A COALISLAND minister, who is set to attend the Belfast Pride Festival at the weekend, has apologised to members of the LGBTQ+ community for how the church has treated them over the centuries.
Reverend Andrew Rawding said he wanted to show his support for the gay community and gay marriage.
The Church of Ireland clergyman fervently believes that love is love, regardless of sexual orientation, and says that it is time the church as a whole joined him in taking this stand – particularly as the suicide rates among those in the LGBTQ+ community is simply far too high.
He also states that those who believe that being gay is a sin, “need to repent with humility”.
Reverend Rawding will be walking under the ‘Christians At Pride’ banner at Belfast’s upcoming ‘Pride Day’ parade on Saturday, alongside fellow Christians from across many denominations to share God’s positive messages of unconditional love.
“What you see in the Bible is Jesus loving people for who they are, regardless of race, colour, position or sexual orientation,” said Reverend Rawding who serves at Brackaville Holy Trinity Church in Coalisland, St Patrick’s Donaghendry Church in Stewartstown and St Patrick’s Ballyclog Church, Ballyclog.
“He treated everyone fairly and equally.
“I am openly supportive of the gay marriage and the LGBTQ+ community, but I believe that due to the church’s oppressive viewpoints, they are one of the most vulnerable groups out there.
“Being gay is not a sin: We are all God’s children, and are created to be loved equally. These are my beliefs based upon my interpretation of the Bible.”
After witnessing firsthand how members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle with the church’s views on Christianity, as well as isolation, rejection, thoughts of suicide and acts of self harm, the 49-year-old recently decided to set up a Christian group called ‘justLOVE’.
“We at justLOVE believe that God’s plan is justLOVE for everyone; ‘just’ for being created in the image of God, the God who is ‘love’,” the Reverend continued.
“I have met truly amazing members of the LGBTQ+ community, and they have been through absolute hell, and it’s not right or fair.
“I have spoken to people who have endured awful homophobic comments from people they once called friends, people whose families have rejected them for simply being gay, and others who felt that ending their life was the only option, because not only could they not accept who they are, but the church couldn’t either,” he added. “In the Bible, Jesus never, ever left anyone for dead.
“The people in the church who believe that God does not love gay people need to repent – and they need to do so with humility.”
The next step, Reverend Rawding says, is to encourage other clergy from both Protestant and Catholic churches across the North and South of Ireland to stand up with him and accept members of the LGBTQ+ community completely and without judgement.
“I’d say that we are one of the only churches outside of Belfast who are publicly taking part in Pride this year,” Reverend Rawding, devoted husband to Loveday Rawding, added.
“Similarly, I reckon we are one of the only churches who are openly in acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and gay marriage in Northern Ireland. This is not good enough.
“We need others to stand up and say, ‘We accept you, and we will stand up for you.
“If people aren’t saying these things, then there are human beings who are suffering in silence, and in the worst case scenario, a vulnerable person is left in great sorrow and pain. And then we wonder why suicide is such an issue.”
He continued, “I think clergy and church members have a responsibility to take a lead, but I have only received blunt looks and silence thus far from other ministers.
“People say that their churches are open and friendly, but they also need to be saying: ‘It’s perfectly okay to be LGBTQ+ and it’s also okay to be in a loving relationship with someone who is gay’.
“Then, and only then, an alternative of oppressive silence and internalised pain can be offered.
Posted: 4:43 pm August 2, 2019