Submission to Baptist working party on same sex relationships
The following is a submission made by the leadership team of Cityside to the Baptist working party on the issues of same sex relationships. For further clarification on who this submission represents, refer to section 8 below.
Cityside Baptist Church submission to Working Party on issues of Same Sex Marriage and Local Church Autonomy.
This submission will cover the following:
- Introductory statements: a summary of our assumptions and concerns
- Some reflections on biblical and theological matters
- Some reflections on marriage
- A perspective on sexual immorality
- Observations about change processes in church and society
- The effect of this issue on the missional stance of our church
- Our views on Baptist unity, and church polity.
- Who this submission represents, and our process for determining that
We would appreciate the opportunity to speak to this submission when the working party is hearing oral submissions. The email address for contacting us is firstname.lastname@example.org. The church phone number is 09 377 3512.
1. Introductory statements
As a church community we affirm and accept LGBT people as created by God, made in the image of God, welcomed and loved by God.
We see the presence of LGBT people within human society as a naturally occurring feature of human diversity, and therefore part of God's good creation, not necessarily a sign of sin or brokenness. We recognise that all human sexual relationships have the potential for unhealthy expression and sin, but we do not consider all homosexual love to be inherently disordered, 'unnatural' or sinful, and we do not believe that the Bible or Christian theology requires us to do so.
We believe that most LGBT people experience their gender identity and sexual attraction as innate and unchosen in the same way as cis-typical heterosexual people do. We do not believe that most LGBT people can or should be asked to change their sexuality, and this is being increasingly confirmed by the statistics emerging from those organisations set up with this intent and the closure of Exodus and Courage. The fruit of the 'ex-gay' teaching has been, in the main, harmful.
We fully understand that some gay and lesbian Christians are persuaded in their own conscience that they must stay celibate, in obedience to how they understand the Scriptures. We affirm that choice, if made freely, and would naturally support those people to fulfil their conviction. However, we are also persuaded that nobody can impose life long celibacy on someone else if that is not their sense of call and conviction, and to do so is both unhealthy and unethical.
Therefore, we believe that LGBT Christians are entitled to give and receive sexual love within faithful partnerships, in the same way as heterosexual Christians are. Many of us are witness to the grace and care and generosity present within the relationships of our gay and lesbian friends, and see the blessing and presence of God's Spirit in these relationships no less than in the heterosexual marriages of our acquaintance. We affirm that we wish to be able to celebrate these faithful partnerships in the form of marriage. Further, we feel that to deny a Christian ceremony of public witness, blessing and exchange of vows to long standing unions effectively undermines our own stated values of faithfulness, accountability, and commitment in human relationships.
We grieve for the pain that the church has caused over the years to LGBT people, and for the lack of understanding and compassion that they have suffered. We note that the suicide rate of young gay people is higher among those who have had some church backgrounds than those who haven't. We are also concerned to make clear that even where individuals and churches attempt to scale back their active condemnation of LGBT people, the commitment to seeing their relationships as forbidden and unable to be blessed by God, is in itself still hurtful and alienating. We question whether it is possible for a church to be genuinely welcoming of gay Christians or seekers, while staying opposed to them finding love and fulfilment in human relationship. We reject the separation of 'orientation' and 'practice' as an artificial, even specious, distinction that leads to arbitrary lines being drawn across the whole-person experience of eros as a blend of attraction, longing, love, desire, touch, and companionship. We feel that statements like 'love the sinner, hate the sin' applied to this issue still communicate on some level the rejection of people's sexual identity that prevents gay Christians finding a place of belonging in our churches.
We believe that one of the problems in this discussion is the lack of visibility and voices of gay and lesbian Christians, especially within our movement. There is still a quality of 'them' and 'us' in the debate that might make it possible to assume that we are exclusively talking about people outside the church, when we reflect on this issue. We are the poorer for having exclusively heterosexual pastors and scholars determining our stance, without having to experience in themselves any of the consequences of their teaching. We would like to see LGBT Christians welcomed into full participation in the life of the church, including visibility in leading worship and small groups, as deacons and elders, as mentors and pastors, and college faculty. As with the involvement of women in these roles in the church, the Body of Christ is enriched when the members of the Body see themselves reflected in the leadership. Conversely, the homogeneity of leadership diminishes the confidence of significant portions of the diverse Body, and thus diminishes the full expression of the reach and presence of Christ within the world.
We feel that the thinking within the Baptist movement on this issue has been framed within too narrow parameters of biblical interpretation, seemingly uninflected by scholarship that comes to different conclusions. There also seems to be a lack of consideration for the fluidity of gender and sexuality that we all experience, the journey of transgendered or transsexual people, and the reality of intersex people. As a community, Cityside is positively influenced by liberation theologies in their various forms, and many of us hold a literary and critical awareness in relation to the Scriptures. We accept that the biblical and theological rationale for the majority Baptist position on this issue is legitimate within its starting parameters. However, ours differ, and we also consider our own position to be faithful to Scripture, and faithful to our calling in Christ.
We recognise ourselves to be in a minority position within the wider Baptist movement, and do not expect other Baptist churches to alter their stance or practice, much as we might find it distressing. We do not see a need to opt out of the Baptist Union on this matter, and feel that the wider family of churches is stronger for being able to contain the difference of our perspective. We do not believe that denominational unity should be based on lengthy confessions or moral uniformity, and we do not believe that our collective witness and mission to the wider NZ society is harmed by holding difference on this or any other issue.
2. Biblical and Theological matters
It is not our intent in this submission to set out a full biblical and theological rationale in support of marriage for same gender couples. We understand that the working group is conducting its own research into the subject, and simply then note for reference the work of Nigel Chapman at Surry Hills Baptist Church: http://180.org.au/, William Loader, http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/SameSex.pdf for a brief summary of his much longer works, and the work of the NZ Anglican Commission on Doctrine before this year's General Synod, which formed an appendix to the 'Ma Whea' report that the Baptist Working Group has no doubt read. These are obviously short summary approaches to the issues but they offer a starting indication of scholarship that supports our stance.
The question to ask about these kinds of argument is not 'can they be critiqued?' because every argument can be, especially those that express a minority position to a long held status quo. Indeed, the critique of the Doctrine Commission's rationale is held within its own document. The more significant question is whether the argument is legitimate within the framework in which it is being offered, and whether that framework is itself recognisable and defensible as Christian, in adherence to our received apostolic faith. We do not accept that there is only one Christian starting point in interpreting Scripture, and therefore do not accept the conclusion that there can be only one Christian view on homosexual relationships.
To put it another way, we would like the Baptist churches to recognise that there are (at least) two views on this issue for which it is possible to make a thorough biblical and theological defence. While one view is clearly more prominent within evangelicalism, both are held by faithful and committed Christians, with respect for Scripture and the long held traditions of the Church. We note that, increasingly, evangelicals are shifting ground on this issue (note the emergence of organisations such as 'Accepting Evangelicals' in the UK.)
Different strands of our Christian tradition privilege various emphases within Scripture. Many Citysiders, understanding the Word of God as primarily embodied in Jesus the Christ, take the life and teaching of Jesus as revealed in the gospels as our interpretive lens. We thus see kingdom, justice, pastoral, and liberation concerns outweighing purity concerns when it comes to right living. With Jesus at the centre of our hermeneutic, we pay close attention to his practice of widening the circles of inclusion, even within the course of his own ministry. We note his willingness to break the rules of his culture and religion (such as the purity laws to do with touch and women, and Sabbath observance) to enact compassion and to demonstrate the radical nearness of the kingdom of heaven to all people. Jesus' practice teaches us that rules, whether religious or moral, are to make human life better, and where the rules are applied in such a way that they create or sustain human need or human pain, the rules are to be subordinated to the well-being of the person. We see here an ethic of love over law that guides our own discernment.
We see that the 'proof texting' approach that relies on quoting one or more of the six texts referencing homosexuality in the Scriptures not only tends to treat verses of the Bible out of context, but is inadequate to the fully orbed nature of complex issues to do with morality and human dignity. We note that none of the texts usually cited to condemn homosexual sex, when read in context, is intended as teaching on human sexuality per se, but as an example to support some other theological or legal point. What can be clearly inferred from them is that the biblical writers, including Paul, held, and did not question, the ancient Jewish mindset that all homosexual activity is unnatural and therefore outside the will of God. However, we do not consider the culture or worldview of the biblical authors to be inspired or authoritative in determining how we ought to live well in our own cultural setting, any more than we accept their cosmology, or their conviction that the Christ would return in their lifetimes.
We note that Genesis 2 does hold a symbolically resonant image of marriage as the coming together of man and woman as 'one flesh', and we accept that Jesus upheld this image in his response to questions about marriage. We accept that this resonance is a powerful, and possibly even normative model for most human cultures and contexts. It describes what is usually true. But we are not comfortable with treating these early chapters of Genesis as anything other than poetic text, indicating at a mythical and metaphorical level the deep truths about human life, and its origins in the loving creativity of God. We therefore do not see in this text anything prescriptive or proscriptive, any more than this text could be used to say that singleness is not the intent of God for any human life. We believe that Jesus' use of Genesis 2 is to affirm the importance of marital faithfulness and the protection of the marriage relationship – particularly the woman, in response to questions about divorce and adultery, not as a teaching about the gender of the people in the couple.
The life of the church is to be guided by the living Spirit, as well as the Bible, and sometimes the Spirit leads the church into new understanding, and into interpretations of Scripture that would have been unthinkable to people of faith in a previous era. We see this in the life of the early church in Acts, with Peter's vision of the animals followed by his entry into Cornelius' house, and in the Jerusalem Council where circumcision was debated. In both cases, the Spirit led the church beyond both their sacred text and their comfort zone in order to widen the scope of who was to be understood as acceptable to God. We believe that the Spirit has continued to guide the church to keep drawing the circle wider, even where this seems to come into conflict with our received understandings. We accept that it is difficult to agree on where and how the Spirit is guiding the church, and opposing views each claim the Spirit's confirmation of their own opinion. The church as a whole might be strengthened if we together developed a deeper and wiser understanding of spiritual discernment than is often practiced.
We would like to contest the idea that marriage has always reflected our current understanding and practice of it. There is no one endorsed view of marriage and family in the Bible. And the Christian church has, over the years, largely accepted the way marriage is practised in the wider culture, which in some cases has led the church to accept polygamy. Certainly, the church has supported marriage based on assumptions of women as property, women as submissive and obedient to their husbands, marriage as primarily procreative, and marriage that ties together families of privilege to cement social and ecclesial power, and has counselled people to continue in marriages where abuse is taking place. We are glad that these ideas of marriage have been challenged both within society and within the church. We are glad that marriage has changed and continues to change. We do not think it is defensible to argue for a certain view of marriage on the grounds that it has 'always been' a certain way.
Whether our contemporary notions of marriage as a romantic coupling are sufficient to sustain social and individual well-being is itself contestable. It is time for the church to do some deeper thinking about what a genuinely Christian view of marriage might be, rather than simply reacting to social change and focusing on 'one man and one woman' to the exclusion of considering what other human 'good' marriage might provide for. One of the gifts of this time in our history is to invite such a conversation. We would hope that the church's contribution to this conversation is not just to affirm the gender binary of the participants, but to shift the discourse from exclusively romantic notions to discussions about commitment, self-giving, other-centredness, sacrificial care, and the joy that can come through years of mutual sharing through 'better and worse'. Within the church, we may want to suggest that for those who are married, their relationship is part of their ongoing sanctification in Christ.
If these ideas are encouraged by the church in the way we prepare all couples for marriage, we feel that opening up the scope of marriage to include faithful LGBT couples will bear the fruit of greater stability, joy and wholeness for those who are inclined to marry, and that this will have a positive flow-on effect for our wider society. Those LGBT people who suffered the AIDS crisis in the West in the 80s, and who demonstrated faithfulness and compassion through suffering and abandonment by family, church and state are to us examples of true marriage, which we find inspiring. We feel that heterosexual couples might have something to learn from our LGBT friends who have weathered the storms not only of their own relationships but the hostile environment that has often surrounded them.
We do not deny that there is a complementary symbolism in the coming together of 'male and female' that is also part of the wider symbol system of the Christian faith, that has the wedding banquet as one of its central images of union and fulfilment. However, we feel that there are other kinds of complementarity expressed whenever two different people choose to leave their family of origin and create a new family based on their own shared ground. We see the marriage symbolism in Scripture as indicative of the possibility of marriage to become an icon, or sacrament, of the love of God for all people. It is not always this, of course, in the same way as the church does not always express its own calling to embody the love of God in community. But at its best, and in the mystery of God's grace, marriage can be a covenant that embodies in a human relationship the love of Christ for the church, as Paul affirms in Ephesians 5. Just as the risen Christ and the church are non- gendered except symbolically, so we contend that committed same sex couples can and do reflect the beauty of self-giving love that is the essence of marriage.
4. Sexual immorality
We affirm that the Bible teaches about sexual immorality as inimical to the life of faith. Along with Scripture, we would experience concern where any sexual relationship, whether gay or straight, is non-consensual, non-mutual, abusive, unloving, and unfaithful to previous vows, and where any person was using sex as an addiction, power game, or 'sleeping around' indiscriminately. We are persuaded that the Bible texts that are cited as prohibiting homosexuality in general assume some element of promiscuity, exploitation, adultery, or ritual practice as part of all homosexual sex. Based on our experience of same sex relationships among friends and family, and given that we do not share the cultural assumptions of the Biblical writers, we do not believe that all homosexual relationships fit this definition of 'immoral.' Some might, as do many heterosexual relationships. Our contention is that the church should have a positive vision of committed relationships, based on God's covenantal and faithful love for humanity, and be willing to share this vision even where it is counter-cultural. Part of our desire to uphold the relationships of gay Christians in marriage is to affirm, celebrate, and support all relational commitment as trending towards this positive vision.
5. Change processes in church and society
We see the issue of full inclusion and marriage equality for LGBT people as consistent with other changes that church and society have gone through in the past. The conservative impulse in these changes is to cite biblical texts, without any reference to a hermeneutical principle, and without any acknowledgement that interpretation of texts changes as our human experience changes. There is a tendency to deceive ourselves that not only is the text static, but to act as though our interpretation of it occurs in a vacuum, and as though scholarship can be objectively detached from cultural moment in which it occurs. The church often looks like it is arguing on the basis of Scripture, when it is simply defending the status quo. We would like to see a greater humility that acknowledges that we all emphasise and de-emphasise parts of Scripture in accordance with our cultural understanding, and that we tend toward a kind of amnesia when it comes to change processes we have already accommodated. It has become commonplace now for this issue of LGBT relationships to be compared to the debates over slavery, and women in leadership, over divorce, miscegenation, and whether the earth moves around the sun. Those who cannot accept gay and lesbian relationships make the point that this issue is different because no biblical argument can be made in favour of them, whereas there are parts of Scripture that support those issues on which we have changed our stance. What this argument ignores is that, at the time when each of these debates began, they looked much like this one, with a small group of people concerned for change, and the majority claiming that it directly contradicts Scripture. We assert that, on the whole, change did not occur on the basis of the strength of the arguments, which have developed and deepened over time. Change occurred because the life experience of its opponents led them to alter their interpretation of Scripture, or in some cases simply to overlook inconvenient parts of the text. While many of us like to believe that we are persuaded in our minds, through new arguments, it would be more accurate to say that our minds are largely inseparable from the great cultural paradigm shifts that take place (for better or worse,) that we are changed by our experiences, primarily our relationships, and then read the text differently. We believe that at this time, the invitation of the Spirit working through our friends and through the wider culture is for the church to read Scripture anew on this issue of LGBT relationships. We expect this to take much longer than the debates on women's roles in the church, for example, simply because a much smaller proportion of the population is directly affected, and because the church can and has insulated itself against deep connections with LGBT people in a way it hasn't been able to do with women.
The question of where bias lies on this issue is worth noting, along with a principle largely accepted within our society but distressingly absent from our Baptist practice so far, which is that those with most at stake should have the greatest part in the conversation. Otherwise phrased as 'nothing about us without us', this principle is recognised when it comes to issues affecting tangata whenua, who have fought for years for the right to be consulted on matters that will affect them most profoundly, and within the disability and community development sectors. The idea that our denomination would call a working group on this issue and be very deliberate to make it 'non representative' (i.e. there would be no effort to include any LGBT people or those who advocate for change) demonstrates a disturbing ignorance about perspective. It assumes that those who adopt a conservative position on an issue are free from bias and agenda, and can find an 'objective' place from which to evaluate other perspectives.
We hope that part of the practice of the Working Group is to seek out gay and lesbian members of Baptist churches, both those who believe that they need to be celibate, and those who wish to be in relationships. We suspect that this might be very difficult, as the Baptist environment is not one that is particularly conducive to being 'out.' Why should gay Christians tell their stories of deep and personal struggle and desire, when they can fairly presume that they will be disapproved of, corrected, or argued with? However, without this intentional listening process, the church is essentially making decisions about other people's lives without any sense of their stories, leaving hetero-normative assumptions and biases unchallenged.
