‘I prayed for God to take this horrible thing from me’: Gay minister reveals all about Manchester’s LGBT church

Exclusive by Marios Papaloizou

If you wanted to make a wild and vast understatement then something along the lines of ‘the relationship between homosexuality and religion is complicated’ is about as good as you can get.

Deconstructing this relationship involves the breakdown of a vast array of theological, philosophical, historical and legal texts.

Even within a single religion, such as Christianity, there is a spectrum of opinion so varied that seeking any uniformity among its followers is impossible.

The much-publicised American Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) for instance has such extreme ideological views pertaining to homosexuality – extrapolated from the Bible – that it makes you wonder whether there can be any resolution between the LGBT community and the Christian religion.

While the WBC is a marginal organisation with a small group of followers, the Roman Catholic Church, with more than a billion members worldwide, also holds a negative stance towards homosexuality – describing homosexual acts as ‘disordered’ and ‘sinful’.

This widespread stigma, perpetuated by the world’s foremost religion, ostensibly disenfranchises the LGBT community from any sort of Christian life.  

However, while the world’s major Christian denomination preaches an archaic morality based on ancient prejudices, other churches have emerged that encourage inclusivity and acceptance.

The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) is a Christian church in Chorlton that addresses issues of civil and human rights worldwide; its Manchester congregation (MCCM) is the only church in the city to be fully LGBT-led.

The Minister of the MCCM, Andy Braunston, speaking in an interview with MM, said: “The church offers a chance to simply get on and be Christian without having to worry about what others may think.”

The MCCM provides a space for LGBT people who are religious to resolve two seemingly contradictory facets of their identity.

Braunston, who was brought up as a Roman Catholic, explained that he experienced an ‘awful feeling of guilt’ when he first acknowledged his homosexuality.

“I remember praying for years that God would take this horrible thing away from me,” he said.

As a University student at that time the reverend decided to hit the books and found that the mainstream Christian views on homosexuality were born out of interpretation.

“I thought hang on a minute, there’s a different point of view here; these texts can be looked at in different ways,” said Braunston.

The attitude of Christianity towards homosexuals is often antagonistic and Braunston believes that the feeling can be mutual.

“Sometimes it’s harder to come out to other gay people that you’re a Christian than it is to come out as being gay because of the bad press the church has got,” he said.

“A large part of what we do is how we can resolve those twin aspects of identity: their Christianity and sexuality.

“Typically you give up one or the other – you try to give up the sexuality – I think we are a space where a resolution can happen.”

While the church offers homosexuals an opportunity to explore their identity its own identity in the UK may dissolve as social attitudes towards homosexuality liberalise.

When asked about the differences between the MCC and the major denominations in the UK, Braunston said: “Increasingly there are fewer differences than there were 25-years-ago.”

The MCCM welcomes people of any sexual orientation, however, whether there is a distinct need for an LGBT denomination is still being debated.

“Do we need that type of separateness now which we did in 1968 when it was formed?” Braunston asked.

It would seem that an ideal scenario would be an all-inclusive church that affirms the LGBT community.

However, as Braunston noted: “There’s a debate between are we affirmed or are we just tolerated.

“I think there is a particular importance and a particular need for a congregation which is focused around the LGBT ministry.”

The one issue that has been front and centre in the schism between homosexuality and Christianity is same-sex marriage.

The recent marriage bill, which will legalise the union of same sex couples, has caused discomfort amongst the Church of England hierarchy.

Braunston hailed the passing of the act: “It’s absolutely brilliant that we are finally given parity,” he said.

“We’re no longer getting second best.”

However, while the legislation represents the changing social attitudes towards homosexuality it also illuminates a continuing religious stigma.

“One of the idiosyncrasies of our system is that 26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords,” Braunston went on.

“You can see their fingerprints all over the amendments; it wasn’t good enough to say the Church of England couldn’t do gay marriage, they’ve inserted an amendment which says if an Anglican priest officiates at a gay marriage its void.”

Unlike some of the major denominations the MCC does not involve itself heavily in supposedly controversial issues.

Speaking about issues like pre-marital sex and abortion the Reverend said: “We try hard to have an attitude of working it out for yourself.

“We’re not a type of church that tells people what to think. We want people to be responsible in the choices they make rather than a blanket statement of you shouldn’t do this or you shouldn’t do that.”

Although the MCCM has been around for many years and has an annual stall at Pride the reverend is constantly trying to raise awareness of its existence as festival goers always express their surprise at the church’s existence.

The MCC is representative of the reciprocation of ideas that is necessary for Christianity, and possibly religion as a whole, to succeed in a contemporary and increasingly liberal world.

While other denominations deploy a one-directional approach in which they attempt to shape policy and attitudes according to their static doctrine the MCC appears to be a fluid organisation willing to accept and discuss difficult issues in an open forum.

Religion can often prove to be a divisive force but the MCC, through its universal inclusivity, will only appear divisive to those with a questionable moral outlook.

The MCCM meet at Wilbraham Saint Ninian’s United Reformed Church on Wilbraham Road, Chorlton.

Contact details can be found on their website

Picture courtesy of David Goehring, with thanks.

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