Affirm launch event in October

A very special date for your diaries: 

Affirm is delighted to invite you to our gathering in October where we will be reflecting on our journey so far, and looking forward to the task ahead of us. We are delighted that Jamie Fletcher (A Queer, Trans, Non-Binary, Christian, Artist and Activist based in Leeds; she works freelance as a theatre and film director and musician, as well as having co-founded Queer Church Leeds) will be joining us to offer a keynote speech. We will be sharing in worship and communion with one another, as well as the chance to enjoy fellowship before and after the event. 

All are welcome to this event, there is no requirement to register and there is no fee. There will be an opportunity to make a gift towards the expenses of the day.

We would appreciate an e-mail if you are planning to come, please let us know how many people may be coming along with you, this will give us some idea of numbers. If you would rather just attend on the day that’s fine too, we respect your privacy.

Book Review – ‘119’ by Jaime Sommers

Book Review

119: My Life As A Bisexual Christian

Jaime Sommers

Darton Longman Todd

In 1991 The Church Of England published ‘Issues In Human Sexuality’. It’s true to say that much Christian thinking has come a long way in the years since that document was published, but the title of this book refers to clause 5.8 of that document and the 119 words that were devoted to the subject of bisexuality.

In Christian life today, more so in progressive Christian life, many of us have come to understand that a person’s sexuality is a part of their identity to be celebrated rather than condemned, although this remains a hot topic in evangelical circles.

However bisexuality often seems to be the silent partner in the LGBT+ arena, possibly less well understood than ‘L’, ‘G’ or even ‘T’. So Jaime’s book is a welcome and compelling read.

This book is a beautiful, inspiring and at the same time disturbing autobiographical portrait from a wife and mother of twenty plus years with a happy family life whose bisexuality resulted in her being bullied and abused by the very organisation that should have been there to offer support.

I won’t spoil the story for you as it’s well worth a read, but Jaime’s journey through college and the charismatic Christian groups of the early ‘90’s through to training as a reader in the Anglican church reveals someone whose Christian faith was integral to her life and it becomes a tragic tale as we read of how the church responded to her sexuality with a disciplinary regime that brought her to a place of judgement and isolation. As someone who works as an advocate for the LGBT+ community within the Baptist church I found ‘119’ an informative and enlightening resource

Andy Long

This review originally appeared in ‘Progressive Voices’, the magazine of PCN Britain and is reproduced here by kind permission.

 

A report from Baptist Assembly 2017

Baptist Assembly 2017

Affirm members were well represented at this year’s Baptist Assembly held in May in Harrogate.  This is the Annual Meeting of the Baptist family in the UK and includes the AGMs of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission.

Under the title Beacons of Hope, encouraging stories were shared of successful and challenging initiatives, both in this country and in other parts of the world.  Times of worship with singing led by an excellent multicultural music group complimented an eclectic choice of Workshops considered topics from “Mission in a secular world” to “Lessons from Asia” to “How to apply our Christian principles as we vote in the General Election” to “How to be a Baptist evangelical and be true to our history and principles.”

Ministers and missionaries who had died in the last year were remembered and a long list of newly accredited ministers, including our own Dawn Cole-Savidge, and mission personnel were recognised with a handshake from the President, Dianne Tidball and the two General Secretaries, Lynn Green and David Kerrigan.

We were able to update many friends with details of our new website and other developments in the network and hold a good number of one to one conversations spreading knowledge of the work of Affirm.  A few more people wore the “elephant in the church” badges.  We do however lament the fact that the Assembly is now only one day, so there is much less time to mingle with new people and that there is no exhibition where we might again apply for a stall.

Martin, Luke, Dawn, Ruth and Ian

A Safe Space – LGBT+ gathering in Bristol

Elaine Sommers, a good friend of the team at Affirm, has organised an event in North Bristol called ‘A Safe Space’.

Elaine describes this event as being for Christian LGBTI+ people, their partners and friends to explore faith, life and church.

Elaine is a transgender Christian from the Bristol area and a champion for the trans and LGBT community.

Elaine tells us that this first event will about finding out what people would want from such a group, it will be a time of fellowship rather than strategy, all are welcome.

The event is on Saturday 3rd June from 10:30 until 1:00.  For further details about this event please contact Elaine.

Bible Study 2: Being A Christ-Like Church

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to lgbt people

Study 2: Being a Christ-like Church

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

In the first blog in this series I argued that Jesus accepted and affirmed people as they are and showed compassion to those who were excluded from the “straight” norm, including those “born that way” (i.e. gay people). He also avoided criticising a centurion who may well have had a gay relationship with his servant – agreeing to heal the servant because of the man’s love for him. And drawing on St Paul’s affirmation that in Christ’s church there can be no barriers, we can say in Christ there is neither lgbt nor straight – we are all one in Christ Jesus. So lgbt people are welcome in Christ’s church.

Why then are there so many churches that do not welcome lgbt people?

One problem is that – as I said in the first blog, quoting Paul “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3 v 23) or to put it another way, all of us fail to live up to what Jesus wants us to be. So churches are full of sinners! Fortunately, Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7 v 34) and those who repent of their sins can be used in the service of His kingdom, the challenge each church has to address.

The good news is that there are a growing number of churches that do genuinely welcome lgbt people and recognise and use their talents and what they can offer as full and equal members of God’s kingdom. However that is far from always the case.

In that familiar passage in John’s Gospel “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3 v 16 & 17).

So why do some of His followers and many churches so often condemn instead of welcoming? In Matthew 7 v 21 right at the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Earlier in chapter 7 at verse 1 he has said “Judge not that you be not judged” and he continues with the lovely exaggerated illustration of someone trying to take a speck of dust out of a friend’s eye when they have a huge log in their own.

There is the temptation of those who feel they understand God’s will to become arrogant. Luke records the parable that Jesus taught – of the religious leader who thanked God that he wasn’t like the “sinners” of his time and the repentant man who showed humility and knew where he had messed up. Jesus praised the repentant man as the one who was at peace with God. (Luke 18 vv9-14) Often you will hear people say “hate the sin; love the sinner”. American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has the more Christian quote “love the sinner, hate your own sin”.

As a gay man, but a Christian first of all, I am conscious of my sins and seek to examine myself regularly and repent and seek to do better, in particular as a part of the service I attend each Sunday (as I am sure each Christian does in their own way). A prayer I value is the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

There are those who believe that we can change our sexuality. Even some who say that just by being gay or trans we are “sinful”. It reminds me of the people who came to Jesus wanting to know why a disabled man was disabled. “Was it his sin or the sin of his parents?” Jesus was quite clear it was neither (John 9vv1-34). We know that, although it can be to some extent suppressed, sexuality does not change. It would be wonderful if it did as no-one chooses to be LGBT. But people will take time to learn that. Each of us has a different story to tell and makes different decisions about how we deal with our sexuality or gender identity. That is why some of us must patiently and honestly share our stories with our Christian brothers and sisters to enable them to move forward on the journey of understanding.

That is not to say that all those Christians who struggle to accept gay people are hypocritical or un-Christian. There is a great deal of misinformation about what it means to be gay or transgender. Often people will believe the stereotypes of LGBT people that are out there. Many of us have had to deal with out own homophobia to accept ourselves as we are and others have to travel that journey too.

Of course as LGBT people we, like everyone else, get things wrong. We make bad decisions, let those we love down, say hurtful or malicious things and we know it and in our better times we regret it. But the good news is that in Christ’s real church we are welcome, we are affirmed. In our relationship with Christ, if we acknowledge when we get things wrong then we can be forgiven in just the same way as any other Christian. Jesus has promised his followers the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. As we seek the truth and share with other Christians we and they will see our faults and want to deal with them. That is where we meet God and are assured of His forgiveness as we seek to turn our lives around (which is what repentance means).

Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his time. He was often misunderstood. He made what the world would see as a mistake in standing up for the vulnerable, challenging injustice, healing the sick in mind and body, breaking some of the Old Testament rules on the way. That led to a cruel death on the cross. That was not the end though. God did not leave him there but raised him from the dead. Perfect love does not die but is vindicated on that Easter Day.

Going back to Matthew 7 v 21, can we sum up what Jesus says is the Father’s will? Yes we can!! When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus doesn’t just answer with one but gives two and moreover says they sum up all the law of Moses and the prophets’ teachings – namely “Love God, with all your heart, soul and mind” and then “love your neighbour as you love yourself” Matt 22 v 36 – 40.

Paul again in his letters emphasises the importance of self-giving love among Christians, most famously in 1 Corinthians 13, which he starts by saying “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words I can be a wonderful preacher and show myself full of the Holy Spirit, but if I don’t show a loving welcome and concern for others my words will be useless.

And we can look to Jesus’ words, this time in Matthew 25, when he makes it clear that those who will “inherit the Kingdom” are those who welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable – in the passage known as the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The New Testament is full of exhortations for followers of Jesus to show love. For example, in John 15 verse 12, Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So we should be able to be recognised as Christians by our loving welcome of all, particularly those different from ourselves. It would be so easy if we could just go into any church and always find people who do God’s will and show a loving welcome to all. It was said of the early Christians by the writers of the time “See how they love one another” (Attributed to Tertullian).

Now we cannot say that there is a particular denomination that is the most Christ-like, or (much as we would like to think sometimes) that high church or low church, evangelical, liberal, charismatic or any other label marks out the best of us. Those who would seek Jesus in our churches have to “taste and see” for it is “by their fruits” that you can tell (Matthew 7 v 16). We must pray that we pass the test!

Martin Stears-Handscomb

Bible Study 1: You Are Welcome And Affirmed

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to LGBT people

Study 1: You are welcome and affirmed

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

What would Bible study be like if the church wanted to preach the Gospel to LGBT people?
Would we/they be invited to join the battle, by focussing on 6 or so verses taken out of context? I don’t think so! There is a place for responding to the agenda set by those who want to justify the homophobic attitude the church has often taken, but that isn’t all there is!

