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Will you weep with us too?

My name is Andrew McFarland Campbell, and I have been working to support LGBT Christadelphians in one way or another for a very long time. My notes on the subject go back as far as the early 1990s, starting around the time I was baptized. Over the years, I have had the privilege of getting to know many other LGBT Christadelphians and their loved ones. Mostly, it must be said, it has been other gay men.

In the past few weeks, following the killing of George Floyd, a lot has been said about racism, and many people have finally realized just how pernicious and awful racism is. I’ve seen white, middle-class, heterosexual men weep as they begin to understand what racism really means. This is a good thing. More and more people are waking up to how harmful this cancer upon society is.

When I think about racism I think of Galatians chapter 3, verses 26 to 29:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26–29, NIV 2011

When Paul wrote that, he wasn’t writing about some future time, he was writing about how things are for those of us in Christ. How things are now, not how they will be in the future. It is not “There will be neither Jew nor Gentile,” it is “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.”

In the plain teaching of scripture, racism is wrong. 

In recent weeks, I have seen people weep when they consider the world today and Galatians 3.

But the teaching of Galatians goes beyond just racial tolerance. It goes way beyond. “Neither slave nor free” is obviously about race, and it is about economic inequality too. “Nor is there male and female” is condemnation of sexism, and although you might not realize it, it is condemnation of homophobia.

Racism arises from the idea that there is a difference between different ‘races’, and that one’s race determines one’s role. Imagine a young Christadelphian tells you that they are in love with someone. They have found the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. You wouldn’t ask what race their beloved was, and even if you did, you wouldn’t use their race to determine whether or not you thought their relationship was ‘valid’. If you say that the relationship is only permissible for certain combinations of race, then you are saying that Jew and Gentile do exist in Christ, and if you say that you are rejecting the clear teaching of Galatians.

Now imagine another young Christadelphian tells you that they are in love with someone. They have found the person they want to spend the rest of their life with. Do you use the sex of their beloved to determine whether or not you think their relationship is ‘valid’? If you say that the relationship is only permissible if one of the parties is male and the other female, then you are saying that there is male and female in Christ and if you say that you are rejecting the clear teaching of Galatians.

Galatians teaches us that we cannot use race when morally evaluating someone else’s relationship, and it teaches us that we cannot use gender either.

I have faced prejudice because of my sexual orientation. There are individuals and ecclesias who refuse to talk to me. I have had people assume that I am somehow dangerous to children and young people. I have been physically threatened and blackmailed by other Christadelphians because I am gay.

As I said, I have got to know many LGBT Christadelphians. They have faced prejudice too. That is one of the awful things about prejudice. It doesn’t apply to individuals. It applies to groups of people. I know of parents who have disowned, or threatened to disown their gay children. I know of gay people who have been pressured into opposite-sex relationships. I know of people who have been disfellowshipped for the perceived sin of being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And perhaps the worst of all I have known LGBT people who have an interest in learning about the Gospel but have been driven away from Christ because of the attitudes that Christadelphians express towards gay people.

I often hear people say things like “same-sex relationships go against everything the Christadelphians believe”. That is fundamentally untrue. Nothing in traditional Christadelphian belief stands opposed to same-sex relationships. The fundamental Christadelphian beliefs, the beliefs that unite us, are clearly stated in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, the Commandments of Christ, and the Doctrines to be Rejected. Nothing in those documents forbids the belief that same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships are on an equal moral footing.[1]

You, I hope, will stand up to racism whenever you encounter it. You, I hope, will stand up to sexism. Will you stand up to homophobia too?

If someone is blackmailed because of their sexual orientation, will you stand with their blackmailers or will you stand with them? 

If Christadelphian parents reject their gay son or daughter, will you stand with the parents or will you stand with their child?

When someone is cast out of their ecclesia because they are gay, even though there is nothing in traditional Christadelphian beliefs that says that is wrong, will you  stand with that ecclesia, or will you extend the right hand of fellowship to the one who was cast out and invite them to join your ecclesia?

Racism is wrong. Sexism is wrong. Homophobia is wrong. This is clearly taught in the Bible. 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

If you treat one Christadelphian differently to another because of their race then you are saying that Jew and Gentile do exist in Christ and you are rejecting the teaching of Galatians.  

If you treat one Christadelphian differently to another because of their gender, then you are saying that there is male and female in Christ and you are rejecting the teaching of Galatians.

