Speech of the Right Rev. Dr Paul Colton,
Bishop of Cork
as guest of honour at the launch of
Cork LGBT Awareness Week
Monday, 12th May, 2014 at Cork Civic Offices
I am deeply conscious of how generously gracious and open your invitation to me, a Church leader, is in including me today as your Guest of Honour. Not gracious in the sense of courteous and kind, but more in the religious sense of grace – your invitation to me is undeserved; it is an unmerited favour.
It is gracious because, whatever about my personal views and solidarity as an individual to gay and lesbian people, it is undeniable that I am part of a religion, and indeed institution, that all too often, over the centuries, has caused deep hurt and tangible damage to gay and lesbian people.
As I said in my Christmas Sermon in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in 2003: churches have been ‘complicit in injustice to gay and lesbian people and the resulting human suffering.’ That is why, then too, I felt compelled ‘humbly and contritely to ask forgiveness’ of gay and lesbian people, even though it is too late for far too many.
I realise that many gay and lesbian people have given up on institutional religion, or on religion altogether: ‘a plague on your houses.’ Others are trying to hang in there; as one gay couple in one of our parishes said to me recently ‘we are just about clinging on to the church by our fingertips.’ Hanging in there is hard, faced with what one gay person has described as the Church’s ‘relentless negativity towards me and others’ who are gay. If you are hanging on to a cliff edge the last thing you need is some fellow believers stomping on those straining finger tips.
In terms of an awareness-raising week like this, it seems to me that it is very fundamental to underscore the diversity of humanity among LGBT people: some are religious: others are not. Some wrestle with the things of faith: others do not. Equally, although it does not always seem so to the outsider hearing official church pronouncements, there is diversity of outlook within churches on LGBT issues.
There are many Christians, including myself, who believe that God’s justice, God’s love and the inclusiveness of God, must bear fruit in unqualified equality for gay and lesbian people too. As a friend, a gay priest in the UK said only this weekend:
Being gay is not a choice, it is my being, who and what I am as a person before God and though it does not define all that I am it is inseparable from my sense of self and of course from my faith.
Strangely, something that gives me hope – paradoxically – is the fact that almost from the start, Christians have been arguing among themselves about something or other. First the argument was about circumcision. Since then the Christian story has been one of prejudice, injustice, labelling as ‘the other’ and failing to show Christ’s love, being overcome step by step: slaves, Jews, science, single mothers, children born outside marriage, people in interchurch marriages, victims of suicide, the downfall of apartheid, divorcees, women (first in decision-making in the Church and then in the ordained ministry); standing up to racism. Think in our own lifetime of how, arising from our sense of the love of Christ, our attitudes have changed in the Church to many of these people, issues and situations.
Awareness is the state or ability to perceive. If that is to happen we all need to be open to looking around – to seeing, hearing, listening and encountering, yes, but most especially, to take the risk of reaching out to understand, especially of reaching out to embrace people we think are different from us.
I want, therefore, to encourage especially those gay and lesbian people who are involved in church life, or who once were, to engage with the debates many churches are having at the current time. About an hour ago Shirley Temple Bar tweeted: ‘Sharing LGBT stories is an important step on the road to equality.’ I agree with that, and I ask you not to give up on religion and religious institutions.
It is essential that your voices and experiences are heard and listened to. More important, it is vital that you do not let people drive you away. The loving welcome and inclusion of you is not theirs to take away: that love, that inclusion, that welcome, that belonging are God’s gift – God’s grace – offered to you as much as to anyone else.
The Church of Ireland has at least one diocesan bishop who is not afraid of speaking at a public meeting of LGBT people in his own diocese.
Bishop Paul Caulton, whose is pictured below with Senator Deirdre Clune, made this brave statement about his own affirmation of a class of people whom the Church has traditionally treated with less than respect in the past:
“There are many Christians, including myself, who believe that God’s justice, God’s love and the inclusiveness of God, must bear fruit in unqualified equality for gay and lesbian people too. As a friend, a gay priest in the UK said only this weekend:
“Being gay is not a choice, it is my being, who and what I am as a person before God and though it does not define all that I am it is inseparable from my sense of self and of course from my faith.”
Such a testimony – from a self-confessed gay priest – should give critics pause for thought about the aetiology of homosexuality. If one could choose one’s sexual orientation, why would one elect to be gay – when there is so much opposition from the Church and the public at large?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand