Pride

August 31, 2022

Unconditional

The opinions and views in this message are from Rev Gav and in no way represent the wider views of St.Mark’s Church or the Anglican Church of Bermuda.

Last Sunday I attended the Pride worship with Wesley Methodist Church and I was deeply moved by the gentle, affirming, and sensitive testimonies of the performers and speakers. Sadly, branches of the church have historically been guilty of oppression and injustice against marginalised people, and today, some movements continue in this vein. The words and actions from a minority of Christians have had, and continue to have, a devastating effect on those that identify as LGBTQIA+ and this is why I am writing today.

I understand the outrage and lament that many Christians and non-Christians feel about the moral state of society. Greed and corruption are rife, and in our daily lives, we encounter racism, ableism, family breakdown, gang violence, bullying, soaring prices, unaffordable healthcare, and social issues resulting from drug and alcohol abuse. We look back wistfully to the “glory days” when our Sunday Schools were full, the roads were safe, and we did not have to lock our homes or vehicles.

Faced with this broken and hurting world, some have responded in two ways. Firstly, they have looked for someone to blame, and secondly they have sought to pass legislation to support their particular worldview. A prevailing but mistaken idea is that if we only had laws against certain moral behaviours or actions then the people of a country would become more ‘Christian’. Well, I am afraid it does not work like that. History is stained with the consequences of those that sought to force others to their way of thinking, and the results of their actions invariably resulted in violence and yes, even death. 

Today, a proportion of Christians blame the societal lack of morality on the LGBTQ community — perhaps minority and marginalised communities make easy targets? And based on this they continue to pursue enforcing legislation to ‘Christianise’ culture. As history has shown us, this course of action is both dangerous and destructive. Why? Because the message conveyed from these Christians is that everyone has a natural or God-given identity or gender that is 100% heterosexual and as assigned at birth, despite the enormous weight of scientific data and personal witness to the contrary. Therefore, the message being preached is that, if you are not heterosexual and do not identify with the gender assigned at birth, God does not love you the way you are and that there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. The message conveyed is that you are broken from birth and this message has truly devastating consequences.

Jesus reminds us that we recognise a tree by the fruit it produces. A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit, therefore, I want you to consider the fruit of the message that has been preached in the light of the the following statistics:

In a recent U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, there is a consistent trend that lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender teens are at increased risk of suicide. In the preceding year, 75% percent of LGBTQ teens experienced symptoms of anxiety and 61% experienced symptoms of depression. Of all the young people aged 13-24 that took the survey, 82% wanted mental healthcare in the past year and yet 60% of those youth were unable to access the care that they needed. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population. Why? Read this quote from the survey:

“LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”

Before I go on, let me assure you that if you are struggling with your identity or gender, that God loves and accepts you just the way you are. You are not an abomination. You are not a mistake. You are unconditionally loved and accepted, and an expression of God’s wonderful and diverse love.

We, as Christians, are not called by God to separate ourselves from the world and to form enclaves or a separate society, nor are we called to force Christianity upon the world. The Kingdom of God transcends our earthly social structures and, using metaphors that Jesus used, we are called to be light and salt in the world; or when describing the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13 he uses the metaphor of yeast — all things that permeate and make a difference to their surroundings. God is love and we are called to be God’s love to one another.

The church must speak out and not collude when the marginalised, broken, or poor are oppressed, and it is up to us to stand with them and speak up on their behalf. We are called to love them. Jesus saves his strongest words for those that would exclude others from God’s Kingdom, and if you are in doubt, read Matthew Chapter 23. Sobering words indeed. Jesus himself was accused of hanging out with outsiders and the despised, and I cannot help but feel that if he was here today he would be laughing and hugging, and walking with the outcast, the stranger, the oppressed, and the unwanted, assuring them that they are welcome.

At the Pride worship the congregation heard the heartfelt testimonies of believers, who despite being persecuted for their identity or gender, have a living faith in Jesus Christ. Their faith has struggled and survived against all the odds, is a witness to God’s life-giving grace, and is as precious as the purest gold. When I heard their testimonies, I wept. Some Christians assert that they are missing something. They are not. They have found Him and his name is Jesus.

Amen.

July 12, 2021

Pride

Pride is putting ourselves, our wants and desires, before God, others, and the environment. Pride literally has an ‘I’ in the middle. When pride takes hold — when the I becomes dominant — we are faced with choices. Me or God. Me or you. Me or the environment and we face these kinds of choices many times every day.  For example, choosing to spend time doing what I want instead of taking time to spend with God, or watching what I want on the telly instead of what my sister wants, or buying water in a plastic bottle rather than using a reusable cup. When we put ourselves first, there is never a good outcome for our relationship with God; there is never a good outcome for our relationships with others; and there is never a good outcome for the environment in which we live. 

When left unchecked; when pride slides out of control; when it is taken to its ultimate conclusion; the results are devastating. They are horrific. For example, take today’s Bible Reading. It is a story of pride spiralling out of control, and it literally leads to a horror story with murder, gore, and distress. Herod and Herodius put their own needs first, then Herod was proud before his dinner guests. He refused to lose face and back down at Herodius’s daughter’s request.

Think how sick his marriage was that his wife should manipulate him like this. Think how sick she was to use her daughter as part of her diabolical scheme. Think how sick he was to refuse to back down. Therefore, perhaps it is not so far-fetched to describe pride as a sickness? One of my all time favourite songs was by the band Delirious, and it is called Obsession. The lead singer Martin Smith sings the line, “I carry pride like a disease.” We all carry pride like a disease. We all put ourselves first, before God, others, and the world around us. 

Out of control pride ultimately breaks relationships and worse, it seeks to destroy and eradicate the other. Pride taken to its conclusion has no place for God. Pride taken to its conclusion means others become subjects or conquests or dogs to be eaten, colleagues to be stepped on, or partners or wives to be sidelined. Pride taken to its conclusion means the world around us can be raped of its resources; trashed, used up, burned, mined, cleared, and trawled. 

The opposite of pride and antidote to pride is humility — to humble yourself. A member of a church of which I was once part , used to start every prayer, “All the problems in the world start with me.” I will never forget that. Before I point the finger at anyone else I remember that I am the problem with the world. Why? For I carry pride like a disease.

So where does humility come from? How can we be humble? Well, firstly, it starts with recognising that we carry pride — admitting to ourselves and to God that we have the tendency or the ability to put ourselves first.  Then, it is about choices. There is the well known, anonymous quote, that life is a series of choices. Each choice represents a moment of opportunity. We need to be conscious of those choices.  I know that many of the many choices I make each day are subconscious an I am not aware that I am making the wrong choice, therefore we need to become conscious. This is what it means to gain a conscience or to be mindful — it is to be aware of the morality of our choice.

Humility is being mindful of our choices — seeing those choices as an opportunity to put God, others, or the environment first — then choosing that option, however, we cannot do it on our own. Thank God his Spirit can live in us and guide us in all truth!

Repentance is admitting and committing. It is admitting we have put ourselves first, and committing to put ourselves last. This is why the confession part of our worship is so important. It is not just about saying sorry and being forgiven. It is making a decision; a commitment to putting God, others, and the environment first.

So, let us get on our knees and say, “I am sorry God for my sin, for putting myself first, for not loving you or my neighbour, and not being a good steward of creation. I am sorry for not worshipping or honouring you. I am sorry for the trail of broken relationships I have left in my wake. I am sorry for trashing your precious creation. Therefore, right now, I resolve to put you first. I commit to being your servant and to putting others first. I set my heart on looking out for your creation. Holy Spirit, cleanse me, make me new, and guide me. Amen.”

I will finish with two quotes. The first is from another favourite Delirious song. Its inspiration is Isaiah 6: Verse 5 when Isaiah sees the Lord. Martin Smith, the composer of the song, wants revival to come — a renewing and restoring of our relationship with God, others, and the world.

Lord send revival, start with me. 
For I am one of unclean lips.
For my eyes have seen the king
And your glory I have glimpsed
Send revival, start with me.

The second quote is is from Philippians 2:1-7.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.