The Irish Peace Centres (IPC) have produced a valuable report on LGBT lives and stories, titled ‘Holding the Tension Wisely.’ Released earlier this week, the report (available here) summarises the ‘tension’ and ‘wisdom’ that emerged from a working conference held in Corrymeela in June on ‘Religious Ethics and Human Rights.’
The Report is another important IPC contribution to conversations around LGBT participation in the churches. In September, IPC published ‘LGBT Communities’ Experiences of Faith and Church in Northern Ireland,’ a research report by Dr Claire Mitchell and Dr Claire McConnell.
I was present during one day of the two-day conference at Corrymeela, where Mitchell and McConnell presented the then-unpublished results of their work. At the time, what most impressed me from the report was the pain around the way LGBT people had been treated in the churches. This is something which came through in a BBC Radio Ulster discussion after the launch of Mitchell and O’Connell’s report in September.
Holding the Tension Wisely was written by IPC’s Faith and Peace fieldworker, Pádraig Ó Tuama. Using a framework of ‘tension’ and ‘wisdom,’ he reports on the conversations that took place over those two days in Corrymeela.
The ‘tension’ aspect of the framework allows us to see where people disagree, while the ‘wisdom’ aspect identifies particular insights vital for taking this conversation forward.
The Report summarises Tension and Wisdom under eight headings:
- From ‘speaking about’ to ‘engaging with’
- Human Stories
- Beliefs and Believing
- Progressing the Conversation
I think that this Report, as well as the prior Report by Mitchell and McConnell, should be read widely and carefully.
Public conversations about LBGT people and the churches have often been harsh, and what encourages me most about these Reports is the attempt to soften that language.
Just take the example of how our public conversations are often framed in terms of the ‘gay issue’ or the ‘homosexuality debate.’ In the introduction to the Report, Ó Tuama urges us to go beyond that language, reminding us that people should not be reduced to ‘issues’ or ‘debates.’ He writes (p. 3):
‘What is sometimes called “the issue”, other times called “a debate” or “the gay question” is referred to in this paper as LGBT lives and stories. As a first principle, the conference held the dignity of first-person narrative. If we are to disagree, let us at least disagree well, without reverting to tired predictabilities, and unrepresentative stereotypes.’
If we can learn one thing from this Report – particularly religious leaders who speak often in the public sphere – I hope that it is that we can and should be more careful about our language.
The ability to speak more respectfully with and about each other is rooted in trust, which Ó Tuama acknowledges in the Report by relating that (p. 4):
The June conference started with a short reflection on the Irish phrase for “I trust you” from the Dingle Peninsula: mo sheasamh ort, lá na choise tinne – ‘you are the place of my standing, on the day when my feet are sore’.
He adds that (p. 4):
It is my sincere hope that this paper can contribute to the further building of this kind of trust across painful and divisive tensions.
I think the tension/wisdom framework provides a good place for starting to build this kind of trust. There are too many tension/wisdom insights to share in this post, so I urge you to read the Report in full. To encourage you, here is a sample of my favourites:
From ‘Names’, two points of wisdom (p. 7):
Firstly, we must find out a group’s name for themselves, and use this with all the respect we would expect for our own name for ourselves.
Secondly, a person or group must be defined for who they are, not for who they are not.
From ‘From Speaking About’ to ‘Engaging With’ (p. 8):
It is wise to reflect on privilege. For people who feel that tangible demands are being made to their relationships or lives, it is important for them to hear that those whose opinions do not affect their daily reality of their lives can acknowledge the privilege of holding an opinion which does not demand change. To acknowledge these privileges does not necessarily mean that this privilege needs to be undone, but it is a wise thing to acknowledge it.
From ‘Beliefs and Belonging’ (p. 12):
It is wise to present our understanding in ways that are not ambiguous. Stating that ‘I am on the fence’ can often be a mask for stating that you are uncomfortable with the consequences of your deeply-held belief. This is not being on the fence, rather, it is being uncomfortable with the lived reality of your belief.
The Report also includes two rich appendices written by Ó Tuama, including his thoughts on his own experience as a gay man with theological training. The second appendix is a reproduction of a powerful piece, published this month in the Presbyterian Herald, in which Ó Tuama quotes from the Mitchell and McConnell report and shares from his own experiences.
The Irish Peace Centres wish to assist groups, congregations and organisations who want to develop this conversation. To avail of this service, contact Ó Tuama at email@example.com
(Image from the IPC website)