Debate: Can you be an out gay man and a member of the Christian faith?

Can you be gay and live within the teachings and values of Christianity?

JEREMY“You CAN be gay and religious” – Reverend Canon Jeremy Pemberton
Jeremy is an Anglican priest. Find him on Twitter at @canonjpemberton.

“In the court of gay opinion, religion is often guilty as charged. And fairly so. Religions are among the main culprits in perpetuating anti-gay attitudes and actions. It might be unpleasant here, but religious views towards homosexuality can be deadly in Nigeria, Uganda and across a swathe of the Middle East. Christians, Muslims, Hindus: they’re all as bad as each other, apparently. And the stuff they believe! No sane person could contemplate that sky pixie nonsense, surely?

What this doesn’t tell you is what it feels like to be religious. It isn’t about deciding suddenly one day to be stupid and credulous, though even if some religious people are, they have the right to be that. It doesn’t explain how religious people can be critical, self-critical, doubtful and intellectually exploratory. It doesn’t explain what’s, for me, one of the most important features of my faith; that it’s about a way to live, something that’s inhabited as much as it is intellectually assented to.

If it’s a way to live, then I want it to be something that contributes to human flourishing. I find in my faith’s founder a lot of standing up for the poor and the marginalised. The picture we have of Jesus shows some admirable boundary breaking with regard to valuing women and children, foreigners and the “untouchable”. I acknowledge, however, the shameful aspects of religion; its pride and power-seeking, its cruelly destructive tribalism. Nevertheless, at its best, in its focusing of people beyond their own life, it’s motivated great changes for human good.

Religions develop and change. I recognise that it’s not for everyone. Religion is nothing special among human activities. Like pretty much everything, it can be a force for good or evil. It depends what you do with it. You CAN be gay and religious – and my motivation in staying inside mine is to work for change and to let it make a difference for good for everyone. I have no intention of getting off the bus.


“Sin doesn’t cease to sin because it’s popular” – Matthew Parris
Matthew is a journalist for The Times and former Conservative MP.

Looking in on the Church from the outside, I surprise myself by finding some of the Christian liberals’ arguments more irritating than the Christian conservative viewpoint. If I believed in God, my consuming desire would be to know what God wanted of me – not what I wanted of God.

That the modern world is now accepting about homosexuality is a rotten argument for modernising the Church’s teaching. Jesus didn’t come among us to find out what the modern world of his day thought, and then accommodate out beliefs and practices to the fashion.

Conservative Catholics, for instance, now say something similar when we urge them to get with contemporary thinking on homosexuality, divorce or abortion. They have a point. Gay Christians have many good arguments to make to reactionary priests, but the argument that they’ve been outvoted by their epoch and are in danger of losing their flock, is not one of them. Sin doesn’t cease to be sin because it’s popular.

The argument for the Church to accept and welcome gay men and lesbians should be rooted in doctrine, not rejecting of doctrine. It should note Jesus’s hesitation to condemn; his passionate emphasis on love and understanding. Biblical literalism has been discredited by our modern understanding of how these texts found their way into the Old and New Testaments: scholars now know that the Bible is a beautiful collection of imaginative prose, but an inconsistent anthology collected haphazardly.

Conservative scholarship needs to be confronted with liberal scholarship. And the positive case for same-sex love has to be made, not a whining “we can’t help it” or a sneering “keep up with modern times”.

As a complete atheist, I’d say to believers that there’s an argument here that you can win on your own terms, within the context of your own beliefs, and drawing upon the history and logic of your own faith – however misplaced!



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