I think the Church is less poisonous in the UK than in the US. Here, we have had regulations forbidding discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in employment, supply of goods and services, housing and education since 2006, and the Sex Discrimination Act was extended to transsexual people before then. When the Church of England came out against equal marriage in the government consultation, many members opposed that stance: most female vicars would, I hope.
My mother went to church weekly before her marriage, and throughout her pregnancy, before my baptism, and when I needed to be carried there she carried me. Then I toddled there, and throughout childhood going to church was as regular as going to school. I carried on while at university, and have never stopped. I took my Christianity seriously, and read the Bible Speaks Today and the Daily Study Bible series of commentaries, as well as reading the Bible straight through more than once.
In healthy human development, the teenager separates herself from her parents, and I did not. My beliefs and attitudes were those of my parents, which were conservative and old-fashioned even for their generation, and they were forty years older than I. Only in my thirties did I come to understand that I needed to rebel against my parents in order to be my own person. I had a gradual liberalising of my views: my parents were strongly opposed to the ordination of women, I became weakly then strongly in favour.
I moved to Oldham, 240 miles from them, in 1995 to get a job, and attended the parish church. I put on a cassock-alb to serve at the altar- I still value the Otherworldliness we may obtain in worship by putting on special clothes and performing ritual actions. Then I found the Metropolitan Community Church and attended there, expressing myself female. I would go to the parish church in the morning, MCC in the afternoon on Sundays. But though we tried to be serious- I have my copy of the New Jerome Commentary, much of which I have read, because Andy led an evening class to get us to preach sermons- it felt to me like playing at religion.
In 2001, I decided I could no longer worship God disguised as a man. I told the priest, and he said that he would try to ensure that I was not driven out of the church, but when he saw me female it revolted him. I am 99% certain he was celibate, and 70% certain he was gay. So I went and joined the Quakers. My friend Barbara felt driven out of the URC she had worshiped in for decades. She had formerly arranged the organ rota, and her replacement asked me to cover. I went, expressing myself female, and one woman warmly welcomed me and took me into the hall for coffee after. No-one else talked to me but for a stiff, formal welcome from the preacher, and I was not asked to play the organ again. Fortunately in the Quakers I was welcome. We have a larger proportion of LGBT folk than the general population since the publication in 1973 of “Homosexuality from the inside” by David Blamires, who worships at Central Manchester meeting where I first regularly attended.
Why am I a Christian? I never stopped. Barbara told me, “I read Richard Dawkins, and the scales fell from my eyes”, though her conversation remains littered with Biblical allusion: it is to an extent who I am, and if I do not believe at various times, I am always a Cultural christian. My parish church in Oldham introduced me to my best friend there, and my Quaker meetings since have been my best source of friendship and company.
Beliefs? I do not believe in the virgin birth, it is based on a misunderstanding of Isaiah born of the use of the Septuagint by the author of Matthew. More seriously, I do not believe in the Crucifixion as the perfect sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for our sins- that puts me well outside the mainstream of Christianity, many would say outside it altogether. Afterlife? The image,
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun!
does not appeal to me. Indeed, I am so much more than the conscious I- the ancient Egyptians may have had it right, with their idea of 14 separate souls in each person- that I do not see how this conscious I could survive, or whether it would want to.
I believe in synchronicity. I believe in the value of Quaker worship and the Quaker business method. I value the Bible like a wonderful friend, alien and infuriating though it is. I have experiences which I call experiences of God, though what God is I am unsure.
God is. And, God is not.