Since coming out firmly in favor of marriage equality in the UK, Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham has been getting a lot of mail. In his blog, he sorts through the pile.
Just over 500 messages of one sort or another, pretty much all so far as I can tell from Christians of one sort or another. This implies that most others in society have moved on from fretting about this subject, if not to full acceptance, to an acknowledgment that gay people are just people like them, and what people get up to in bed is their own business.
About 80% have been supportive. These include some 20-30 deeply personal testimonies from gay couples, telling of love and faithfulness, sometimes against terrible odds over many years. Legal recognition will not make these relationships stronger, but it will de-stigmatise them. Among practising Christians, I have received “Don’t tell my vicar, but…” and “not in my name” messages that imply a need for more openness, confidence and honesty, especially where clergy have attempted to whip others into shape behind a conventional party line. It is inaccurate to characterize all Evangelical Christians as anti. Many of them are far more thoughtful, nuanced and conflicted, with a strong Evangelical instinct that is not about last ditching a particular interpretation of the Bible but striving to be good news to real people. The vast majority of local Churches are personally welcoming to all.
Of the 20% agin, about 90% can only be seen as expressions of crude prejudice and bigotry. The phrase “I am not homophobic, but…” sees to mean “soft or hard homophobic statement ahoy! But don’t pick me up on it….”
…Within the 10% of 20% more reflective unfavourable comment, I have made new friends, and discovered a capacity to engage with this among Christians, however reluctantly, that is impressive. Some messages were initially very hostile and angry with me. When I engaged with them on one positive point about which we might agree, the façade crumbled and we were able to have interesting and fruitful conversations. It can be done.
I have enjoyed about half a dozen really thoughtful, helpful and reflective conversations with very Conservative Evangelical Christians — nuggets of gold amidst a steaming pile of more general railing and abuse.
Bishop Alan reflects on what this response means for the Church, our mission and our life together.
Encouraging the Church to be more aligned with the point of the Bible and less hung up about particular interpretations of its small print should be doable, especially as most Church members are there already. For them being a Christian is about loving God and your neighbour as yourself, not culture wars. That’s the good news….
The bad news is that, as a matter of shameful fact, the Church does appear to contain noisy minorities of homophobes and bigots who use verses from the Bible as a collection of soundbites to validate their disgust, and it will have to work consciously to prevent itself it becoming their last ditch.