This article was originally published in Press On, a Christadelphian Journal.
One of my earliest memories is being carried in my father’s arms to the front of the ecclesial hall, where I was presented with a book. It was my first Sunday School Prize Giving. I came from a Christadelphian family; although my father had converted from the Church of Ireland, my mother always said that she had relatives—ancestors, really—that were Christadelphian back in the days of Dr Thomas.
The Sunday School was a big part of my childhood, and from my early teens the Sunday evening lectures were too. Not quite eighteen, I was baptised in the early summer of 1993, during the first year of my A-levels. In those days, with the earnest intensity of the recently baptised, I used to photocopy favourite articles from The Christadelphian and The Testimony. I kept them in a folder in my school bag, so I could read them in the bus going to and from school, and in quiet periods in the sixth-form centre. I remember that if the articles were photocopied onto A4 paper, there were always good margins for making notes, and I made copious notes.
I can remember the nervousness I felt the first time I read the daily readings at the memorial service, and I can remember the difficulty I had the first time I had to give the closing prayer. Shortly afterwards, an elderly brother (who was a sort of grandfather to me) gave me three pre-written prayers, on the back of old greetings cards, to keep tucked in the back of my Bible. That way I’d always have a prayer I could read aloud if I was called upon unexpectedly.
By this time I was already carrying a burden that I didn’t know I had. I was gay, but I didn’t yet realise it. I had experienced some strange feelings towards a couple of my friends at school. I knew this was wrong, and I prayed about it, and I managed to forget about it.
I completed my A-levels and went to university. Naturally I attended the breaking of bread at the local ecclesia. In my college I was actually known for being the guy who used to go out every Sunday morning with a Bible tucked under his arm. I used to leave copies of the Christadelphian Office pamphlets in the common areas of my college. I seem to remember that Israel: God’s People, God’s Land was particularly popular.
I didn’t get on well with the other students on my course, and as a result I spent a lot of time in the computer room. It was the early 1990s, and I set up one of the first Christadelphian websites. I suppose I could be considered one of the Internet Pioneer Brethren.
In my second year at university I realised I was attracted to some of the other male students (and one in particular). For the first time in my life I understood what those feelings meant. I knew I was gay.
I had grown up expecting that at some point I would start to find my female contemporaries attractive, but all of a sudden I knew that I was finding my male contemporaries attractive instead, and that I had had those feelings for years without knowing what they were.
But of course I was a good Christadelphian and I knew what the Bible said about such things. I read and re-read Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:20 and 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, 1 Timothy 1:10, and of course Romans 1. I understood what they said, and they said that same-sex relationships are wrong.
A few months later, in an online discussion, Romans 1 came up. To me, Romans 1 was incontrovertible and indisputable proof that same-sex relationships were wrong. Anyone who thought you could be Christian and gay must surely reject that passage. In the discussion I rhetorically asked, “What else could it mean?” Much to my surprise, someone explained that it could mean something else, and not everyone understood those passages in the same way that I did. This was the first time that I realised that so-called “gay Christians” don’t reject what the Bible teaches, they simply understand it differently. I realised that this was not an argument about scriptural authority, but merely one about scriptural interpretation. Privately I began to study the arguments that gay Christians use, not to show myself that it was okay to be gay, but to show gay Christians that they were wrong. But I came to believe that you could be a faithful disciple of Christ and be gay.
Around the time I graduated from university and returned home permanently, the number of speaking brethren in my home ecclesia declined sharply. To help keep the ecclesia going, I had to become a presiding and exhorting brother. That was not easy for someone as introverted as me. Over the next couple of years, I became more and more involved with running my ecclesia, to the point where I was spending so much time with ecclesial work that I nearly lost my day job.
Throughout this time, I was still gay, and I was still single. By 2005, for the first time in my life, being single was becoming too great a burden to bear. It is not good for a man to be alone, and every day, every night, I felt the truth of that teaching. When I had decided to remain single, I thought I had been committing to a sexless life. I had actually been committing to a life without even the possibility of companionship and partnership. That is a very different thing. For the sake of the ‘weaker brethren’, I had killed—or allowed to die— several nascent relationships by this point. That made the loneliness much worse.
I was one of the Internet Pioneer Brethren. That was fun, and it definitely helped me through a very difficult time at university. There was a downside to it though. Some people believed that I was responsible for every Christadelphian website, not just my own. In 2005, I received an email that accused me of teaching false doctrine on the Internet, and accused me of being gay. The email itself was quite threatening, and was actually investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland—that is another story though. Additional information was sent to a member of my ecclesia, and the accusations spread.
Leaving the ecclesia
I left my ecclesia because I believed that the way the accusations were handled was not in accordance with Matthew 18. It must also be said that the stress of the situation was unendurable. On their own, the sacrifices I had made as a gay Christadelphian were getting to be too much for me, and I now found I was subject to the same condemnation and hostility as if I had not made those sacrifices at all. Keeping my head down had got me nowhere. I was ostracised as surely as I would have been if I had taken a boyfriend to the Breaking of Bread.
In the years following my departure, something rather curious happened. Even though I was inclined to leave the community behind me, some parts of the community didn’t want me to go. I was contacted by other Christadelphians and ex-Christadelphians in similar positions. People who still held Christadelphian beliefs. People told me their stories, how they too had been ostracised, but still kept their faith. Although some of the stories were joyful, most were sad. One or two were tragic. I will never forget hearing about one young brother who was put through reparative therapy, a brutal, harmful, and discredited ‘treatment’ designed to change sexual orientation.
