Gay Christians ‘being forced out’ by evangelical churches

The Guardian, UK/June 10, 2018

By Nicholas Hellen

Worshippers in the evangelical wing of the Church of England say they are being forced out for being gay.

Others have been allowed to stay but are being removed from all positions of responsibility, such as playing music in church services, running study groups and making tea and coffee.

Jayne Ozanne, an influential Church of England evangelical who is gay, said she would raise their plight at the General Synod next month and ask whether churches are breaching the official guidelines of the House of Bishops.

She said the disclosures would prompt a “#MeToo” moment for the church: “I have learnt of dozens of cases recently.” In a book, Just Love, published on Tuesday, she describes how she had two breakdowns as she tried to reconcile being gay and evangelical.

Ozanne is among seven churchgoers who have given accounts of their treatment to The Sunday Times. One Christian in her thirties, a clinician educated at an elite university, said she was forced to leave her church in London and was threatened with damnation after her priest guessed that she was having a lesbian love affair.

“He told me I had to stop this relationship immediately. I could have the thoughts, but not act. I was a Sunday club leader, a women’s study group leader. I was booted out within three weeks.”

A friend from her church, part of the conservative evangelical mainstream, tried to “win her back” with an email that she claimed was “loving and supportive” but said: “The truth of scripture is that God condemns homosexuality and promises eternal damnation for all those who practise it.

“I am sure you have heard many verses [describing] how homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. You may try to... interpret the verses... and justify your sin. The danger is that it may push you deeper into the pit.”

The woman, who has now married her female partner and has a baby, said she had to move house because a member of the congregation came “literally knocking down the doors on my street to find me and tell me their views”. She had to take three months off work to recover.

She has now joined a more accepting evangelical church but is still excluded from any leadership role. “In Britain most people would think this could happen in an extreme Muslim environment,” she said.

“They don’t think fundamentalist Christians would behave like that... My parents would have described it as a cult. My non-Christian friends think it is barking mad.”

She added, though, that she understood that those who condemned her sexuality did so out of love.

Lisa Lewis said she left Trinity Cheltenham, a charismatic Anglican church with the motto “celebrating life”, after she was criticised for posting supportive messages on social media.

In another case, a former youth leader in Lichfield, Staffordshire, was asked to step aside even though he was in a celibate civil partnership. In May, Lichfield became the first diocese to issue a formal instruction to all clergy and lay ministers to say LGBT+ people should feel welcomed and honoured.

It sparked a strong riposte from Rod Thomas, the Bishop of Maidstone, who suggested that same-sex couples show “repentance” before they take holy communion.

This weekend David Ison, dean of St Paul’s, hit back in favour of tolerance. He wrote: “It seems bizarre that the church is spending so much of its energy on getting Christian LGBT people to repent when they are living ordered lives and are looking for the church’s blessing.”

The Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, chairwoman of the Church of England’s pastoral advisory group on issues of human sexuality, said: “We are all made in the image of God and there is a place for everyone in God’s church. I recognise with gratitude the service and contribution LGBTI+ people bring to the life of our church — in a whole range of roles.”

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