Coming Out, Coming In, Coming Home

There’s a new online magazine launched today. It is called Mosaic Scotland, it looks gorgeous and it has an article from me in the first issue. It is classy, sassy and has articles by lots of people I know.

This is what I wrote for it:

There are not that many months that go by without someone asking me why, as a gay man, I choose to work in the church. Now, leaving aside the question of whether any vocation (nurse? teacher? dancer? fool?) is a really a choice, I do know what they mean.

After all, how can a gay man want to work in an institution which, though proclaiming itself to be going heavenward, seems hell-bent on making gay lives a misery?

Of course, life isn’t quite as simple as simple questions seem to suggest. The churches are each themselves a mosaic, a tapestry or a tartan of different colours, moods and temperaments.

Just as you can be fairly sure that not all gay men like Madonna so you can be sure that not all Christians are gay hating protagonists in the culture wars. And then there are those who just love both that Madonna and the Madonna.

I’m certain about some of the things that I believe about religion but I’m positively agnostic about others. What about the claim, often made, that gay people are intrinsically spiritual people? I find myself not knowing the answer to that. And yet, the number of LGBT people whom I encounter in faith communities seems to suggest that there might be something in it.

Step by step over the last decades I’ve seen such people coming together to challenge the status quo from the inside of the religious institutions that they belong to. And in recent months the equal marriage campaign is seeing straight allies from within the churches add their signatures and raise their voices.

They are dearer to me than gold and it is they who convince me that change in the churches is on its way. Some of our straight allies are going through their own coming out process with the pain and worry that coming out seems so often to be associated with. And guess what – congregations are coming out too.

Individual Christians weigh up whether it is worth being out at church and worry they will be badly treated. Similarly, individual congregations are going through agony trying to work out whether to come out to mummy and daddy – the congregational structures whom they want to please but which seem locked into a sexual morality from a generation ago.

Like it or not, religion is not going to disappear overnight. Whilst the dominant discourse of the denominations is against gay rights, all of us are at risk. Whilst churches throw their considerable influence in society against the human rights of LGBT people none of us are safe.

You ask me why I stay? I stay because some things are worth fighting for. Some things are worth changing.

And yet it is more than that. I stay because I’m nourished in a community of faith which includes people who don’t think as I do. They help me recognise what I think is important. They help to make me whole. They make me who I am.

And I stay because I’m in the joy business. Once you’ve got used to being paid to peddle joy it is hard to lay it aside. Never mind the privilege of being involved in the intimacies of being with people when their lives are falling apart. I never feel greater faith than when I stand at a grave and I marvel daily at the complex, wonderful stories that I hear from people who are working out how to be completely themselves in a world that is weird, odd and wonderful.

I recently went on a sabbatical trip away from the congregation which I lead in Glasgow.

I travelled in Canada and the USA for three months. I discovered three wonderful truths. Firstly that when I tried to discover the most interesting religious congregations to visit I kept getting referred again and again to places which were led by women and gay men. Secondly, I learnt that though church is the most dreadful thing at an institutional level it is also the most incredible network of kindness and goodwill on the planet. And thirdly I discovered the joy of coming home.

I came out in the church. My coming-out-from-the-pulpit story beats most coming out stories at gay dinner parties hands down though it is a story that I’ll leave for another day. Having come out in the church I also find it is also the place I come home to.
You ask me why I stay?

It is the place which convinces me to the core of my being that I am utterly, passionately, gloriously loved.

Now, head on over and read the rest of the magazine.