Magazine article The Spectator

Gays for God

Magazine article The Spectator

Gays for God

Article excerpt

Conservative homosexual Christians want something more radical than marriage

The LGBT rights movement -- so the story goes -- has split the Christian churches in two. On one side are the progressives, who believe that Christianity should accept gay people and recognise gay marriage. Lined up against them are the conservatives, who hold fast to the belief that being gay is sinful. It's not entirely false, that story. There are just a vast number of Christians who don't fit into it.

Ed Shaw is an evangelical pastor in Bristol and is gay -- or, as he puts it, he 'experiences same-sex attraction'. It's a less misleading term, he tells me. 'If I say to people in conversation, "I'm gay," they tend to presume that I'll be delighted if they match me up with their gay friend Barry.' Which isn't what he's looking for: 'I'd love to meet any of their friends, but I don't want to be match-made with people because I'm not interested in that sort of relationship.'

Shaw is one of the founders of Living Out, a website written by gay people who are also traditionally minded Christians. As he points out, this is quite a large constituency. The 'horror stories' about churches rejecting LGBT people dominate media coverage, he says: Living Out exists partly to record more positive experiences.

Shaw's is one of them. 'As a pastor,' he says, 'I thought being open about my sexuality would be a disqualification for the job, and would mean that people would stop coming to me.' Instead, they started calling on him more than ever. 'Because they think, this guy finds life tough, it's not easy for him, he might be able to help me. I think previously I thought the deal was, try and fake it as a perfect person, and then people will listen to you.'

When Shaw writes in praise of the 'real elements of beauty' in gay relationships, or laments how the C of E's 'hypocrisy' has 'hurt a lot of people', he sounds like a liberal Anglican. At other times, he sounds like anything but. Sex is 'not a small issue that we can afford to disagree on', he says; 'marriage between a man and a woman, union in difference, sex within that' is one of the most important 'pictures of God's love for us'. The Bible starts with a marriage in Eden and ends with a marriage between Christ and the Church. 'It's not just a couple of verses in Leviticus that we need to change,' Shaw argues: reconstructing marriage would mean 'ripping out the heart of almost every part of scripture'.

For gay people who believe this, the question remains of how a celibate life can be anything other than a lonely one. It is easy to say that friendships are intimate and fulfilling, too -- but that can sound glib, because the modern world neglects friendship to an extent that would have amazed previous centuries.

Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed slept in the same bed and wrote letters of passionate devotion to each other. Michel de Montaigne, who treated erotic love as a rather embarrassing and second-rate experience, wrote at the death of his friend (in John Florio's translation): 'We were co-partners in all things... I was so accustomed to be ever two, and so inured to be never single, that methinks I am but half my self.' Nowadays people rarely talk about their friends like that, only (sometimes) their spouses. …

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