Speakers from a variety of faith perspectives, Christian and otherwise, were invited to share with us how they related their beliefs about sexuality and their faith, and how their organisations helped others to do so. The House provided warm hospitality in pleasantly old-fashioned surroundings. It was good to meet old friends, and also to make new friendships among the several newcomers.
The speakers were from:
Each speaker talked about the history, aims and activities of their group, and how they face the challenges within their particular sphere of influence. In a final session, we were encouraged to submit written questions to all the speakers so that they could share more with us and each other.
Hearing the stories of the Christian speakers in close succession provided some new perspectives. All of their groups, with the exception of Changing Attitude, have arisen from conservative circles where life for lesbian and gay Christians has presented particular challenges, and it could be argued that Changing Attitude is facing similar challenges as a result of the current problems within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The messages from the two non-Christian speakers were in some ways very different yet in other ways strikingly similar. Islam, like Christianity, owes much to the Hebrew tradition upon which Judaism is based. Gay and lesbian Jews as well as Christians are challenged by the Levitical prohibitions within our shared scriptures, while the Koran also includes the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom. It is, however, much less specific than the Genesis account, referring to general debauchery rather than threatened homosexual rape; one must look elsewhere for any condemnation of homosexual acts.
It became very clear that, while much oppression exists within the conservative sections of the faiths, there are also circles within them where lesbians and gays are at least tolerated if not fully accepted. The appalling homophobia expressed by some of the more vociferous Islamic spokesmen should not blind us to the much more thoughtful, considered viewpoints expressed by more moderate leaders.
One issue that became clear to me was the proportion of both Muslims and Jews who, though they no longer practise their faith, still identify strongly as Muslim or Jewish. While that may be equally true of many so-called nominal Christians, the latter as a majority have less need to emphasise their Christian identity.
By the Sunday morning worship, the speakers had left for other engagements. There was no need for a sermon given all we had learned over the weekend, and the prayers, readings and shared act of communion simply spoke for themselves.