Jeremy Marks spoke recently at the Hampton Court Mada Deli series. Jeremy founded Courage UK in 1988, with the aim of supporting gay Christians who wished to change their sexuality in order to conform to evangelical teaching. Several years later, having evaluated their dispiriting results, Jeremy began to grapple with tough theological questions which would gradually bring about a fresh sense of direction both for Courage and for Jeremy himself.
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…