IDAHOTB Address At St Anne’s Union Shandon for Cork LGBTI+ Awareness Week

On Sunday I had the pleasure of giving the address at the Annual IDAHOT Service in St Anne’s Union for Cork LGBTI+ Awareness Week. Choral Con Fusion provided the wonderful Music for the service which was also attended by Bishop Paul Colton.

Below is the text of my address.

International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
Solidarity for Alliances
St Anne’s Shandon, 13th May 2018
Stephen Spillane

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” – John 17: 15

Four years ago, was the last time I spoke in this place for International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and a lot of things have changed since then. We have a new Priest in Charge here in Shandon, the choir is bigger, and we voted to change our constitution to allow for Marriage Equality. But is everything perfect? Far from it.

In the last week, someone was attacked in Northern Ireland for being part of the LGBTI+ Community. We still have Homophobic, Transphobic and Biphobic bullying in our schools, churches, workplaces and in the homes of LGBTI+ people. This is why we are here. To stand together. We stand together to protect each other in solidarity.

In the words of this morning’s Psalm

 

They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper – Psalm 1:3

Being in solidarity with LGBTI+ people does not take a huge commitment, it is recognising them for being who they are part of our community, at school, at work, in our church and part of our families. Being an ally means help to create a space that is welcoming to everyone, so that they can be themselves, truly and honestly.

This is something we take seriously in St Anne’s and this is set out in our Vision statement which is at the back of the church

We are welcoming of both human experience and
human diversity.

 It goes on to say

We are committed to taking all people seriously –
married and single people, gay and straight, those who have a natural faith and those who struggle with belief.

Welcoming is so important to us all; to feel welcome in a place, no matter where it changes our experience of that place. A welcome means that we can truly invest all ourselves, our true selves in a place and not hide any of it. A welcoming place can make all the difference to someone, whether it is to share good news and good times or receive help and support in times of difficulty. It allows people to share their interests and talents fully, while in return experiencing love and support.

At the beginning of the service we heard a simple line of scripture that reminds us that we have a great ally

God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them – 1 John 4:16

Love is the greatest way of showing Solidarity. If we love others we can help them in the difficult times and celebrate with them in good times. Love reminds us that others are standing with us. Love allows us to stand with others. Love allows us to work together to bring strength, healing and peace to one another.

Love isn’t anything extravagant, it’s recognising people for being who they are. Love recognises the situations people find themselves in and where we find ourselves as a community. Two recent events here reminded me of how the simple things can mean a lot.

At our General Easter Vestry, basically the Parish AGM, we had to make a decision whether or not couples could both serve on our Select Vestry, we decided they could. We then elected a same-sex couple onto our Vestry. It was completely normal. It was only afterwards when someone said it to me that I realised it!

The second is a bit more personal. On Easter Sunday, I brought along my boyfriend to church for the first time, he will kill me later for this, it was wonderful to see people both before and after the service coming up to him to say ‘hi’ and welcome him here. It made my day, and I know it made an impact on him too to feel the welcome and the love in this place.

This is a welcome and a love that we are called to practice and replicate throughout our lives, in our communities, our schools, our churches, our workplaces and in our homes. It is one that I am thankful to have experienced in this church and others, this choir, this city and at work.

But in recognising this welcome and love I also recognise that others do not receive it. But standing together in Solidarity and through building Alliances we can spread that welcome and that Love and ensure that everyone experiences that welcome and love. It isn’t an easy challenge. We will come up against many challenges, roadblocks and doubts but we must remain “like trees planted by streams of water” and try and create a world free from Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia as well as all other forms of hatred and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religious belief or lack of religious belief.

We are put on this earth to live and to love. Let us do that together and continue to be in solidarity with those seen as ‘others’. I will finish with this prayer from the IONA Community

God of justice, keep us silent
when the only words we have to utter
are ones of judgement, exclusion or prejudice.
Teach us to face the wounds in our own hearts

GOD OF JUSTICE, GIVE US POWER OF SPEECH
TO RESIST INJUSTICE, OPPRESSION AND HATE,
NOT ONLY ON OUR OWN BEHALF
BUT FOR OTHERS WHO ARE NOT HEARD.
MAKE US PEACEMAKERS AND RESTORERS OF THE STREETS.

God of power, keep us silent
so that we may listen respectfully
to another person’s pain
without trying to fade or fix it,
for you are present within each one of us

GOD OF POWER, GIVE US COURAGE
TO SHARE OUR GIFTS OF SPEECH
TO COMFORT, UPHOLD AND STRENGTHEN.
LET US BE A GLIMPSE OF YOUR LOVE TO THOSE IN NEED.

