Methodist moves for greater justice, dignity and solidarity for all, especially LGBT+ people

LAST WEEK Methodist Conference, the governing body of the Methodist Church in Britain, passed significant resolutions with far-reaching consequences for its members, and the wider Christian community.

The most high profile of these was a vote to allow same sex marriages conducted on Methodist premises or by Methodist office-holders, making the Methodist Church the largest denomination in the UK to make this change.

Conference also voted for a ban on ‘conversion therapy’, the practice of seeking to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

They also adopted a far-reaching Strategy for Justice, Dignity and Solidarity, which aims

“to support Methodists with issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, with the aim of becoming a Church in which God’s unconditional love is expressed in word and actions and where all people are able to play their part.”

— methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/justice-dignity-and-solidarity

This includes the use of gender-neutral inclusive language and pronouns in all future written Conference materials.

In response to these positive Conference motions, in my role as Coordinator of the Open Table Network, I spoke with Revd Chris Collins, a Methodist minister, to share reactions to these decisions, and what they might mean for the wider church.

I met Chris in 2019 on the Journey Of Hope, a six-month leadership programme for people of faith to transform their communities. The Journey of Hope is run by Reconcilers Together, a community of committed peacemakers: people of faith who believe that everyday peacemaking, from a place of our deepest values, can reconcile some of the most sacred relationships between ourselves, the Earth, our faith, and with others. Read more.

The Open Table Network, a partnership of LGBTQIA+-affirming Christian worship communities, seeks to reconcile LGBTQIA+ Christians and mainstream Church. Read more.

WATCH: Revd Chris Collins, Methodist minister, interviews Kieran Bohan, Coordinator of the Open Table Network [35 mins].

Everyone Is Awesome – Putting the pieces together for Pride Month

WHEN the plastic construction toy maker LEGO announced its new product last month, it received a mixed response.

Everyone Is Awesome [pictured] is a set of figures presented against a background, coloured in the stripes of the Progress Flag, a 2018 update of the well-known rainbow flag adopted by LGBTQIA+ communities around the world since it was created in 1978.

Some in the LGBTQIA+ community feel this kind of product is unhelpful. For example, one response I read said:

“Oh wonderful, another product with a rainbow on to prove how inclusive these big multinationals are.”

Another responded:

“It’s a moot point whether tokenism advances issues of social justice – but it may be a sign that attitudes are changing? In that we might find some reason to give thanks.”

There is no doubt that some companies merely produce Pride-themed products to make money, in the same way that they might for Christmas or any other celebration, without engaging with the deeper meaning of the event. Some appear to show no active support for LGBTQIA+ people or causes despite displaying a rainbow logo. A minority have been found to continue supporting anti-LGBT causes, while some actively contribute profits to LGBTQIA+ causes or use their influence to raise awareness and challenge prejudice.

I believe Everyone Is Awesome is in that last category. It’s not clear whether LEGO donates any profits to LGBTQIA+ causes, though they do work with LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall and other organisations to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The product was also designed by a gay man, who has written about his inspiration and intention:

“I think by taking small steps and having products like ‘Everyone is Awesome’ out there and people representing the LGBTQIA+ community, it allows everybody to see that things do get better over time and there is a place for everybody. That’s what’s been so important to me in getting this set out with a message that we can be really proud of.”

Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group

The model takes its name from the song Everything Is Awesome from the 2014 computer-animated adventure comedy The Lego Movie. Changing ‘everything’ to ‘everyone’, the creator explains, is a statement of the intention to be part of creating a more inclusive society for everyone:

“We do truly feel that everyone is awesome. We all have the right to be accepted, to be loved and also to be creative.”

Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group

I was a huge LEGO fan as a kid, and I loved designing my own models. I even got teased as an 11-year-old for still playing with it. So it’s amuses me now to know many Adult Fans of Lego (AFoL) – they even have their own Facebook group! So I was interested to note that the product’s box recommends that it is rated as for age 18+. Usually LEGO sets are rated according to complexity, but with only 346 pieces. Everyone Is Awesome is pretty simple. A LEGO spokesperson told Gayming magazine:

“This set is intended to be a display model rather than a playset and was designed with our adult fans in mind.”

It’s open to the interpretation that it’s unsuitable for younger people because it celebrates Pride, which is unfortunate, as the creator also said:

“If I had been given this set by somebody [when I came out], it would have been such a relief to know that somebody had my back. To know that I had somebody there to say ‘I love you, I believe in you. I’ll always be here for you.”

