It's been a few weeks now since London Pride weekend. I really should have reflected on the whole experience a lot more quickly, but time and emotions ran away with me, and here we are.
The weekend started for us, with two tickets to see Dolly Parton's Blue Smoke Tour at the O2. Dolly always amazes me with how down-to-earth she comes across, and how musically talented she is. She didn't disappoint. She filled the O2, started the show on time - with no support act - and performed solidly, taking only a 20 minute break during the interval, she played several musical instruments, and interjected with stories from her life that were open, honest and endeared herself to her audience.
One of the things that always amazes me about Dolly Parton is that she quite openly and proudly speaks of her faith in God, but does so in a way that shares the unconditional love of God with her audience, and the audience respond well. She told at least 12,000 of her faith in God, and how much God loves her & them, & they listened and responded positively.
I recognise I may be a bit biased when it comes to Dolly Parton, but I am in awe every time we see her live, at her talent, her warm faith and her authenticity.
Dolly comes across as real, as genuine, but more importantly for me, as inclusive. She is inclusive of all people, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, colour or creed. The LGBT community love her and the faith community loves her & she loves them.
So when she says that she loves God, and that God loves us all so much ... people respond with warmth. Those that don't have a faith listen patiently, while those who do are encouraged, and all are affirmed.
I was quite emotional by the end of the show, because I was both massively affirmed by hearing faith expressed in such an affirming and inclusive way, but also because I was saddened that much of the leadership of the Church couldn't manage to express faith like that, preferring instead to push people to the outside.
On the Saturday, we made our way into Central London for Pride, where Mike joined me in marching with the Christians at Pride group - a collaboration between the various LGBTQII+ Christian charity & campaign groups. The group was made up of people from LGCM, Diverse Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Two:23, Accepting Evangelicals, Changing Attitude, Quest and Inclusive Church.
With the vile homophobia coming out of some parts of the Church at the moment, and the very real threat of discipline faced by those clergy in same-sex relationships who marry their life partners, we felt it particularly important this year to be a part of an LGBTQII affirming faith voice.
We were joined by a 14ft Jesus with a rainbow sash, who worked the crowd like a pro, and we marched along to the Sister Act soundtrack, some of us handing out leaflets apologising for the pain that the Church had caused, others with leaflets with an LGBTQII-affirming message of faith or details of some of the LGBTQII-affirming faith organisations.
I was amazed at how appreciative the crowd was at finally hearing something positive from people of faith. Some people even wept openly at hearing an inclusive message for the first time, several people mouthed their thanks to us and for us there was a real pride in being a Christian and in being able to bring something positive to the day because of faith, not despite it.
I found the weekend hugely positive and emotional, receiving more affirmation from strangers over Pride weekend than I have from the leadership of my own denomination in a long time. It was a reminder of what is important in faith, but also a reminder of how much of the Church is getting it so wrong.
I heard more about the love of God from Dolly Parton, and saw more of Christ among the outcast at Pride, than I have from many of our Church leaders.
But that's nothing new, is it? Christ has always existed outside the institution - with it's neat rules, dotted i's and crossed t's - and we lose something when we assume that theology and faith is the preserve of those with a qualification.
If you're LGBTQII and have been hurt by religion, I apologise. So have I ... repeatedly. If you have questions or comments, I would encourage you to find an LGBTQII inclusive faith group (try the links above), and have a conversation with them. If you have a faith and are looking for an inclusive worshipping community, again, try the links above.
If you don't identify as a person of faith, rather than speaking against religion, would you consider speaking against homophobia & bigotry in religion instead and encourage inclusive faith groups to help them bring change from within our faith communities?