If you treat one Christadelphian differently to another because of the gender of their partner, then you are saying that there is male and female in Christ and you are rejecting the teaching of Galatians.

It is our Christian duty to tackle racism in all its forms. It is our Christian duty to tackle sexism. And it is our Christian duty to tackle homophobia. 

In the past few weeks, many of us have wept about the racism in the world and in the Christadelphian body. Many of us have wept about the sexism. How many of us have wept about the homophobia? I know I have. I have wept for the young gay man terrified that he will lose his family and his place in his ecclesia if anyone knew he was gay. I have wept for another young man who did lose those things. And I have wept for a gay Christadelphian who was so overwhelmed by the stresses he was under that he destroyed his life with substance abuse.

The simple plain words of Galatians speak to us all of equality.

Will you weep for everyone who has faced prejudice? Perhaps more importantly, will you stand up against racism, sexism, and homophobia as the New Testament tells us to?

Further reading

What a Christadelphian should believe about same-sex relationships

Footnotes

[1] There are other forms of the Christadelphian statement of faith; how they relate to each other is outside the scope of this video. The definitive versions of the BASF, Commandments of Christ, and Doctrines to be rejected can be found in The Ecclesial Guide by Robert Roberts.

Seven Years Ago Today

Seven years ago today, my life changed forever.

Seven years and one day ago, my life was not in a good place. I was all but completely estranged from my family. I was single, and I was lonely. I had been the target of homophobia from a number of different directions, both low- and high-grade. It was wearing me down. When I encountered homophobia I was made to feel it was my fault. I always had to be defensive, and even though I was never ashamed of being gay, never ashamed that I could love, there was always fear.

Seven years ago, I was on the Belfast Pride committee, because I had decided it was better to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.

Seven years ago today was the Belfast Pride parade. Organising a parade takes a lot of work, both long- and short-term. In the preceding months, the committee had done all the long-term work. The short-term work has to be done, by its very nature, on the day of the parade. One of the shortest-term jobs is for a small team to walk maybe two minutes ahead of the parade to check for any last-minute problems.

Seven years ago today, my job was to lead that team. I lead the team along the parade route, with the parade so close behind. Along High Street. Along North Street. Then onto Royal Avenue. The thing about High Street and North Street is they aren’t very good points to watch the parade. The real crowd is on Royal Avenue.

Seven years ago today, I walked onto Royal Avenue, down the middle of the road, and the crowd started to cheer me. Well, they weren’t cheering me exactly. They were cheering what I represented. That cheer changed me.

Seven years ago today, as I walked up Royal Avenue, with the parade behind me, and the crowd cheering me, I stopped being afraid. I became me. Since that day, when I have encountered hostility I have not reacted defensively. I have lived my life as me. Unafraid. If someone wants to treat me less favourably because I am gay, then I see it as their problem, their fault, and their flaw, not in any way, shape, or form mine.

I have walked in Belfast Pride, London Pride, Foyle Pride, Dublin Pride, and Gibraltar Pride. What is Pride about? Pride is about knowing that if someone wants to treat you less favourably because you are gay, or bisexual, or lesbian, or trans, or anything that comes under the great Pride umbrella, then it is their problem, and their flaw, not in any way, shape, or form yours.

If living without fear is an amazing thing, seven years ago today something else changed. The Belfast Pride committee was quite big seven years ago. When I got back to Custom House Square, where the main after-parade party was, I got talking to one of my colleagues on the committee. I didn’t really know him before that day.

Seven years ago today I began to fall in love with him.

Seven years ago today, fear was replaced by love.

Gaudy shirts and ill-fitting jeans: a response to Orlando

13434759_10154946339179535_1962599567814241338_nI’ve had about four hours sleep, and it is largely down to the news from Orlando. On Facebook, I have seen someone comment on PULSE, saying that it was a place where people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts” could have a “good time”. Now, I suspect that I know more than most people about what goes on in gay bars and clubs. What is the “good time” that people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts” can have in places like PULSE?

Imagine that one day all your friends stop talking to you. Suddenly you find that your colleagues are less friendly than they once were, and your work is considerably less satisfactory than it once was. Your family – your family – will no longer have anything to do with you, and unless you are very lucky that actually makes you at risk of homelessness. Your church, your church that you have attended your whole life and that you have served from the moment you were old enough, has cast you out, humiliating you as much as it possibly can. Everything you had that you valued has been taken away from you.

So what do you do?

