I never thought I’d be saying that I relate to Tim Farron. He’s a middle-aged, straight, married centrist. I’m a young, radical, queer single woman. But we have something in common. Thanks to a faith in Christ Jesus, we both attempt to exist in two worlds at once, worlds that don’t sit comfortably together.
For Farron, he attempts to be a Christian and a liberal in an environment where ‘liberal’ is defined by secularism. For me, I’m trying to be a Christian and a queer person in an LGBT+ community defined by a similar lack of religion.
For the record, I don’t believe that the Bible forbids me from any same-sex relationships. I believe that I am fully, beautifully and wonderfully made by God, from my hair colour to my sexual preference. But down to personal preference, I’d prefer my potential partner to be another Christian – and that’s not an easy thing to find. So I’m fully, happily single.
See, as a Christian, my views on morality inform my decisions on relationships. Not your decisions, not a bloke down the street’s decisions – but mine. If I choose not to have sex, then I’d like you to respect that decision. If I choose to marry another person of the same gender, then I’d hope for similar respect. Whatever decision I make on these difficult theological conundrums has no bearing on anyone but me.
The same is true for Tim Farron. He thinks gay sex is sinful? Luckily for him, he isn’t having any. And while his opinion might feel like judgement on other people’s decisions, it doesn’t have to affect anyone but him (and perhaps his wife). The decision we make regarding sex and relationships doesn’t have to be the same for each of us.
This desire for homogeneity pushes Christians like me out of the LGBT+ community, marginalising us even further. Somehow if I stay celibate (as my current circumstances have led me to be), the decision I make for me and my body is seen as a judgement on other people. It’s not; it’s just me exercising my right to bodily autonomy. And I’m so fed up of being pushed out of LGBT+ circles for that decision.
But that rejection keeps happening, and nobody wants to know about it. If I admit my faith, the first question I normally get is “Why bother?” and I’ve frequently been accused of letting down LGBT+ people through supporting the church, though attendance and support are two very different things. Additionally there’s a desire to play devil’s advocate with my existence, particularly among atheist men. They believe the Bible is a fairytale, but will question me in depth about the validity of my liberal interpretation while basing their own in a reading so literal and conservative the Victorians would be confused. Although I’d love to find inclusive LGBT+ spaces, I frequently feel like I don’t have a place there.
Yet in certain Christian environments I can have a place. These are spaces where nobody judges you for what you think; where the person next to me thinks gay sex is sinful, yet looks at me in love and respects my differing views; where I look back at them and have confidence they’ve made the right decision for them. Rather than being based on a version of respect that calls for agreement, these are places where respect means trusting that the decision someone makes for their identity and their relationships is personal and legitimate. Sadly, as Farron has found, such a space does not exist in British liberal politics.
If this sounds like I’m trying to bury, deny or ignore the church’s history of homophobia, I’m not. I don’t just know that history, I experience it. I can empathise with ex-Christian LGBT+ people who resent the church for its behaviour, because I resent it too. Like so many, I would love to see real, serious change, the type of change groups like Diverse Church or Two:23 are fighting for.
A united front, with secular and faithful LGBT+ people calling for inclusion and respect across all religious spaces is the only way I can see that change coming about. That united front could lead the way, presenting a radical vision of respect and inclusion that compels others to follow. But if we can’t get to grips with inclusion and diversity of belief and behaviour in secular spaces, I can’t imagine it happening in the church, with its complex history and pockets of conservatism.
Once a year, I witness a moment of that unity. The cheers from the crowd as religious groups march in Pride gives me a rare sense of optimism. The mentality in that moment is to celebrate our diversity, our unity and our love for one another, not to exclude based on what someone does in private. Let’s extend this beautiful respect from Pride to politics.