Under the Peace Doves: A vigil for justice at Liverpool Cathedral

SINCE MAY, Liverpool Cathedral has been home to a spectacular art installation called Peace Doves, featuring 18,000 paper doves created by renowned sculptor and artist Peter Walker.

Speaking under the Peace Doves in Liverpool Cathedral, supported by Karl Llorca, British Sign Language interpreter.
PHOTO: Jen Williams, Open Table Sefton

Peace Doves features around 18,000 paper doves suspended on 15.5 miles of ribbon from the ceiling of the Cathedral. Visitors to the cathedral, along with local school children and community groups were invited to write messages of peace, hope and love onto thousands of paper doves.

The Dean of Liverpool, The Very Revd Dr Sue Jones, said:

I have been reading some of the prayers and messages written on the doves from people, both young and old, they are incredibly moving. From people paying tribute to those they have lost to those wishing for better times and, of course, many wishing for peace.

On Saturday 21st August, a special vigil was held under the Peace Doves. I was one of the speakers, praying for justice and peace for people with minority gender identities and sexual orientations around the world, and especially for respectful dialogue in the Church of England’s Living In Love And Faith conversations on Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage.

The focus of the vigil was to ‘watch and pray’ about the concerns of our world – particularly for justice and peace. Speakers raised issues of concern in a hopeful way, for reflection and prayer, and space was offered for people to raise their own concerns and pray into many other issues.

Other speakers shared concerns about modern slavery and human trafficking, climate change and earth justice, nuclear disarmament and global peace, access for all – raising of the awareness of the needs of people who have to negotiate the world in different ways, racial justice, truth and reconciliation in history, displaced people, and food poverty.

Here is my reflection:

Good evening, my name’s Kieran, and I have the privilege of being an advocate and chaplain in the Diocese of Liverpool for Living In Love And Faith, the Church of England’s conversations on Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage.

I’m also the Co-ordinator of the Open Table Network, a growing partnership of Christian worship communities which welcome and affirm people who are: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT for short) + our families, friends and all our allies.

The first Open Table community began at St Bride’s Liverpool in 2008 – there are now 18 communities across England and Wales, with more to come.

Why am I here at a vigil for justice and peace?

First, some context:

Currently, in 70 states around the world, consenting sexual activity between people of the same sex is a criminal offence, with sentences including public flogging and up to 14 years in prison. In 11 of these states, sentences may include the death penalty [Source].

Half of those 70 states are in the British Commonwealth, whose laws are based on 19th Century British legislation which these countries preserved after declaring independence [Source]. Senior political and church leaders within the Anglican Communion have even spoken in favour of criminalisation and the death penalty. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Church of England was at the forefront of calls for decriminalisation of homosexual activity in this country [Source]. Perhaps there is more we can do in our relationships with our siblings in the Anglican Communion today to challenge unjust and dehumanising punishments.

Meanwhile, transgender people are more likely to experience violence. Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November is an annual observance in memory of people who have lost their lives in the past year through acts of violence because of prejudice against their gender identity. Between October 2019 and September 2020, 433 people from 35 countries were known to have died in this way [Source]. These are just the people for whom the cause or motive was recorded. There are many countries who don’t record identity-based violence as a motive, so there may be many more people whose names are unknown.

Trans people around the world are also experiencing high levels of prejudice and discrimination – they are often portrayed as being a threat to women and children, and other minorities, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people. There is little evidence to support this. A report on the United Nations Women website show that those who are most impacted by gender-based violence and gender inequalities are also the most impoverished and marginalized – black and brown women, indigenous women, women in rural areas, young girls, girls living with disabilities, trans and gender non-conforming youth [Source].

In the UK, the number of reported homophobic hate crime cases almost trebled in the last five years. Cases on Merseyside rose more than tenfold over the same period [Source].

Against this backdrop, the Church of England published Living In Love And Faith (LLF for short), a suite of resources on Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage.

I’m not here to tell you whether or how to engage with LLF. But, as an advocate and chaplain for the LLF process, here’s why I think it matters.

  • I’ve heard some people say they won’t get involved because they are worried it may change everything, and if it does, they will leave the church.
  • I’ve heard others say they won’t get involved because they believe nothing will change, and if it doesn’t, they will leave.
  • Some are saying ‘why are we doing this now, when there are so many more important issues to address?’ as if there were a hierarchy of needs which mean some are less deserving of support.
  • Others are saying ‘why are we doing this at all, it’s doesn’t concern me’, as if Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage were not part of our shared humanity.

We can’t all be right, all of the time.

Meanwhile Open Table communities reach hundreds of people each month who have already left church because of the response to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Open Table is helping them to return to their faith in new or deeper ways.

In 2019, I took part in the Journey of Hope, a course in Christian peace-building and reconciliation led by Reconcilers Together, an ecumenical network of Christian peace-making organisations across the UK and Ireland.

My greatest lesson from this course was that peace and reconciliation start with me – if I don’t care for what hurts, wounds, or angers me, I am more likely to repeat that pattern of behaviour with others. As the American Franciscan Richard Rohr writes:

‘If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.’

In February 2020, I worked with the Diocese of Liverpool’s Canon of Reconciliation Mal Rogers to gather a group of 12 people from across the Diocese with diverse views on Identity, Sexuality, Relationships and Marriage. We ate, talked and prayed together to explore common ground and how we might maintain respectful dialogue amid disagreement. A member of the group spoke of their pain at being called a bigot for holding what they described as a traditional Biblical understanding of marriage. I empathised – I agree that name-calling is an unhelpful, even harmful, response which deepens hurt and entrenches divisions. I invited them to use that experience to give them empathy for those who are dehumanised and demonised because of a difference in sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then in November 2020, when the LLF resources were published, a trustee of the Open Table Network who is transgender received credible threats against their marriage, ministry and even their life in response to appearing in the LLF promotional video [Source].

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, just as I don’t agree with all of the views expressed in the LLF resources. However, I do seek, and seek to model, respectful dialogue. As those of us who have known what it is to be dehumanised and demonised know, it doesn’t serve us well to do the same to those with whom we disagree.

Jesus prayed for those who believe in and follow him, ‘that they all may be one’ [John 17:21]. I thank God he didn’t say ‘one and the same!’ Let’s embrace and celebrate the diversity of humanity, and recognise in ourselves and each other our shared identity as beloved children of God, made in God’s image.

Let’s pray:

Source of hope,
whose word began and sustains all life,
we confess that there have been times
when we have not lived
as those who have heard the voice of God.

Shaper of hope,
in whose living and loving, God’s intention was realized,
we confess that there have been times
when we have not lived
as those who know the love of God.

Inspirer of hope,
whose challenge and call are insistent and strong,
we confess that there have been times
when we have not lived
as those who have felt the touch of God.

Trinity, God-in-relationship,
we offer ourselves afresh to you:
inspire, enlarge and energize us
that now, and always,
our lives may serve
as a sign of yours.

Amen

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.