God of love, in the silence of our hearts
give us words of welcome, acceptance and renewal
so that when we speak
our words come from you

GOD OF LOVE, GIVE US VOICES OF PRAISE
TO CELEBRATE EACH OTHER
AND THE GLORIES OF CREATION
BELIEVING THAT WE ALL LIVE WITHIN YOUR BLESSING.

 Prayer for Three Voices, Yvonne Morland, 50 Great Prayers from the Iona Community

Time to Change the Question?

queen-james-gay-bibleAs many of you know I am a member of the Church of Ireland and this particular church is currently undertaking a “Listening Process” on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. Or put another way, “what do we do about LGBT Christians?”.

Should the church welcome them with arms open and allow them to be full members of the church, bless their relationships, ordain them and basically treat them the same as everyone else.

Or should we create a separate class for them? Should we allow them to attend services and partake in Eucharist and that be the end of it.

Which one the Church based on the teaching of Jesus Christ should pick is, what I thought fairly straight forward, but turns out I am wrong.

I think the question is framed wrong. Its making those who are LGBT the problem, their not!

A recent post over on Hacking Christianity by Dr Dorothee Benz on the recent developments in the United Methodist Church has this to say:

My second beef with the Hamilton-Slaughter proposal is that it further problematizes LGBTQ people as the source of division in the church. In this regard, I am particularly disappointed with progressives who embrace it (including some good friends), seemingly unaware that the framing of the entire thing feeds the false narrative that the problem in the church is homosexuality – i.e., our very existence. Why is the opening line of this proposal, “The ongoing debate over homosexuality continues to divide the United Methodist Church” and not “The ongoing debate over homophobia continues to divide the United Methodist Church?” Seriously, why? We are not the problem; discrimination is the problem.

LGBTQ people are not the first, nor will we be the last, to be blamed for tensions and divisions in the church. Our church has been mired in conflict over its support for slavery and segregation and its exclusion of women from ordained ministry. Each of these sins of exclusion were corrected after decades of tension, division, debate, and yes in some cases schism. Moving past these forms of bigotry required great struggle in the church. And not for nothing, these struggles are not mere historical artifacts. That much should be clear from the 2012 General Conference attack on the General Commission on Religion and Race, the Committee on the Status and Role of Women, and the guaranteed appointment system that has served to protect those who would otherwise fall victim to employment discrimination. The point is that struggle is not something to be avoided; rather it is the crucible in which we create a better, more inclusive church. We need to engage in the struggle to change our church, not try to sidestep our way around it.

I believe Dr. Benz hits the nail on the head. LGBT people have always been involved in the Church and they have never been the problem. The problem is how others treated them!

We all know the stories of how Churches around the world treated LGBT people and the awful results, but now the Church needs to buck up. They need to realise as Pastor Carl Lenz of the Pentacostal Hillsong NYC Church put it,

‘Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent.’

‘And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.

This is the crux of it. The biblical argument on Homosexuality is of course based on Leviticus 18:22. Now I have no problem with that, but if your going to base your argument on that, their are 75 other rules in Leviticus that you must also obey!

Now if you do live your life by the 76 rules in Leviticus or the 613 commandments across the entire bible, more power to you!

But of course, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ added two very important commandments, which is said at most Church of Ireland Services:

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

These two laws are supposed to be what the entire Church rests on. The Church should not be about who is included or who is excluded. It is should be about God’s love for all his creations. We do not get to decide who receives it, as individuals or as a Church.

I am lucky, I know, with the Church and the Diocese I am in. The Rector and congregation of St Annes have welcomed me fully. I now am Minister of the Eucharist, A member of The Select Vestry, a Parochial Nominator and I represent the Parish at the Cork Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Synod and the welcome I recieved at Synod by the Bishop and other clergy was humbling.

But the Church of Ireland can continue to talk and listen, while individual parishes and dioceses continue to live and do the work of God and welcome all who come, straight, gay, married, single, homeowner, homeless, employed, unemployed, or any other label applied to people by society.

Remember Jesus did not hang around with influential people. He hung around with shepherds, fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans and other outsiders throughout his ministry.

The Church should follow that example fully.

Who Dares to Speak of Homophobia – Speech

IDAHOTThis is the Speech I gave at St Annes Shandon for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 18th as part of Cork LGBT Awareness Week.

“On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. When people saw me they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.

For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time.”

