Posted by: ronontheroad | October 30, 2016

What’s in Kelvin’s challenge?

It seems such a long time ago (more than a year) when on a rather wet bank holiday Sunday, I was standing under the awning of a semi-outdoor venue listening to Kelvin Holdsworth at the 2015 Greenbelt festival. Kelvin is the provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow and has a blog What’s in Kelvin’s head? that is interesting and usually quite challenging. His talk was no less challenging – in fact there was a clear challenge: he wanted me (and others) to come out.
As a straight ally.
Now I have to be clear – as a straight white cis-male, there is an unconscious privilege: I don’t know, and cannot really imagine what it is like to have to hide who you are – identity, sexuality, the essence of being – the fear of rejection and worse by family, friends, colleagues, and church community. I have never had to come out, but I have come to realise over the years that my views have changed, mellowed, and become more inclusive – but, “spoilers, sweetie!”.
It was great to hear Kelvin speak, and later to meet him in person.  I was helping out on the Inclusive Church stand, he was next to us on the OuterSpace stand meeting people – and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to explain to him how I had indeed done what he challenged us to do.

Wikipedia (so it must be correct) defines “A straight ally or heterosexual ally is a heterosexual and/or cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia“.

If you have followed the things that I share on Facebook, you probably realise that I have a passion for encouraging the church to welcome everybody – irrespective of age, gender, mental health, sexuality, disability, race, literacy level – all.

But I had an epiphany moment around 3 years ago. I was at an event – Unadulterated Love – a celebration of LGBT life in the church. I was only there to help set up (honest, guv) a display – tent of blessing and take a few photos. But I was there, so I thought I would join in one of the discussion groups.  Canon Rachel Mann ( blog) chaired a session on which trans people shared their own experiences of growing up, and how they have been welcomed or otherwise by the church. From a second hand experience I was able to relate that some churches,  or individuals in those churches,  can be very supportive. Although from what others said (and the experience of other trans people I know) this is by no means universally true.

So I’m sitting with this group of LGBT people and I’m wondering what they think of me – in this group the outsider.  And it struck me very forcibly … it doesn’t matter what they think of me: we are all just people with our own stories. Sitting down with people,  letting them tell their experiences,  their life stories, sharing their lives.

This is the point at which I understood something of what it means to be an ally.

The thing is that the church too often puts doctrine before humanity. To bishops this may be a matter of discipline (not discipleship) and authority. What is missing is an engagement with lived experience.

My commitment as an ally is to  challenge the assumption that a set of man-made (sic) rules based on a weltenshauung that is little more than a thin veneer over control, manipulation, and bullying. I have heard too many times the phrase “Don’t ask – don’t tell” because the alternative is having rights revoked. And it is true – someone testing her calling cannot pass the first hurdle because she has married her wife. A priest unable to take up a promotion in secular employment because a bishop refused a licence because his long-term faithful relationship was solemnised by the state. Or a well-regarded reader in a civil partnership for many years is no longer able to serve his parishes because an archbishop decides that there is an essential difference between civil partnership and marriage. Other priests losing their permission to officiate, or blocked from taking other posts because they married.  In any other context this would be clearly discriminatory action.
The reason?  Priests (and apparently non-ordained church leaders) must model the teachings of the church. Not, it would seem modeling the  teachings of Christ: what would Jesus do? Call those who put law and control first “whited sepulchres”; overturn the tables of those who profit from oppression; sit with those who have been marginalised; observe and share the reality of lived experience.
So here I stand – a straight ally working for change in the church, an accepting evangelical who is trying to change the attitude of a church that is not yet inclusive. And I’m impatient – great changes have happened in society in recent years: but the church that should take a moral and ethical lead is seriously trailing behind society, and the bottom line is that people are suffering; the church’s mission is being compromised; and church members (at all levels of the hierarchy) are having to decide whether integrity and honesty are values that are compatible with holding to the party line.
Sorry that this post took so long to be written Kelvin!

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