Be Proud of Who God Made You
Nearly 25 years ago, Jeremy Marks founded ‘Courage’ to offer support to people who wanted to follow Christ whilst also wrestling with an inner conflict between their Christian faith and same-sex sexual orientation.
To begin with, the courage referred to in the name was probably understood as a willingness to face a change of orientation; to be ‘healed’ of being gay. However, it turned out that it was Jeremy who found the courage to change the stance of his ministry to become a means of supporting gay people in their gayness, and to discover a new theology and spirituality of gay Christianity.
All of us here today have been on a journey with these things. For me, this involved discovering that our daughter Lissy was gay. She said that, whilst she knew we were cool about people being gay, she wasn’t sure how we would feel about one of ours coming
out.’ Truth is, I felt really lucky—not everyone has a gay daughter or son! Pat and I had always said, ‘We have three children: one of each!’ And now I understood why. If there was any regret that one of our kids was gay, it was that my neutrality on the issue was
blown: when arguing for the legitimacy of gay relationships, I could no longer say ‘I am not gay. None of my family is gay.’ But who cares if people say ‘Ahh he’s only pro-gay because his daughter is a dyke!’
Just a week after my new book, "How To Be A Bad Christian–and a better human being" came out, I received a letter from a mother in Scotland who said that it gave her hope to read about my gay daughter. When her daughter came out, she felt it was like a bereavement and she was confused and kept asking God why it was?
Years later, and now reconciled to her daughter’s sexuality, she speaks of the lovely day when her daughter celebrated a civil partnership and everyone present was accepting of this. But the aftermath is that this loving mother is left questioning her beliefs and much that is in the Bible. And whilst most of her friends are in the church she struggles with the homophobia there.
Over the years, Jeremy and Courage have not only helped multitudes of gay Christians to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, but also given comfort, support and direction to people like this mother. The suffering of Christian parents of gay children is a hidden area of pain. Often they worry about what they did wrong that their son or daughter is gay, or they experience disapproval from church leaders and fellow Christians. So thank God for the work of Courage.
For many gay Christians and their families the Bible is a source of conflict: how can they reinterpret scripture in a more inclusive way?
To begin with, we should note that, for Christians, the core message of the Bible is the gospel: the good news of salvation, justice and liberation in Jesus Christ. But it is important, as the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann points out, to recognise the distinction between the gospel and the Biblical text. And since the Bible is filtered through what Brueggemann calls ‘a rather heavy-duty patriarchal ideology’, the main task of the reader is to distinguish between the liberating love of God at work in scripture and the cultural and historical attitudes and policies that are often ‘organized against the gospel’. By equating the gospel with the text we get a kind of Biblicism that is not noticeably informed by the gospel.
Martin Luther King once said that the arc of history is bent toward justice i.e. there is an inevitability that the world’s great prejudices and inequalities will one day be overcome— ‘we shall overcome some day.’ In a similar vein, I believe that the arc of the gospel is bent toward inclusiveness.
The assumption that the meaning of the Bible remains a fixed entity over time is patently wrong. Within the Bible itself, the text is on the move. This is seen at a fundamental level in the trajectory of interpretation between the Old and New Testaments, where the Christ-event of the New Testament is a clear and radical re-interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Christianity is dependent upon its successive readings of scripture, and on its capacity to reconvert this scripture into the living word. So there is a mutation of meaning even within the Bible -a trajectory of reinterpretation, and the curve of this trajectory is very definitely bent toward justice and inclusion.
The story of Philip in Acts 8 preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch is a marker on the trajectory of inclusion. During the early years of the Church it was presumed that the Christian movement was an exclusively Jewish affair. This was an assumption based on many Old Testament scriptures that foster Jewish exclusiveness. But Philip is told to preach to an African, a black man, who is also a eunuch—someone whose presence was barred from the holy place. And Philip baptizes him. The door of the Church begins to creak open.
However, a little later in Acts, Peter becomes the means of blowing the doors of the Church clean away. In a vision or trance, he is commanded to kill and eat animals forbidden by Mosaic Law for Jews to eat. ‘No way!’ Peter replies, stating in no uncertain terms his refusal to eat ‘unclean’ meat. His response is soundly based: the Bible forbids the eating of these animals. He is simply obeying scripture. But the voice is resolute: ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ For Peter, obeying God meant disobeying the Bible. Because the revelation was not finished, nor can it ever be finished; the Holy Spirit continues to unfold God’s purpose; there are always new things to be said, new insights to be uncovered.
But the process does not stop there. The trajectories move beyond the biblical text into the world of the reader, our world. What is finally to be understood is not the author or the author’s presumedintention, nor is it the structures of the text, but rather the world intended beyond the text—the world of the reader.
Good reading of the Bible is not simply a reiteration of the text or a replication of previous interpretations—vital though these be—but the appropriation of the core message of the text (the good news of God’s liberating love in Christ) for our world today.
Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 represents a radical, counter-cultural reinterpretation of the Old Testament, a trajectory of justice and inclusion:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
In this declaration, the basic divisions in the ancient world were overcome. But as we follow its trajectory into the foreground of our own world we might add that in Christ there is neither gay nor straight. In today’s world, Peter may say, ‘If then God gave gay people the same gift that he gave to us straight Christians, who was I that I could hinder God?’ (See Acts 11:17).
But Peter needed courage to follow the arc of the gospel, the trajectory of the Spirit, to confront his own prejudices and those of his friends and colleagues. And today we need similar courage to confront the discrimination of our friends and colleagues in the church. Excuse me, but it’s time to stop piddling around on this issue, and to call on the church to treat LGBT people as human beings and sisters and brothers in Christ.
It make my blood boil when I see the torment and damage some Christians inflict on lovely people who happen to be attracted to people of the same sex. Also when I see good folk outside and on the edges of the church who cannot feel that they can identify with an institution that treats them and their loved ones as pariahs.
Today we celebrate Courage. We also celebrate the courage of Jeremy Marks who in his gentle, loving way has not only supported multitudes of gay people and their families, but also confronted narrow-minded attitudes in the church.
It’s time for new models of church to emerge—not apologetically but boldly—showing the way to express God’s love to all people, treating everyone as equals.
So I say to you today, my gay friends, be proud of who you are, proud of who and how God has created you. The image of God is as clearly manifest in LGBT people as anyone else. You are the people of God!
I love the fact that (probably) the most inclusive statement in the Bible is used as the opening sentence in the Church of England marriage service:
God is love and those who liven love live in God and God lives in them.
Let us have the courage to proclaim this message for all it’s worth!