Dear Mr Tim Farron, Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale,
Yesterday, I followed with great interest the news about your interview with Premier Christian radio in which you talked, yet again, about the subject of gay sex – which you seem to talk about more than any other person I know. As a former evangelical Christian, a gay man and a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, I was immensely happy last April when – as the then leader of the Liberal Democrat party – you finally came out and said “I don’t believe gay sex is a sin” after equivocating on the issue in various interviews prior to that. It had taken a long time for you to say it but I was relieved that you finally had; that a Christian in a position of power and influence had finally said “I do not want to cause any more hurt to gay people – gay Christians in particular – by telling them they are sinful simply for falling in love and making love”. What a good role model you appeared to be, coming across as someone who cared about young gay people – young, vulnerable, possibly very confused gay Christians – who might be listening to you. It seemed clear that you did not want to cause them distress, anxiety or shame by telling them that they should not be who they were born to be.
How interesting – and incredibly disheartening – therefore to listen to yesterday’s interview and hear you say that when you said, last April, “I don’t believe gay sex is a sin” you actually meant “I do believe gay sex is a sin”. Which is sort of exactly the opposite. And much less commendable. You explained to the two presenters of Premier Christian’s Inspirational Breakfast that you had felt pressured to tell the world that gay sex was not sinful in order to stop your Christian beliefs about sexuality detracting from the Liberal Democrats’ election messages. It turns out that you regretted not taking the opportunity to say that gay sex was sinful; you regretted “giving an answer that, frankly, was not right.”
It is this sudden revelation that you were not telling the truth back in April that has prompted me to write to you today. Regular readers of Queerily will know that it often contains mildly humorous and satirical letters designed to point out ridiculousness and sometimes even raise a smile. This letter, however, will not be mildly humorous or satirical because the statement you made yesterday is not a laughing matter. And I’d like to tell you why.
Imagine, if you will, a young Christian in an evangelical church trying to live the life their church leaders are telling them Jesus wants them to live. A young Christian who is trying to find their place in the world. A young Christian who is trying to discover who they are. A young Christian who it turns out is gay. This young gay Christian wants to live the life they’re being told is right but it’s difficult, really difficult. And why, you may ask, is it difficult? It’s difficult, as it is for all Christians, to try to turn the other cheek, to try not to swear, to try to put others before themselves, to try to forgive those who don’t deserve forgiveness. But these are all choices, things the Christian can choose to do or not to do. Things they can get better at, perhaps, over time if they are really set on doing them. This is not the main reason why life is difficult for the young gay Christian.
As an intelligent man, I’m sure you know deep down the real reason why life is so difficult for the young gay Christian, however much you may not want to admit it. The young gay Christian is being bombarded with messages from the Bible, from the Christian media, from people like you, that they have been born ‘wrong’. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that being born gay is a fault – some kind of mistake in nature – and that acting on any of their gay sexual desires is sinful.
Think about that for a minute. Let it really sink in. Here is a young person at a pivotal moment in their life discovering who they are and who they are attracted to. They have believed all that the Church has told them over many years: that Jesus is love, that God cares for them and made them in his image, that Christians care for them. And then, wham, all of a sudden, they realise that this is all conditional. If only they weren’t gay, it would be so much easier for Jesus, God and Christians to love them.
The messages they are receiving are that if they weren’t gay, they’d be signed-sealed-delivered, rubber-stamped, take-the-first-glory-train-to-heaven Christians.
And that if they were gay but never acted on any gay desires, it would be kind of awkward and they’d need constant checking on to make sure they weren’t daring to love someone of the same sex, but they’d get a seat in the back of the glory train nonetheless.
And that if they were gay and slipped up by daring to love someone of the same sex and have sex with them, they would have to feel super-ashamed and be super-penitent for ever in order to find a place beyond the Golden Arches (of heaven, not McDonald’s). But they’d still get there.
But that if they were gay and were super-happy about it and didn’t feel the need to be penitent about acting on their desires then they would be really bad, super-sinful and destined for the basement of the afterlife.
Those are pretty powerful messages. And I know exactly what you would say in response to them. You would say the things that evangelical Christians are meant to say. I’ve heard them all before – I said them all before when I was the young gay Christian we were thinking about earlier. But I wonder if, as an evangelical Christian, you could take a moment to stop and think about these words and their impact. It’s easy to say that “Jesus loves you” despite your gay desires. It’s easy to point out some verses from an ancient book and say “I didn’t come up with the rules. I have to believe these things; it says them here in black and white”. It’s easy to say “We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and that this sin is no worse than other sins Christians struggle with. And it’s easy because this rhetoric builds a smokescreen that allows Christians to step back and disassociate themselves from the pain they are causing others. It absolves them of the responsibility to empathise with the damage they are causing in the here and now.
Because damage is what you and other Christians who say that gay sex is sinful are causing. You are telling generation after generation of gay people that they have been born wrong, that their innate feelings and desires are somehow incompatible with a ‘good’ life. That’s hurtful and offensive enough to any gay person, but incredibly hurtful, offensive – and damaging – to a gay Christian. It is because of statements like this that some young gay people grow up hating themselves. It is because of statements like this that some gay people are in therapy for years trying to come to terms with who they are. You implied in your interview yesterday that it’s really tough being a Christian in the UK these days – and it may well be in some instances – but I don’t think I know many Christians who have been in therapy for years to deal with how “ridiculed” Christianity sometimes is. If you want to know about how difficult it can be to live your life as you were born to be, speak to a gay person.
I’m not entirely hopeful that you have made it this far through my letter, but you never know, maybe you’re still reading. And if you are, please bear with me, we’re nearing the end. 16 years ago I was a young gay Christian attending a large evangelical church in Sheffield, called St Thomas’s. It was – and still is – very famous in the Christian world, with a massive congregation of over 2500 people. One Sunday night after the service I went up to the main pastor and said I was experiencing homosexual tendencies. He said very confidently that he knew someone who could help me sort that out and put me in contact with another of the church’s leaders, who promised to work with me and pray it all away. After a week of praying I called him up as arranged and for 10 minutes he talked about something completely irrelevant – he couldn’t remember who I was. Needless to say, the praying the gay away did not work and I was left a very damaged little 22 year old. The glibness of the main pastor and the lack of real care of the younger pastor – and consequently the damage they caused me – stemmed from their belief that gay sex was a sin.
They caused me years of pain because they accepted without question the words of an ancient text instead of looking at the human being in front of them and realising that there was nothing wrong with him.
I managed eventually to escape the shackles of Christianity and discover true freedom, but others don’t have that opportunity. Do you really want to be the kind of Christian who causes anguish to them? Do you really want to be the kind of Christian who tells others that something about themselves that they cannot change, that causes no harm to anyone else and that in fact brings them pleasure and fulfilment is wrong? Back in April I’d have said you didn’t, but after yesterday’s back-pedal, I’m not entirely sure. It’s never too late to do another interview, though, you know. You could start pedalling in the right direction again and start helping young gay people – young gay Christian people in particular – to feel that they were born right and that loving – and making love – to the person they hold dear makes them as normal as you and me.