Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality

Image portrays elements of Mary Button’s artwork for this modern interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. CREDIT: believeoutloud.com

LAST MONTH I put together a video for the Open Table Network (OTN), which was broadcast on Palm Sunday, featuring a modern reflection on the traditional Christian devotion called the Stations of the Cross.

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, the week before Easter, when Christians remember Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the final days of his ministry before he died on the cross and rose to new life.

All four Gospel accounts describe Jesus coming into the city, surrounded by crowds laying palm branches in his path, singing ‘Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’. ‘Hosanna’ in Hebrew means ‘Save us, we pray’. The cries of the crowds echo the words of the Hebrew psalms – they thought Jesus was the one who would free them from oppression by the Romans.

Within a week, Jesus was betrayed, sentenced to death, and brutally killed by the Romans. He wasn’t who they thought he was.

In Holy Week, the week before Easter, we are encouraged to reflect on the stories of this important time in Jesus’ life and our faith. The Stations of the Cross can help us do this. They have formed part of Christian spiritual practice in the season of Lent, the time of preparation for Easter, for many centuries, because they enable us to engage actively with the path of suffering walked by Jesus.

They originated when early Christians visited Jerusalem and wanted to follow literally in the footsteps of Jesus. They would stop and pause for prayer and devotion at various points, or ‘stations’. In the late fourteenth century the Franciscan religious order were given the responsibility for the holy places of Jerusalem, and they erected images at various points on the pilgrims’ route to aid their reflections. Eventually those pilgrims brought the practice back to their home countries. These images are now common in many churches.

The number of stations has varied immensely through the centuries, from as few as five to as many as thirty-six, but the now traditional number of fourteen was established by Pope Clement XII in 1731 – nine scriptural stations and a further five based on popular devotion. Some modern versions also add a fifteenth, to represent the Resurrection – Jesus rising to new life at Easter.

To illustrate the Stations of the Cross reflections, I used a series of striking images by US Lutheran pastor and artist Mary Button, who has created many versions of this popular devotion. The theme of this series is ‘The Struggle for LGBT Equality.  In her introduction to this series she writes:

Around the same time I started incorporating the visual vocabulary of Christianity in my artwork, I read a book that changed my life: The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doings and the Happenings by Clarence Jordan. In it, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are translated into a Southern vernacular. Jew and Gentile became ‘white man and Negro’ and the crucifixion was described in terms of a lynching. Published in the 1960s, The Cotton Patch Gospels sought to translate the Gospels into the language of the Civil Rights Movement. Of his translation of crucifixion to lynching, Jordan writes,

“Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term ‘crucifixion’ of its original content of terrific emotion, or violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat.”

Reading an account of Christ’s passion that ends not with Christ nailed to a tree in Judea, but hanging from a noose tied to a pine tree in Georgia, compelled me to begin to re-imagine, re-define, and re-contextualize the crucifixion.

I believe that we can only begin to understand the meaning of the crucifixion when we take away our polished and shiny crosses and look for the cross in our own time, in our own landscape. When we look for the crucified body of Christ in the stories of people on the margins of our societies, then we are able to live the Gospel and not simply read it.

newwaysministry.org/2013/03/29/good-friday-stations-of-the-cross-and-the-struggle-for-lgbt-equality


The video also includes short reflections on Mary’s images by Kittredge Cherry, a lesbian Christian author, minister and historian who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality and the arts at Q Spirit.

OTN Trustee Augustine Tanner-Ihm & Co-Chair Sarah Hobbs led reflections on who are the crucified among us today. They include LGBT+ Christians who still experience judgement from the churches. Just this month we have seen harmful statements from the Vatican on blessing same-sex couples, and the Evangelical Alliance on conversion therapy.

WATCH below or on the OTN YouTube channel [47 mins].

‘Times are troubled, people grieve’ – A song of lament for today

A screenshot from the Northumbria community video of Kyrie by Jodi Page Clark

A YEAR AGO this week, I recorded the first worship video for the Open Table Network (OTN). OTN’s slogan is ‘Come As You Are’, but as we couldn’t gather in person, we called that first online gathering ‘Stay As You Are’.

Since then I’ve produced eight more worship videos. This week’s offering was a modern reflection on the traditional Lent devotion, the Stations of the Cross, and the struggle for LGBT equality.

When I was looking for music to share in our Stations of the Cross video, I found a new song recorded by the Northumbria Community, which describes itself as

“a dispersed network of people from different backgrounds, streams and edges of the Christian faith.”

northumbriacommunity.org

It is an inclusive community, which produces some excellent resources for worship that some Open Table communities have found helpful.

The music video they released last month is a modern arrangement of the ancient Christian prayer ‘Kyrie Eleison’, which is Greek for ‘Lord have mercy’.

I first learned this version when I sang in the church folk choir as a young adult. I loved it then, but hadn’t sung it for years. It came back to me in my thirties as a struggled to integrate my sexuality and spirituality. The words of the second verse resonated deeply with me:

“Walk among them, I’ll go with you
Reach out to them with my hands
Suffer with me, and together
We will serve them, help them stand”

— Kyrie [Look Around You ] by Jodie Page Clark


It felt like a call for me to do this work of integration not only for myself, but for others. I believe it was a call to share my own story, and to advocate for other LGBTQIA+ Christians too – to commit to the ministry which has become the Open Table Network.

