Part 5: United Kingdom

What differences do you see between the UK and the US regarding the topic of homosexuality and the response of the churches?

I will be very clear on this. Right now the UK has a unique opportunity to potentially model for the rest of the world how to properly address and work within the tensions of faith and sexuality; leading the path of what peaceful and productive systemic relationships look like.

I believe this because, thus far, neither the GLBT or Christian communities have publicly or sustainably rallied their masses against the other. I know there will be Christians reading this who feel marginalized and disagree with me on that statement, citing things like the UK’s Hate Speech legislation. However, in regards to an irreconcilable national culture war between the GLBT and Christian communities, in comparison to America, there is no culture war. The UK is not even close to the very vocal, firmly rooted, abhorrence-filled structural disconnect that exists in America between our two communities.

There was a point where America was at the same place as the UK but unfortunately our GLBT and Christian communities gave in to the explosive disconnect birthed out of years of un-met silent tension. At the time, there were no national Christian or GLBT leaders willing to initiate and sustain any amount of conversation in a productive, God-honouring fashion. The only American national leaders that rose up fueled the fire and dug each community further into their stagnant modes of engagement, unsuccessfully trying to convince the other side they’re wrong and need to give up everything they have ever fought for. This aggressive, back-and-forth schism has persisted for the last decade with no reprise in site. I work every day of my life closely involved with both communities, acting as a bridge, attempting to shift the local and national conversation back towards a more productive trajectory. Each community is so strongly opposed and wounded by the other, both are convinced that each will win. In my estimation, even if the culture war lessens to the point where they can talk to the other rather than past the other, the American GLBT and Christian relations will still be about twenty years behind.

That doesn’t have to be the same fate for the UK. I believe it won’t be what happens if the right leaders from each community come forth to shape the national conversation. But a note of caution – I saw many similarities in the beginning stages of the American culture war clearly on display throughout the UK on my recent trip. There are signs from gay groups, prominently displayed that say, ‘Gay: Get over it!’. There is also public denial of the budding disconnect on the part of the Church.  When I asked a Christian reporter about the signs hung around the country she said, ‘I already thought we were over it?’. The unfortunate truth is that if the GLBT community felt Christendom was indeed ‘over it’ there would be no need for the signs. Any further amount of ignoring this much-needed cultural redirection will land the UK in the exact same place as America. Look at my country now –  it’s an embarrassing and sad state of affairs on display for the world to watch as many in the States continue to set such a poor precedent.

The thrust of my work today in America is to elevate the conversation. I define elevation as changing the conversation, working to find a new starting ground beyond the traditional fighting areas that have only torn us further away from a true biblical reconciliation. The wonder of the UK’s current situation is that there is not much of a systemic conversation to change, because ultimately one hasn’t been nationally sustained or publicly fought about for any significant length. The time is now to step out and show the rest of the world what an advanced national relationship between two communities that, on the outside, don’t seem to ever have that much in common, truly looks like. There is more in-depth and practical applications on how to start building a bridge individually and systemically, in my book, Love is an Orientation.

What do you think of the hope of England in comparison to the [hope of the] United States?

Much love.

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  • I’ll try and be brief(!) and I’m sorry to be the voice of pessimism. However I can’t see any grounds for the optimism you see Andrew! 🙂 I can understand how you have come to this view – the landscape here in the UK is so different from the US. The absence of an out and out ‘culture war’ between the Church and the LGBT community must seem like a lovely break from the horror of that reality in the States. The disconnection between the Church (at large) and the LGBT community is no less real however. The Church has little impact on Society here – we’re 4th generation Unchurched. So for any LGBT people that haven’t had contact with the Church (family, brought up in it, faith connection) they don’t generally know (or care) what the Church thinks or the Bible teaches. So yes, there is no culture war there. For those in the LGBT community that have experience of the Church it is a very different story. I meet people who are scarred and damaged by the Church’s reaction to them and their coming out. People have lost their faith, or walked away not wanting to come to faith because they have been rejected purely because of their sexuality.

    For the Church – and here I’m talking about the Evangelical wing in particular – most don’t know any gay people (at least not out). There are one or two brave souls who stand in evangelical churches and say they are gay. For those who accept celibacy only they may be allowed to stay – though the fact that very few are out to more than a handful even in that situation shows there is still a problem with that – for those who take a non-traditional interpretation of Scripture on the gay question they are excommunicated, forced out and refused entry. Thats because the Church sees it as a sin.

    There is no dialogue between the two. Nor is there willingness to! Stonewall’s “Some people are Gay – Get over it” campaign was tutted at by the Church and used as a sign of how godless society has become. The natural bridgebuilders between the Church and the LGBT community – Gay Christians – are utterly and profoundly rejected, ignored and denied by the traditional Evangelical camp. Until that changes – and we are currently ready and willing to have open and honest dialogue – I can’t see any hope for optimism. What is the one single issue that is threatening to split Churches in the UK? The Gay question. Who are the ones threatening to split over it? The Evangelicals. Despite the fact that in these denominations they’ve had people denying the fundamentals of the faith for decades its the Gay question that is the last straw for them not the man or women standing up and denying the divinity of Christ or the resurrection of Jesus. Until that changes we’re as badly off as you are in the States its just we do it in a different way.

  • Mrs T

    It’s time to bridge the gap because the UK & much of Europe is in danger of another religion taking over – one that believes in killing gays. Wake up, Christians! You don’t have to embrace the gay lifestyle to show some love & concern.

  • I know I find it difficult to write from anthing than my own experiences – and to thus assume that experiences I have are universal – but I do have optimism about God and gay people (I’ve purposefully phrased this differently to the question you were asked, because I think we’re mistaken to consider issues when actually what this is about is people and their Creator).

    Stonewall, who ran the ‘Some people are gay: get over it’ campaign have also produced a really interesting report about people of faith and their views of LGB people. I rarely come across LGB people who don’t express a spiritual view and a yearning for God – yes even on our post-Christendom society! If they thought that Christianity had something meaninful to say to their lives, they would race to find it – what an opportunity!

    To label myself, I’m a Christian, a lesbian, married to a woman, and an evangelical. Of course I’ve had hurtful experiences in evangelical churches, but I’ve also had healing experiences there. Mostly I’ve found that straight evangelicals don’t think they know any LGB people. When they find out that they do, it can be a huge shock and can affect their faith. I’ve learnt I need to appreciate that, and have as the no 1 goal that they keep their relationship with God – not that they change to think my relationship with my partner is OK. But, thanks to the careful, thoughtful and loving stance of straight evangelical more than anything I’ve done, I continue in relationship with many straight Christians, my faith is richer for it, and I hope as we maintain potentially difficult relationships, we play a small part in building God’s kingdom.