Speaking up, crying out: LGBT+ Christians in Gibraltar – a personal view

Published by the Gibraltar Chronicle on Monday, 14th February 2022: Felix Alvarez expresses a personal view on the situation of LGBT+ people of Faith.

And there is pain.

Members of non-Christian faiths may perhaps recognise the wider experience and sentiment I touch on below; though I am insufficient to speak on their behalf and will speak only to what I know.

But the wounds differ little. And it’s time to start healing.

In addressing the below issues, though, I must first apologise. My apologies for having taken this long to speak up. I extend them to those who will agree with me as well as to those who may not. They are both due the same consideration.

And I readily admit that this is probably the most difficult article I’ve ever had to write. I’ve faced tough and powerful obstacles and individuals over and again; that’s practically commonplace in social campaigning and forms part of the legitimate process of dialogue which signals a measure of progress.

But the soul exacts a higher price. Exposing it weighs heavily, with trust the first step forward.

In this piece today I break my silence to discuss how and why I, like so many other LGBT+ Christians, have not ventured to publicly share the story. In so doing, I represent no one. I step out on this occasion and on this specific question after a decades-long secular human rights campaign (the ethics of which required a wholly separate, distinct and secular civil emphasis) in order to touch the tender sensitivities of Faith on a more personal basis now. In my case, that’s Christian Faith.

For as LGBT+ people of faith, we have a duty to engage with our sisters and brothers to seek our common humanity on the journey; to end strife and tension, and be an example to all.

In that progress, we must be wary of those seeking to politicise our experience. For what befits a secular civil rights campaign does not translate to the value of grace that is incumbent upon us. Human rights accord society-wide dignity to people across many categories, and people of faith and none in a just society must be free. Respect on a non-sectarian, non-partisan basis is a foundation deserving ever-vigilant protection.

Without a doubt, since approximately the 70’s, the same-sex issue has increasingly become a question of central importance to Christian denominations worldwide. Against many hopes, it will not go away. It simply grows. That, in itself, must speak to us.

Within our own radius, and in relatively short measure, the local Church of England and the Methodist Church in Gibraltar will be facing important moments of deep reflection. For the C of E, this follows years of internal dutiful consultation and reflection leading to a requirement to settle its doctrinal position on the question of same-sex people’s place in the Church.

For Gibraltar Methodists, the situation is perhaps more fraught: after years of risky internal division, the UK Methodists, loosely put, have settled the issue through an agreement for congregations to be free to choose to either fully accept LGBT+ members’ equal doctrinal status, or continue to disagree with that posture but remain within the Church. As in the UK, Gibraltar Methodists may face some tough questions; but alternative discussions may also arise as we move down 2022.

That many denominations should be in this late position is telling; and explains why so many LGBT+ people in Gibraltar have chosen for so long to stay outside their different fellowships. Private space and silence have been their refuge from the unwelcome signs writ large or small.

But this must end.

Self-exclusion of the majority of LGBT+ and LGBT+-friendly Christian allies within the Churches is no answer at all. We must share. We have a duty to witness, to make our lives, our joys and pains, known. Our relationship with God is wealth for the whole Church.

There is no way to advance in understanding other than to tell our true stories and bring down the distortions of ignorance.

Conversations, formal and informal, need to take place; ones that cut across the usual ‘clobber’ passages (in both the Old and New Testaments) frequently used to marginalise LGBT+ Christians: Genesis 19, Wisdom 19:13 and Matthew 10:5-15 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (not lying with men as you would with women), Romans 1:21-28 (trading ‘natural’ for ‘unnatural’ relations); 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (the unrighteous). ‘Cutting across’ here does not mean avoiding; it does not signify pretending; on the contrary, it involves searching, caring and even scholarly theology and engagement; the very opposite of easy, routine condemnatory pronouncement designed to win easy acclaim. What we (both LGBT+ Christians and their Faith allies), can no longer do is stay away from engagement with a fraternal but necessary process of dialogue.

Christians in history have often erred (slavery, the demonisation of Jews, women and sexual and gender minorities are only some of the more major questions, but there are more). Human understanding evolves across time and, mercifully, so does our relationship with God; many Biblical narratives relate the journeys humanity has undertaken to approximate the God of Love. It is the prayerful duty of all Christians to require constant self-examination.

Loving our neighbour requires no less. Christ was not the Shepherd of the few. And while the LGBT+ Faithful must reach out, the urgent duty is on us all.

Happy Valentine’s!