The Northumbria Community describes this video as a ‘special song of lament today’.

“A place of lament and resonance
in these strange, disturbing and difficult days.
A means of calling forth who we are, and are meant to be,
as creatives, dreamers, edge-walkers, followers of Christ.
Acknowledging the pain, asking for mercy
and, through intentional vulnerability,
learning more of how to share the road together:
singers, dancers, creative artists of all kinds
bringing who they are to construct
a beautiful reflection of God’s heart,
for such a time as this.”

northumbriacommunity.org/2021/03/03/kyrie-eleison-a-special-song-of-lament-for-these-days


It echoes the long spiritual tradition of songs of lament such as those found in the books of Psalms and Lamentations in the Bible. American theologian Walter Brueggemann writes

“The laments in the books of Psalms and Lamentations are all an expression of grief, but they are also an expression of hope. They are an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed. Such prayers are partly an address to God, but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy. So I believe the transformative function of such prayers is that it transforms energy and rage into positive energy.”

— Walter Brueggemann


The Northumbria Community’s video brings together voices, photographs, percussion, film clips, dance, translations and prayers from more than 80 people across their dispersed, worldwide network. The Community has offered it as a gift to be shared widely, ‘for it to bless other people and the world’.

May it bless us today as we grieve and we hope; as we hang on and as we take action; as we transform rage into positive energy.

Watch the video here [4 mins]

Read more about the story of the video here. THANKS to the Northumbria Community for permission to share their recording of this song in the OTN Stations of the Cross video.

Conservative Christian reaction to Cadbury Creme Egg advert made real-life queer couple question their faith

A screenshot from the ten-second scene featuring real-life couple Dale K Moran (left) and Callum Sterling (right)

DID YOU HEAR the one about the advert which led to a huge petition for ‘trying to cause gratuitous offence to members of the Christian community’? Unfortunately it’s no joke – the petition has probably done more to harm the public perception of Christianity than the ad.

Chocolate maker Cadbury launched the ad in January to celebrate 50 years of the Crème Egg, in a campaign called the ‘Golden Goobilee’.  The campaign consists of a 60-second advert ‘celebrating the different ways Cadbury Crème Egg shoppers have enjoyed their favourite Easter treat for the past 50 years – whether they are a licker, dipper, baker, “eggspert”, “discreater” or sharer’.

Watch the Cadbury Creme Egg ‘Golden Goobilee’ advert here.

The sharers, who are professional dancers and life-partners, are seen dancing in a garden and holding one Crème Egg between their lips, while the voiceover says: ‘Sharers? Yeah, we are down with that.’ Their segment of the ad lasts less than ten seconds. Both dancers present as masculine, though one identifies as non-binary. Media reports refer to the scene as a ‘gay kiss’, though the couple’s lips barely touch.

The petition against the advert, which at the time of writing has received more than 81,000 signatures in five weeks, describes the scene as ‘a highly-charged sexually provocative act’. It also claims it is ‘an image which many consumers have complained is both disgusting and off-putting’, though It provides no evidence of this. It continues:

“Cadbury’s are clearly hoping to cause controversy and escape criticism, by claiming that any objections must be rooted in ‘homophobia’, but members of the LGBT community have also expressed their dislike of this campaign.”

How it’s possible to both ‘cause controversy’ and ‘escape criticism’ at the same time is not explained, though the petition author clearly fears being called homophobic. The claim that ‘members of the LGBT community have also expressed their dislike of this campaign’ is also not substantiated.

The petitioner claims to speak for the Christian community in attributing a motive to the ad:

“Cadbury’s are well aware of the religious significance of Easter. Therefore, they are trying to cause gratuitous offence to members of the Christian community during the most important feast in their calendar.”

However, the campaign makes no mention of Easter, and this claim ignores the fact that the use of eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life in Spring predates Christianity and isn’t a part of the religious symbolism of the festival. Even the name ‘Easter’ is derived from the name of a pagan goddess of Spring called Ēostre.

If that weren’t bad enough, it goes on to equate the advert with child abuse:

“Exposing children to sexualised content constitutes a form of grooming. It is well-known that children will often copy what they see on the screen.”

One of the dancers in the advert replied to the criticism on Instagram:

“So it’s OK when an advert sexualises a woman to benefit the male gaze and make other women feel inadequate if they do not live up to this beauty standard. But it’s not OK, in 2021, to have an advert of a multi-racial (strike one) gay couple (strike two) on your screens for 10 seconds (strike three) eating/kissing/sexualised (strike four). Does anyone see how ridiculous this is? Like actual LOL.”

Callum Sterling, Instagram 11/01/2021

In response to the petition, Cadbury said it has

“always been a progressive brand that spreads a message of inclusion’ and to ‘showcase the joy our products bring, a clip of a real-life couple sharing a Cadbury Creme Egg was included in the advert.”

The couple, Callum Sterling and Dale K Moran, say people have taken a ‘gimmick’ and ‘sexualised it’. They told PinkNews they have experienced a ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions which caused them to question the media, consumer mindsets and even their religious beliefs.

They described the first wave of responses to the campaign as ‘overwhelmingly positive’ and mostly from the UK, and the second wave as a ‘backlash’ when the advert spread worldwide.

In response to the claim that the advert is ‘grooming’ children to copy their behaviour, they explained that narratives reinforcing heterosexuality and traditional gender roles ‘are constantly fed to queer children, and everybody else, from the moment we start consuming media.’ Callum added,

“I think anyone that decides to live their life as an out person with pride, especially if you’re a little bit different from the norm, [will encounter] someone with opposing opinions on how you choose to live your life.”

He described the second wave of the response as ‘a lot more negative’, and how it had made him question humanity and reflect on his religious beliefs. Callum told PinkNews he is a ‘very open’ Christian, and the religious groups who lambasted the couple and commercial left him with a ‘really bad taste in my mouth in regards to religion’.

‘It makes me question the religion itself,’ Callum said. ’It’s been a real whirlwind’.

The Premier Christian News website, which tends to promote a conservative Christian response to current affairs, published a surprisingly balanced report on this story:

“Some say the advert should not feature a gay couple in an Easter advert because it is offensive to Christians, others say the advert is too explicit, regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple. On the other hand, some people have pointed out that kissing is frequently used between straight couples with far less complaints.”

They interviewed Luke Dowding, Executive Director of OneBodyOneFaith, who said he was delighted there were more LGBT+ people being represented in the media, but added: ‘I think for Christians, perhaps what should be of more concern is the commercialisation of Easter’ and that ‘issues of how chocolate is grown, how farmers are supported, whether chocolate is fairly traded are perhaps bigger issues that Christians might want to focus on.’

Speaking about the claim that the product is often bought by children but has an advert which is ‘sexually explicit’, Dowding said:

“I’m not sure the sharing of chocolate or the expression of a kiss could be expressed as ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of the orientation of the couple but I agree that there is media out there that perhaps is inappropriate for the consumption of children, but it really is down to the parents to decide what they want their children to watch or not watch.”

Premier also spoke to Mike Davidson, the Chief Executive of the Core Issues Trust, which supports ‘men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression’, whom they also refer to as ‘ex-gay or once-gay persons’. He said:

“I can well understand the need to defend and protect Judeo-Christian values in society, I’m just not sure that Easter eggs is the place to do it. Is that really the place where we want to have an argument about what we want to project in terms of the values that are important to us?”

I never thought I would find myself agreeing with anything Mike Davidson has to say, but on this one issue, I couldn’t agree more.

The creator of the petition, Catholic campaigner Caroline Farrow, told Premier:

“Many evangelical and Catholic Christians, as well as those of other faiths are likely to be offended by the advert, which deliberately seeks to undermine biblical and traditional Christian teaching about sex and sexuality. It’s important that Christians are not rail-roaded into accepting the prevailing liberal orthodoxy and even more important that brands which seek to have broad appeal. from elderly pensioners to vulnerable children, and capitalise on their trusted status, don’t let down their customers.”

Evangelicals and Catholics are not known for accepting the validity of each other’s Christian faith. As a cradle Catholic who now supports Christians from many traditions, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard one sort of Christian say that another sort is not a ‘true Christian’. But on the issue of ‘othering’ LGBT+ people, Evangelicals and Catholics seem fine with forming an unholy alliance against LGBT+ people instead of demonising Christians from another tradition.

In my role as Coordinator of the Open Table Network, I gave an interview to BBC Radio Merseyside last month, and was told they might ask me for a comment on this story. In the end we spoke for around ten minutes on LGBT+ History Month and the Open Table Network so there wasn’t time to respond to the controversy around this advert. However, in preparation for the interview, I asked Open Table supporters on social media for their comments. One said the ad was:

“outrageous… I mean, sharing a creme egg? Really? Have you seen the size of those things? And yes, the ‘outrage’ this has generated from predictable quarters has become the story. Most of us probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of the ad otherwise.”

Others wrote:

  • ‘this is nothing more than a very clever marketing ploy by the multinational corporation that now own the Cadbury brand… not only do they get to portray themselves as pro-LGBT+, the news stories about it also result in free advertising far beyond the scope of the original campaign.’
  • ‘It’s essentially a marketing campaign by a company so this is a business issue. Cadbury have clearly made the calculation that this advert is good for business.’
  • ‘The idea that it is offensive to Christians because of the link with Easter is a bit stupid as the symbolism of eggs predates Christianity and isn’t a part of the religious symbolism of the festival.’
  • ‘It’s not anti-Christian – unless you make the argument that any advert for chocolate eggs not mentioning the religious elements of Easter is anti-Christian.’
  • ‘It’s no more anti-Christian than the secular materialism of the John Lewis Christmas advert in a world of such economic disparity. ‘We’ don’t own Easter or Christmas – if we were secure we’d recognise the cross cultural universality which seeks to reinterpret, tell afresh… so let’s tell the Christian story afresh as part of that patchwork.’
  • ‘It should be remembered that Cadbury was founded and run by Quakers until quite recently. I don’t imagine they would have found this necessary to prove the inclusive nature of their faith?’
  • ‘While the whole thing seems to be a storm in an egg cup (!) on the back of a poorly conceived ad, there is maybe a useful discussion to be had here about the underlying prejudice and ‘othering’ of LGBT+ folk that seems to underlie the Christian petitioners’ propensity for taking offence in this way?’
  • ‘If only Christians would unite like this behind issues that really matter we might find the church resembling Jesus a little more.’

The original petition called on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban the commercial. In addition to this petition, the UK’s advertising authority received 40 complaints. A counter petition ‘encouraging Cadbury’s to not only let the advert continue, but also to amplify it’ received more than 49,000 signatures in less than four weeks. However, this petition was closed when the ASA said ‘no advertising rules had been broken’ so it won’t be investigating.

What do you think?

Vatican statement declares blessing same-sex relationships is ‘illicit’

The Catholic Church’s office for promoting its teaching authority has issued a statement in response to a question: ‘Does the Church have the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex?’ The answer is ‘Negative’, in more ways than one. I wrote this response on behalf of The Open Table Network:

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City – Statues of saints overlook St Peter’s Square

The Vatican statement which declares that the blessing of same-sex relationships is ‘illicit’ is a sad reflection on the legalistic language of Church teaching which fails to understand the impact of this language on those to whom it refers. The Catholic Church teaches that every sign of unjust discrimination towards ‘men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ should be avoided [Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2358]. Then it issues statements such as this, which acknowledge positive elements in same-sex relationships ‘to be valued and appreciated’ but not blessed because they are ‘not ordered to the Creator’s plan’. It is language like this that leads people to feel they are ‘broken’ and need to be ‘fixed’ by the harmful practice of conversion therapy, which even the Church of England’s governing body voted to ban in 2017.

Our faith communities must speak for social justice, not contribute to injustice. Sadly, LGBT+ people are accustomed to hearing they are  ‘less than God’s ideal’, often accompanied by experiences of shame and rejection. This Vatican statement is yet another example of this.

Research shows that:

  • More than half of people who have experienced, or been offered conversion therapy are in our faith communities (National LGBT Survey, Government Equalities Office 2018).
  • LGBT pupils at faith schools are 11% less likely to report that their school says homophobic bullying is wrong (57% compared to 68%). LGBT pupils of faith are 5% more likely to have attempted suicide than peers without faith (30 per cent compared to 25 per cent). (School Report, Stonewall 2017) 
  • 59% of LGBT+ young people interested in joining a religious organisation have stopped or reduced their involvement owing to their sexuality or gender identity (Youth Chances, METRO 2016).
  • A third of lesbian, gay and bi people of faith (32 per cent) aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith (25 per cent) aren’t open about who they are in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith (39 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Just one in four LGBT people of faith (25 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of trans people. (LGBT in Britain – Home & Communities, Stonewall 2017)
  • Members of our communities are significantly more likely to experience poor mental health, which research has shown relates explicitly to discriminatory pastoral practices of local churches, and the Church’s substantial contribution to negative attitudes in society (In the Name of Love, Oasis Foundation 2017).

The Open Table Network (OTN) began in 2008 because many churches and their congregations do not easily, kindly or honestly welcome LGBT+ people, therefore, many LGBT+ people have nowhere spiritually to belong. In our OTN communities, we help one another in integrating our spiritual identity with our sexual and gender identities. This is incredibly affirming for those who have been suffering inner conflict. Statements like this cause distress for LGBT+ folk who hear the conditional welcome of the Church and think that’s the last word. We know God loves us and has given each of us precious lives, identities and relationships which God calls us to live out with integrity. We’re building communities to witness that everyone belongs to God. We aim to create safe and sacred spaces which warmly welcome and affirm people who are LGBT+, our family and friends, and anyone who wants to belong in an accepting, loving worship community.

As our understanding of the wonderful diversity of humanity grows, so our language needs to evolve to keep pace with it. Faith communities struggle to recognise new and deeper insights revealed through reason, experience and scientific inquiry, especially around sexuality and gender.

‘Debate’ around same-sex relationships and marriage has become the focus, when a wider discussion of what it means to be human, gendered and sexual beings could help us form a deeper understanding of commitment to permanent, faithful, stable relationships which is inclusive of all people.

Life-giving, loving, faithful God – Prayers for the Church of England’s Living in Love & Faith process

The Living In Love And Faith logo

AS the Church of England is in the process of sharing its Living in Love and Faith (LLF) resources on identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, I offer these prayers for everyone involved, and those who feel unable to be involved.

As the Co-ordinator of the Open Table Network, a partnership of Christian worship communities from different traditions which affirm and empower LGBTQIA+ Christians, I have been appointed as an Advocate for the LLF process, in the Church of England Diocese of Liverpool.

There is at least one LLF Advocate in each diocese, more than one in many dioceses. Their role is defined by the LLF ‘Next Steps Group’ as ‘to encourage as much participation as possible in their diocese’. Many of these Advocates are senior clergy (Bishops, Archdeacons). Most are ordained – I am among the minority who are not.

It’s unclear how many of the Advocates are LGBT+ or affirming. However, I am encouraged that I, and at least two others connected with the Open Table Network, have been appointed to help, inform and guide the process locally and nationally.

The Diocese of Liverpool, where the first Open Table community began in 2008, has also commissioned Chaplains to pray for and support those who are facilitating conversations locally, and those who are taking part in them.

I wrote the following prayers for the service of commissioning for these LLF Chaplains, which took place online on Thursday 11th March 2021, led by Bishop of Warrington Beverley Mason, who is a member of the LLF Next Steps group. The prayers draw on Biblical language about God and Jesus as the source of life, love and faith.

The text of these prayers is below. If you prefer, you can listen to me read these prayers, accompanied by some gentle music and beautiful images, in this short video [3.5 mins]. Please feel free to use and share these prayers if you find them helpful:


Life-Giving God, in You we live and move and have our being.

We thank You that You made each one of us unique in Your own image, as Your beloved child.

Help us to glorify You, by living more fully in that knowledge – for ourselves, for those You entrust to our care, and those with whom we struggle to live in harmony.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who came to live among us so we might live more abundantly.

Amen

Loving God, whoever loves has been born of You and knows You.

We thank You for the times we have experienced or glimpsed Your infinite, unconditional, intimate love.

We trust that You love us for all that we are, and all that we can be, through the grace of the Spirit and the example of Jesus.

May we listen with love to those You entrust to our care, and those whom we struggle to love.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who teaches us to love You with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Amen

Faithful God, You keep Your covenant with those who love You and keep Your commandments.

We recall with gratitude the promises you have made to Your people, from the everlasting covenant revealed to Noah in the rainbow, to the new covenant of Jesus calling us all to be one in his body.

May we trust that the Christian faith we share is bigger than the limits of our own understanding, and know that in sharing our whole selves – body, mind and spirit – we may see your Kingdom come among us.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who calls us to have faith that can move mountains.

Amen

— Kieran Bohan, Prayers for LLF Chaplains commissioning, Diocese of Liverpool, Thursday 4th March 2021

Declaration of gay survivors of the Holocaust 50 years after their liberation #HolocaustMemorialDay

HOLOCAUST Memorial Day is marked on 27th January each year in the UK, and we commemorated it in the Open Table Network‘s online service this month.

Poster indicating the marking system for prisoners in Nazi concentration camps

Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated on 27th January as it marks the anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland in 1945. 

Among those whom the Nazis treated as less than human were people who were homosexual (that is, gay men and lesbian women). As their attraction meant they were less likely to have children, they were seen as ‘anti-social’ enemies of the Nazi idea of the master race. 

They were some of the first people, alongside political prisoners, to be sent to the concentration camps in 1933. It wasn’t just gay men and lesbian women, but also those thought to be homosexual because they didn’t fit stereotypes of gender and sexuality the Nazis valued. 

Men identified as gay were forced to wear pink triangles, while women identified as lesbians were made to wear a black triangle along with other ‘anti-social’ groups. For this reason, the number of women taken to camps because of judgments about their sexual orientation is unknown. 

WATCH: Alan Brooks from Open Table Liverpool & Sefton reading the gay survivors’ declaration [4 mins]. This is an extract from the Open Table Network commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 on the theme: ‘Be the light in the darkness’.

ln 1995 – for the first and only time – a group of gay survivors of the Holocaust issued a declaration demanding recognition as part of a project of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.  Here is what they wrote:

“50 years ago, Allied troops did liberate us from Nazi concentration camps and prisons. But the world we had hoped for did not happen to come true. We were forced to hide again and faced on-going persecution under the same Nazi-law that was on the books since 1935 and stayed on the books until 1969. Raids were frequent. Some of us – just tasting their new freedom – were even sentenced to long-term prison again.

Although some of us tried courageously to gain recognition by challenging the courts up to the West German Supreme Court, we were never acknowledged as being persecuted by the Nazi regime. We were excluded from financial compensations for the victims of the Nazi regime. We lacked the moral support and sympathy of the public.

No SS man ever had to face a trial for the murder of a gay man in or outside the camps. But whereas they now enjoy a pension for their ‘work’ in the camps, our years in the camps are subtracted from our pension.

Today we are too old and tired to struggle for the recognition of the Nazi injustice we suffered. Many of us never dared to testify. Many of us died alone with their hunting memories. We waited long, but in vain for a clear political & financial gesture of the German government and courts.

We know that still very little is taught in schools and universities about our fate. Even Holocaust museums and memorials many times don’t mention the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.

Today… we turn to the young generation and to all of you who are not guided by hate and homophobia. Please support us in our struggle to memorize and document the Nazi atrocities against homosexual men and lesbian women.
Let us never forget the Nazi atrocities against Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, Freemasons, the disabled, Polish & Russian prisoners of war and homosexuals.

Let us learn from the past and let us support the young generation of lesbian women and gay men, girls and boys to lead unlike us a life in dignity and respect, with their loved ones, their friends and their families.”

– Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Open Table Network’s online service commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day premiered on YouTube at 6.30pm on Sunday 24th January 2021. Watch it here [40 mins]:

Be the light in the darkness – Why #HolocaustMemorialDay matters to our LGBTQIA+ Christian community

HOLOCAUST Memorial Day is marked on 27th January each year in the UK. I’ve compiled an online service of commemoration for the Open Table Network this month. Why does this matter to our LGBTQIA+ Christian community?

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember those Jewish people, and millions of members of other groups killed under Nazi persecution, and in the more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.

But it’s more than that – it’s about recognising the early signs that lead to people being marginalised, dehumanised and demonized, to the point that killing them becomes somehow acceptable.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 is ‘Be the light in the darkness’.

It encourages us to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities have resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

It asks us to consider:

  • different kinds of ‘darkness’: identity-based persecution, misinformation and denial of justice
  • different ways of ‘being the light’: resistance, acts of solidarity and rescue, and illuminating mistruths.

Today, increasing denial, division and misinformation mean we must keep watch against hatred and identity-based hostility. Rapid advances in technology, an unstable political climate, and global events beyond our control can leave us feeling helpless and hopeless. In these days we’re seeing the best of humanity but also the much darker side of our world.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an invitation to remember the lives of those who were murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. We give thanks for those who have courageously shared their stories. We recommit ourselves to transform the world through love.

For us as LGBTQIA+ Christians, it’s also about solidarity with others who also experience oppression and hate crime, but it’s also about raising awareness of the prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people which is still widespread around the world, still costing lives, which will continue to grow unless we challenge it. It’s also about recognising that religion, in its darkest moments, can play a part in persecuting people, instead of bringing enlightenment.

Then there’s the hidden history of homosexual people in the Nazi Holocaust.

In September 2009, I accompanied ten LGBT young people from Merseyside on a five-day cultural exchange trip to Auschwitz, Krakow and Warsaw working with a group of Polish LGBT young people.

The exchange enabled the group to understand the Holocaust and the fate of many LGBT people at that time, and its impact on European and LGBT social history, as well as challenging past and present issues around hate crime.

The young people took part in making a film called Project Triangle, named after the badges people were made to wear to identify them in the camps. Here’s a short extract [3.5 mins]: You may find some of these images upsetting.

We need to be part of the change we want to see, and call out prejudice and discrimination in all its forms, not just those which affect the groups to which we belong. If we don’t speak in solidarity with others, how can we expect others to speak for us?

Our lights are more powerful when we work together with others. Holocaust Memorial Day help us to remember – for a reason. We all need to do what we can to work for a safer, better, future for everyone. Everyone can step up and use their talents to tackle prejudice, discrimination and intolerance wherever we find them.

The Open Table Network Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration service will be published as a YouTube Premiere on Sunday 24th January 2021 at 6.30pm GMT. The video will include British Sign Language interpretation and captions to make it more accessible, thanks to Tom Pearson. Join us live online, or later at your leisure, on our YouTube channel. Subscribe to receive a notification when it’s published.

You’re more than welcome!

God in solidarity – A Christmas reflection

Image by David Hayward, aka nakedpastor

God takes on flesh
and joins life in the struggle –
this is what radical solidarity feels like.
Lives and souls and bodies entangled.
Risks and possibilities shared.
We’re in this together.
The mess, the beauty, the work.
Don’t be afraid to feel hopeful.
God’s promises are kept.
God won’t opt out or turn away.
God won’t give up when things get tough.
God won’t defend power, or privilege, or institutions, or tradition
at the expense of freedom, or love, or liberation, or your worth.
God’s with-ness is birthed at the margins.
God knows what’s at stake.Let all who are weary, rejoice!All of evil’s deceptions will be revealed
and fear of unjust powers will cease.
The Liberating One now dwells among us,
calling upon hearts from all walks of life
to open, to take courage, to soften, to release.
Behold, the Sacred enfleshed reveals the way of Love.

Salt & light – A reflection for #TransDayOfRemembrance

THIS is a guest post from Sarah Hobbs, Co-Chair of the Open Table Network (OTN), written for a vigil for this year’s Trans Day Of Remembrance, which falls on 20th November each year.

It’s taken from OTN’s online vigil which premiered here on YouTube on the day. The service was written by OTN Co-Chair Alex Clare-Young.

This article shows why we need to commemorate TDOR. It gives a glimpse of some of the circumstances in which trans people have died because of anti-trans prejudice and violence this year. It mentions the figure of 350. By the time we put together our vigil the number of reports of deaths between 1st October 2019 and 30th September 2020 had risen to 387 from 35 countries. The video commemorating these names is here on YouTube (10 minutes). By the time the official list was completed, the final figure had risen to 432.

Here is Sarah’s reflection:

Every year, Trans Day of Remembrance is a painful day. As I watch the names roll by, one by one, I mourn. Not just because of the loss of life – although that is both sad and outrageous. Sad because the people around them have been robbed of their life and their presence, but outrageous because so few people who could do something about it, seem to care. Year on year, it feels like trans people’s lives matter less. For all of the countries where acceptance thrives, there are sadly many more where acceptance narrows and shrivels. 432 lives around the world testify to that sad truth. Many of the people who end those lives will never be found or prosecuted for their despicable crimes. But more than that, the saddest thing is the loss of potential.

Each of those people were creative life forces, full of talent and hope. All of them imbued with possibility and all of them, given the chance to release that potential, would have had a knock-on effect that would have changed the world.  

