Listening. Talking. Discussing. LGBT

A while ago, I posted some remarks about the Mothers’ Union (here and here) which surprised a few people, not least members of the MU. The MU, as I said before, is an organisation which does a lot of good things in the world. I was trying to explain why I would not welcome it my congregation. I did this in order to try to  explain to people keen on the MU why it might be that clergy (whom we might presume to be supportive of family life, as the MU are) might not want them.

It is worth saying in passing that I wish I had a pound for everyone who has since said to me, “You are a brave man for taking on the MU in public”. I don’t think so. I’ve always found the MU to be full of charming and well intentioned people. However, if that is what people think of them in private, then they have an image problem that they might like to reflect on. The church is no place for a culture of fear, after all.

One of the issues which I brought up was the MU policy on those who are gay. In response, they sent me a copy of a new workbook that they have published which includes a section on LGBT issues and identity. I’ve been looking at it carefully and will post my reflections on it later in the week.

However, I think it is worth establishing before I do so what I think some of the parameters are, for engaging in this debate these days. Here are a few points against which I make judgements about whether or not people are seriously trying to engage with people who are gay or whether they are just giving voice to prejudice:

  1. Mind your language! When engaging in this debate do you use pejorative terms? Do you use language which makes people affected by the debate uncomfortable?
  2. Find positive role models! Have you made any effort to find positive role models amongst those who are gay or do you present those who are gay as troubling, difficult problems. (If you do this, it is quite a good indication to me that you have prejudices which you are not ready to acknowledge).
  3. Allow people to speak with their own voices! Do you speak about people or do you engage them in conversation. Do you try to speak “objectively” about people and do you lump them together in stereotypical ways? Or alternatively, do you seek out gay voices and allow them to speak for themselves.
  4. Name our writers! Do you include links to gay thinkers, writers, preachers and opinon-makers? Or do you miss them out of your discourse? Have you asked gay people whom you should be reading?
  5. Include gay people in the process from the beginning! Can you give me an assurance that gay people were consulted about what you are doing from the beginning? Has their advice on process been sought out and listened to or did you presume that you knew best?
  6. Deal with your history! Do you expect people to enter freely into debate with you whilst you have policies, presumptions or historical events in this area which remain unresolved? If there are difficult issues you can’t resolve, are you willing to name them or do you pretend they don’t exist?

Have I missed anything?


  1. What you say above makes me think it interesting to see how deep the potential for prejudice runs. I guess use of the word “they” is probably a bad sign to look out for (implicated in your parts 1+3).

  2. I agree, Tim. But precisely because prejudice is so ingrained, some of us who are trying to work towards an inclusive society find ourselves, in unguarded moments, carelessly using the wrong pronouns, including saying ‘he’ in the liturgy when we mean everybody. Maybe one needs to go on for a while making allowances for supporters who find it difficult to fight free of unconscious conditioning from our early upbringing.

  3. Does gay subsume lesbian in Scottish English? I suspect more lesbians than gays would be interested in joining the MU unless I’ve misunderstood the makeup of the MU. Or is the primary interest in how the MU handles LGBT children?

  4. Personally, I know more gay men than lesbians who are members of the MU.

    Gay includes lesbian in some instances for some lesbians I know and not for others. I’m aware that I use both forms. I tend to speak of gay men or lesbians when engaged in a conversation that is tightly gender specific. Some people prefer the alphabet soup approach – speaking of LGBTSQ people etc

  5. I maintain that it should be GLBT NOT LGBT (because you can use gay for women but not lesbian for men) and am delighted that the Queer Bible Commentary appears to agree with me. Don’t know what the “I” in GLBTI stands for though – is it intersex?

  6. But do you know more gay men than lesbians anyway?

    The university where I work use to have a Mothers Club which was renamed Parents Club to encourage men to join. Perhaps the Mothers Union should be renamed Parents Union to emphasize that men and women raise children and that both can join. Though as a non-Anglican I shouldn’t probably be commenting.

  7. Kelvin says

    I probably know more gay men than lesbians. However, I don’t know any lesbian who is openly a member of the MU. I’ve known quite a few gay men who have been happy (in the past) to admit to being members.

    There was an internal debate in the MU about rebranding a few years ago but the decision was taken to retain the name but become more proactive about explaining what it means.

    (At least, I think that was the decision – there will be others reading this who can comment with much more authority than I can about this).

  8. Hi ,
    How to become a member 🙂 🙂

  9. Your six points, Kelvin, make me fearful of ever posting again! This uncomfortable feeling, that I may be judged and found guity of something that Im not guilty of, just won’t go away.

  10. Ryan

    The I usually added to GLBT is Intersex

    Intersex has nothing to do with sexual preference and should never be included with GLB issues. Some Intersex people are GLB and even T but most are not.

    Look at Organisation Intersex International

  11. Ryan, I think you are right on principle, and I know lots of churches that have made the switch in the States. It’s easy enough to do on paper, too. But somehow it is just so much easier to say LGBT than GLBT (though GBTL would be OK verbally).

  12. p.s. — Kelvin, I find it a really helpful list. It seems like something that should be circulated beyond the readership of your blog (wide though that is). Clergy mailing, perhaps? Inspires? MU newsletters? My Weekly and The People’s Friend?

  13. Elizabeth says

    I agree with Kimberley. It’s a very good list and has wide applicability for a number of justice issues I think. Six is a nice round number and the bolded captions are memorable with the resulting explanation clear and direct. I wonder if it could be re-worded to make a handy acrostic or is that just too kitschy? Will think more when my brain recovers from current struggle (marking).

  14. Thanks for all comments. (Particularly to Gina, who points us to an organisation that I previously did not know about).

    Kimberly – I’m happy for this to be reproduced with acknowledgement and happy for others to point towards it from other blogs.

    I’ve not been clever enough to make an acrostic. Personally, I think that I use chiasma more frequently when speaking in public than I use acrostics.

  15. and presumably chiasm is the correct form for this discussion anyway.

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