Listening to certain Christians, you would think that opposition to homosexuality is one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith. But on Saturday, as a small group of Christians turn up to protest against the Pride festival in central London, they will be easily outnumbered by the Christians who are participating in Pride, celebrating diverse sexuality as a gift from God.
This has been the case for several years, but it's always the homophobes who get the most attention. The media cannot take all the blame for this – pro-equality Christians have often been unprepared and unprofessional when it comes to media engagement. But this year, a wide spectrum of Christians – from Catholics to Quakers to Evangelicals – will be united in marching as “Christians Together at Pride” (see www.christiansatpride.com), seeking to make the reality of inclusive Christianity more visible. Similar collections of Christians are appearing, to a greater or lesser extent, at other Pride festivals around the country.
It will be understandable if most Pride participants find the image surprising Having often written in favour of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality, I sometimes receive emails from non-religious LGBT people delighted that a Christian is backing them. It's always great to receive these messages, but it's very frustrating that pro-equality Christians are seen as such an unusual exception. We are not. In a good many churches, support for LGBT inclusion is now the norm, or at least an acceptable position to hold. If the world outside does not realise this, it is largely because we so often fail to speak up, while the anti-equality lobby take every opportunity to speak – or shout - loudly and clearly.
But in doing so, they are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Lisa Nolland of the ultra-conservative group Anglican Mainstream (surely a contender in any contest for the most inaccurately named organisation) recently suggested that parents will be putting their children at risk if they take them to the Greenbelt Christian festival this year – because the speakers include the gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
While lots of Christians still find homosexuality and bisexuality difficult to understand or accept, many are clearly alienated by this sort of extremist rhetoric. They respect that other Christians have come to different conclusions and are happy to work and worship alongside them. In addition, the popular image of the sexuality debate as “evangelicals v. liberals” is breaking down, with increasing numbers of evangelical groups – such as Accepting Evangelicals, Courage UK and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians - promoting LGBT equality.
Nonetheless, some Christians remain cautious of the equality agenda, fearing that those who support it are simply buying into the dominant culture around them. This is one reason why we need to be more open and vocal about the biblical, ethical and theological reasons for accepting same-sex relationships. Usually it's the most homophobic Christians who are quickest to use religious language and quote the Bible, while the words of pro-equality Christians are at times largely indistinguishable from the language of secular liberals.
To remedy this, we can turn to the life of Jesus. In Christian debates about sexuality, Jesus rarely gets mentioned. The anti-gay side rely on biblical lines taken out of context while the inclusive groups tends to turn to more general ethical arguments. But if we look at Jesus, we find a man who consistently broke the sexual conventions of his time. This point, which is nearly always overlooked, cannot be emphasised too strongly.
Jesus repeatedly allowed women to make physical contact with him in a society that found this utterly shocking. Luke's Gospel describes a religious man reacting with alarm when Jesus allows a “sinful woman” to wash his feet. The New Testament quotes Jesus' opponents accusing him of socialising with prostitutes, an allegation that appears to have been true. Jesus redefined family, insisting that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”.
In the light of this reality, it becomes clear that “traditional family values” are no part of Jesus' message. Indeed, they are explicitly contrary to it.
The problem with secular liberalism is not that it is too radical. It is not radical enough. Not in the context of a Messiah who promoted a vision of a world in which the poor are rich, the sick are healed, the despised rejoice, the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are exalted.
When Christians join the Pride festival on Saturday – and other Pride festivals across Britain and around the world – we must do more than simply say that we have found faith to be compatible with our sexuality. Challenging distortions of the Gospel and declaring repentance for Christian homophobia, we can promote equality as part of a radically progressive agenda.
Pride is for everyone. Heterosexuals who welcome equality should feel as free to participate as anyone else. Words such as “gay”, “bisexual” and “straight” are understandably important to many people's identity, but they can also be restrictive, confining the diversity of human sexuality within narrow labels Thankfully, words such as “queer” have developed to include a broad range of sexualities – perhaps even to include straight people who reject the prejudicial notion that only their own orientation is acceptable.
Whatever your faith or sexuality, I hope to see you at Pride on Saturday. Look out for an increasingly visible and confident group of people – queer, Christian and proud.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. His new book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion, can be ordered at http://www.newint.org/publications/no-nonsense-guides/religion, priced £7.99.
This article appeared originally on the Guardian website on 1 July 2010. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/jul/01/queer-christi....