We are very familiar with R numbers these days. Too familiar. We know to our cost that if an R number is even 0.1% above 1, the infection grows. As the R number augments, so does its impact. Imagine those 432 people, still in the world now. Imagine those names, imagine those beautiful faces, those amazing souls. Imagine if their potential had been released.

I have the chance, very regularly, to tell my story. I know that every time I do, there are people who change their minds about trans people. Over the course of the last three and a bit years since I transitioned, I have influenced thousands people to think differently about trans people. Imagine 432 additional people in the world with even a conservative R number of ten per year. In three and a bit years over half a million people would have been positively impacted by them alone. Not to mention all of the other amazing skills and the incredible love they would bring to the world. Their loss is not just a sadness, it’s not just a waste for this year, and next year we move onto another list of people and mourn them. In their lifetimes, imagine the millions upon millions their lives alone would have touched. That is the true cost of TDoR this year.

But what of our potential as Christians?  We have so much potential, partly because we are amazing human beings with huge amounts that we can contribute, but also because God adds rocket fuel to our potential. We are not acting in our own strength. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 20, that because of God’s power working in us, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or even more than that, that we could ever possibly imagine. And I don’t know about you, but in the words of the great philosopher Han Solo, when Luke Skywalker offers him unimaginable wealth says, ‘I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit’.  Me too!

What is the point of helping someone release their potential?  I think for us, it is so that our lives can influence the world around us. The metaphor for that influence is provided by Jesus for us in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, verses 13 and 14. Verse 13 tells us that we are the salt of the earth and verse 14 tells us that we are the light of the world.

These images elevate our position and help us to understand how important our influence is and what happens when our potential is cut short – either because someone else cuts it or we do. But both of those images come with a care label. What if the salt loses its saltiness?  What if the light is hidden under a bowl?  In the case of salt, it’s no longer good for anything. In the same way, the absence of light brings darkness. But despite this amazing opportunity to use my potential to highlight Jesus, the King of Kings, sometimes I really don’t feel like it. Sometimes I want to hide my light away. And why?

Because it is scary to provide salt and light. If, as a trans person, you ever want a reason to explain why being out and proud is sometimes terrifying, today is all the answer you need. People attack and kill some trans people just for living their lives. In the UK, for most of us, that probably won’t mean being killed, the numbers are much lower here. But for many, it means judgement, unkindness and ostracisation, sometimes even from the people we love, let alone strangers.  It can mean the indignity of being shouted at in the street, of double looks and of people misgendering you – even when you are in a dress and make-up. There is lots of support too, but for many, the negative noise drowns out the positive. When I decided to transition, I was afraid. I knew that it would mean the end of a long and happy relationship, and I feared it would mean losing my kids and my employment. I feared the loss of many friends. Maybe we can be forgiven for feeling afraid to be salt and light.

Because we don’t realise the power of our own voices. I realised I was trans when I was six. I didn’t know that’s what I was, but I knew I was deeply uncomfortable with being considered male, and that I should never tell anyone that this is how I feel. I figured that they would never ever understand. That message became the tape that played in my mind for years afterwards, reinforced over and over again, to the point where I began to think about every word I would say in case my secret was revealed. I began to believe that who I was was shameful, that I should be embarrassed about myself, and that telling others just infected them with my shame. Of course, no-one should listen to me. I’m sinful and they should never help me and I should never be a stumbling block to them. I thought that asking other Christians to support me meant forcing them into sin too. My own internal transphobia tape disabled my ability to speak out. And even now, I have to push myself hard to speak up and to use my voice.

Because it is not just reinforced by my brain, but by the church too. Many of the trans folk you know will have faced even harder opposition for trying to bring salt into the house of God. For years, every time I told anyone about my gender issues in the church, the response was to help me rid myself of this blight. And if I’m honest, as part of the church, I agreed with them because I had been taught the same. My trans-ness was never ever celebrated, and it was certainly never a part of me that belonged. If you know you are not welcome, it takes a strong person to push their way in anyway. Why would you let this light shine out if it is not wanted? 

But despite that, I am still here today, and you are still listening. Naïve perhaps?  But we all still hope for change, we hope that things can get better. I think of the 432+ people cheering me on, urging me to make a difference. But where do I start?  In the last three years I have learned a lot. The biggest realisation is that I have the most powerful weapon already in my hands. To quote John in the book of Revelation, Chapter 12, verse 11, I can triumph, in part, by the word of my testimony. The power of a story is unfathomable. Our stories are the salt that seasons. Sharing our experiences with people brings authenticity – how we met Jesus, how he has impacted our lives and, more important for me, that he loves me so much as Sarah and that who I am is not an issue to him. That last one took a mammoth effort to break through. But more than that, that our stories are the light that shines. As we display our stories, those of grace and of the love of a heavenly parent, He is glorified. Light spills out – it doesn’t just light us up, it lights the path for other people trying to find their way too. Our stories impact so many people around us.

Some people listening today may not feel ready to tell their story. Their light is just a sliver. Don’t feel guilty about that. My favourite verse in the world is 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse13: ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’  So, start small. Tell your story to one person you trust. God honours faithfulness and can grow the mustard seed of your faith into a magnificent plant. Let your life’s success be the memorial to the people we remember today. Let God take a little bit of potential and do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Let’s live our lives for those who couldn’t live theirs.