Matthew Ashton, Vice President of Design at the LEGO Group

I pre-ordered the set, and it arrived within a few days of being released on 1st June. I took it with me when I led a Pride Month themed service at Open Table Reading, and incorporated it into my reflection as a visual aid [see photo]. It reminded me of one of my favourite Bible texts, Psalm 139, which includes a verse that is often translated as:

Everyone Is Awesome as a visual aid for the Pride Month service at Reading Minster

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Psalm 139, verse 14a

While I love the overall message of the psalm, I struggle with this translation, because many of us, particularly in the LGBTQIA+ community, have spent long enough living in fear because of prejudice against our identities. I don’t believe we need to hold on to a theology that expects us to be fearful of God, or of our own selves. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I’m reliably informed that the Hebrew word yârê, often translated as ‘fear’, has been translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as ‘reverence’, ‘respect’ and even ‘awe’. How different does it sound to say: ‘I am reverently, respectfully, awesomely made!’ That speaks to me of a theology that is more affirming and life-giving for everyone, but especially those who, like LGBTQIA+ people, are often told they are ‘less than God’s best’. It also evokes the modern sense of ‘awesome’ – not just ‘inspiring awe and wonder’, but also ‘impressive’ and ‘excellent’.

The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of two Danish words: ‘leg godt’, meaning ‘play well’. I’m happy to buy into the message that ‘Everyone Is Awesome’. Well played, LEGO, well played!

Prayers for the 80th anniversary of the #LiverpoolBlitz

Braving four seasons in one day at the service to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Liverpool Blitz in the Bombed Out Church after which our Team Parish of St Luke in the City Liverpool takes its name.
L-R: Sue Say, Church Warden, me, Lilly Nelson, Student Chaplaincy Assistant at Liverpool John Moores University & University of Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL was the most heavily bombed area of the UK outside London in the Second World War. It was bombed in four stages between August 1940 and January 1942. The most devastating period was between 1st and 7th May 1941.

On Thursday 6th May 2021, I was involved in a service of remembrance for the civilian casualties of the Liverpool Blitz. It was held in one of the most vivid symbols the bombing of the city, the outer shell of St Luke’s Church in the city centre, which was destroyed by an incendiary bomb on 6th May 1941.

The church was gutted during the firebombing, but remained standing and, in its prominent position in the city, it became a stark reminder of what Liverpool and the surrounding area had endured. It has became a garden of remembrance to commemorate the thousands of local people who died as a result of the bombing of the Liverpool City Region. Affectionately known locally as ‘The Bombed Out Church’, St Luke’s gave its name to a new Church of England parish formed in 1981 following the merger of three inner-city parishes into the Team Parish of St Luke in the City.

The Team Parish hosted the service on the 80th anniversary of the destruction of the church, to remember the lives of those who died in the Liverpool Blitz, rededicate the site as a place to commemorate the civilian casualties, and initiate the Team Parish of St Luke in the City as members of the international reconciliation movement, the Community of the Cross of Nails, which began at Coventry Cathedral after it was fire-bombed in November 1940.

 The priorities of the Community of the Cross of Nails are:

  • Healing the wounds of history
  • Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity
  • Building a culture of peace.

With these in mind, I wrote three prayers for the service. However, since the bombed-out church has no roof, the service was cut short due to high winds, rain and hail on the day. The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Anna Rothery, was able to unveil a plaque to commemorate the re-dedication of the church in memory of the civilian casualties of the Blitz. The Very Revered John Witcomb, Dean of Coventry Cathedral, presented the Rector of St Luke in the City, Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, with a Cross of Nails, a symbol of the international network of communities of reconciliation which grew from Coventry following the destruction of the old Cathedral in the Coventry Blitz in November 1940. West End singer Emma Dears concluded by singing a moving performance of Amazing Grace.

You can watch a recording of the event here. Live-stream starts around 21 :30 for 20 minutes.

A gallery of photos from the service is here.

Here are the prayers I wrote for the service, which were not used on the day due to the need to shorten the service because of the extreme weather:


God of our past, 

As we respond to your call to heal the wounds of history, we recall that Liverpool was the ‘second city of the British empire’, because of wealth earned at the expense of countless African people who were enslaved. 

We remember the millions of Irish people who came here to seek a better life when famine ravaged their land, earning the city the nickname of ‘the second capital of Ireland’. 

We remember the casualties of war, especially the civilian casualties of the Liverpool Blitz 80 years ago this week, and all who have suffered and died in conflict.  

We remember those who went to watch a football match at Heysel and Hillsborough, and never returned. 

We especially recall that the Christian community which takes its name from this church, the Team Parish of St Luke In The City, was formed in 1981, after the heart of our community was torn apart by racial tensions and riots. 

May we have the humility to learn the lessons of our history and receive the wisdom we need not to repeat its tragedies. 

Your kingdom come

ALL: Your will be done. 


God of our difference and diversity, 

We give thanks for the diversity of our city – the oldest Chinese community in Europe, and our neighbours from African and Caribbean heritage, from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. 

