An Unlikely Ally
How did a single, celibate, fifty-something Christian woman become an ally of those struggling with their sexuality and gender?
By giving up on the truth of God’s Word? By discovering a convenient theology of liberal grace? Or by selling out to a worldly mantra of tolerance?
Actually, it was none of these. Rather, unexpectedly, it was the answer to the prayer of a naïve eighteen-year-old, arriving at university to be greeted by the GaySoc (that really dates me) and asking God to help her show love to people, without compromising His Word.
Perhaps some context would be helpful here: I became a Christian from an unchurched background when I was twelve. God encountered me, and I knew I’d never walk away from Him again. I was curious about all sorts of things but, fortunately, I was part of a church which was confident in Christ and answered my questions (which I thought were original, but they’d probably heard a thousand times before!) with great love, patience and unerring biblical accuracy.
My spiritual mother (the lab technician at my secondary school) had a friend called Martin Hallett, who was in the process of setting up True Freedom Trust. He did quite a lot of teaching in my church, and I was fascinated, intrigued, and amazed.
That teaching set the basis for my understanding of sexuality. In my teenage years, it guided me through as I tried to negotiate that other species who were male, and it helped me develop good friendships with women as well as men.
Abandoning the moral high ground
So, I arrived at university with a sincere desire to be a good witness in the new setting God had put me in. I prayed that prayer over the GaySoc letter and then dived into Christian Union activities. It was easy to go through university life inside its protective bubble, maintaining the moral high ground by not getting drunk or sleeping around, but instead by being terribly nice and condescending to those with an alternative lifestyle.
The challenge came when one young male Christian small group leader came out as gay. Those of us within the leadership of the Christian Union asked him to stop leading the small group. That decision led to a major furore with the aforementioned GaySoc. The story reached the Sun newspaper – “God Squad Bans Gay”. Our council of reference (local church leaders) were divided in their counsel which bemused us because we were all supposed to be Bible-believing.
“It’s all a matter of interpretation,” became a key phrase. One moment of challenge from outside the Christian circle was in a student union meeting in which a female GaySoc member explained how her sexual orientation was perfectly natural to her.
Eventually, that storm blew over: I finished university and started work as a teacher in 1988. Both professionally and personally, I always tried to show love to gay people while keeping true to the traditional interpretation of the Bible.
Learning to Listen
Oh, what a privilege it is for so-called straight Christians to navigate church life. Writing this, I realise how little I actually did for decades about engaging with LGBT+ issues.
I do remember attending a “Faith and Homophobia” conference run by the Gay Christian Movement. I was unimpressed by their liberal theological stance but was challenged by their assertion that LGBT+ faith was about more than “what goes on between the bedsheets.” So, I began to listen more to the lives of Christian and non-Christian LGBT+ people.
In those days, TFT events and conferences I attended seemed to be full of stoic individuals trying to keep to the true path. Non-Christian LGBT+ events I attended had a more celebratory feel to them. How can this be when us Christians are supposed to be the ones in possession of abundant life in Christ?
Strange as it may seem, the moment of greatest clarity in my own journey concerning sexual orientation came whilst trying to sleep (alone!) at a conference venue whilst the campest playlist was being worked through downstairs. Finally, I realised I wasn’t gay!
A compassionate approach
As I observe the theological fault lines today, I see a so-called “inclusive” or “affirming” church versus a doctrinally-correct but often completely lacking in compassion / mission church which seems to want to bury its head in its self-righteous quicksand.
I think we are called (or at least stumble) into situations where God expects us to show the compassion, grace and mercy of Jesus. This is relevant inside and outside of church life. In recent years I have found myself deliberating standing with transgender people as they face horrendous transphobic bullying. I am ashamed of the casual homophobia demonstrated in many of our supposedly doctrinally-sound churches. But where does that leave us in terms of sharing solidarity, friendship and faith with LGBT+ people through the unconditional love of God, whilst at the same time talking with them about holiness and scripture and right living?
Jesus is the answer. Those of us who know Him can reflect His love and compassion and demonstrate the new life the gospel brings without condemnation. It’s time for the Church to step up and show what holy, whole living and relationships really look like. We don’t need to be ashamed of ourselves because the good news is Jesus forgives us and helps us in our present struggles.
As 1 Corinthians 6v11 says after a comprehensive list of the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God:
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
Our non-Christian LGBT+ friends need us to witness to how Jesus has liberated us to be free to live that abundant life Jesus talked about. I can see the loneliness in the lives of many same-sex attracted Christians. I’m committed to TFT because they choose to walk alongside, while upholding traditional Christian values.
I hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit, through Paul, encouraging us to be “blameless and harmless children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil 2v15&16).
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend