to non- Christians who may be gay and exploring faith (as long as they can put up with the meetings being overtly Christian!) as it is important to be a welcoming place of faith for everyone. So many have only every experienced non-welcoming churches and Christians.
So we are exclusive in a respect but wide open for anyone who needs to come and share our safe space. If you identify as a straight Christian and you want to come along because, for whatever reason, you need the safe space that we provide then contact any of our members. We do run a parents group as well where parents of LGBT people can enjoy fellowship and we’re constantly looking into having other types of support for straight people who need it due to LGBT issues.
6) Although we need to be a discreet group, we are far from looking to run a secret group. We are open about what topics we discuss, when we meet, a lot of us are openly members and we are happy to advertise on social media and through our website. We have no hidden agendas. Anyone with any questions about the group, LGBT Christians etc are so welcome to contact us about it. We are as open as we possibly can be, without jeopardising group safety.
We will be running open events, such as our successful event with Rachel Mann guest speaking recently, hopefully at least twice a year. We are open to further email/twitter/facebook discussions. We will consider holding an event for friends and family of our members. We’re working with local churches to help them become more welcoming to LGBT Christians as well as working within the LGBT community to repair any damage that has been done. And we hope to produce some resources for groups who want to engage in LGBT issues.
We are doing all we can to be as open, honest and supportive of those outside the group as we can be. A lot of our members are really passionate about getting out there and making a difference. But we can’t do any of that without having our small amount of time every month where we can gather in complete and utter safety and receive the fellowship we need to be able to support others and make a difference.