Surely we should be introducing people to Jesus – the person that helps make sense of it all

In a world whose gods – money, sex, possessions – do not satisfy, Jesus’ teaching, as we find it in the gospels offers us a way of living that turns that upside down, that puts self-giving love at the centre. And Paul explains how, although we all get it wrong and keep getting it wrong, Jesus, by his sacrificial love on the cross has put us right with God.

In Romans 3 v 23, Paul writes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on in the next verse to say we are “justified freely by God’s grace through Jesus”. This wonderful explanation by Paul in chapters 1 – 5 is summed up in chapter 5 verse 8 in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

But is this open to LGBT people? Is just being gay sinful? What was Jesus’ attitude?

In Jesus’ day as in all ages there were LGBT people. But they would be likely to be oppressed, repressed, in the closet, at least in Jewish society. For gay men at the extreme of the spectrum there would be the issue of being inadequate in marriage and potentially ostracised. In his teaching on divorce, Jesus speaks of people who were “born that way” (Good News Bible) or “born eunuchs” as well as those “men made that way”. Gay men would be seen as emotional eunuchs. Jesus’ concern was that they should not be forced into heterosexual marriage.

In Matthew 19 vv 11 – 12 “Jesus answered “This teaching (the teaching on marriage and divorce) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some because they were born that way; others because men made them that way …” Jesus was certainly not saying that everyone ought to be able to have a straight marriage if they prayed hard enough. His concern was with people as they are. And although there is no similar comment about women, Jesus’ concern for women to be treated fairly and sensitively by men, perhaps gives us a flavour of how he would have treated the lesbian women of his day.

There was however, homosexual practise in surrounding societies, looked down on by those in self-righteous Jewish religious groups such as the Pharisees. For example, Roman army leaders, unable to take a wife with them on their campaigns would often choose an attractive young male servant to satisfy their sexual desires. These young men or boys were known as catamites. Jesus would have known this when he met a centurion who asked him to save the servant who he loves. The centurion has left his “very dear” servant at home in bed. Jesus doesn’t ask if he is the centurion’s catamite, which might be expected – but what matters to Jesus is his love for him and so he heals him. What Jesus is concerned with is self-giving love. You can find the story in Luke chapter 7 or Matthew chapter 8 vv 5 and following.

What about Paul?

Christians argue about what Paul means when he criticises the abuse of sexuality. This is really the subject of another study but a number of brief interesting things can be said here. Because of his initial belief that the second coming was imminent, in his early writings, Paul actually advocated refraining from sexual activity for all Christians, whatever their sexuality but with the concession of seeking a loving partnership (i.e. marriage) rather than “burning with passion”.

In 1 Corinthians 7 vv 8-9 he writes “Now to the unmarried, and to the widows I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do. But if you cannot restrain your desires go ahead and marry – it is better to marry than to burn with passion” Verse 25 makes clear he is giving opinion, not commands from the Lord.

But more important, Paul makes clear that no one is excluded for who they are.   Turning to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them in that wonderful verse at the beginning of chapter 3 “You foolish Galatians, who has put a spell on you?   What is this spell? It is the idea that putting up barriers can restrict the gospel to those who fit, in their case those (men of course) who had been circumcised. No says Paul! Faith in Christ has made us all equal. He concludes with that fabulous and shocking verse to the people of the time, verse 28. He gives three examples, “there is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes one “you are all one in Christ Jesus”, so that to the end of eternity when the church tries to set up barriers we can go on adding categories – so there is indeed neither gay nor straight is God’s kingdom!

So you are Welcome, but are you “Affirmed?”

Over the last few years many of those in churches such as ours have drawn the distinction between churches who welcome and affirm lgbt people – which is code for saying you are welcome and it’s okay to have gay sex – and churches who welcome and do not affirm – which is code for saying that you are “welcome” but are expected not to have sex and in varying degrees expected to “repent”, be “celibate”, try to be heterosexual, etc. Someone has described this as “Exercises in Missing the Point”. Once we establish that there are LGBT people, that we are here, churches must stop indulging in the sort of prurience that would be utterly unacceptable if the subjects were married straight people. Let us redefine Affirming as accepting people as they are – as Jesus affirms people – invites us to come as we are. We believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so let us leave lgbt people to search the scriptures themselves. Some will conclude that certain ways of expressing their love are inappropriate and refrain from them. Others will not. But that is between us and God.

So the answer is yes – gay man, lesbian woman, transgendered person, bisexual person, intersex person, whoever you are. In Christ’s church you are welcome, you are affirmed, you are a child of God valued by him for who you are. And whatever you have done – and we all screw up – we are made right with God, because Jesus who never got it wrong at all, made us right with God through accepting the worst that people could throw at him for our sakes – Yes! being judicially murdered, despised, misunderstood, taunted, torn from those he loved to die the most wretched death, but yes vindicated by God – for us!!!!! That is the Gospel we want to share with you. And may God bless you and make His face to shine upon you because there is a place for you in His church!

Martin Stears-Handscomb