"I've been very inspired by meeting LGBT Christians who've challenged and have spoken out – and come out in often very difficult circumstances," said Brunel University London's Anglican Chaplain and Inter-Faith Advisor, the Reverend Sally Hitchiner, during a live interview for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour on 15 June.
The host, Jane Garvey, was interviewing Revd Hitchiner and evangelical Christian Jayne Ozanne about their own difficult experiences of coming out in the Church, and what it's like for young adults nowadays.
Garvey wondered why the Church as an institution attracted gay people – an estimated 20% of London's priests are gay – whilst, in parts, hating them and being deeply unpleasant. So what's going on?
"Perhaps people who've experienced oppression are more likely to care about trying to make things better for others," said Revd Hitchiner. "My experience of meeting so many LGBT people is that they want to get help and want to get involved in society, and they're not defined by the prejudices and stereotypes that people have had about them."
Revd Hitchiner explained how at Brunel the Chaplaincy hosts the LGBT Society, providing a supportive environment – including making cakes.
In response to meeting young LGBT Christians at Brunel and elsewhere, in 2013 Revd Hitchiner founded Diverse Church: a confidential Facebook Group. And when young people are away from home for the first time, and having a hard time, finding friendship can make a real difference.
"Many have thought about taking their own lives," shared Revd Hitchiner. "But when they find friendship, when they find solidarity and support in a confidential space online" – through Diverse Church or many other organisations – "then actually life becomes wonderful, and faith becomes something that enriches their lives."
When Garvey asked her guests how change can be achieved in the Church, Revd Hitchiner explained that the real challenge is not just for the LGBT community to change things, but for all of us to stand with our friends: "My partner works for the Civil Service, and her colleagues just can't believe the sorts of stresses that we face in the Church, and that it would be a problem in this day and age. The rest of the world looks in on the Church and thinks we're bonkers because of this being a thing.
"As society talks about it more, as it's coming up in the media more and more, actually the Church is recognising that perhaps we did get that one wrong, and we need to have more of an open debate about it."
Revd Hitchiner is one of five representatives of the London Diocese in the General Synod, the Church of England's governing council, which is having genuine debate about this topic. She spoke of the Church as being a family – "and sometimes, when you're a family, you have to put up with people who have views which maybe you thing are totally outdated and wrong.
"I'm very hopeful that we can move on and stop our blindness to this issue."
Image: Greenbelt Festival
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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