It was Lord Alfred Douglas of Oscar Wilde fame, who first coined the phrase: the love that dare not speak its name. His relationship with the Irish writer led to Wilde’s imprisonment in Reading Gaol with hard labour, a punishment that would remain on the statute book in some parts of the United Kingdom until 1982.
Like most people who followed the events of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in St Louis last week, I am still reeling at the outcome. After years of careful conversation within the Commission on a Way Forward, the Conference voted not only to maintain the status quo, but move to enforce it more rigorously. The current official ban on ‘self-avowed, practicing homosexuals’ was upheld with the possibility of greater sanctions on those who flout the Church’s discipline.
Alongside this re-affirmation, the General Conference discussed ways in which those opposed to the outcome could be given a ‘gracious exit’ from the denomination. We must now wait to see if this leads to the actual fragmentation of the United Methodist Church into two or more separate denominations.
For me, it is the use of particular language that has caused the most upset. I know too well that reconciliation must seek a common language to ensure the de-escalation of conflict between two or more parties. But, it must not become euphemistic to the degree that it masks or denies the reality of the pain caused by or to anyone involved. The idea of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies being forced out of a church on the grounds of their identity or theology may be described as many things, but ‘gracious’ is not one of them. Likewise, the use of the terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ diminish the level of violence done to those who are rejected from faith communities on a weekly basis. It is not as if LGBTQ+ Christians are offered a comfortable waiting room in which to sit until the Church invites us to participate. Living with rejection - patiently or not - is a constant source of pain.
So let’s call it what it is: discrimination. That’s what happened in St Louis and goes on happening, often unreported, in churches in Britain and Ireland. One dictionary defines discrimination:
‘treating a person or particular group of person differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, sexuality, etc.’
The General Conference has chosen to treat LGBTQ+ people differently. This may be justified for some on the basis of scripture or tradition, nevertheless it is still discrimination. For those of us who experience it, it is also unfair and unjust. Our struggle is, therefore, not about inclusion, but actually about justice. That’s what scares many moderates in the Church as well as conservatives. They are comfortable with an idea of inclusion that allows bygones to be bygones and where we can all start from scratch. As long as, when LGBTQ+ people are included, they are eternally grateful and don’t bring up all the nastiness of the past, then we can tolerate that. But, should LGBTQ+ people want acknowledgement for past wrongs, perhaps even an apology and a commitment to a process of corporate repentance that roots out institutional homophobia, then fewer of them want to know.
Discrimination spoke its name clearly this week. But Justice will have the last word.