It’s a wee while since I’ve been to Church. In my teens, I went a lot, as I’d become involved with a lovely group of evangelical Christians in Wick. I’d initially come to know them because they were about the only people in the whole school who didn’t bully me but some have been lifelong friends.
Even at the beginning, though, I felt that my instinctive liberalism was in conflict with what was asked of me as part of that group. A casual comment about how I was going home to watch the Snooker after youth group on a Sunday night led to a conversation about how you should never ever watch the television on a Sunday which made me very uncomfortable. That sort of rigidity is never going to sit well with me. If someone doesn’t want to watch tv on a Sunday, then that’s fine, but leave others to make their own minds up.
That inflexibility had a more sinister side, though. When I went to university I was horrified by the way some of my gay friends were treated by the Christian Union as I wrote a few years ago.. I remember being at a prayer meeting when someone asked God to cure someone from being gay. I never went back after that. I could have stayed and fought as many people did – and it’s great that they’re there – but at the same time my belief in the very existence of any deity was crumbling. The way I lived my life didn’t change that much apart from the absence of church. I was still the same person, with the same values, principles, ideals and morals, learning my way through life, mucking things up, trying to put them right again just like everyone else, trying to live the best life I could. That still holds true today. I just can’t get my head round the idea that there’s a divine presence overseeing our lives. If I’d come to that conclusion as a citizen of the United States of America, that would kill any hope I had of a political career stone dead, which I think is a great shame.
Diversity is one of our best assets as a species and is never something we should fear. As a liberal it’s something I both crave for and celebrate. I want to see a society where people are free to practise their beliefs while extending that same courtesy to everyone else. I like discussing different ideas. We can all learn something from each other even if there are issues we will never agree on. I can’t get my head round the idea that Scotland should leave the UK, but I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with Nicola Sturgeon who as Deputy First Minister has pledged that the SNP Government will implement equal marriage
That’s why it upsets me that the Scottish Roman Catholic Church, at the insistence of its leaders, has made this Sunday a day when they will assert that marriage is between one man and one woman and move their campaign against the Government’s plans to allow same sex couples to marry up a gear. They want to raise £100,000 for an advertising campaign. Given that their press officer regularly goes on television and tells the world that gay people die sooner. The authors of the study he quotes object to their material being used in this way:
Overall, we do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group
The soon to be Archbishop of Glasgow’s comments about the tragic death of Inverclyde MP David Cairns, implying that the fact he was gay was a factor were deeply hurtful and, again, had no basis in fact. It was a horrible thing to say about anybody did his credibility immense harm.
The idea that the leaders of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church own the concept of marriage is ridiculous. They can have a commission to define what marriage means to them if they like, but that shouldn’t be enforceable on the rest of us. Nobody is suggesting that they will or should be forced to carry out same-sex marriages, so why should their views constrain everyone else?
I felt I really wanted to do something to support equal marriage on Sunday. So, I’m going to accept the invitation of Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow to go to one of their services. Everyone is welcome there, even the deeply heathen like me. It just feels like the right thing to do to counteract the very negative message coming from the Cardinal and the Archbishop which I don’t believe is supported by the majority of the members of the Catholic Church. What could be more positive than being in a place where inclusiveness, acceptance and celebration of diversity is hardwired into everything they do?
As Kelvin says:
The people who have contacted me about this upcoming Sunday to ask if they can join us for a week are quite varied. Some are straight people and some are gay. Some are Roman Catholics who simply don’t want to be told what to think about this topic and who reject the current rhetoric coming from the Scottish Roman Catholic Church. Others have no connection with that church but simply want to turn up to a church on that Sunday where the message is of compassion and love. Indeed, I have been contacted by a couple of atheists who said that they would like to come to church on that day to mark a particular anniversary and wondered whether they too would be welcome. The answer, of course, was yes. All are welcome in this place. (And they won’t be the only atheists there either).
It is a worry to me that atheists might think themselves unwelcome in churches. What kind of messages are churches sending out to convey this? There’s not a congregation worth going to that wouldn’t welcome such a person.
I have spoken to my congregation about the invitation that I want to reinforce this weekend and I have asked them to put the word about amongst their friends. If they know anyone in this city who would like to worship with us this week rather than worship in their own church for one Sunday then the message is clear. Everyone is welcome at St Mary’s. We don’t preach hatred. We don’t preach or teach bigotry. We stand up for the simple love of God. If anyone wishes to join us for one week as respite from the message preached in other places then they would be welcome to join us either this week or indeed on any Sunday.
Bob and I will be celebrating 24 years of marriage on Sunday. In those 8,760 days, we’ve had fun, tears, happiness, despair, worry, uncertainty, contentment. Every emotion you could possibly imagine. We’ve had to get used to each other’s annoying foibles and support each other with the hurdles life has put in our way. We’ve faced some really tough challenges and had some of the best experiences it’s possible to have. Bringing up Anna together has been the most amazing, rewarding and wonderful experience imaginable.
I get to thinking sometimes, what if there had been an arbitrary law saying that you couldn’t marry someone more than 10 years older or younger than you. We’d have been stuffed as there’s 16 years between us. Sure, we could have lived together, but we wouldn’t have been each other’s next of kin and if one of us had died, the other’s family could have excluded the other, thrown them out of the home we’d shared if they disapproved of our relationship. Then imagine if someone had recognised at some point that this wasn’t really fair and said that we could have a partnership ceremony which would confer some legal rights on us. What, exactly, would merit such a distinction? How is our love and commitment any different to anyone else’s? It’s like being forced to spend your life driving on a provisional licence when you’ve passed your test. It’s not right. There wasn’t of course, any arbitrary law forbidding our marriage – but there is for many of our friends and we want them to have the same choices as we do.
So that’s why we are going to Church this Sunday, to put love, compassion and respect centre stage where it should be. If you feel the same, why not join us.