The Power of Grass Roots Rebellion

by the Revd Canon Peter Leonard, Chair of One Body One Faith and Acting Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral

peter leonard

I was very touched by the recent news report about the exchange of love letters between two soldiers in the second World War.

It is both moving and defiant, particularly the line “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.” Two men very much in love and despite the oppression they faced daring to think about a time when love such a theirs could be shared openly. They refused to be victims. A victim is someone who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment. This definition can apply to the LGBT+ community who dare to express a Christian faith or seek to follow God’s call on their lives and yet find themselves excluded and rejected by churches of all denominations.

Despite this in his book Our Witness: The Unheard Stories of LGBT+ Christians, Brandan Robertson quotes research that in 2015 a poll showed that while every major demographic of Christians was in decline, one of the few areas where there was a steady increase in identification as Christian was among the LGBT+ community – that does not seem like a community of victims to me?  In this country there was a dramatic moment at General Synod in February 2017 when the House of Bishops report GS2055 was rejected by synod as a wholly inadequate response to the process of shared conversations which had taken place. OneBodyOneFaith, of which I have the privilege of being Chair of Trustees, campaigned for this under the slogan “We will work with you but we won’t wait for you”. At the time this struck me as a deeply significant statement. It claims the ground and makes it clear that we won’t be victims.

It is easy to hear negative statements being made about LGBT+ Christian’s, to see people excluded from churches because of their sexuality, to see empty statements made with no action to back them up and to remain on the side lines shouting at the mean churches for how we are being treated. That kind of action traps us in victim mode.

However whilst the Baptist Union or the Methodist Conference or the General Synod of the Church of England may be procrastinating about the issue of sexuality or setting up yet more groups to think some more about it, the majority of churches are getting on with it. And by getting on with it I mean recognising that LGBT+ Christians bring gifts and skills and blessings to church communities. That they can be included and affirmed not because these churches feel they must, or even because they want all people to feel welcomed but because including LGBT+ Christians is good for the church!

Those of us who identify as LGBT+ don’t need to be victims. This is our story, this is our faith, this is our God and we can legitimately claim the ground. God is working in us and through us in so many ways. There are many churches where this is not the case but increasingly it seems to me that the landscape has changed. Those who would seek to exclude and reject are now in the minority and those who would seek to include and affirm make up the majority.

Local church communities are where change will happen. If you consider the big shifts in history, the fall of the Berlin wall or the end of communism, it happens because people at a grass roots level realise that they are not victims or powerless but that the minority who are trying to keep them there through abuse of power or fear are just that – a minority and that if we decide to live and believe differently then change happens. Churches are living and believing differently, indeed many have for a very long time!

If we look at the life of Christ, he didn’t seek to convert Pontius Pilate or Caiaphas and force a revolution from above but began a new way of living with a few fisherman, persuading and not forcing. That process has been going on from an LGBT+ perspective for many, many years and we have many people to thank for that. So when the Baptist Union refuse to ordain someone because they are in a same sex marriage, when the Church of England publishes a timetable for Living in Love and Faith which looks as if it is kicking the can of sexuality further down the road or trying to avoid the issue we don’t need to become victims again, we simply claim the ground.

We will work with you but we won’t wait for you.

Central church structures may not have provided official liturgies for blessing same sex relationships but plenty of local churches do it and have liturgies.

We will work with you but we won’t wait for you.

Central church structures may not have produced a liturgy to mark a gender transition but resources are available and local churches have used them.

We will work with you but we won’t wait for you.

Central church structures may ignore the many LGBT+ Christians they have in their congregations but up and down the country these same LGBT+ Christians are blessing communities through Open Table events, Christians at Pride and traditional congregations.

Change happens at a grass roots level – a form of ecclesiastical disobedience – much like Jesus and his disciples.

Yes there is a cost and sadly it is the same people who are still paying the cost but I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We are persecuted because what we are doing is prophetic, it is a bringing in of God’s kingdom of justice and mercy and love, it is God’s work and far from being victims, even if it feels like it and the cost is high, we are in fact prophets and followers of the way of Christ. Far from including us, the Church needs us.



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2 Responses to The Power of Grass Roots Rebellion

  1. Anonymous - to protect my priest says:

    We are same sex and we are getting married this weekend. I think celebrating with your community in the presence of God who blesses your marriage, is what really matters.

    Our priest is wonderful. So is our PCC. They will not be told to exclude gay people. So our wedding is going ahead. Full outfits, whole church welcome, guests and families, with reception, champagne, party afterwards. Because, really, the bishop does not get to define our life, our marriage. As a couple, and as a local church, we will decide that. It is going to be so lovely!

    Now… the sad side is that I have to write this anonymously, because of the strong need to protect my priest and the wider ministry of our church. And there’s inconvenience. We have to get a little scrap of paper which means nothing more to us than paying a gas bill. But our church service is going ahead.

    Unless the bishops want to search every church in the land this weekend (makes me think of Herod) there is absolutely nothing they can do. Our parish and our priest aren’t willing to exclude us. Our community is following its conscience.


  2. Pingback: The First Signs of Spring? | ViaMedia.News

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