Saturday, 11 October 2014

National 'Coming Out' Day

Perhaps ‘Coming Out’ shouldn’t matter. Perhaps we should live in a world where saying one is LGBT* is no more significant than saying one is ‘coming out’ as straight. But it does matter because we still live in a heteronormative world, especially in the church.

Yesterday I spoke at an Inter-Diocesan ‘Mental Health’ Day. I welcomed the opportunity to help people reflect on how both Church and Society can be places which have deleterious effects on the well-being of LGBT folk. Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, the Church creates environments in which LGBT people are encouraged to stay so far in the closet they’re stuck in a Narnia where Christmas never comes.

Being able to be safely congruent with friends, neighbours and society is one of the ways human flourishing works. This is one of the reasons why ‘coming out’ matters. And if you think there is too much ‘look at me’ in ‘coming out’ stories I invite you to take a good look at yourself. Heterosexuality and heteronormativity have their own ‘coming out’ narratives and we are expected to celebrate them. We call them things like ‘getting engaged’ and ‘getting marriage’. And, yes, these are things worth celebrating; it is just that they are so much part of the habitus of our lives that they conceal their nature as ‘coming out’ events. Being out is not about showing off; it’s about being congruent and being real. And for a lot of LGBT people it is still incredibly costly.

Earlier I was thinking about how tricky it is to come out, especially in the Church. This will be the case for the foreseeable future. I know people find it hard enough in liberal church contexts like those reasonably common in a diocese like Manchester. How much more so in less diverse church settings?

As I thought about these issues I concluded how extraordinary it would be to hear some messages of support from those in authority in the church for those who are using this day to ‘come out’.

Maybe I’m a fool, but I like to imagine a day when on social media and such like, you will be able to read a whole load of messages from bishops and archdeacons and, hey, even a few more lowly vicars like me saying, ‘Love, prayers and support for all coming out today.’ Of course it would signal an extraordinary shift in the fabric of the church and perhaps such a shift is impossible. But as long as the church and its leadership remains committed to a vision of human flourishing predicated on being our true selves in the reality of God, such a shift is surely possible. For the shalom of God can never based on living a lie, but on being honest to God, self and community.


  1. "Regardless of the attempt of two same-sex partners to justify “marrying” by declaring in a ceremony that they will be faithful to one another, God will neither condone nor accept their acts — even if the state eventually does. Indeed, taking vows to remain in such a sinful relationship only aggravates the situation. Moreover, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ must never participate in nor promote the legalization of homosexuality. “Ministers” who do so either willingly or by coercion (should it ever come to that) thereby disqualify themselves as servants of Jesus Christ. In contrast, it is our duty and joy to affirm the biblical view of marriage — the union of one woman and one man. In the Bible, several facts are clear: It was God Himself who united a man and a woman in marriage (Gen. 2:22). Marriage, therefore, is a divine institution, not a human one (Matt. 19:6). Consequently, God, not man, has the right to define the terms of the institution." - Jay Adams

    I do not think one should be stuck in Narnia/"hide in the closet" and suppress or deny their feelings, but instead, within the loving safety of church family be open about their struggles with same sex attraction and, (just like we all in one way or another need to deny ourselves and take up the cross) be encouraged to strive to live a godly life according to the pattern set in creation and affirmed throughout scripture.

  2. '...the loving safety of church family...'

    I'm sure that this was meant entirely genuinely but it reminds me of a conversation I had when explaining why I would be taking a back seat in church life, and a parishioner, who had always been affirming, expressed surprise that LGBT people would face difficulties in church life.

    While she was affirming, her perception and actual reality were poles apart. I mean no disrespect to her or to you, Imogen, when I say that I think the same may perhaps be true here.