As pastor and activist for the rights of homosexuals, she denounces the homophobic pressure in Christian religious communities which continues to cause suffering to many homosexuals with a double risk of exclusion from their parishes and the LGBT community in anger against religion.
Noelia Ceballos Terrén
Sharon Ferguson has spent four years as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of North London, and six years as director of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
From her pulpit she predicts that neither the sacred books nor Jesus ever condemned the love between people, even between the same sex.
According to her, there is a very influential conservative wing of the Church that takes the Bible out of context, in order to continue using homosexuals as scapegoats, as they previously have with blacks, slaves, or women.
The pastor would be happy to marry gay couples, but has not yet had the occasion to do so, because the United Reformed Church, which owns the building in which she practices, has not yet allowed her to.
She has also been influential in negotiations with the government to legalise gay marriage, as director of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. In it’s more than 40 years, this organisation has seen progress in LGBT rights in English society, but it still deplores the presence of homophobia within the heart of the church.
She criticises a hierarchy that wastes large amounts of money in discussing homosexuality, rather than focusing on helping others and fighting poverty.
She points towards the ecclesiastical spheres as being those responsible for the climate in which many LGBT continue having to categorically reject their faith or else hide their sexuality. Wreaking effects ranging from psychological suffering to suicide itself. Ferguson spoke with The Prisma.
The first thing is to define what we mean by the Church. Some people use it to refer to the Church of England. But also in the UK we have a number of different denominations such as Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed, etc. And they can all vary in how inclusive they are when it comes to issues like sexual orientation and gender identity. The Church of England is incredibly diverse. When we hear the things that are coming out from the authorities within the Church of England the impression is that LGBT people aren’t very welcome. Because you hear that they won’t accept same-sex marriage, they won’t allow any liturgy for blessings, whether that’s for a civil partnership or marriage or anything else, that they are going to take their clergy to court if they enter into a same-sex marriage. With other denominations, it tends to be often a lot more down to the individual churches to take the decision. Certainly within the United Reformed Church. The Baptists tend not to be quite so inclusive and accepting, though again there are pockets that are. But even within the Anglican Church of England, there are those individual churches who have signed up to an inclusive church policy and are welcoming and accepting LGBT people to participate fully in the life of that church. You have other churches like the Unitarians who are totally open within the Metropolitan Community Church, which was set up and founded within the LGBT community.
The most common answer to that would be that it is based on different interpretations of the Bible. Certainly within the most fundamentalist readings they take half a dozen passages completely out of context. They say “Look, it says here that the man who lies with a man is an abomination”. However, you can’t take these things out of context. The word homosexual has only been in our dictionaries for a hundred years. Loving mutual same-sex relationships were not part of the understanding of the society at the time the Bible was written. So what we talk about as homosexuality is not the same as the same-sex sexual activity which is referred to in the Bible. Secondly, I think the LGBT community is now the new enemy, the new ‘Different’. Now that we are not allowed to express prejudice against Black people or minority ethnic groups. And we are not allowed to create an ‘Other’ through slavery or by demeaning women anymore. We always need to have an outsider in order to make ourselves feel included.
This varies slightly regarding the Old Testament but is likely to include the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 as well as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-11), the priestly codes in Leviticus 18:22 and 29:13, Judges 19:16-24 and some verses about cult prostitution in 1 and 2 Kings. In the New Testament the three passages used are all from letters attributed to Paul, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10.
How can the reading of the same text lead to such different views?
There is no simple answer. The vast majority of scholars agree that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality and nothing to do with homosexuality. What is never admitted, even if it is assumed that sex is the sin, is that what is happening there is rape and not a loving, consensual relationship. With most of the Bible people try to work out what God is trying to tell us, the underlying principle/message that is still relevant to the 21st century rather than the particular details reported, and yet when it comes to homosexuality this is all ignored. Shortly after the passage in Leviticus 18 the same terminology is used about eating shellfish! A further problem with the New Testament texts is that Paul has used words that don’t appear anywhere else and therefore no one is really sure what he’s referring to.
I believe our sexuality comes from God but there’s nothing wrong in expressing our love for one another in a sexual relationship as long as it complies with sexual morality. Sexual relationships between heterosexuals can be immoral and wrong and against God, as much as sexual relationships between homosexuals. Same-sex relationships aren’t wrong if they are loving, faithful, mutual relationships.
What psychological effects has the rejection of their religious community had on gay Christians? How important is the pressure of their religion? (Is the intolerant position of the Church responsible for suicides of some LGBT people?)
The effects can be huge and I have done some research into this area and found that having to deny an integral aspect of who you are, whether it’s your faith or your sexuality causes physical, emotional and psychological ill health, which can have long term effects. There certainly have been incidences of suicides that have been attributed to the pressure of the church and the inability of the person to reconcile their faith and sexuality because of what they were taught.
Homophobia comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. At the worst extremes you have situations where people are thrown out of their churches, or they are stripped of any roles within the church. If they were a reader, they’re no longer allowed to do that. You also have people who are told that they can no longer receive communion. And on the other side you have people who are ostracised and made to feel uncomfortable. Maybe nothing is openly stated within the Church, but the person feels internally that they can’t be who they are just because they are expecting something to happen to them because of some things they’ve been told or they’ve heard.
A large number of Christians still see homosexuality as a sin. It looks like it is very difficult to get rid of this mentality.
Absolutely. and theology is not going to change that. When somebody believes that homosexuality is a sin, no matter how many good arguments I can come up with, that’s not going to change it. What I do find changes people’s opinions on this is meeting people and hearing their stories. What you often hear is the people who tell you that homosexuality is a sin will also tell you that they don’t know any homosexuals. When people get to know gay and lesbian people of faith, they actually see that the Holy Spirit works through them, then they’re more likely to change their opinion.
Absolutely. When you have an organisation that has constantly told you that you are an abomination, and that your way of life is morally disordered then of course you’re going to have those feelings of anger, of hurt, of shame. So there is no wonder then that in order to justify having made the decision that I am going to live my life as a gay person, I have to completely and utterly reject faith. And that means being very violent in that rejection of faith. So one of the things that we try to do here is to help people to understand that actually it’s not an either-or. You don’t have to choose either being religious and denying your sexuality or being an LGBT. It is not irreconcilable.
Have there been attacks by gay people against churches and Christians in the UK?
Do Christian LGBT people suffer from being a minority both in the Church and in the LGBT community?
Absolutely. Not only do we have to come out as being gay in our communities but we also have to come out as being Christians within the LGBT community. There are a number of LGBT people who are very angry and aggressive towards faith. And you can find yourself being excluded from the LGBT community because of your faith.
I would say they don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘persecuted’. If you’re a Christian and you believe that homosexuality is a sin and you state that, and then somebody shouts at you or tells you you’re not allowed to say it, that’s not persecution. Being denied opportunities to express your faith, being denied community, being attacked physically and verbally, these are all forms of persecution. They are being told that you’re allowed to believe what you like but you’re not allowed to discriminate against somebody because of that belief. That is not persecution; it is upholding the rights of all people. So a Christian who believes homosexuality is wrong has every right to express that opinion, and I will uphold them because I believe in free speech. What they can’t do however is say it in a way that will incite somebody else to violence. They can’t say “Homosexuality is a sin, all homosexuals should be killed”. Also, they can’t refuse to serve them in a shop.
(Introduction translated by: Sophie Maling – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)