Thirteen years ago, I raised my hand in a church meeting to vote against the ordination of “practising homosexuals” as ministers. This reflected an attitude that I adopted shortly after becoming a Christian in my late teens. I not only rejected the morality of same-sex relationships. I actively campaigned against them.
To say that I regret this is an understatement. I am appalled that I did it. I repent of it.
In June 2011, I will walk from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia.
Repentance is an underused word in today’s churches. But repentance is exciting, something which should be joyful as well as challenging and disturbing. It involves recognising God’s forgiveness and the potential for change.
In the New Testament, 'repentance' is a translation of 'metanoia'. An alternative translation of this word is 'thinking differently'. To repent is to reorient ourselves and our thoughts away from sin and towards God.
Repentance is thus a lifelong process, yet is also needed for particular actions. My walk next year, which will take a circuitous route over around three weeks, will be a chance to pray, reflect and ask for forgiveness from those harmed by my prejudices. It is an opportunity to speak with others and urge the Church as a whole to think differently about sexuality.
I had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before I became a Christian. But I chose to support a narrow homophobic position, partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. I stifled doubts about the flimsiness of the arguments used to back up hostility to same-sex relationships. Although that church played an important role in guiding me towards Christ, I am now convinced they were severely mistaken about sexuality.
I have struggled for years with issues of sexuality – through prayer, reflection, personal experience and of course through reading the Bible. And I have come to the conclusion that it is not homosexuality, but homophobia, that is sinful and contrary to the Gospel of Christ.
My homophobia caused direct harm to several people. My support for policies that excluded gay, lesbian and bisexual people from churches contributed to the harm caused to many others.
I also harmed my own integrity by suppressing feelings that seemed to go against the human construction that I imagined to be God’s rules for my sexuality.
As Paul repeatedly tells us, Christ fulfils the Law and makes it possible to live by God’s Spirit. It is this Spirit, not the values, priorities and prejudices around us, that we are called to follow. Discerning God’s leadings is far more challenging than relying on convenient rules, but it must be possible if we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is a source of God’s dynamic guidance that points us towards Christ, yet we so often devalue it by treating it as a human rulebook, from which lines can be snatched out of context to back up prejudices. Lines relating to homosexual prostitution are twisted to condemn loving same-sex relationships. This is as unfair as opposing heterosexual marriage on the grounds of verses condemning adultery.
I am appealing for churches to offer accommodation and/or to invite me to speak during my walk. I am keen on dialogue and happy to speak alongside others with different views. I respect people who struggle with the issues but reach different conclusions to my own. They are a million miles from the bigots who condemn homosexuality without a second thought.
Seeking God’s guidance together is even harder when we do not agree, yet it is essential if we are serious about the power of God to lead us into all truth. All truth is of God. As Christians, we need not fear to seek it.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion. For more information on his pilgrimage of repentance, please visit www.repenting.wordpress.com.