The number of churches in Edinburgh, including St Columba’s, which openly declare themselves as inclusive of LGBT people is in marked contrast to my past experience. In Leeds I was only aware of one such congregation. It was not mine. I have led churches that have been tacitly accepting of gay and lesbian people, where tolerance and equality has been preached, but where LGBT people have not been openly and unreservedly affirmed. As I guess many Church of England clergy have done, I told myself that this was out of a pastoral desire to hold together congregations of very diverse views.
In recent years, the consequences of that approach have become increasingly clear – writ large in the Anglican Communion’s disciplining of the US Church and placating of other Christians, in countries where LGBT people face persecution, prosecution and death. The brutal massacre, in Orlando, of 49 people, and the injuring of many more, has left that approach in bloody tatters.
The attack has caused widespread horror and grief to LGBT people and many others around the world. Any such attack would do so, but this has been doubly shocking because people were targeted purely because of their sexuality. This outrage has been compounded by anti-gay protests by right-wing Christians at some of the funerals.
For far too long, religion in general, and elements within Christianity in particular, have explicitly or implicitly encouraged the sorts of attitudes which fed the hatred shown in Orlando and many other attacks on LGBT people. However, in the face of hostility, violence and murder, silence and a failure to challenge homophobia is also complicit.
As a Church, we are called to repent of teaching, behaviour and attitudes, including silence, which have allowed hatred and bigotry to flourish in the Church or in a society influenced by it. And we must fearlessly declare, in word and deed, the gospel of Christ which affirms the absolute dignity and worth of every single human being, irrespective of sexuality or any other human distinction.
I say ‘we’ but I also mean ‘I’, for Pastor Niemoller reminds me:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
The biblical book of Ecclesiastes says that there is ‘a time for silence and a time to speak’. With hindsight Niemoller recognised that his was not a time for silence. Neither is ours.