You put on your ill-fitting jeans and a gaudy shirt and you go out to somewhere like PULSE. You go there for a “good time”, which means that you make new friends, and you find new family. People who don’t reject you because of your “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts”. People who care about you. Maybe they help you find somewhere to work where you are accepted for who you are. Maybe they can help you find a landlord who will treat you with basic dignity. They may even help you find a new church. The primary “good time” that is provided is a rebuilding of the things you have lost.

To be sure, lots of other things happen as well, because a community of humans has all aspects of human life in it, but anyone who thinks that the world at large isn’t rife with all sorts of bad “good times” is very wrong.

I know of a place in London. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Everyone who goes gets a warm welcome, no matter how ill-fitting their jeans are, or how gaudy their shirts are. Even on Christmas day, when those people with well-fitting jeans and tasteful shirts are together with their families. There is somewhere similar in Belfast, and I suspect in most large cities.

Think about that. Your family has rejected you because they don’t like your ill-fitting jeans, or your gaudy shirt, but there are doors you can walk through where you are accepted and, dare I say it, loved from the moment you are through.

I know of a man who once owned a bar where ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts were de rigeur. He himself wore shirts so gaudy they can be seen from space. One day, a traveller visited his bar. On his way back to where he was staying the traveller was involved in a bad accident. He ended up in hospital for several months. He was thousands of miles from anyone who knew about him. Yet he wasn’t alone, because the man who owned the bar visited him, every day, until he was safely back with his friends.

That is the sort of “good time” that places like PULSE offer to people in “ill-fitting jeans and gaudy shirts.”

Gay bars and clubs are not bars and clubs. They are our homes. Our families. Our communities. They are our churches. They are companionship. They are safety. They are everything that society has taken from us for being who we are, and we have rebuilt.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Christians and the Conscience Clause

Faith and Pride

Christian consciences have been a concern since the days of the New Testament. A long time ago, a wise man called Paul the Apostle gave advice to the Christians in Corinth about how to handle their consciences.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral … But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral… Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

In Paul’s view, your conscience regarding ‘sexually immoral’ people did not stop you interacting with them as normal. It was only when a fellow Christian was sexually immoral that you were supposed to invoke Paul’s conscience clause: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you…

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Equal marriage in Gibraltar

Faith and Pride

10685496_738278972922937_6941628744041493341_nI have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Gibraltar Chronicle.

Although I have only lived in Gibraltar for a short time, I have been much struck by the diversity and tolerance shown here. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahá’í, people of other faiths, and people of no faith all live together in mutual respect. Gibraltar enjoys religious freedom to an extent that most of the world can only dream about.

This freedom does not come freely, and everyone who lives here must protect and promote this freedom that we all share. Supporting religious freedom means that we should support same-sex marriage. People from all parts of the religious spectrum support same-sex marriage, and there are churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples that would gladly perform same-sex weddings.

When we say that the law only recognises opposite-sex marriage, we are saying that the religious views of people like M. Bear (Letters, 21st November 2014) are more…

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The Biblical view on being gay and a Christian

Faith and Pride

And another letter published in the Belfast Telegraph.

I take the Bible just as seriously as any other Christian from Northern Ireland. If there were really a single sound-bite verse that could prove that you cannot be gay and Christian, as Good News Messenger seems to think (Writeback, November 17), then I would listen to what it said, and close my organisation Faith and Pride.

As proof that you can’t be gay and Christian, Good News Messenger quoted the 2011 NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. On the face of it, that translation does seem to be convincing, but only on the face of it. There are two Greek words (malakos and arsenokoites) that are translated together to become “men who have sex with men”. In other translations they become things like “effeminate”, “self-indulgent”, and “sexual perverts”. It seems that translators are not in agreement about what is meant.

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Remember, some of us are both gay and Christian

Faith and Pride

I have had another letter on same-sex marriage published in the Belfast Telegraph.

IT seems that much of the coverage of the gay marriage cake affair has portrayed it as Christians on one side and gay people on the other. It is too easy for people to forget that some of us are both.

There are gay people who are Christians and there are Christians who support same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is a long Christian tradition of fully supporting same-sex relationships.

While this tradition has, arguably, always been in the minority, being in the minority does not mean that you are not Christian.

I am lucky enough to know the “gay activist” who ordered the cake in question. I am perplexed by that label. I think he is better described as a “community worker”. He is a man who goes out of his way to help people, particularly those…

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Love the sinner, hate the sin?

