I drafted this blog two days ago and I’ve consulted friends before posting it, knowing that there are some who will object once again that I am edging towards outing gay bishops. I am not. I am responding to my own convictions, and my decision to post the blog was confirmed this morning when I read Kevin Garcia’s blog. There’s a link to his blog below.
There are many reasons why living in the closet is not an okay place. The fifteen reasons listed here are drawn from my memory of life before I came out fully to my congregation in Wandsworth in 1995. I asked the members of the PCC to meet after the Sunday morning service. I wanted to tell them I was gay because I had agreed to be interviewed for a radio programme. The youngest person present, married with two young children, was visibly shocked – it had never occurred to her that I was gay. She had come to me for counselling and my hidden sexuality had allowed her to project her unfulfilled sexual desires onto me. The oldest person, aged 82, said “Well, I knew that – what’s the big deal?” Most of the congregation knew. I’d become much more open about my sexuality as the years had passed.
Coming out, of course, is something that we don’t do just once. It’s something I’ve had to do many times over, calculating each time what kind of reaction I might receive. There are still occasions when I hesitate before saying “I’m gay”. It’s now rare to receive anything less than a very positive response – bishops, please note. The problem for you is that the church is one of the few remaining places in Western society where homophobia and the abuse of LGBTI people is still acceptable.
Fifteen reasons why the closet is not an okay place for gay bishops
- Living in the closet has a negative effect, as any gay or lesbian person of a certain age born when it was illegal or in the early years of campaigning for equality knows. You live with the permanent anxiety that someone might guess at or discover that you are gay and . . . well, and what? Especially in 2016. The fear used to be that the other person might feel uncomfortable with you, or reject you, or lecture you on sin and God’s judgmental attitude to gays, or humiliate and abuse you, or that the word would be spread and EVERYONE would know you are gay, and you would have no place to hide.
- Living in the closet inhibits your freedom to be you. You have to develop a persona which can pass as straight or lets people know that you are single - and that questions about your sexuality are unwelcome. You can create a ‘spiritual superhero’ persona, deeply prayerful, sacrificial and holy, unsullied by sex or sexual fantasies.
- You are at risk of the sexual advances and fantasies of gay men towards closeted gay spiritual leaders, your own sexual needs unacknowledged and with the danger of abuse of spiritual power and authority.
- Living in the closet and maintaining a false-self consumes energy, energy which would otherwise be available to you
- You collude with people’s sexual fantasies about you, with women both single and married who imagine you as the perfect husband or alternative lover because you are so kind, gentle, passive and understanding.
- Alternatively, living in the closet can make you cold, aloof, and rigid as a defence against being vulnerable, both to the possibility that people might guess you are gay and also to your own desires for intimacy, warmth, love and sex (I meet fewer people now who adopt this strategy).
- You can become a danger to yourself and others, acting out desires for intimacy and sexual release in inappropriate ways with either sex, as the reports of emotional, physical and sexual abuse by clergy and bishops in the Christian church reveal.
- Living in the closet inhibits your understanding of why your lesbian and gay clergy widely ignore the teaching of Issues in Human Sexuality and open themselves to a relationship, whether they share a house with their partner or live in separate locations and do or don’t have sex (which is different from being celibate).
- You reinforce the problems that arise as part of the process of testing a vocation to priesthood in the church. You are part of the system which allows some bishops and Directors of Ordinands to ask inappropriate questions about sexuality and impose conditions on the ordinand, including the prohibition on marriage. You are among those who discourage young lesbian and gay people from pursuing a vocation because they perceive the church as homophobic and prejudiced.
- By living in the closet, you collude with those who claim that the Bible and tradition condemn homosexuality and same-sex relationships, a stance widely reported which gives the impression that the church is homophobic and prejudiced and causes people to reject Christianity.
- You are responsible for imposing penalties on lesbian and gay priests who marry, consigning them to a future outside the ordained ministry of the church.
- You are responsible for actively discouraging and inhibiting your brothers and sisters in priestly ministry from opening themselves to the gift of love and intimacy and all the riches that flow from marrying the person God gives as your life partner.
- The huge majority of people, inside and outside the church, no longer understand why you need to be in the closet when the rest of society embodies non-discrimination and equality in their policies and practice and to be gay is unexceptional.
- As Bishop Nick Chamberlain has discovered, when you come out fully, people welcome you and breathe a huge sigh of relief.
- Life is so much easier when you are out.
Kevin Garcia’s blog
After drafting my blog a link to Kevin Garcia’s blog was posted to the Changing Attitude Facebook group. Kevin writes about his experience as a Christian in the USA of coming out exactly a year ago. He identifies 4 things he has learnt or discovered. They contain a powerful lesson for any lesbian or gay person still afraid of coming out.
- Coming out helped me understand what it meant to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Coming out allowed me to love others better because I finally loved myself the way God loved me.
- Coming out made me a better Christian. I’ve done more ministry as an openly gay man than I ever did as a closeted, straight-passing, missionary worship leader.
- Coming out showed me that life is too short to waste my time on things that were not line with my purpose. I lived my life for nearly 12 years waffling between what I knew I was called to do and who I thought I had to be.
Kevin ends with a final word of encouragement: ”Don’t let your church, your tradition, or even yourself keep you stepping into the full, abundant life that Jesus talks about.”