Published in the Church of England Newspaper – 4th August 2013
“Why do gay people want to flaunt their sexuality?”
That was a comment posted on my Facebook page recently after I mentioned this summer’s London Pride parade.
But of the thousands of people who take part in Pride each year, the overwhelming majority are ordinary people celebrating a part of their identity which many have felt pressure to hide for all or part of their lives.
Nowhere is this more true than amongst Christians. Even when a gay person feels able to be honest about their orientation in many areas of life, they often feel under pressure to keep their sexuality a secret in church.
This year, as I marched with Christians Together at Pride amid a small army of people wearing T-shirts declaring “Christian and Proud”, I reflected that the only thing they were ‘flaunting’ was their faith in Jesus Christ!
We started with a Communion service in the street near the start of the march. Bread and wine were received prayerfully and reverently amid the noise of the traffic. Then we were led to our place in the parade and found ourselves just in front of another faith group, “Gay Jews in London”. As we marched along Oxford Street, we waved and smiled, gave out postcards, and received many rounds of applause from onlookers.
I walked next to Richard, a man in his early fifties who was only just starting to ‘come out’ at church. Richard later reflected that “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.”
As we continued the march, there was a small group who radiated hostility with placards and megaphones declaring a message of Christian condemnation rather than love and grace, but even they were outnumbered by a group of Christians inspired by Andrew Marin in Chicago. They held placards apologising for the way the Church has treated gay people, and their faces wore smiles, not frowns.
Contrary to the photos posted in the press, I didn’t see a single person ‘flaunting their sexuality’ in an aggressive or distasteful way. The people I saw were dressed in ordinary clothes, enjoying the occasion with friends or colleagues as they waved to the crowds of well-wishers.
But perhaps that isn’t the real issue. My friend on Facebook had the honesty to follow up his comment by acknowledging that as a married man with children, perhaps he ‘flaunts his sexuality’ without even realising it.
Perhaps the real issue is one of perception. If a married couple hold hands in church most people will say ‘Isn’t that nice!’ – but when a gay couple hold hands in some churches, it is more likely to result in a awkward silence followed by a ‘pastoral visit’. One couple is celebrated, the other are ‘flaunting their sexuality’.
LGB&T people are members of our churches, whether we know it or not. Far from flaunting their sexuality, they often feel they have to suppress it.
Whatever our doctrinal convictions, our churches should be places where all of us can come and be the people God created us to be, without pretence, mask or disguise. Perhaps that is the kind of church which Jesus would be truly proud of.