6. How this affects our mission
We understand that the way Baptist congregations are governed has partly to do with being able to practice mission in context, and to discern our life together in our particular place, with our particular people. Cityside Baptist Church has, over the years, developed a niche within our movement that has an expansive theology, and an inclusive, exploratory style that embraces people at many different stages of faith, and sometimes non-faith. We have been able to support and sustain the Christian faith of people for whom other parts of the church have become either irrelevant or unsafe. We believe that our way of doing church together, while not perfect by any means, is honouring to God and faithful to the Way of Jesus Christ. For most of us, being required by our denominational affiliation not to celebrate and bless the relationships of LGBT people in our church does harm to our sense of identity and mission, compromises the good news we wish to share, and tarnishes the face of Christ that we show to the world around us. We wish to be able to offer a welcome – a full, uncompromised welcome – to our LGBT friends where other Christians have offered rejection, or unreasonable demands. We have already lost one vulnerable attender simply because we are not exercising a unanimous voice in support of LGBT people. We have to accept this, because of our commitment to walking together holding different views within our community. But it is difficult to have decisions imposed on us from outside our faith community, with little understanding, it seems, of the impact that has on our particular witness and faith expression.
7. Baptist Unity vs Conformity
We observe that last year, the approach to this issue by the leadership of the movement was largely driven by fear and reaction, rather than a process of deep reflection on the issues involved, and the Baptist tradition in which we stand. We understand that there are some pastors who are concerned that, without a binding stance on the issue, they may be somehow coerced to marry a LGBT couple, or face legal action. We have two reflections on this. Firstly, it is our belief that the legislation does not compel anybody to conduct a marriage ceremony and no reasons have to be given. The religious provision in the law is an extra layer of strength to what has always been the case. Secondly, though, we wonder whether fear of legal action is a good enough reason to alter our long standing commitment to allowing congregations to act with freedom of conscience on contentious issues. We do not see wisdom or faith expressed in a hasty action designed to protect pastors in a hypothetical 'worst case scenario.' We consider that those Baptist ministers who wish to discriminate under the current law should be free to do so, and we would support Union funds being made available in any given test case to support a local church, but we do not think this issue warrants an exception to our current flexibility as a movement to make our own discernment on moral matters.
While we would like to see the current Baptist policy documents pertaining to sexual relationships altered to reflect a greater diversity of views, and a more nuanced understanding of human sexuality, we are content to accept that they express the majority position, so long as they are not binding on any given congregation who wishes to dissent. We appreciate the wording of the resolution passed at the 2013 Assembly, which sees the policies as recommendations, as is the case with all Baptist policy. We note that there is diversity of practice on many policy issues, such as women in leadership and children taking communion, and there has not been any need to apply consequences to those churches that quietly defer from the recommended stance. We request that the Working Party consider the decision made by the Baptist Union in Britain, which has made room for the consciences of individual ministers and churches.
We observe that there are different views about what unity is, and how to maintain and express it. On the one hand, unity is conflated with uniformity, or conformity to an agreed stance on an issue. This viewpoint maintains that if churches hold different beliefs about human sexuality, and practice differently in regard to marriage, then the witness of the whole church is compromised, and the faith of all is weakened. On the other hand, we would favour an understanding of unity that is based on mutual co-operation, respect, and relationship. We uphold our common ground of the basic Baptist principles and ways of constituting church, and yet hold to our differing consciences on some matters. Unity is only significant if it is freely held, and embraced in the midst of wrestling with differences. The kind of unity that comes from adherence to external agreements with consequences for dissent quickly becomes coercive. True unity has an interdependent, organic quality that cannot be enforced or mandated. Will we so quickly forget that the Baptist church was formed from the dissenting tradition, with a deep trust in the Spirit to guide the local congregation, and an active commitment to discerning God's will in community?
We live in a post-denominational age, and while our Baptist identity may be important to some within the church, to the wider world into which we are sent, it makes no difference whether we are Baptist or Presbyterian or Pentecostal. We honestly cannot see how coming to binding agreement that we will not celebrate the union of LGBT couples will make a positive difference to the ability of Baptist churches to live out the good news in their own contexts. We can, however, see how it could have a negative affect on ours.
