On Being Gay and Christian…

Over 10 years ago a TV Series Editor told me that when it came to being gay and Christian, there were no more issues left to explore or resolve: life had moved on. But here we are in 2012 and two recent stories suggest she was being overly-optimistic.

First, Dr Jim Reynolds, author of the unbelievably-titled The Lepers Among Us, a book addressing gay sexuality and Christianity – caused a stir by turning up to teach at a number of UK venues. Dr Reynolds is associated with the Core Issues Organisation, which offers controversial therapies to empower gay people to become straight.

Then last week the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, drew on history and tradition to launch a strong attack on gay marriage.

Many today see gay marriage and gay rights in general as no-brainers. But for some Christians who grew up in an era when homosexuality was barely acknowledged, and were taught by their churches that gay sexuality was incompatible with Christianity, the changing perspectives can be challenging.

For me, lights began to go on when it hit me just how devoid of hope the message offered by many churches was for gay Christians. If Christianity was good news, then surely it had to be equally good news for people whatever their sexual orientation? It’s in my nature to research and explore, and since I worked in TV at the time, I set about that through the medium of programme-making.

Suddenly I was meeting gay Christians whose stories were light years removed from pretty much everything I had been taught. All had grasped at whatever straws they could find in their efforts to conform to church teaching, with miserable results. Some had hoped heterosexual marriage would magically change them, others suppressed their sexuality, still others put themselves through Christian ‘sexual re-orientation’ programmes, or continually went forward for prayer at their church, risking that their confessions would become common knowledge. Their experiences were peppered with stories of self-harm, breakdowns and suicide attempts.

No wonder these stories had been airbrushed out of evangelical church teaching – they present a real dilemma for those who are convinced that you cannot be both gay and Christian. Coming face-to-face with people whose experience threatens to unravel your particular paradigm is unnerving.

The experience of one person in particular made a huge impact on me. I started hearing stories about Jeremy, a young photographer I vaguely remembered from the early days in my church, who had apparently struggled with being gay.  After trying all the usual avenues, he had signed up for a Christian re-orientation programme in the US. By all accounts it had worked, since he went on to marry and, together with his wife, launch a similar programme for gay Christians in the UK. This was a huge gay re-orientation ‘success’ story in the evangelical world, and his organisation received funding for their work from evangelical bodies. I tracked him down and phoned to ask how it was all going…

I had picked an extraordinary moment to make that call. Jeremy’s story had taken an unexpected turn after he decided to audit the outcome of twelve years’ work with his organisation. All was about to explode in the national press. With characteristic openness and from a place of faith, he patiently filled me in on the story behind the story…

Some years later, with this issue still very much a hot potato in a number of church circles, Jeremy agreed to a filmed interview about his personal journey and his experiences of working with people on his programme. It is in 3 parts. For anyone wrestling with questions or seeking to understand more about this whole area, I recommend giving him a listen…




2 thoughts on “On Being Gay and Christian…

  1. Jeremy Marks comes across as a genuinely compassionate, caring and thoughtful person.
    I identify with much of what he says about the reasons why so many gay Christians choose marriage as the path of least resistance, often encouraged by those in leadership who seem to have the idea that ‘going through the motions’ is a mechanism to secure healing.
    The most compelling comment he made was along the lines of ‘if God’s enthusiasm for punishment is comparative to his enthusiasm for healing, there’s nothing to worry about’.
    This for me is the extraordinary thing about good, kind compassionate people that seem to allow their faith to rule their heads. And how this trait causes them so much anguish and pain as they seek ways to balance their feelings and experience, with their theology, which in turn has to be balanced with church and scriptural teaching.
    For me my experience within churches, who talk a very great deal about how Christians are privileged to have direct access to God, that the Holy Spirit dwells in them, that the Bible is God’s revealed truth, that God heals. And they preach long sermons about the words of Jesus when he spoke about being a light on a hill, salt and healing to the nations etc. Yet the reality isn’t like this. So why carry on believing it.
    Societies and cultures evolve. Most people in well educated and reasonably prosperous countries (where having people to blame is less of a requirement) move away from dogmatic religion, and even if not in name, in practice to a more humanitarian, humanist view of life. This places pressure on the old religions who begin to look more and more out of touch and judgemental.
    This pressure eventually results in a landslide of people slowly moving to a more reasonable and compassionate viewpoint, with the vanguard represented by people such as Jeremy, leaving behind those that have a more dogmatic, and probably bigoted, commitment to a particular dogma or creed.
    So society leads religion – far from the church being the light, it is liberal minded, generous hearted people who seek justice and fairness.
    So my real question to admirable people like Jeremy, and the question that really interests me (having rejected a theocratic view of the universe) – why hold onto a faith that flies in the face of evidence, that has to be so vigorously re-interpreted to be compatible with your world view, and that appears to not demonstrate any ability to deliver on its promise?
    Sussex, England

    • Thanks for your thoughtful (and kind) feedback on my interview Mark.

      “Why hold on to a faith that flies in the face of evidence. . . ?” Well as I said in the interview, a great many peple lose their faith after a battle over something like homosexuality (though there are many other issues too that have the same effect). I think for me, something very profound happpened in that first encounter with Christ when I became a committed Christian. I then adopted all the teaching I was given, largely uncritically, because I did not have the confidence to believe in my own gut feelings about things (believing I was prone to self deception because of being gay). Over the years, I have met so many truly wonderful Christians who lived sacrificial and Christ-like lives, not ruled by dogma but motivated by love for others. After one has ditched all the foolish and unhelpful dogma, which might well put one off going to church forever, there still remains the question as to who Jesus is and why his life and teaching continue to have such a profound and pwerful effect on one’s life long after you’ve passed the disillusionment phase with the Christian church. I believe there is an important place for a new kind of church where we can ask one another, “Right, now that we’ve dumped all the lies and the bull-shit, what are we really left with?”

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