Today was Chesterfield Pride and as with the last couple of years The Order of the Black Sheep had a service to celebrate pride before going to join in. The service was based on the following reading from Matthew 15.
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.
This is a difficult reading and one that I would usually shy away from. It’s really difficult for us to hear of Jesus turning someone away – never mind calling her a dog. However maybe there is a reading that offers some redemption to this passage.
I really love that it is a woman that has the audacity to challenge Jesus in this way. A woman who dares to say this isn’t right, I have value.
There are two things that I dislike about this interaction the first is that it is said to have happened at all, but maybe there is a reason that this is recorded for us. The second is that when she challenges Jesus she asks for the crumbs from the floor – rather than to be included in the feast. Maybe the remark was more cutting than we are inclined to read it, maybe the whole interaction isn’t recorded and this is all that got captured, or maybe she was just so desperate that all she could find herself doing was to beg – even for the crumbs. In challenging Jesus she changes him and is given her right to be included, he tells her that she has great faith.
And what great faith LGBT+ people who are still part of a church that so often has denied us even the crumbs from the floor must have. A church that we have to challenge in order to change it and be included in the feast. These changes are slowly happening but we cannot stop challenging the Church in this way until we have full inclusion.
Likewise society does not just give LGBT+ people our rights but we have to challenge it so that it will change – starting at Stonewall. And Pride should continue in this tradition of challenging society, demanding not just for the scraps from the floor but for our place at the feast, where all belong.
This week will mark the 50th anniversary since the first step of decriminalising homosexuality in the UK, but we still have further to go both here and throughout the world. Pride should be a celebration of everything that we have achieved but it should also be a protests that continues to challenge society until all have been given thier rightful place at the table.
Here’s the talk from this year’s Order of the Black Sheep Chesterfield Pride service held at The Crooked Spire (St Mary and all saints) on the 24th July. The reading was Luke 11:1-3.
In today’s reading, which we have just heard, Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray. I’d like to explore a little what I think prayer is and what that means for those of us who are lgbt/queer or allies. At the Godly Mayhem conference a couple of years ago George Elerick said that prayer is “revolutionary discourse that leads to material change”. In other words, prayer is that which has a positive impact on the world around us. We can take this to mean that we pray and what we ask for will be done – after all Jesus says in this reading that everyone who asks will receive – for everyone who knocks the door will open.
Now I don’t know about you but not everything I have prayed for has happened, despite this promise from Jesus. So I think we need to take a look at this again and I’d like to look at two of the outworkings of this that I see in the world.
Firstly Jesus’ instructs the disciples to pray “Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer. Elsewhere Jesus says that the “Kingdom of God is within you”. I don’t think that the prayer for the kingdom to come to earth is so much a prayer for God to force the kingdom to come but is a prayer that causes the kingdom to come through us. You may have heard it said that “prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me” or another example – the Pope recently saying “First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them – that’s the way prayer works”. I believe that one of the main purposes of prayer is for it to work in us, to make us more holy – for it to be “revolutionary discourse that that leads to material change” in ourselves and then, therefor, the world by our actions. If we ask with the right heart, the door will open for us to be the change that we wish to see.
I also believe that there are corporate acts of prayer – those that we do together. I believe that Pride is a corporate act of prayer. It is a revolutionary discourse that has lead to material change. The Stonewall Riots, which Pride commemorates, lead to the gay rights movement and has materially changed the world for LGBT people. However when at first we knocked we were ignored. Rights are not won easily – even today, as we saw in the video; there is still a fight to be won. Jesus knew that simply asking a first time wouldn’t always be enough for change to come about and tells us in today’s reading that we will meet those who do not want to change the world for the better for us but that persistence will win. The door may not open the first time that you knock it, but if you keep knocking – keep asking, keep praying, are persistent with your revolutionary discourse then change will come. Our personal and corporate prayer must continue to bring material change to the world, we must continue knocking whether for LGBT rights, women’s rights, BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) rights, disability rights and every other fight for rights that still needs to exist in our world today – To stand together in solidarity and create material change. Our prayers may look different, for some it may be words said alone, for some it may be art, for others it may be a corporate act – a protest or march, signing a petition etc but together, whatever they look like, if we keep knocking our prayers will lead to material change and a better world for us all to live in.