WATCH OTN’s online vigil here on YouTube (42 minutes). The video commemorating the names is here on YouTube (10 minutes).

Who can be against us? Coming out as LGBT & Christian

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide…
Will you quell the fear inside…  

The Summons, by John Bell,
a Patron of the Open Table Network

THIS MONTH, as the Co-ordinator of the Open Table Network, I led the first of a new series of monthly online worship gatherings. We took the theme of ‘coming out’, as 11th October is marked around the world as ‘Coming Out Day’. 

Why do we ‘come out’, and why have a day to celebrate it? 

For too long, members of our communities have had to hide in fear for their well-being, their livelihood and their lives. A constant fear of being rejected by friends, loved ones, and community, has led to many of us remaining in the proverbial closet, hiding who we are from those who should be our nearest and dearest.  

Coming Out Day challenges this injustice and encourages those of us who live with gender and sexuality that is beyond the false binaries of our culture to be proud and reclaim who we are. 

Coming Out Day is based on the belief that prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are LGBTQIA+, they are far less likely to maintain prejudiced or oppressive views. 

In the service, we heard this reading from St Paul’s letter to the early Christians in Rome, who were facing life-threatening persecution because of their faith:

Reading:  Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And here is my reflection:

Nothing, Paul tells us in his letter to the early Christian community in Rome, ‘can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’.

‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus’.

Do you believe this?

Have you ever been told that your gender identity or sexual orientation, or anything else, comes between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus?

If so, did you believe it?

How does this reading speak to those of us who ‘come out’, who claim a new identity, not just, or not even, as a Christian, but as a person whose gender or sexual orientation may not fit into the binary of male and female, each attracted to and finding their deepest bond and companionship with what’s commonly called the ‘opposite sex’?

The present-day expression ‘coming out’ originated in an early 20th century analogy that likens a homosexual’s introduction into gay subculture to a debutante’s coming-out party, a celebration for a young upper-class woman who is making her début – her formal presentation to society – because she has reached adulthood and become eligible for marriage. Historian George Chauncey wrote that, before the First World War, gay people did not speak of coming out of what we now call ‘the closet’ but rather of coming out into what they called ‘homosexual society’ or ‘the gay world’, a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor… so hidden as the more modern image of the closet implies. So, what are we coming out into?

Barbara Glasson, who was until recently the President of the Methodist Conference, the governing body of the Methodist Church in Britain, describes the coming out process in her outstanding book, The Exuberant Church: Listening to the Prophetic People of God. She reached this insight after listening to the stories of the groups which met in her Liverpool church, including two LGBT Christian communities, of which I was a member.

In writing about the process of ‘coming out’, Barbara describes how it takes ‘an unusual and specific sort of courage’. As an openly gay Christian man, I can vouch for this in my own journey from disquiet and inner struggle, through self-acceptance and living a secret life, to rites of passage into a community of solidarity, towards a place of integration.

And, as the Coordinator of the Open Table Network, having heard the stories of hundreds of LGBTQIA+ people of all ages, I think I can say with some authority that courage is indeed a defining characteristic of the process of questioning your identity, and claiming a new identity which defies the dominant norms of culture, society and faith. Barbara writes:

‘I believe it is both profoundly human and part of God’s intention that we live life in all its fullness. Ultimately, coming out is a transformative process that can lead to fullness of life.’

As our prayers today show, our Christian story contains many unexpected reversals or moments of ‘coming out’, from the exodus of God’s chosen people out of slavery, to God creating new life out of the suffering and death of Jesus.

In the reading we’ve just heard, Paul reflects on the liberating power of Jesus’ call to new life. For us, that call is about claiming our identity as beloved children of God, made in the image of God, chosen by God to live the full diversity of our identities, not to hide who we are for fear of condemnation.

Paul promises us that no-one can condemn us, as Jesus is at God’s right-hand interceding for us.

No-one can condemn us – not parents, or politicians, or pastors…

As beloved children of God, made in the image of God, God’s chosen people, we can be confident of the infinite, unconditional, intimate love of God in Christ Jesus, from which ‘nothing can separate us’.

Paul makes a list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He includes: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. He continues:

‘neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation’

  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?
  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?
  • What would be on your list of things that cannot separate you from the love of God?

We can become stuck in despair about our lives as LGBTQIA+ people in inhospitable and prejudiced churches and communities.

OR we can ‘come out’ of our despair and live a new life.

Paul promises:

‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.

Jesus’s love for us can overcome all obstacles, even homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

Do you believe this? Dare you believe this?

US bishop John Shelby Spong writes:

‘Whether we are male or female, gay or straight, transgender or bisexual, white or black, yellow or brown, left=handed or right-handed, brilliant or not quite so brilliant.  No matter what the human difference is, you have something to offer in your own being. Nobody else can offer what you have to offer, and the only way you can worship God is by daring to be all that you can be, and not be bound by the fears of yesterday.’

John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the non-religious

So as we pray, let’s ask God to show us how we are

‘more than conquerors through him who loved us.’


You can watch the whole service here (28.5 minutes). The video includes British Sign Language interpretation and captions to make it more accessible, thanks to Tom Pearson.  Words and responses appear on-screen, or you can download an order of service here.

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