Saturday 28 January 2017

Sexuality and Religion - Thoughts after the Church of England Paper

Autistic LGBT people.
Some 600,000 of them in the UK.  (On the latest figures of 2 million autistic people, a third of whom self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, neuroqueer or otherwise).

As we know, autism is not a mental health condition, nor a learning disability.  Nor is it anything to do with violence and 'bad behaviour'.  Those were old myths, long since debunked.

Autism is a neurodiversity, as confirmed in medical journals such as The Lancet, recently. Part of natural human diversity of brain design, with strengths as well as challenges. Generalising from that research...more moral, more honest, more fair, a great love of learning, creativity, passionate focus on topics, expertise.  So many of our top specialists in society are autistic.  Half of autistic people are female.  You didn't know this?  You had been told myths?  Yes, many were.

It is a brain design built for accuracy, fact-checking, fast detecting of tiny changes and incorrect information.  Our senses are often super-wired to detect the very first hint of smoke, the first taste of food that is going off, the first sound of approaching danger.  In older societies, we would have been of immense value.

Since the false medicalisation of all autistic people in the last couple of decades, our uses have mostly been forgotten.  So many people have been bamboozled (I love that word...) into thinking that all of the two million autistic people in the country are just like a 'badly behaved young boy'.

We're not.  We never were all like that.  I'd argue hardly any are, from my 20+ years as a professional in this work.  Most are lovely, reflective, kind, empathetic, dedicated. 

Many autistic people became marginalised, forgotten, ignored, pitied, hated.   Most die some 16 years earlier than others, because of the appalling misunderstandings and lack of training of the health profession.  Many of us are working very hard to improve things.  

Most, thanks to those myths, have few, if any, friends, so a marriage or loving faithful Civil Partnership becomes all the more precious, all the more our way of showing our love for a cherished other.

A third are part of the LGBT+ community, on the figures we see.  
We're as likely as anyone else to be people of faith, whether that is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or anything else.

 We know from brain scans that, generally, autistic brains are often not of specific male/female design.  The design is different. We've not even begun to explore what God is doing here.

There are a variety of Christian views on what God thinks of LGBT+ people.  Some for example read the Bible very literally, and believe that God condemns all gay relationships.  Others, equally Christian, equally prayerful, take a different theological view.  They believe that God never condemned loving, faithful permanent relationships between gay couples.  Both groups of thinkers love God, believe that the Bible is a foundation of our faith, pray, go to Church, and listen to great leaders on this topic.  It is not a question of one group being deliberately sinful, or wilfully ignoring God. It is not a question of LGBT people leading anyone astray into sin, wilfully.

The Church of England published a paper for its 'Parliament', General Synod.  "Marriage and Same Sex Relationships in the Shared Conversations - A Report from the House of Bishops".  It's quite long.  It's on their website.  You can Google it [Other search engines are available].

We know that loving gay couples do a fantastic job for God and society.  I am blessed with knowing so many wonderful couples.  Honest, caring, dedicated, loving Christians and people of all faiths and none.  Each serving society in the same ways as other couples.  For a time, we were told this was a terrible 'gay agenda', working to destroy other marriage and society.  Some in the LGBT community responded with humour, such as this placard.  Others, with astonishment or despair.  

The CofE has been telling LGBT people that there would be a few years of sharing our stories.  Hotels were booked.  People who are anti-LGBT and people who are LGBT were invited, along with others.  For a couple of days, each person shared their stories.  Things will get better, they were told.  'This is all good.  This a shared journey. We're learning about one another'. Paraphrased. Lots of hope, lots of promise.  LGBT people encouraged to share deeply personal detail.  Detail that could be used against them by anyone unscrupulous, arguably.

Autistic people weren't invited to those.  We weren't deemed suitable.  That's curious.  I'm always interested in the places we're left out of.

The paper?  Nothing changed.    It had still banned its Clergy (Priests, Vicars etc) from marrying someone of the same sex as them.  If they do, they could lose their jobs and homes.  That won't change.  It had ensured that Clergy couldn't marry gay/lesbian couples in church.  That won't change.   It had ensured that Clergy could bless toilets, goldfish and nuclear weapons (no, really), but not gay marriages.  That won't change. Anything important hasn't changed.  Not a prayer, not a service, nothing.

In the report, it says the church should (for example) 'affirm what is good about friendships' instead.  

OK, straight people.  If someone wandered up to you, when you were deeply in love with your marvellous now-husband or wife, and said, "Hey, you could just be friends! God would like you to just be friends and not marry!  If you marry, you are trying to destroy everyone else's marriage", what expression would be on your face right then?  Did you marry in order to destroy society and have an evil agenda?  No?  Quite.  You probably married for the same reason as most other people - because you were deeply in love, wanted to honour society, family, friends, wanted to be part of that covenant of love before God, so you can bring up a family, etc. So do gay people.  They marry for those exact same reasons.   Even if the blessing of marriage seems like a distant prospect, the LGBT community were hoping for something.  Some sign that they had been listened to.  Some sign that deeply controversial language like 'same sex attracted' was inappropriate, given the lack of even a mention of bisexual or trans individuals.

The document mentions that faithful loving gay relationships are often a wonderful thing.
And then, on page 18, the reality....that our documents say that if Clergy marry someone of the same sex as themselves, they are being a 'bad example to the flock of Christ'.  

Well,  autistic LGBT+ Christians never got a say in any of this.
This precious group just get stuff imposed.  Voices unheard. Stories unexplored.
I don't think that's OK.
I think autistic LGBT+ Christians deserved to be heard.  Deserved to be considered.
Deserve to be included.

I am sorry that my lesbian and gay clergy-friends have had this experience with the church. I am sorry that you are seen as a 'bad example'.

I see you as a joy.  As bringing to society God's love, faithfulness, caring, sharing, honouring.  As disciples, as leaders.  I see the same in non-LGBT clergy-friends also.

I continue to pray for a world where people stop hating. Stop fearing.  Stop excluding. Stop making us stories about motives, in order to keep people fearful of us.

Autistic people have already lived in a world full of hate and fear, exclusion and ostracism.

The very last thing this group needs is more.  
The very last thing that this most vulnerable of autistic LGBT Christians needs is more.

I have stood over the grave of too many dead autistic people, who had ended their lives because they simply couldn't go on.

Not in my name.  Have mercy.