Pride must keep knocking.
We’d watched a video about the Stonewall riot and our reading was Matthew 21:12-17.
The Stonewall Inn existed in a time where homosexuality was still criminalised. It had no running water, no toilets and no alcohol licence. It was run by the mafia who paid the police to keep their raids tame. It was the one place where the LGBTQ+ community could meet one another. And whilst it was a place that allowed a certain freedom for people to be themselves it was also a symbol of the oppression of LGBTQ+ people at the time.
The outer (gentile) court of the temple had been taken over by the temple market. It was the only court in the temple that non-Jewish converts to Judaism were able to worship and so this blocked them from worshiping in the temple. In addition to this the money changers charged a premium for converting the secular coinage of the roman empire into “pure” jewish coins that could be offered in the temple and sold animals permitted for sacrifice, again at a premium. If you were to turn up with your own animal the temple authorities were likely to find a reason for it to not to be pure enough to be offered in sacrifice. This excluded or at the very least was highly unfair to the poor jews who came to worship in the temple.
Then we have the Stonewall Riot which broke out after a brutal raid by the police and Jesus turning over the market tables in the temple. I believe that of these can both be seen as prophetic acts against systems of oppression.
I mainly consider myself to be a pacifist and both of these acts could be seen as violent. John’s gospel says that Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” However I also have to point out that all oppression is an act of violence. Excluding people from the temple is violence, stopping people from being themselves and raiding the one place that they can be is violence, the high rate of mental heath issues in LGBTQ+ people is violence, teenagers committing suicide because they don’t feel that they can tell their Christian parents that they are gay is violence, physical attacks on people for being different – for holding their partner’s hand in the streets is violence, the murder rate of trans* people – highest for trans* women from ethnic minorities is violence.
Words alone aren’t enough to overcome oppression. Jesus knew this, the stonewall rioters knew this many others involved in prophetic acts against oppression know this. Pride started as a prophetic act at Stonewall, we have won many victories but we would be wrong to think that now we have equal marriage we are done. We need many more prophetic acts. Actions speak louder than words. This doesn’t just apply to the LGBTQ+ community, especially in our current economic and political situation. We need to march, we need to disrupt and we need to make sure that our voices are heard.
As we go out today to celebrate pride – the commemoration of the riots that started to bring so many new freedoms and to celebrate the fights that have already been won I encourage you to consider what prophetic actions you can take against the oppression that still exists.
Im going to end with a quote from Laverne Cox. A great tragedy, to my mind, of the story of the stonewall riots is the way that many LGB people ignore and neglect the fight for trans* rights and at worst act oppressively towards trans* people when the fight for our rights at Stonewall was lead by Sylvia Rivera – a trans* woman.
“Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and every one of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor, and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and each other.” Laverne Cox
I’d like to give us a few moments to consider how we may be oppressors in our own lives and how we can make sure that we are liberators for ourselves and for others.
In his anual presidential address to Synod John McIntyre, Bishop of Gippsland, Australia spoke about those with sam sex attraction within the church. I thought I’d share a few exerpts that I find particularly helpful. A full article can be found on Changing Attitude’s website.
It is a simple Biblical truth that has caused me to move to a new place in my understanding of the place of same-sex attracted people in the life of the church. That truth is revealed in the words of Jesus, who says in the Sermon on the Mount, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” and “by their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7.18,20). I have come to know and acknowledge that the fruit of their works makes clear that God has been and is at work in and through gay and lesbian people, who for years have been a part of our church, in both lay and ordained ministries.