This is a statement by one of history’s and Ireland’s greatest playwrights Oscar Wilde, referring to his arrest for “gross indecency with men,” a charge for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. I use his poignant statement not only to illustrate how far the world has come in treating LGBTI people with dignity and equality, but also to show how far we still need to go and why it is important for Days like International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to exist.

The Collins dictionary defines Homophobia as an “intense fear or hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality”. To most of us it is through direct actions we see homophobia. Whether it is in direct discrimination, a beating, a mugging or even a murder. But as Oscar Wilde’s quote shows, it does not have to be a direct action, it can be standing on the side-lines and laughing as much as doing something.

We all have a responsibility, as an individual, as a community and more importantly as a community of faith in this place to be a place of welcome, to ensure we do not stand on that platform and laugh, that we stand next to that person being jeered and give them comfort. Is that not what Jesus would have done?

That is not an easy thing to do. Society and the church in many cases seem to be more interested in trivia then doing the work of God. Recently the Right Reverend John Gladwin, the retired Bishop of Chelmsford spoke of this in St Paul’s Cathedral.

“In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer arrived in England to pastor the German church. His opening sermon in the Sydenham congregation was a response to the question on his mind, ‘why does the church seem so dull, preoccupied with trivia?’ This is what Bonhoeffer said:-

It is because we like too much to talk and think about a cosy, comfortable God instead of letting ourselves be disturbed and disquieted by the presence of God – because in the end we do not want to believe that God is right here among us, right now, demanding that we hand ourselves over, in life and death, in heart and body and soul and mind. (Bonhoeffer and Britain by Keith Clements. CTBI)”

I suppose this is where I lost interest in the church I was raised in. It did have a cosy, comfortable view on god. As long as you went to mass every Sunday, went to confession, abstained from meat on certain days, you would be ok. There was no challenge, there was no conviction.

This led me to stumble into St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in 2009 for an IDAHO, as it was then, service that included the Bishop. The welcome, the conviction and true belief shown on that night is what has led me to here before you on this Service for IDAHOT. A member of St Anne’s Congregation, it’s Select Vestry, a Minister of the Eucharist and representing it on Diocesan Synod. I feel very privileged to have been welcomed into this church, this place and this community as an equal and allowed to take on these roles within this Church.

St Anne’s has led the way on this Island as an inclusive church and has inspired many other churches to stand on its conviction and be inclusive and a welcome to “whoever you are, and where ever you are on your journey in faith”.

At the beginning of this LGBT Awarness Week, Bishop Colton, who was guest of honour at the opening reception backed this up by saying

 

Many of you see the Pride flag when you come into the church, some of you may have even spotted it on the tower – thanks Brian!, but I do encourage you to look at the back of the church on your way out and read the mission statement. The last few lines sum up to me so much of my faith

We are committed to a Church that conveys the Christian message in signs and symbols, especially in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. We are committed to taking all people seriously – married and single people, gay and straight, those who have a natural faith and those who struggle with belief. We are committed to identifying and affirming what is good and identifying and opposing what is evil, and living as best we can in the confusion in the middle.

This is the last event of Cork LGBT Awareness Week, and the LGBT Community in Cork is very lucky to have such supportive agencies in Cork who come together once a year to raise awareness in our city and county about LGBT issues.

This along with Pride and the services here in St Anne’s mark us, as a city and church, quite different from anywhere else. We as a city and church should take pride in what we do. People do recognise this. Last November I had the honour of representing Loafers in the Mr Gay Ireland competition and it was very obvious how highly Cork is viewed across the LGBT Community in Ireland

While we can be proud of all the work done, we must not rest on our laurels as there is still a lot to be done.

I know, as do many of you, of people in this city or even ourselves, who have been shouted at, kicked and beaten here in Cork because of who they are and who they love. In 2014 this is no longer acceptable and needs a community response.

When we hear people belittling those in the LGBT community we need to stand up to them. When people within the LGBT community hate on those within the community we need to stand up to them. We as a community need to stand together, with our allies in the wider community.

We should not allow ourselves to squabble between Gays and Lesbians, between Queers and Bisexuals, between Trans* and Cis-gendered, young or old. Yes we all have different needs and issues but sometimes we do need to all come together, recognising our differences but acknowledging that working together we can make a difference to all of us.

Tackling Homophobia in schools and in our society, fighting for a yes vote in next years referendum, ensuring that Gender Recognition Bill is fit for purpose, making sure that supports exist for LGBT people in Rural Ireland, raising awareness of the Gay Blood Ban, making certain that older members of LGBT community will be treated the same way as their straight family and friends and in general being there for each other. As the American Christian Right would call it that is the Homosexual Agenda in Ireland. Not exactly the downfall of society, now is it.