The Baptist Constitution is effective in its simplicity. There are some who would like our confession to be made fuller and cover greater detail. We would caution against this, as each age has its own issues to wrestle with, and confessions that respond to the concerns of a given generation quickly become archaic. Would we want, for example, a clause about alcohol in our constitution? Or about whether or not Baptist Christians can serve in the armed forces? Smack children? Or participate in abortion or euthanasia? It is important that the Baptist constitution makes no mention of these kind of 'second tier' issues, and leaves this to the local congregation to determine as guided by the gathered churches through policies, as is the current approach. We are aware that for some people, a positive stance on LGBT issues contradicts the clause in the Constitution about biblical authority. However, we would claim that we have not lost sight of the Bible, or its role in our community, in the midst of our explorations on this issue. We have simply come to a different interpretation than that held by most Baptists.
We would further ask our Baptist colleagues 'why this issue?' When we disagree about a great number of things, and when our practice already has so much variance, we are at a loss to understand why this issue is the only one that might potentially lead to churches and ministers being censured or excluded. It seems inconsistent, given that Jesus had nothing to say on the topic, and given that many other issues on which Christians disagree would seem to go much closer to the heart of our ability to confess and witness to Christ. It seems to us that this topic has become a Shibboleth in evangelical circles, and people and churches are being asked to take positions, and identify with one side over another, as a marker of their faithfulness to the gospel. On an issue of such pastoral sensitivity and where the church is already guilty of so much negative discourse, we think it would be better to engage in slow and careful dialogue, and patient exploration, rather than trying to force agreement to a single position.
On a final note, we are disturbed that, in some Baptist contexts, this issue is being linked to salvation to the extent that a married gay couple would potentially be refused baptism and communion. (We derive this anecdotally from comments made in an online forum.) While we accept that baptism contains within its symbolism a commitment to live a new life in Christ, we also see that Baptism is the start of a life-long journey of sanctification. To withhold from people in a same sex relationship the signs whereby we respond to God's grace to us in Christ badly distorts our theology of salvation, and nullifies the God-given faith of the people concerned, because of an issue of moral practice that is held in dispute by the wider church. It sends again the message that LGBT people cannot be Christians.
Our concern in all of this, is that our church, and the wider movement to which we belong, make as a primary concern the communication to LGBT people that God loves and accepts them as they are, unconditionally. We want to give expression to a welcome that frees gay and lesbian Christians from guilt and shame at a core level of identity, and where we all, male and female, gay and straight, know ourselves to be children of God through the self- giving love of Christ.
8. Who this submission represents
This submission was written by the Cityside Baptist Church leadership team and reflects our views. It reflects, broadly, the convictions of the majority of the Cityside membership. We have decided not to bring this issue to a meeting or vote of the church at this stage, because we are committed to a process of exploration that doesn't force people to take a position, or to draw a line in the sand that divides our community. Our approach and intent is to dialogue with respect for our differences. However, we have conducted a survey of the whole church, in order for the leadership team to discover whether our congregation would be broadly in support of our pastor conducting a same sex wedding should this be requested of them. The response rate was very high (much higher than the numbers we have at church members meetings), and we included the option of anonymous responses. Approximately 85% of those who participated in the survey were positive about their pastor taking the marriage of a same sex couple. Therefore, while obviously not every statement in this submission represents precisely the views of those people, we feel that this submission reflects the overall convictions of that majority group.
There is a group of Citysiders who are uncomfortable with the conclusions of the survey, and would want our church would take a stance on the issue that better reflects their more conservative reading of the Bible. Our approach at this time is not to try to persuade them to adopt the majority stance, but for us all to hold on to our convictions and dialogue in love, focusing our unity around our shared faith and holding as lightly as we can to our differences. All Citysiders have been invited to write individual submissions to this Working Group should they wish to, whether these are in support of, or in opposition to, the submission our leadership is making on behalf of our church.
We would like to acknowledge that the writers of this submission do not primarily identify as LGBT. We therefore do not speak from within the perspective of those marginalised by this discussion, nor do we attempt to speak on their behalf. We see ourselves as allies and advocates, but recognise that we do not ourselves experience what it is to be gay in the church. We offer our perspective in humility alongside our brothers and sisters who have had to wrestle in prayer and pain, and on a personal level, with the issues we have raised.