Thirty years ago I came back to Jesus after turning my back on Him at the age of sixteen. I felt guilty and ashamed because I knew I could not meet the standard of behaviour the church was trying to teach me. I felt I wasn’t ‘good enough’. I therefore left the church and turned away from Jesus. I now realise that all those years I turned away from Jesus He never turned away from me. When I returned to the church aged thirty nine, I felt Jesus ask me a question in my heart. His question was, ‘Will you go wherever I want you to go?’ My response was an enthusiastic ‘Yes’. I did not realise what the future would hold for me.
Discovering the wonderful depth of Jesus’ love and acceptance for me I found I was increasingly unable to accept many of the do’s and don’ts imposed on my fellow Christians and myself. Fortunately this time I was older and wiser had a better understanding of my faith. I was overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for me as I was and stopped being preoccupied with trying to change my behaviour in order to please him. I now knew this was not necessary.
Immersed in this love and acceptance that I found in Jesus I was able to experience a freedom in my spiritual life that I could not have imagined. I now read the Bible from the standpoint of being loved and accepted by Jesus and I discovered more and more the richness of the incredible plan of salvation and the enormity of his love and mercy for us.
see What We Believe.
Early on as a Christian I was taught to discriminate against people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, but always deep inside I knew clearly this was wrong. I asked Jesus for a love for people of all sexual orientations, a prayer that has taken years to answer as my prejudices and ignorance had to be slowly changed by His Spirit. I wanted the ability to love people from all walks of life, no matter what.
In my working life I would often meet people who were gay and transgendered and I found that over time, going out of my way to engage LGBT people in conversation, my prejudices began to recede. The fact that LGBT people would not be welcome in many of the local churches disturbed me and I felt that it was important that they too had the opportunity to know the love of God and be accepted by other Christians.
In 1998 I read in the newspaper about the suicide of black footballer Justin Fashanu. Due to prejudice against him for being homosexual he was forced to leave the UK and a successful career. Justin found work in the US as a soccer coach. After an accusation of sexual impropriety brought by a pupil Justin fled the US in fear of injustice.
In despair he ended his own life. Instead of being able to go to the church on the high street he went to a garage in a back street and hung himself. He left a suicide note in which he expressed his faith and asked forgiveness from ‘the Jesus I love’ for taking his own life.
This newspaper report moved me deeply and to this day I carry the news clipping in my Bible. Back then I felt that a man in Justin’s hopelessness should have found comfort, acceptance and affirmation in the church but I knew that many sections of the church were deeply blinded by institutionalised homophobia.
Over the years I have sensed that Jesus may be calling me to a ministry with LGBT people but I have been unsure of the direction to go. I have continued to pastor a group of people who, like myself, seek to be part of a church that expresses the love of God for all and does not have barriers against anyone.
Seeking confirmation and clarity on this call that I felt was from God, my wife Nina and I started to attend Metropolitan Community Church, Manchester. The Metropolitan Community churches were started in 1968 in Los Angeles to serve the spiritual needs of LGBT people. The MCC started with a handful of people and has grown to be a denomination of over 300 churches worldwide. The membership currently stands at over 700,000 of mainly LGBT people; about 20% of the membership is heterosexual and is not exclusively a gay church all are welcome. MCC churches have played and continue to play an important role in advocating justice and fighting homophobia and transphobia.
My desire is that Liberty is truly inclusive and that everyone is free to be who they are without fear or prejudice. Valuing everyone and having unity in our faith journey together.