Faith and Pride

The adage “love the sinner but hate the sin” is often used in discussions of Christianity and same-sex relationships, usually in a context where someone is saying “I love you, but I hate your sinful relationship”. This is problematic for two reasons, a secondary reason, and a fundamental reason.

The secondary reason is that it isn’t very loving, or if it is, it is using a definition of love that is so far removed from normal experience it is meaningless. My relationship with my husband is based on strong mutual love. If you are telling me that that love is something that should be hated, then that tells me your definition of love is nothing like my own.

You might say that you love your dog, even though it keeps you up all night with its barking. That might even be true. But when you say you ‘love’ me but…

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Equal Marriage Discussion in the Belfast Telegraph

Faith and Pride

I have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Belfast Telegraph. The letter was shortened a bit for publication. The original is below.

Dear Sir,

With reference to Cynthia Campbell’s letter about same-sex laws (Letters, February 12), I would simply like to say that, as a practising Christian who takes God seriously and so believes the Bible’s teaching and prophesies and guidelines, I have to adhere to what it says about homosexuality as much as to any other subject.

So, as marriage is ordained by God in the first place and as being not for procreation but for companionship (Genesis 2:18), then you might consider that anything suggested by man as being a marriage does actually make it one as long as it meets this criterion. Christians who believe that marriage is about procreation should take note that procreation is not mentioned until after the Fall.

As the founder…

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Fencing Around the Gospel

I started learning to drive recently, and I am really enjoying it. There is something magical about controlling 1,500kg of steel with a tiny amount of pressure from my hands and feet. So magical, in fact, that it is very easy to accidentally use a little too much pressure on the right foot, and without even realising it, break the speed limit. So what do I do? When I’m driving, I usually aim to go slightly below the speed limit – say 28 mph in a 30 zone. That way, when I inevitably make a mistake and go too fast, I am still within the speed limit (and, at the same time, I’m not going so slowly that I cause problems for other drivers).  This additional personal constraint means I don’t break the speed limit.

This is not dissimilar to  chumra, a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law. This is also known as building a “fence around the Torah”. You know what the commandments of God are, and where you think you might be prone to breaking them, you put in additional restrictions to help you keep God’s commandments. This is a good idea, as long as you know the difference between your fence and God’s commandments.

People have been building fences like these for thousands of years. In fact, the first fence in the Bible can be found in Genesis Chapter 3. The first recorded commandment of God is in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(NIV)

Eve repeats the commandment in Genesis 3:2-3:

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(NIV)

Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree, but Eve had built a fence around that commandment: she said that it was forbidden to touch the tree. Now, I think it was quite sensible to decide that the tree should not be touched. After all, if you don’t allow yourself to even touch the tree, then you are avoiding some situations where you might be tempted to eat from it. The problem is, Eve forgot that the no touching rule was a human rule, not a commandment of God. It was, as Mark 7:7 would say,  “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)

Living as a Christian is not the same as living under the Law of Moses. We don’t have lists of commandments that we must follow. Nonetheless, there are ways that Christians ought to behave, and many of us build our own “fences around the Gospel”. The trouble is, it is very easy to forget that our fences are only our fences. Someone else may need a completely different fence. I know Christians who refuse to do any work on a Sunday, regarding it as the Lord’s day. That is fine for them. It works for them, but Christians don’t have to take this attitude. As long as we remember the “no work on a Sunday” rule is a personal fence, then nobody is teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.

There is another fence that many Christians put around the gospel, but they don’t realise it. Matthew 19:4-6:

 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”(NIV)

Someone recently said to me, using this passage as proof, “God made only one plan for human sexuality: one man and one woman in a covenantal marriage relationship for life.” Nobody could read that passage and think that God somehow disapproved of one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship, but it is a fence around the Gospel to say that is the only way to live, and it is teaching for doctrines the commandments of men to say that God says this is the only way to live. Paul actively discourages marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, but we don’t even have to leave Matthew 19 to find out that not everybody can live in that way, “but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11, NIV)

When a Christian takes the teaching of Matthew 19 and decides that they are one of those to “whom it has been given” and they will lead their lives accordingly, then that is a good thing. They have built themselves a little fence around the Gospel. When the same Christian decides that their fence should apply to everybody then it ceases to be a fence, and it becomes “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” That is a sin that is as serious as the one that Eve committed, all the way back in Genesis.