You might well ask why it took me so long to acknowledge this simple truth. I think it was the correctness of religious law that blinded me to this truth, a truth that is known only in the experience of grace.[…]
It is a salutary experience to be reminded that at one and the same time no-one is worthy and all are worthy for ministry[…]
Only in light of reflection on God’s Word did I finally come to understand. Despite what I or others may believe is their worthiness, the fruit of the works of many gay and lesbian people has brought God’s blessing to me and to many other people, both in and beyond the church. That is the measure of their worthiness to minister in the name of Jesus Christ in the life of the church, and in the community in the name of the church. That indicates their place in the life of God’s people.[…]
For too long we have asked same-sex attracted people to wait outside the church, or at most in its wings, while we decide the basis on which they can be a part of the church’s life. The thought seems to have been that when we have decided (and we certainly don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to do this) we will invite gay and lesbian people into the church on our terms; that is, if they still want to be a part of us. I do not believe this is a particularly godly way in which to go.[…]
Whatever we believe about same sex attraction and active relationships we can surely see that the fruit of many LGBT Christians is good. That they show something of God to those around them and to the world. “By their fruit you will know them”. The Church should not stand in the way of LGBT people being able to be ministers, to ignore their fruit and take away the possibility of them fulfilling God’s calling on their lives. I remember reading an article by someone taking about Jeffery John, after the allegations that he was blocked from becoming Bishop because of his sexuality. The person writing who knew Jeffery, whilst struggling to reconcile Jeffery’s sexuality with Christian ministry, came to this conclusion and that the fruit of Jeffery John was nothing but Godly, whatever his sexuality. And surely this is what matters.
Quite a while ago I saw the above image, it’s a Christian guy being hugged by a gay man in his underwear. Andrew Marin and a group of Christians went to a pride event in Chicago with signs saying “I’m Sorry”, which had a great response. They were apologising for the hate and general lack of love that Christians are known for showing to the Gay community. It was an image that made me emotional, it was an image that represented reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness. It’s an image that I have been unable to forget. So fast forwards 18 months or so & I have helped organise for a group of Christians to go to a pride event. Our aim is to take a “different kind of Christian presence” to a community that is perhaps more used to Christian demonstrations of condemnation and hate.
We had been thinking that we would just turn up and see what happens, perhaps take signs etc. However last week Mark Berry from Safe Space came to talk to our team of Churches. He briefly talked about the Samaritain woman at the well, a passage that I have turned to over the last few years while thinking about Christian relations with the LGBT community. His community felt that they were called through this passage to start a night time ministry caring for people as they left a local nightclub, offering a safe place to call a cab, space blankets, flip flops first aid etc. He went on to tell us how ridiculously quickly it started after the idea was first brought up (I think they got going in around 2 weeks-ish) and how all the doors that should have been shut in their face where open for them to go though, including being handed the funding they needed without having had to ask for it. He also told us about how he was asked to be on the board for the local football club, having talked to the chairman and having spent time offering love to the football community by sweeping the terraces after the games and spending time with the community in the bar afterwards.
Traveling home from that talk last week the way forwards hit my in the face and I decided to contact the organisers of the Pride event, knowing that getting them to trust us may have been an issues thanks for the reputation of Christian groups with regards to their interaction with the LGBT community. I sent the email and asked people to pray, hoping that there would be a person of peace in the organising team and trusting that God would be ahead of us opening doors if we were supposed to do this. A few days later I received an email from the treasurer who, it turns out, is a Christian himself and had been wanting to get Christians involved in the event as his church had been unable to do so this year. I went on the trust that the doors would be open and was really pleased to have found that they were.
We are looking at what we would be able to give out, a small bag of sweets or something, and offering the chance to ask for prayer in a non-threatening way (perhaps writing down a situation that prayer would be appreciated for and leaving it with us to pray for when we leave). Our way of being able show love, humility and grace.