The turning point was when I got a letter from an old Christadelphian friend, more than ten years, I think, after we last spoke. In the subsequent correspondence, his attitude towards gay people became considerably more positive, and I was reminded of the importance of pastoral care and sharing one another’s burdens. I decided something had to be done. And that is what brought me to where I am today—arguing that you can be Christadelphian and approve of same-sex relationships.
What has this taught me?
A few years ago, when I used Twitter a lot more than I use it now, I was following a number of Christadelphians and ecclesias on Twitter. I came across one ecclesia’s profile, and it said “Everyone welcome”, so I followed it. That’s all I did. I followed it. A couple of hours later I found that they had blocked me. I hadn’t interacted with them in any way, other than following them.
On other occasions, people I have never met—Christadelphians I have never met—have sent me abusive, hateful, messages because I am gay.
That has taught me something very important about Christian love.
People can hate me without even having met me.
And if people can hate someone without even meeting them, then that means people can love someone without even meeting them.
Have you seen Jesus? But do you love Jesus? In the words of Peter,
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
I know that is a strange thing to say—encountering hate reminds me of Christian love—but, yes, if someone can hate me without having met me, then I am reminded that I love Christ even though I do not see him now. Loving Christ is not a one-way street. Christ loves us
A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34) People hate me without having met me, and that reminds me that I love Christ. And Christ loves me. And because Christ loves me I must love other people in return.
I bet when people send me hateful messages they don’t think I will take their hatred and use it to help me be a more loving person, but that’s just the way it is.
Being gay has taught me to be loving, but it has also taught me humility. As I said, to me Romans 1 was incontrovertible and indisputable proof that same-sex relationships were wrong. I believed that, and I believed that very firmly. I believed that about all the classic “clobber” passages.
I don’t believe that now. I have a completely different understanding of those passages. I have completely changed my opinion about what the Bible teaches on what is—to me at least—a very important topic. I can laugh about it now—but realising I was completely wrong was actually a traumatic experience.
When my understanding changed (and it changed in a very short period of time) I had to ask myself, if I am wrong about this, a subject that is dear to me and I have studied very closely, what else could I be wrong about? That is a very humbling thing to ask yourself. But without humility we cannot grow. Without understanding that we can be wrong we can never learn.
What would I say to other LGBT Christadelphians?
The very first thing I want to say to every LGBT Christadelphian is that I love you, even if I have never met you. You might think that that is an odd thing to say. But as I said there are people who can hate someone without knowing them, so I choose to love people without even knowing them. However battered and low you are feeling because of homophobia and prejudice you may have experienced, however unloved you are feeling, there is at least one person on earth who loves you. I hope that thought brings a little comfort to at least some of you.
Over the years, I have met many LGBT people from many different faith backgrounds, including Christadelphian backgrounds. Some have been respected members of their ecclesias. Others have been more on the edges of things. One thing that has continually impressed me is the depth of faith that LGBT Christadelphians have.
There are an awful lot of very loud voices in the Christadelphian community that tell us that it is wrong to be gay. Sometimes there is a bit of nuance, arguing that it is not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to be in a same-sex relationship. But the message is broadly the same: a loving same-sex relationship is always sinful.
At the same time, I’ve never read a mainstream Christadelphian publication or heard a mainstream Christadelphian speaker that has accurately portrayed same-sex relationships. They are generally portrayed as being about sex and not about love. That is a hard message to grow up with. That is a hard message to live with. Not just because you are being told that you must remain single or be cast out into the outer darkness, but because when you start to feel loving feelings towards someone of the same gender, you experience awful cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, you are experiencing beautiful, life-enhancing emotions. On the other hand, you have been taught to believe that these beautiful feelings are intrinsically evil. That is a trial, and that trial takes a toll on us. That is one of the reasons why so many of us have been pushed towards the edges of the Christadelphian community.
Being able to hold on to even a little faith in those circumstances is a remarkable thing, and that is why I am so often impressed with the depth of faith that LGBT Christadelphians have. So the second thing I would say to LGBT Christadelphians is this: however battered, or weak, or unworthy you feel, you are stronger than you think you are.
The third thing is: read Galatians 5:19-26. That passage describes the acts of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit. Which of those best describes you? Do you show love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Those are the fruits of the spirit. If you are displaying those fruits then you are doing the right thing. Also read the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, particularly around verses 34–36. Christ himself there describes the criteria to enter the Kingdom. Ask yourself this question: is there anything in the words of Christ that imply that it is wrong to be LGBT or that it is wrong to be in a same-sex relationship? As I said, so many of us were brought up with the idea that it is intrinsically evil to be LGBT—but if you can read the words of Christ without being influenced by that idea, then you can see that there is nothing in the words of Christ himself that say it is wrong to be LGBT or in a same-sex relationship. And it is, of course, inconceivable that a loving God would have allowed such an important message, if it existed, to go unrecorded!
The final thing is the most simple, and the most important. Jesus still loves you. And God still loves you.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ( John 3:16)
It does not say that, “For God so loved the the straight people in the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, unless they are in a same-sex relationship.” The love of God does not depend on you being straight.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
You are still loved by God. And being LGBT cannot and will not change that.