Don’t Go Listening to Lies….”

← The Rainbow of Non-violent Advocacy

Posted on October 22, 2019by Jayne Ozanne

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

I rather enjoy taking assembly. Our school invites the local vicar to kick off the week first thing on Monday morning. Before I am introduced they sing a song. Hymns are long gone. They sing along to an audio backing and it’s all really rather good. Catchy tunes that they are likely to keep singing during the day and a worthy message. God gets a look in, and all sorts of ideas about living in a kind and generous way. Given some of the nonsense we sing in church I think they get a pretty good deal.

This week’s song was very powerful at all sorts of levels:

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

In the context of Mental Health Awareness Week this was important stuff. Maybe children are specially vulnerable to lies getting inside their head. Lies about how much it matters what you look like, what you weigh. Lies about who is acceptable and who is to be scorned. Lies about the importance of money and fame. Lies that tell you that you are less valuable than other people, or indeed more valuable.

As adults we are also vulnerable to lies, nowhere more so than in the context of religion.

In their autobiographies both Jayne Ozanne and Vicky Beeching tell of how lies about their sexuality got inside their head and led to life threatening consequences.

The script runs throughout pretty much every religion. In order to be a cohesive community, local, national or even world-wide there needs to be a community identity. This means that the persona of the ‘true believer ‘ emerges. This can involve racial background, it can be dress code, it can be social behaviour and of course it can be adherence to a moral code. People who wish to belong are scrutinised,  and have those aspects of their lives that don’t fit in identified . They are instructed to change. The fundamental lie is that you simply being you won’t do. Despite the fact that the curtain in the temple was torn in  two at the crucifixion, religious leaders still take it upon themselves to act as mediators between individuals and God. They use the power of the religion to control and if it is a religion that does a personal God then they obviously frame that control as ‘the will of God.’

This is extraordinarily powerful stuff. Once you see this you can begin to understand why intelligent and privileged boys believed John Smythe’s cruel theology and submitted to GBH. It’s an example of the biggest lie that religion tells people and it is at the core of why so many good people reject faith. The lie is that God is cruel.

Of course no-one actually says that. They cover it up with the little word ‘but’. ‘Of course God is love, but he (in this version God is always ‘he’) is also just. ‘ Or  -‘God is love but he loves you so  much he wants you to leave the person you love most in the world and live and loveless, sexless life.’

The majority of people grow out of this form of religion. Either they realise that Jesus meant it when he said ‘love the Lord your God……and love your neighbour’ or they escape from faith altogether.

But there is a world of difference between knowing in your mind that something is not true and experiencing it. In The Times on 16.10.19 Daniel Finkelstein explores the way public lies can be exposed but it doesn’t change anything. People make up their minds on the basis of false information, but when they discover that it is false they often still stick with the original opinion. It’s too late. The emotional effect of the false information has been internalised.

So if you have been taught that God is basically judgemental and potentially cruel -that God is watching you…..then even once you’ve learnt that is far, far from the truth, it still leaves you fearful.

My mother grew up in that sort of faith community. She loved her parents deeply and in the end had to leave the country to escape the religion without hurting them. Even so she didn’t cut her hair until her mother had died because, er, God didn’t want her to have short hair. Even so she felt so guilty when she went to the cinema, although she no longer believed it was wicked.

These are trivial examples. But what about the very deepest stuff? The lie that this angry God will never fully accept you the way he created you? That it isn’t only what you do, but who you are that is wrong? This doesn’t mend overnight. If you are looking for healing it seems that God asks us to be care for one another: to be the incarnate love that Jesus demonstrated and we are now responsible for.  This is why support groups have such an important role. We all need to have the experience of being loved, not just the idea of it, and that includes the love of God. If this faith of ours is worth anything at all it must surely be evidenced in the way we treat one another.

The children’s song was indeed spot on.

Don’t go listening to lies
‘Cause once they get inside
They’ll shape the things you feel and do.
Words that people may have said,
Get stuck inside your head,
Unless you learn to think things through.

We need to be very careful about the way we talk about God, because when we get it wrong the consequences can be very bitter indeed. Thankfully when we get it right there can be healing and freedom and life in all it’s fullness.

_____________________________________________________________

It has long been acknowledged by people who have experienced trauma through the judgment of others – especially in the church – for something they have no control over (generally, or in their gender/sexual make-up and identity) that this judgement can often be based on a misunderstanding of the true facts.

For a personal of gender or sexual difference from the majority; this judgement can often lead to its subject being either withdrawn socially, or to really believe that there is something radically wrong with their situation; their emotional stability; and their personal affections. For an intrinsically same-sex attracted person, for instance, this implied criticism can affect their emotional and mental well-being and stability, leading to a dysfunctional life-style that sometimes – especially among adolescents – may lead to a lack of self-worth and possible self-harm or even suicide.

The lie here is that the actual condition of being same-sex attracted is perceived to be a grave and socially defective condition. This morally bankrupt theory – is based on an out-dated and dangerous, social and moral construction that being ‘gay’ is a profound moral (and maybe biological) defect, and ought to be eradicated, either by medical or, in appropriate cases, spiritual intervention.

One of the problems about this kind of thinking – which is behind the erroneous theory of ‘Gay-Conversion Therapy’ – is that, if this kind of therapy is tried and doesn’t work, (and in most cases it does not) the subject of this ‘treatment’ is seen to be either rebellious or, worse, morally defective.

One of the worst problems for a same-sex attracted Christian – especially in their adolescence – is that of either self-denial, or of having to hide one’s true gender or sexual identity, pretending that they are heterosexual like most of their peers. One can imagine what this must be like for the majority of homosexual Christians whose faith communities are totally opposed to any hint of gender or sexual nonconformity to the binary ‘norm’, and who believe that intrinsic (from birth) variation from the ‘norm’ is either unnatural or an acquired (thus sinful) preference.

For conservative Christians to insist that the Bible is categorically against the existence of gender or sexual difference – an idea based on selected verses which appear to convey that message – is not stricly true. While Jesus had nothing to say about ‘homosexuality’, per se, he did, in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 19, (in the context of as discourse on marriage and sexual continence) mention 3 distinct categories of ‘eunuch’ – one either incapable of – or for whom it would be unlikely that they would engage in – the act of procreation (this could be construed as heterosexual sex). The first of these mentioned by Jesus was the one who was “a eunuch from their mother’s womb” – a status shared by a naturally-conformed homosexual.

It may sound harsh to speak of The Church perpetuating ‘lies’ in the context of sexual morality. But since the advent of modern medical, scientific and social understanding of gender and sexuality in human beings, even religious organisations have come to the conclusion that there is a relatively small number of human beings whose gender and sexual makeup is different from the majority. Such people, who were once thought to be socially and spiritually ‘degenerate’, and therefore persona-non-grata in the Church; have now been recognised as being given an intrinsically different gender or sexual identity, whose origins are not ‘defective’ (or the product of degeneracy) but, rather, a natural and healthy variation of the binary ‘norm’.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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