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.