Emma Tanner

A Work in Progress

A Story for Pride Month

on June 28, 2022

Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl lived in an affluent, middle-class town in an affluent, middle-class area, and she lived in a bubble. She went to a very nice private school, was always top of her class, and always followed the rules. Every Sunday she went to church at a very nice, very pretty Church of England village church, because that’s what you did.

When she was 17, she had a revelation whilst reading a book in the bath (a whole other story) and realised that being a Christian really should involve more than going through the motions in a very old stone building on a Sunday morning, and invited Jesus into her heart. Shortly afterwards, she moved to Cambridge to study veterinary medicine.

On her first day, she met the only other veterinary student at her college, in whose company, as it turned out, she would spend most of the next six years and who would become her very best friend- her brother.

She also joined a big student church in the city centre (a very conservative evangelical church, but that wasn’t language she possessed at the time), and the Christian Union. Her village church back home hadn’t been very hot on teaching about how your faith should impact your actual daily life, so this was all a bit of an eye-opening journey of discovery. She found out that sleeping with your boyfriend before you were married was wrong (oops), as was teaching in church if you were a woman (what?!) and, worst of all, being gay.

Some of this didn’t really sit right with her at the time, but she thought they must know what they were talking about, and at that time she definitely wasn’t one to question authority or rock the boat. So she rolled with it.

She met all sorts of people from different backgrounds and walks of life and started to burst herself out of her bubble.

Then, during their first year, her brother-from-another-mother came out as gay. She walked beside him as his family journeyed from rejection to affirmation, and as he finally allowed himself to be his true authentic self. People questioned how a very conservative Christian girl could be best friends with a gay man but to her it never felt like a contradiction.

What she did have, though, was a deepening sense of disquiet at the teaching she was hearing. She didn’t really understand why being gay, even if you thought it was wrong, was a worse sin than anything else. She knew there were people in the Christian Union who were having (heterosexual) sex outside marriage, and getting drunk, and gossiping. How was being gay worse than that? No-one could give her a satisfactory answer. She kind of parked it, figuring it was something she wouldn’t understand this side of heaven.

Fast forward a few years, and the girl was now happily married, with two little girls. She didn’t see her friend so often now, but they had the kind of relationship where they could always pick up exactly where they left off, no matter how long it had been. She was growing in faith and confidence, stepping into God’s plans and purposes for her life, and becoming rooted in her identity as a daughter of the King. She was realising that her mind was a God-given gift to use for His glory, that thinking and questioning and exploring was OK, and she was starting to let go of the stifling need for the approval of other people.

She followed with interest, and no small amount of dismay, the story of Christian worship leader and theologian Vicky Beeching, who after years fighting her sexual orientation (and countless people praying for her ‘healing’ or ‘deliverance’) publicly came out as a lesbian, and promptly saw her livelihood disappear as the (predominantly American) conservative Christians who bought and played her music dropped her like a hot potato. This made the girl stop and think. What if everything she’d been taught about this issue wasn’t quite as black and white as it first appeared?

At the same time, and seemingly coincidentally, she started reading through the whole Bible, following Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year. Reading through the entire Bible, some of it for the first time, pulled her up short. She was familiar with the ‘clobber passages’, the small handful of verses in the Bible that appear to address homosexuality- behaviour, mind you, not orientation- but she now got a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, the wider Biblical landscape, in a way she never had before. She hadn’t been reading with any particular agenda or conscious preconceptions, but her main take- away was that the things that the Bible, and indeed Jesus himself, seemed to focus on weren’t the same issues that the church prioritised. Social justice. Standing up for the oppressed. Holding the rich and powerful to account. Putting Jesus above everything else. The amazing gospel story of God’s unconditional redemptive love for all His children. This gave her more food for thought.

Then the girl got talking to an acquaintance from church. This lady casually dropped into the conversation that if one of her children came out as gay, she’d disown them. Kick them out. No need to pass go, no collecting £200, just out, no questions. The girl was really shocked by this, and it made her ask herself the question

 “What would I do?”

And she knew she didn’t even need to think about it. She would continue to love them as best she could, would try in her limited, imperfect way to mirror the Father’s unconditional love for all His children.

But where did this leave her theologically? Was coming to a position of affirmation and acceptance of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, a contradiction? The girl wrestled with this for a long time. She read lots of Biblical commentaries reflecting a wide range of viewpoints. Then, one day, as she prayed about it once more, with tears rolling down her cheeks, she heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit say

“It’s OK! You don’t have to choose. There is no conflict.”

And she felt an overwhelming sense of peace in that moment. She talked it all through with her husband, who in his quiet, understated way said he was in total agreement. And that was the end of her journey. Except it wasn’t.

Fast forward another 5 years or so, and the daughters of the girl were now teenagers. She liked to talk to them about anything and everything, and so over the years they’d had plenty of conversations about sex and relationships and sexual orientation. The girl had taught her daughters that there were a wide range of different positions and Biblical interpretations in the church as a whole- but in that in their house, the girl and her husband would try their best to love in the way the Father does- universally and without conditions.

When the girl’s younger daughter was 13, it seemed like they were having more and more conversations about sexuality. Eventually the girl asked her daughter

“Do you like boys? Or girls?”

Her daughter replied, ever so awkwardly, that she had known since she was small that she liked girls. She knew that she was a lesbian.

The daughter loved Jesus, and knew her Bible. She had read all the clobber verses, and the interpretations of them that would deny either her sexuality or her faith, but she was unshakeable in the belief that God had made her just as she was, and loved and accepted her just as she was. She was under no illusion that a significant majority of the Christian world did not see things the same way. It made the girl sad that her precious daughter had already mentally divided up her friends and family into those who it was probably safe to tell, and those who it wasn’t.

The daughter asked the girl to share this revelation with her dad and her sister (gay or straight, faith that would move mountains or not, teen social anxiety is still a thing). Her sister, who also loves Jesus (but very definitely likes boys) accepted her and had her back straight away. Her dad took his daughter for a walk and said

“Mummy told me your news. Very good. Excellent.”

Which apparently according to the daughter was the best response because her mum liked to talk about everything and use ALL THE WORDS which was embarrassing.

A few months later the girl and her daughter went for a walk and the daughter said

“You know how when I was little I used to dream about heaven, and angels, and Jesus? I’ve started having those dreams again. I saw myself speaking in church. I’d really like to do that one day.”

The girl said to her daughter, with tears in her eyes and thankfulness in her heart that surely if there was any doubt about how her daddy God saw her, and accepted her, then this should dispel it. God was releasing something beautiful in her as she embraced all aspects of her identity and started walking in wholeness, not living a watered-down version of herself that was more palatable to other people.

Indeed, the daughter’s life bore such fruit that it would be almost impossible to deny the reality of her faith. She was kind, and generous, and wise beyond her years, with a steely core of faith running right through her. One of her friends at school asked her

“Is it normal for someone to be able to tell you’re a Christian just by how you behave?”

This made the girl’s heart sing.

A short time later, the daughter was baptised. The following week she announced to the girl that she was doing a presentation about LBQT issues to her school Christian Union. Gulp, thought the girl. She was worried about her daughter- it felt like she was voluntarily entering the lion’s den.

The teacher advertised the CU session with a content warning (bah, thought the girl.) The daughter spent ages preparing a power point. Then, ever so bravely, the daughter stood up in front of a room full of her peers, and a hostile teacher, not knowing whether they would reject her or not. She told them that she was gay, and she knew that God had made her that way- that she was fearfully and wonderfully made. She answered questions, some of them combative. In the end almost everyone was supportive, and even the sceptical teacher said the daughter had given her food for thought.

The girl was in awe of her daughter, and that day she was struck afresh by the awesome kindness and faithfulness of Jesus, who had gone ahead and made a way and prepared her heart years before to parent this amazing, courageous, faith-filled, gay, young woman of God. And she wanted to share her story in the hope that it might make people think, and give hope to those who feel on the edge, that they are somehow outside of the love and acceptance of God- because that is a lie that the church has been telling for far too long.


%d bloggers like this: