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Outspoken: Coming Out in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand by Liz Lightfoot

August 22, 2014

outspokenThe Anglican Communion is supposed to be engaging in a ‘listening process’ with individual members about their personal journeys. Lambeth Conference bishops had committed themselves to this over twenty years ago but there is little evidence of any enthusiasm on their part. Said: one friend who had participated in a listening exercise in New Zealand: ‘To be honest, I feel a bit cynical about it. It sounds a little bit like a lot of people sitting around and having an academic discussion about wounded people like me.’… The listening process to me seems more of a monologue than a dialogue: more about gay and lesbian people having to listen while fundamentalists talk.

I thought the New Zealand church was quite progressive. After all, they commissioned an out gay priest, Jim Cotter, to update their liturgies. However, homosexuality there wasn’t decriminalised until 1986. It also seems that LGBs are sometimes barred from license or ordained ministry even if they are not ‘pracrticing’.

Some of us are guarded in what we say about Nigerian and Ugandan Anglicans for fear of being accused of racism but others speak their minds: those African churches are just a joke. They have no concern for human rights. It’s almost like gay and lesbian people are less than human because they seem to turn a blind eye when they’re getting killed off.

LGBT people with church connections either choose to leave the church or to stay and wrestle. It’s not an easy choice: ‘Some truths are not worth the pain they cause. Others might be necessary for the pain they can prevent.’ — Herbert & Irene Rubin, Qualitative Interviewing. The Art of Hearing Data

 Many have prayed for help but the answer has come through the people God has put into their lives. Our local branch of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has been discussing its future and concluding that their work is no longer needed. This book suggests that they are mistaken.

The author has a very detailed description of her methodology in compiling the experiences of LGB in the church or those who have left it. Her interviews are lengthier than many other, similar, studies, so I feel more empathy with the people involved as I felt I knew more about them as rounded people than simple their ‘issues’.

I guess it depends what type of church one experiences but: One person, appalled that I had not walked away from the institutional Church, remarked with feeling: ‘You haven’t lived it. You’re green. The Church is completely corrupt. There is no one of any integrity left in it.’

And liberals don’t always attract: In some ways I have more respect and more time for the quite hardcore Christians than for the ambivalent ones. I’ve sort of ended up in the wishy-washy end of the Church and it’s not probably where my heart really is. I’m mildly infuriated by the people who are happy with gay people because they’re so apathetic that they haven’t really thought it through. You know, they don’t think morals matter very much or they don’t think God really cares what we do. I can’t quite understand it. I feel more comfortable with people who have a passion for social justice and liberation as gospel values that Jesus calls us to.

Ex-gay movements tend to quote the theory of Elizabeth Moberly about same-sex parent deficit but: Edward has always felt ‘different’. And has been aware of being attracted to his own gender as far back as he can remember. ‘And that was before my father died which I always like to point out to people because I’m aware that some people would take the view that I’m gay because he died when I was young.’

For those who say that marriage is the cure: While Edward had always wanted children, the birth of the couple’s first child triggered what Edward described as a period of ‘severe and debilitating depression’. Despite the joy of becoming a father and the love he felt for his son, it represented a point of no return. ‘Looking back, the depression was all about realising that there was no way … I was fully committed now. I was a dad.’ Antidepressants helped.

Many evangelicals like to be ‘helpful’ because they believe they ought to be but, deep down, aren’t happy with the ‘issue’ and certainly don’t want the church to change its official teaching: no matter how friendly and loving they are towards me personally, and how inclusive they believe themselves to be as a community, they’re still signed up to a branch of the Church that openly discriminates against gay people.

For gay evangelicals, there is a fear because it is likely to be liberals who help them. If they accept such help from liberals, will this lead to their adopting other aspects of liberal theology and will the edifice of their faith unravel?

Of alien churches: It was full of all these wonderful things they were involved in and I was sitting in the pew wanting to put my hand up and say, ‘Hang on a minute! What is going on here? You are involved in all these incredibly marvellous things out there … out there. But what about in here? What about what’s going on inside this building? There’s no social justice here! I’m not regarded as equal, nor is Eleanor. That’s why you don’t have any other gay people in this church. We’re the only two. We stuck it out here for five and a half years, until you made it too difficult for us to stay.’…. She sums up what leaving the Anglican Church has meant personally: So that was a huge grief for me and the cost for me has been enormous. It really has, it’s been huge. And I even stop some Sunday mornings, still, and think, `They’ll just about be doing the Affirmation of Faith now or the Peace, or the Great Thanksgiving will be going on …’

Are ‘traditionalists’ aware that their view causes suicide attempts? There are many in this book: I said to the psychiatrist one day, ‘I took two bottles of sleeping pills. I shouldn’t even be sitting here.’ Two bottles! One bottle you’d think would do the trick. I wanted to be doubly sure. But I was up walking around when I came to. I wondered if someone was there — had someone picked me up and started walking me?

I was in and I was out of consciousness when I was driving from the park to the hospital. I’d driven on the wrong side of the road with cars coming up and tooting at me. I turned into a one-way street the wrong way, parked my car on the road and walked into the hospital. I don’t know why I had gone there. I tried to leave and that wasn’t going to happen. It was all happening on auto-pilot and I wasn’t … harmed.

The psychiatrist said, ‘You don’t always get to choose your time. Sometimes you just have to live on.’ That kind of struck a chord with me. I made a serious effort to kill myself and I managed to live through that and to be thankful for that. I learnt some good techniques to calm me down and to put me into a more positive frame of mind…..I’d left the Church and taken up all these other pastimes — lots of drinking and partying and not paying rent. That leads to sleeping in a park until a place is open that can help you sort your life out.With emotion, he re-lives the experience: Lying on a park bench because I’m too exhausted — I don’t want to go to sleep because I’ve got nowhere to sleep that’s safe or warm or dry, particularly.

But I felt God’s love there. I almost felt an arm around me. I almost felt God’s embrace at that time. It was cold and uncomfortable but I felt the presence of God there and I felt him saying, ‘I’ll be with you but you know that it’s because of you, that’s why we’re here tonight. I’m as cold as you are.’ Feeling God’s love for me at a point that low kept me going and has kept me going because at that point I wondered if I should just jump off a cliff. God said, `No, of course not. It’s a beautiful world. And you’re still in it. All you need to do is sort out the issues that you’ve got and I’ll be with you. I’m with you now.’ Not words, I’m not hearing words, I’m just getting a feeling. That feeling has saved my life, and brought me back up out of the darkness.

Of evangelical styles of leadership: ‘smarmy’ is the word that comes to mind. And they came across as arrogant and patronising.

Counselling is usually thought of as being non-directive (except for fundamentalist schemes who tell you what the Bible says) but sometimes there is benefit from a little direction: My counsellor had shared his own story which was very similar to mine. He had done a PhD in something and ended up coming out because of the stress associated with being in the closet and the way it made him feel in himself, I guess, and then growing through it and becoming a counsellor. The conversation represented a turning point for Matthew.

If you want a relationship blessing, be aware: So we naively went to Chris, thinking, ‘Look. They have St Francis’ Day services where they bless rabbits and pets and dogs and donkeys and whatever I mean, this was not going to be an issue to have a relationship blessing.’ Naive me.

 Theology students beware: What I found frustrating during that journey is that it widened the gap between us personally. Up until his theological training, we had been kind of on a level playing field but suddenly, over this three-year period of his studies, he was growing so much spiritually and I felt left behind. I had to carry the domestic burden of looking after four children. I think that was the beginning of the end of our relationship, that widening gap between us, even though I never verbalised it.

And clergy partners: It was bizarre actually. This unbelievable internal struggle going on and yet an this expectation that people could come into your home at any time and be made welcome, that you would be hospitable towards them.

I had to look up a few words:

Iwi = tribe – in Maori culture

Pakeha= New Zealanders who are “of European descent”.

Hikoi = protest march or parade

One potent review said: I am the husband cast aside during Lightfoot’s ‘crisis of sexuality’. There is absolutely no acknowledgment in the book of the pain and anguish caused to me during her process of coming out, which (more than incidentally) led to me being pushed out to the edges of the lives of our children. The book presents a narcissistic Christology that bears little relation to the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

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