This week ILGA Europe an Association of LGBT Associations in Europe published its Annual Review and Rainbow Index. In it Ireland was ranked 22nd of 49 countries. This may surprise some of you. What would surprise you more is some of the countries ahead of us. Croatia, Montenegro and Albania in the Balkans, and Estonia, Czech Republic and Slovenia in Eastern Europe are all ranked ahead of us.

While the UK, Belgium and Spain top the list it is no surprise to see who is at the bottom of the list, Russia is 49th on the list with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Monaco and the Ukraine. While we are fighting for more protections for our community here in Ireland, the LGBT Communities in those countries have little to no protection. I believe that we in Ireland owe a duty to them. To get involved in campaigns, to raise awareness of the situation in these countries, whether it is through All Out or Amnesty International or one of the many other Human Rights organisations. We cannot and should not remain completely focused on Ireland but show our solidarity with LGBT people in Europe and around the world who are in much greater danger then us.

The Church of Ireland is currently having a conversation on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. This conversation looks set to go on and on according to the recent reports at this year’s General Synod. We in this Diocese will also be having a meeting at some stage, I am told, on the issue also. That is what makes this day and the events in Newry, Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Belfast and Derry/Londonderry so important. Its not that these services happen, but that they keep happening, is what gives me hope. The work of Changing Attitude’s Ireland and many individual LGBT Christians in Ireland constantly challenge and remind the wider Church of their responsibility to the LGBT Community.

Going back to the Bishops Speech at the beginning of this week, he made a point that resonated well with me and might with you also.

I want, therefore, to encourage especially those gay and lesbian people who are involved in church life, or who once were, to engage with the debates many churches are having at the current time. [As] Shirley Temple Bar tweeted: ‘Sharing LGBT stories is an important step on the road to equality.’ I agree with that, and I ask you not to give up on religion and religious institutions.

It is essential that your voices and experiences are heard and listened to.  More important, it is vital that you do not let people drive you away.  The loving welcome and inclusion of you is not theirs to take away: that love, that inclusion, that welcome, that belonging are God’s gift – God’s grace – offered to you as much as to anyone else.

I finish with some words from the Benedictine blessing which is often said in this place,

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world.

Because he has, and you can.

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No way on 8a. Church of Ireland regressing on Homosexuality?

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the episcopal...
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the episcopal seat of the pre-Reformation and Church of Ireland archbishops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the course of the weekend, a resolution before the Church of Ireland Synod, which meets on Thursday, was brought to my attention. Resolution 8a (PDF) according to the a group of LGB Church of Ireland will make LGB members and unmarried cohabiting couples second class citizens of the church.

By stating that faithfulness within marriage is the only ‘normative’ context for sex, Resolution 8A imposes a condition that people in faithful same-gender relationships cannot comply with. The implication that members of the Church of Ireland in relationships other than marriage are in breach of the Catechism gives legitimacy, for the first time, to excluding lay people in same-gender relationships from Holy Communion.

At the conference on homosexuality in March, some clergy said they refused the Sacrament to people in faithful same-gender relationships. The Bishops have done nothing to challenge such behaviour yet claim the right to lecture us about our relationships with the people we love.

Resolution 8A provides a pretext to launch witch-hunts against gay clergy in liberal Dioceses. This has happened in the Anglican Church in Australia since similar motions were passed by their General Synod in 2004.

Although Resolution 8A has been drafted to say all things to all people, once an official statement of policy is passed, the intentions of its drafters are irrelevant. History is littered with motions and legislation that functioned in ways contrary to the wishes of their drafters.

Nine years ago, our Bishops promised to start listening to us. This year, they see fit to table high-handed motions at General Synod while kicking the long-promised listening process into touch for another year. Most people would find the idea of beginning a consultation process after passing official policies odd, to say the least.

These Resolutions should have been brought through the normal democratic procedures of the Church of Ireland, but were not. They have been sprung upon members of General Synod allowing no time for wider debate in the Church. By doing so, those Bishops disrespect our Church’s democracy. Putting off this debate for a year or two to allow real listening will hardly kill us.

You can sign the Open Letter here and of course do check out the full webiste8anoway.com.

For me reading the resolutions, it does read more like old-fashioned Roman Catholic teaching and not the welcoming teaching I found within the Church of Ireland when I started to attend services in Cork.

This resolution means events like the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) Service on Sunday 13th in St Anne’s at 11am very important within the Church and hopefully can be used as fight back against this resolution.