So how did I come to be walking through the streets of London, wearing a rainbow ribbon, handing out leaflets and eventually carrying a banner for Accepting Evangelicals? Several days on and I’m still pondering that question. Only a few close friends even know that I’m gay and now I seem to have made a very public stand, albeit in a city far away from where I live, but I discovered something quite unexpected somewhere in the middle of the West End: a sort of ‘road to Piccadilly’ experience.
This is all about Pride, so let’s talk about that: I’ve never been proud to be gay. In fact, I’ve spent the best years of my life trying to avoid it, hide it – never actually denying it (except often to myself), but certainly only entrusting the secret to a select few. That’s the first thing that happened somewhere around Selfridges: suddenly I felt at home – at home with my sexuality, at home with those marching around me, at home with the cheering crowds lining Oxford Street. I was experiencing the enormous groundswell of good will towards Pride expressed by the people of our capital city – these were crowds not made up predominantly of activists or fellow LGBT people, but a real cross-section representing London’s diversity in all its forms. The most mind-blowing thing to be honest was seeing whole families enjoying an afternoon together watching the spectacle and soaking up the atmosphere. For the first time I felt proud to be part of this phenomenon – proud of Pride and, yes, proud to be gay!
But a more significant thing needed to happen. For a number of years I have felt less and less proud of being a Christian. Since accepting Christ in my twenties, I have always held the Bible to be the basis of my faith, yet I seemed to be increasingly unable to reconcile what I was taught about the ‘sin’ of homosexuality with the pastoral needs of the gay and bisexual guys I was trying to reach out to, let alone the witness of the Spirit in my own life. Worse than this, I felt increasingly ashamed of the Church’s treatment of LGBT issues, and most importantly LGBT people, who were being written off by those who claim to offer the Gospel to all, yet effectively deny it to those (God’s mistakes?) created with a different sexuality to the fortunate majority. Recently, I decided to look at the Bible afresh and began to realise that the traditionalist interpretation on homosexuality is deeply flawed and inconsistent with both the holistic Gospel message and the experience of those like myself who are quite undeniably gay by nature and equally undeniably Christian by conviction. In making steps towards being part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, my tentative public support of like-minded evangelicals led to me having to step down from leadership in my local church, but at least I was beginning to reclaim some of the integrity I had sacrificed by keeping silent.
So what happened there at Pride? I believe I turned a corner, and I don’t mean when we swung right into Regent Street, though it might have been somewhere in that vicinity! For the first time in more years than I care to admit, I felt proud to be a Christian again. I’m not sure that I was expecting hostility, though of course I’m aware that there is plenty of that coming from some who claim their particular version of the truth, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the warmth, encouragement and affirmation of the crowd. Amongst the casual bystanders just caught up in the party atmosphere were those who clearly understood what a big deal it is to make a stand on the ‘gay issue’ as a Christian, facing up to the backlash that can bring. I didn’t expect to be cheered, as we were, and I certainly didn’t expect a young man in the crowd to reach out his hand and, although I had nearly gone past, call me over to shake my hand and say, “Thank you!” That’s when I saw the flash of light and heard a voice from heaven – OK, not quite, but it was certainly a much-needed personal epiphany.
So I find I am newly proud to be gay, proud to be a Christian, proud of my LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ and those who are straight but taking a stand on this all the same. I’m proud of London for hosting and enthusiastically joining the celebration and perhaps most of all I’m proud of the young man who shook my hand – a representative of a generation who may one day live to forget what the fuss was all about.