Mar 12, 2010


 By James Parker (The Times OnLine)

Anyone who has endured years of teenage, and often adult, angst coming to terms with their homosexual attraction, as Alexandra Mankowitz recounted in The Times Online last Monday, cannot help but be deeply moved.
Like her, I too came out at 17, and felt incredible shame and abject loneliness trying to dodge the assumption of heterosexuality and the homophobic bullying that was ever present in the Northern mining community in which I grew up.
Unlike her, however, my parents had no gay friends. Nor were there any visible gay role models within spitting distance of the Watford Gap to offer a hand of hope or consolation in my time of despair and silent suffering.
I was raised in a Christian household and experienced only unconditional love, both before and after declaring my homosexual nature. Yet for many in the gay community, religions represent nothing other than bastions of division and rejection. For some time I too shared this belief, until I was presented with a fresh challenge.
My life calling, I wholeheartedly believed, was to challenge the leaders of religion that homosexuals should be treated with the same dignity and rights as everyone else. This was especially true of the Christian community in which I had been raised. The more senior the religious leader’s role, the more I rose to the challenge.
Along the journey of acrimonious engagement with different expressions of Christianity I came across some startling, dare I say life-changing, revelations. In short, I came to understand that some of the people and organisations that I had consistently learned to blame and finger-wag for my despair were in fact conduits of my discovering an equal standing with others. This in turn led to a deeper sense of self-acceptance and my despair metamorphosing into a rich hope.
The season of Lent, the 40-day period in the run up to Easter, has become a great gift to me and to many homosexual men and women I know. It is the season where we recognise that no one gets it right all the time, that everyone is in need of compassion and mercy, and that before God we all experience apartheid, sexual or otherwise, in some form or other.
The life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ take on a whole new meaning and relevance when we each willingly and humbly acknowledge and release our prejudices, sufferings and judgements of others to God who came in human form. He is the one who has taken into himself any shame, despair, and the inequalities that so many of us feel and experience through life. He is the one that transforms our exclusion into inclusion, not with the righteous and conceited, but with the broken and meek. Everyone is welcome – Jew, Muslim, atheist, homosexual. Everyone.
In Christ there is no inequality and no changing legislation. Each person is met where they are and embraced with unconditional love.
For the past five years I have facilitated a group for men and women with homosexual attraction in the heart of London. Although authentically Catholic in both name and nature, it attracts a wide ethnicity and is attended by those of other Christian expressions, other faiths and unusually by those of no faith. It is the last thing I ever imagined doing when I first came out as a gay man in my late teens, especially as I saw the Catholic Church’s teaching as being the most archaic of all.
The group’s policy is to refuse to diminish anyone by using labels, and especially restrictive terms such as gay and lesbian, while honestly facing the reality of thoughts, feelings and actions. We seek to meet each other on our unique life journeys with authenticity and to bring them to the cross. It is here we have made sense of our sufferings and pain, and where crippling shame can be left behind.
Once stripped of a socio-sexual identity, which by its very nature can bring about feelings of inequality and exclusion, many report over time experiencing a deeper sense of integration within themselves and with those around them, and a new-found sense of equality irrespective of any homosexual feelings.
Many today call for increased legislation to rid our society of its seemingly draconian inequalities. And yet equality for one sector will always diminish the equality for another and thereby fail in the goal it seeks to attain.
Concern shared by some homosexual men and women is that pockets of society, including the so-called gay community and other minority groups, are looking for deep inner resolution merely through external means.
We have discovered, much to our surprise, that legislation will not, because it cannot, eradicate the deep sense of injustice that so many face. In fact, legislation can often further blind and hinder us from making the necessary inner journey we all have to take to bring about greater social equality.
James Parker facilitates the London EnCourage group.