We give thanks for the faith and belief of our neighbours: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Humanist and Socialist. 

We rejoice in the many languages on our streets and in our homes: Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Somali, Kurdish, French, Cantonese, Spanish, Malayalam and Sign Language. 

We celebrate our siblings of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities who enrich the life of this city, and pray for those who remain hidden in fear for their safety. 

We grieve for the divisions in wealth which lead so many to our foodbanks, and pray for greater equity for all, whatever their need. 

May we continue to learn to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and offer your radical welcome, so all in our city may know they can bring their culture, their voice, their whole self, and find truly mutual relationship. 

Your kingdom come

ALL: Your will be done. 


God of our peace, 

We pray for the courage to be transformed by our past and our present with a passion for justice and peace in our homes and communities, our city, our country and our world. 

We pray for everyone impacted by Covid – all who have died, all who mourn without the comfort of closeness, and all whose access to healthcare depends on the generosity of those who have more than we need. 

May we build a culture of peace, with justice for all, today and always. 

Your kingdom come

ALL: Your will be done. 


Journey of Hope leads to Liverpool Blitz link with Coventry Community of the Cross of Nails

Inside the ruins of St Luke’s Liverpool
This blog post is adapted from a transcript of this short video [5 mins]. Feel free to watch / listen if you prefer.

IN 2019 I took part in the Journey of Hope, a six-month training programme in peace-building and reconciliation run by Reconcilers Together, a network of Christian peace-making centres across the UK and Ireland.

Our first stop in January 2019 was Coventry Cathedral, whose international ministry of reconciliation began when the cathedral burned down following the bombing of the city in November 1940.  

The Provost of the Cathedral, Richard Howard, vowed that it would rise again, as a symbol of hope and forgiveness. A priest made a cross from three fifteenth-century nails from the cathedral’s oak beams. The Cross of Nails was set upon a stone altar created from the rubble, and the words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed on the surviving stonework of the sanctuary. 

The inscription deliberately did not say ‘Father forgive them’, to recognise that we all fall short and contribute to the culture of conflict. It inspired the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, now prayed daily in the new Coventry Cathedral, and weekly in the Cathedral ruins. It is also shared by more than 200 other churches and communities worldwide through the Community of the Cross of Nails, which grew out of informal relationships between Coventry and three bombed German cities after World War II. 

On our Journey of Hope in Coventry, as I walked into the old cathedral, I immediately saw the similarity to our Bombed Out Church in Liverpool, the church after which the parish where the first Open Table community began is named. It was destroyed by bombing on 6th May 1941. 

On my return, I began the conversation with the parish team about how we might mark the 80th anniversary of the Liverpool Blitz on May 6th 2021, and how our parish might join the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN). This is where Louis our curate takes up the story:

My name is Revd Dr Louis Johnson, and I’m the Assistant Curate of the Team Parish of St Luke In The City, Liverpool. 

The Team Parish of St Luke in the City is a creative, progressive, inclusive Anglican community in the heart of Liverpool, which seeks to serve diverse local, national and international communities by working with partner organisations such as Micah Liverpool Foodbank, The Red Cross, Refugee Women Connect, Faiths4Change, Open Table, and HeartEdge, an offshoot of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. We seek to live out our shared unity in God and community with one another, reflecting a commitment to diversity and inclusion, a parish and people ‘living life in full colour from the still centre of God’.

Reconciliation is an important aspect of this ministry, helping build a culture of peace in our city by offering welcome to all. As well as involvement in inner-city and student chaplaincy, we work with and alongside the growing asylum seeker and refugee communities in Liverpool, and the parish is looking to extend this work further by reaching out to other marginalised communities in our city, such as the Roma community, helping to build positive relationships between groups that can sometimes experience tension due to a lack of knowledge, contact and understanding.  

Joining the Community of the Cross of Nails will enable the St Luke in the City team and parish to link up our community-building ministry with other CCN churches and organisations regionally, nationally, and internationally, allowing for mutual learning and collaboration opportunities.

Like Coventry, Liverpool was extremely badly damaged during WWII, and one of the lasting physical remnants of this is the shell of St Luke in the City, which now stands both as a reminder of the destruction of war, and as a monument to peace. Hit by an incendiary device during Liverpool’s ‘May Blitz’ in 1941, Thursday 6th May 2021 marks exactly 80 years since the church building was destroyed.

The parish team, along with representatives from the parish, the civic community, Coventry Cathedral, and the CCN, will hold an act of worship in the ruins to mark the event, during which we will receive our Cross of Nails.

Due to Covid restrictions, there is a limitation on numbers, but we will be recording and streaming it so that as many people as possible can share in marking the opening of this new chapter. Read more.

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]:

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