Last Sunday morning I happened to be at the end of a week-long trip to London, hobbling around with a moon-boot through blocked-off streets full of rainbow-clad London Pride participants.
There’s not many times in your life you can write a sentence like that.
2017 marks the 48th anniversary of the game-changing Stonewall Riots of 1969, and London celebrated in typical traffic-stopping style. In one of the hottest weeks in London on record, Sunday seemed the hottest day of all, what with the influx of almost a million people for the event. Entire blocks were closed to traffic, and getting out to Heathrow later in the day proved to be an expensive drawn-out challenge.
I personally wasn’t aware of the significance of the parade or the London Pride campaign until I arrived in the city. I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquity of Gilbert Baker’s now-iconic LGBT rainbow flag. Every store-front displayed the icon, every flag pole flew the flag, for weeks before Sunday’s event. The slogan was “Love Happens Here”. The message was, “You’re welcome in London”.
Of all the displays of the LGBT flag, I was really taken with the sight of it draped over the altar in the venerable St. James church in Piccadilly. Christopher Wren’s cavernous interior is enough to behold in itself, but in this context the flag’s eye-catching colours proved more attention-grabbing than the ancient stained-glass windows. Of course, the flag’s very presence there, besides the manner of its display, is a talking-point in itself.
In the West, Christianity at large still likes to believe it enjoys some form of ‘pride of place’, if you will, in terms of any kind of ‘official morality police’ (I would have used the word ‘religion’, but that’s a dirty word in these Dawkinsy times). Modern Europe is considered by many to be a post-Christian environment, whereas in the US Christianity in its very limited quasi-fundamentalist Evangelical form still claims to be the moral arbiter of society. Institutionalised Christianity’s waning but nevertheless insistent opposition to the modern phenomenon of LGBT rights is therefore a fascinating thing to behold.
I’m not going into all that here. It’s obvious to many that traditional ‘Christianity’ (I’m putting that in inverted commas because so much of historical Christian belief has so little to do with the actual teaching of Jesus) is opposed on every level to the very concept of homosexuality, let alone transgender issues. So, the obvious support and acceptance shown to the movement by a 400-year-old Anglican church in the heart of what was once the seat of “Christian Britain” is, at this point in history, an encouraging and noteworthy thing.
Society in general began easing up its moral abhorrence of homosexuality far earlier than the Church at large did. To its shame, the Church has told homosexuals for decades that they are lepers that Jesus can somehow ‘cure’, and that until that happens they just cannot expect to be welcomed into Jesus’ loving arms, let alone the church’s. This uncomfortable position has begun to shift in the last few years, thanks largely to the advocacy of Christian LGBT groups and influential thinkers like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Eugene H. Peterson, author of the ubiquitous “Message” bible. The argument is, “I’m gay, and I love God, and I should have the right to approach God in my humanity, as I am”.
Of course, this remains a hot-button issue for mainline Christians. Along with abortion, it appears to be the divisive issue of our times. For many others though, the huge idea of a big God that actually loves everything in creation appears to be winning, and forward-thinking churches are finally embracing the liberating idea that ‘gay people are people too’. “Gay liberation”, in other words, is not just for gay people.
I posted a picture of that flag draped over the St James altar on Instagram. It received a lot of likes and comments of support and general positivity. As the saying goes, however, “there’s always someone, isn’t there?”, and in response to my comment of “this church is very clear what side it’s on”, I received the following little dart of poison:
Or possibly they just wish to remind parishioners of God’s promise to not destroy the earth again with water, no matter the perversity of its people?
Cosmic, all-inclusive, mystic, unconditional, uncreated, Spiritual Christ-love is simply too good to be true, even for those who profess to love God. It’s too threatening. Human beings for centuries have preferred the angry, punitive, psychotically petty god that is only appeased by blind obedience to strict rules and regulations. That is changing, thankfully, in our lifetime, and humanity can partly thank the LGBT community for challenging us to think more broadly about what real love might actually look like.
There’s a long journey ahead, at the end of which, love wins. We’d best try and stick together.
“Shame on you!” Watch religious protestors in action at London Pride 2017 here: