Silence and death were, until recently, the choices of Christians in same-sex relationships. The fact that I can write that sentence at all, and the fact that its only possible qualification (apart from very few exceptions) is ‘but that was true of most people in same-sex relationships’ shows that the biblical exclamation “look how these Christians love one another” is not a perspective we can relate to easily. They don’t. Christians seem more ready to fear and hate than to love. Does it matter that I can qualify that sentence with ‘but that’s true of most religious people’, or even (arguably) ‘but that’s true of most people’? Institutional Christianity has failed to demonstrate that it’s on the side of the angels and instead has inspired the demonisation of women, Jews and Muslims, colonised peoples, and of same sex desire. So why write a book trying to change this institution?
When my father died, I was aware of the social dimension to his funeral. On my shoulder rested a box with the body of a man I loved and the funeral ceremony was set up so that I could put that box into the ground and walk away. I needed help with that. I’m not saying that institutional religion is the only metanarrative with a wide social dimension. The Crow Road, by the late and much-lamented Iain (M) Banks, has the grandchildren of a Communist Scotswoman steal her coffin and make a boat in Loch Lomond her Viking/ Marxist funeral pyre. As well as despatches, there are of course hatches and matches and I know people who have chosen to celebrate the former in a Chinese restaurant and the latter in a disused Laundromat. I’m very aware of the creativity of Neo-Pagan activism (and pacifism) and I also recognise the profound symbolism in the practices of theatre.
Therefore I don’t find the specific practices and narratives of religion to be odd. I find them human. Or, at least, I contend that they should be. So I wrote a book that was handbag/ suit jacket pocket sized, mostly for people who go to Christian churches and contribute (in conversation or on committee) to the debate taking place now in those churches about same sex relationships, morals and ministry. Only Say The Word: Affirming Gay and Lesbian Love mentions inclusive biblical interpretation but focuses on what metaphysics means: the nature of ‘nature’. If you’re tired of arguing with conservative Christians about a book you’ve never read (the Bible) then I do suggest reading at least the free pages online of this one.
The stark truth is that conservative Christians view homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ and morally equivalent to paedophilia. My answer to that is to analyse the two (and marital rape and celibacy) in terms of possible well-being on successive levels of life quality. This structured analysis does two things: it takes the debate away from the (diametrically opposing) self-evident truth(s) perspective and it differentiates homosexuality from paedophilia on the grounds that the former type of relationship has the possibility of biological and social harmony whereas the latter does not. ‘Possibility’ as the words of Jesus (against hypocrisy, for compassion) point to a higher moral standard and therefore it is not acceptable to call a union of a man and a woman, married by Church and State, that involves violence, ‘natural’.
It is not enough to seek to interpret the scriptures to allow for their blessing on same sex relationships, or lobby the churches for the same. People in same sex relationships have a history, a legacy, of resistance to oppression. Other oppressed groups have powerfully used the biblical prophetic tradition to read the signs of the times and condemn lack of compassion shown to ‘the widow, the stranger and the orphan’. The churches need that condemnation now, they need that prophetic voice to shake them out of their sanctimoniousness and to see what crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in the name of Christ in Uganda, in Nigeria and in all the places that White homophobic missionaries have spread their gospel of hate.
In contrast, people in same sex relationships are showing those Christians how they love one another.
Many good people, in good faith, while sympathising with the ethical and ecclesiastical situation of lesbian and gay Christians, still regard homosexuality as unnatural. Other good people, in just as good faith, defend homosexuality on grounds of personal plight and involuntary sexual orientation with private misgivings that this defence may also be applied to paedophilia. This little book provides not only a useful argument for a more merciful reading of Scripture than that usually employed to condemn same-sex relationships, but also a philosophical analysis of the nature of nature. Finding that all, and only, those relationships which are harmonious can be considered natural; the author invites us to only say the Word, that we may all be healed.
Alan McManus is an author, life coach and founder of Tent City Theatre Company based in Glasgow