Lenten Reflection – Week 4

Enlarge the Space of Your Tent – 4

Christians who experience Same-sex Attraction 

The title of this series of reflections is taken from a passage of the Prophet Isaiah, which is used as an image for the Synodal Church, in the documentation of the Universal Synodal Process : “Enlarge the space of your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly, lengthen your ropes and make firm your pegs” (Is 54:2).

One thing that stands out in St. Luke’s Gospel is the focus on finding the lost and inviting in those who are on the margins. We find this very powerfully in parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, but we also find it in real life encounters that people had with Jesus. One of those, which I have always loved, is the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector.

Somebody told me recently that many people who experience same-sex attraction find that the story of Zacchaeus speaks powerfully to them. Zacchaeus was regarded with suspicion and people kept him at arms length. Yet he really wanted to see Jesus. As he looked down from the branches of a sycamore tree, Jesus looked up and saw him and called out to him: “Zacchaeus, come down, I want to eat in your house tonight”.

People who experience same-sex attraction are present in all our parish communities. Some are actively engaged in the life of the Church and experience themselves as welcomed and accepted. I am conscious, however, that for many others the experience is one of marginalisation or rejection. Even when they want nothing more than to see Jesus and to sit at table with him, their experience is that “the crowd gets in the way”. They find difficulty with the language in which the teaching of the Church is expressed. They speak of their experience of being categorised and judged, without any effort to understand who they are as individual men and women. That is their experience, and it is important for everyone to hear it. Once again, the question arises: “How can we enlarge the space of our tent?”

We need to remember that, by virtue of their Baptism, Christians who experience same-sex attraction are members of the Body of Christ just as much as any other Christian is. They belong “in the tent”. We can be absolutely sure that Jesus sees them and calls out to them, as he did to Zacchaeus: “come down, I want to eat in your house tonight”. Let’s explore that a little more deeply, because I think it challenges us all.

There is something of the story of Zacchaeus in the life of each one of us. We are all sinners in need of salvation. This involves each one of us in making honest judgements about our own personal actions and attitudes. But it is not our business to judge one another. God alone knows what is in the human heart. Sexual orientation, of itself, does not make anyone good or bad, any more than the colour of one’ skin or nationality do. Neither can we hold Christian who experience same-sex attraction to a higher standard than other Christians.

The Church has a vision to share about human sexuality, which is rooted in the Word of God and in the truth about the human person. (These, we might say, are the “tent pegs”). When we live our sexuality generously and truthfully, it can bring us great happiness and fulfilment. Equally, when we get it wrong, it can lead to enormous hurt and brokenness, both for ourselves and for others.  Meanwhile, the culture of the age tells us that there is no truth at all except, perhaps, our feelings.

Living the Christian vision of sexuality with integrity is a challenge for all of us, irrespective of our sexual orientation. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, we don’t. In everyday life, it is precisely when we struggle or when we fail that we need to experience the love and the acceptance of those around us. For Zacchaeus, that experience of acceptance and love began with Jesus, and it went on from there to transform and heal all of his relationships.

The failure of fundamentalism, by contrast, is that it is rooted in self-righteousness and insecurity.  It drives people away instead of drawing them closer. It is not our mission, as Christians, to exclude anybody. People may choose to exclude themselves, but our mission, in imitation of Jesus, is to welcome, to include, to heal and to reconcile. We have to acknowledge that we have not always done this in the past. For that, we are called to repentance and to a change of heart. There is no place in the Church for words or attitudes which are intended to injure, isolate or undermine.

Bishop Kevin 

6th March 2024