21st October 2018 – MCC 1990s ‘come out for justice’
So, I’ve got the 90s. Or technically, 1988 to ‘98, because MCC started in ‘68, so that’s our decades. And it seems to me that with the progression of preachers as we do a decade each week, we seem to be covering our own coming-out years. Not our years of coming into MCC, but definitely our coming-out years. At the tender age of 41 as I am, my coming-out years were in the ‘90s. Whereas I’ve only been about 15 years in MCC, I can say that by the end of 1998 I was well and truly ‘out’ to everyone. Actually, I was the college LGB Rep within a week of arriving at university, because we had a very, very persuasive Student Union president. ‘No-one else will stand! I know you’re out – you stand!’ I’m going ‘What? I just arrived!’ So that was the end of that decade. At the beginning, 1988, I was 11 years old, and all I knew was that that bit in the Usborne Facts of Life book had nothing to do with me! Absolutely nothing. And whatever I was going to be – people would often ask you, what are you going to be when you grow up? – I didn’t know, but I did know what I wasn’t going to be. I was never going to be a wife or a mother. I was clear on that, and it’s worked out that way.
By about halfway through, 1993 kind of time, I’m 16. I’m already the only out gay kid in school. I’d heard somewhere about this mystical, mythical thing called a sex change. and I’d have these sort of fantasies about running away from home and coming back years later as a man, and being accepted by everyone in the village and my family, and it was going to be wonderful. Of course I had no idea how to go about it. I had no idea where to even start looking. But it was a happy daydream. But despite that being a happy daydream, I did have the sense to keep my mouth shut. Coming out as a lesbian was one thing. Worst I was going to get was bullied and possibly expelled. Even then I was pretty sure at that point that coming out as trans? That was going to get me a stay in a mental ward.
Somewhere between there and the end of the 1990s, despite having no clue about the internet (I still don’t have very much clue about the internet) I’d become pretty well versed in LGBT rights and politics. As a teenager suddenly this was stuff we knew about before leaving school. Suddenly, I was massively concerned about HIV, I was hugely concerned about Section 28 by the time I was 16 years old. Actually I think the first political campaign I ever got involved in was the one trying to abolish Section 28. We didn’t manage it in my teenage years, but we got there in the end! And you know, I was hugely concerned about the environment, all these things were becoming real to me.
And I think that having one’s political and social concerns shaped by the 90s was a curious mix of shining optimism and absolute depressed pessimism, at the same time. Because on the one hand – and I’m going to go back a bit- I think it was this whole two-edged sword of visibility. We had visibility. And just like now with trans, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you’re invisible, you’re never going to get your rights. On the other hand, once you’re visible everyone knows where to find you. So those were the days of ActUp, and OutRage!, Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers – I mean my politics were massively shaped by those, oh, those were the glory days. But at the same time, in a really complex mash of cause and effect, these were the days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, Section 28. These were days of Ellen, and Rachel Maddow, and That Kiss on Brookside. But it was also the days of Brandon Teena and Rita Hester, and Matthew Shephard.
On the one hand we started out that decade, really quite optimistically, with Reformed Judaism saying that LGBT Jews were equal, and LGBT Rabbis were equal, and we thought ‘Wow, maybe the church will follow. Maybe the church will follow’. ’98 came the expected, but no less painful, kick in the teeth that was the Lambeth Conference decision that no, LGBT Christians weren’t equal in any way, shape or form. I well remember that.
Now, I didn’t find MCC til 2003, but I was already for a long time by then a member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, that’s now One body One Faith. And various groups at university, in fact I started a group at university. And I’ve had a little hunt back and MCC seems really silent on its own history in the 1990s. there’s no documentation. I’m hunting through and I’m finding nothing. There’s probably a lot of reasons for that, and one is that we were still reeling and recovering from the 80s, when we lost so many of our male clergy, and we utterly exhausted so many of our female clergy looking after everyone. We were wiped, we really were. We were gradually rebuilding our strength. But as individuals, we were still involved in all these things that were going on. Stuff like Act Up and OutRage and Queer Nation, they don’t come out of a vacuum. As LGBT people we were still out there and involved, but MCC needed a break. And we’ve had a break. And now it’s time to come back in force. And we have, and we will continue to.
The reading this Sunday is from Isaiah 58. It’s from the third bit of the book of Isaiah, because Isaiah is written over about 200 years. The first bit is written to Israel before the Exile, before they’ve been dragged off to Assyria and Babylon. The next bit is written while they were in exile, and that’s a very different kind of message, it’s written when the worst has happened. By the time we get to 58, they’ve come home again, they’ve had their vindication. They’ve been successful. God has brought them home, and they’ve got much in common actually with where we were in the 90s, and where we are now. They’ve got this post-exile mixture of hope and frustration. Of action and tiredness. They’ve got what they wanted. God has given them what they were fighting for and things still aren’t right. There’s still injustice. People are still struggling. Sometimes it feels like God isn’t answering their prayers and they’re going ‘What’s wrong? We got this political thing we wanted, we got Israel back. Why is all still not perfect?’
And whether it’s return from exile, or decriminalisation of homosexuality, or combination antiretrovirals, or equal marriage, yet the new world is still unjust. Yet we still have a struggle, and Isaiah points to why. Because it was never external vindication that we needed. It was loving care and justice. Which is not won in courts. It’s won in hearts, and people’s actual minds and lives. ‘Is not this the fast that I choose? To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke and to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. Your vindicator shall go before you, and the glory of God shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call and I will answer, you shall cry for help and God will say ‘Here I am’. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger and the speaking of evil. If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.’
Not that we are justified, but that we are just. Not that we are saved, but that we stop standing in the way of the Saviour. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching salvation by works, I’m still a good Protestant, just as I was raised. I’ve not gone all Pelagian. Well, a little bit. But I know this. My eternal soul, your eternal souls, are in the hands of God. Always was, always will be. That’s not in doubt, that’s dealt with. That’s done. God’s got that sorted. But I met God through Jesus. And Jesus Christ is not just a name, and not just a sacrament. He’s not just a human sacrifice to a bloodthirsty God. Jesus is God’s will, God’s nature, revealed in a human life. And what was revealed was love. A preaching that was matched by action. An honesty that was matched by generosity. A challenge that was matched by kindness. You know, the gospel is a gospel of justice, because the God of salvation is the God of justice. And that’s what Isaiah was talking about, what Jesus was talking about. If you want your light to so shine before humanity that people may see your good deeds and glorify God – by feeding the hungry and bringing the homeless into your house, clothing the naked and by bringing about the end of oppression – then salvation is justice, and justice is salvation. Because they go hand in hand.
So when MCC says Be Justice, it’s not an addition to the gospel. It’s the heart of the gospel. Good News for all. Gospel. We match our words with our actions, just like Jesus.