• April 2012: Preparing for change

    A common subject of conversation in my life amongst friends and family these days is often prefaced with words such as, “You must be feeling excited about the changes ahead, with you finishing Courage in September . . .?” (For anyone who has not read about that, see my article “The times they are a’changin’”

    Well the truth is that I AM excited about the forthcoming developments for a new ministry that will develop in place of Courage. Having said that, the future for me personally remains somewhat unknown, which is never a very comfortable feeling. But life is just too busy at the moment to be able to think much about it. Sometimes that feels a bit irresponsible; at other times, I remind myself that I should just trust in God—who always opens up the way ahead when the time is right, and seldom if ever gives any advance notice! However, I feel sure that I’ll still be involved at least to the extent of providing ongoing pastoral care, and also supporting the new work of course (whilst leaving the initiatives to others).

    What is clear now, with regard to meetings and special events, is that a group of dedicated longstanding Courage members will be taking the ministry forwards. They have been meeting for the past year, under the working title “Courage Two”, to discuss, pray about and plan what should follow “Courage” when I finish—hence my calling this site the Post-Courage blog!

    Courage Two team: (from left to right)

    Jane, Tanya, Mark, Dermott, Elaine, Tim, David, Alex & Matt.

    Missing from this photo: Kim & Sigrun

    I’ve just sent round an e-mail to all Courage members (on our current lists) to ask for their views as to what a “new Courage” should look like. The team have created a simple survey with 8 questions (just click on the link below) and are really looking for feedback by Tuesday 1st May, so that they can collate and discuss the responses at their next meeting – which is being held early in May.

    In case any former Courage members (not on that mailing list) feel that they have anything useful to contribute to this survey, I am including a link here for any of my readers to follow up. The survey can be completed on a confidential basis, but it does provide the opportunity to include your own e-mail address if you want to be kept in touch with further developments.

    Click here to take the survey.

    Plans for the new “Courage Two” will be announced at the Final Courage Retreat in a special afternoon session—at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre on the weekend of 15th – 17th June. There are still some places for this Retreat available, so if you are interested in coming and haven’t booked your place yet please contact me: himself@jeremymarks.me.uk

    HURRY AND BOOK NOW BECAUSE TIME IS RUNNING OUT – ONLY 6 WEEKS TO GO BEFORE BOOKINGS MUST BE FINALISED. We don’t need your money now, just a statement of clear intent – with your booking form!

    The Courage Two members look forward to your response to the survey as soon as possible.

    And I look forward to receiving your Retreat booking as soon as possible.

    Jeremy Marks

    17th April 2012

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  • March 2012: Our God-given ministry of reconciliation

    In my early twenties as a young Christian, I used to believe that if you wanted to be a “proper Christian”, you could expect God’s call on your life to take you out into the mission field—which to me meant the likelihood of going to spend the rest of my life in Africa, India or some such place. Any other life-choice was just “worldly”. This thought tormented me, as I simply could not imagine spending my life in one of those countries, away from all that is familiar to me, trying to convince people of a very different language and culture to turn their lives over to Christ, especially when my motivation for being there was not one of love for the people but one of blind and reluctant obedience. I just could not imagine this ever working or being at all effective.

    God did call me into the mission field as it happened, but the “field” was not at all the kind I had imagined. As you’ll know from my blog, it was into the field of pastoral care for lesbian & gay Christians that God called me. I've also since learned that wherever we live and work is our mission field. We don't have to be called somewhere else, although occasionally that happens.

    Prior to this call, I had spent more than a dozen years working in professional photography, architectural photography mainly.

    My Father was very proud of me when I was pursuing professional photography. With hundreds of my pictures published and on sale—focussed mainly on beautiful landscapes, cathedrals, stately homes, museums and galleries, and royal events—it was a career that left something to show for it. My Father could never understand me giving up this career for a way of life that meant “living by faith”. Perhaps it would not have been so bad if I had become a CofE vicar or even a Baptist minister (at a push). But to give up all security, trusting God for my income and, worst of all, being a pastor to poofs (as he would have seen it), was something we could never even discuss, although many years later I discovered that he did come to respect my work. But I think he would have found its easier to tell his friends that I had gone to be a missionary in India! I suspect that when asked, he told people I was “some sort of counsellor”. That would have sounded boring enough not to provoke awkward questions.

    When my father died last summer, as a family we all saw that he was absolutely ready to entrust his life and future into God's hands; he had an unswerving faith in the sovereignty of God. He may not have understood my life choices, but in his own way he was every bit a true man of God.

    24 years on from starting Courage, I still feel cautious about how I describe my work in some settings. For instance, what do I tell the neighbours? One has to think carefully about this, because they will still be living next door afterwards. If they are the sort of people who believe in the stereotype that all gays are potential child-abusers, life could become very difficult, especially as our neighbours have young children. You really need to know people well before saying too much. Sometimes it is enough just to say that I am a pastor; the thought of being drawn into any discussion about “religion” is enough to put them off from the outset. Some are more curious and ask “Oh, what church?”. If I think they are not going to cope with venturing into areas of (homo)sexuality and I need to put them off, I’ve been tempted to say something like, “Oh, I’m a pastor to those whose lives have been chewed up and then spat out by the church; scapegoats that the church does not want.”

    It feels shocking to talk like that. But my experience over a quarter of a century is that this is still a good summary of what happens to Christians who are honest about their gay sexuality. The RC and evangelical Protestant churches especially simply don’t want to know.

    At the GCN conference in January this year, Justin Lee told us that according to a recent major survey in the United States looking into how the Church was perceived by the younger generation, the responses were not that people saw the Church as doing good in society—supporting those in need, helping the poor and oppressed, or any of the many good works that in fact really are being done in the name of Christ. The vast majority of people simply perceive the church to be anti-gay. Which is as bad a saying, for instance, that the Church is a racist organisation. Christians polarised in the debate over homosexuality seem unable to see this or recognise the dire consequences for the Church's mission or credibility in the 21st century. But it is a plain and tragic fact that the Church is believed, above all, to be an organisation which chews up and spits out gay people.

    The reaction from some quarters of Christian leadership towards the question of gay marriage, being mooted in Parliament, makes this underlying attitude blindingly obvious. Jesus’ tirade of accusations—fired at the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 23, seem just as appropriate today. The chapter begins as follows:

    “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:1-4 NIV)

    There follows a whole chapter of woes towards the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Personally I do know some wonderful Christian leaders who do not fit this stereotype at all. But overall, sadly, the situation hasn’t changed much in the past 2000 years. The Church still ties up heavy burdens and lays them on the backs of gay people (and many others too) and are not prepared to budge an inch when it comes to helping us. I see the fruit of their work in my office every day as people come and pour out the heartbreak at being pushed out of their churches where they have quietly served for many years.

    “Ah, but it’s not what society thinks about us that really matters”, I hear someone say, “but what God thinks!”. Yes, but God gave to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) not a ministry of condemnation. So I do agree—what God thinks is of paramount importance.

    So why don’t we recover that sense of calling to pursue a ministry of reconciliation? You don’t have to go to Africa or India to be a missionary. Our mission field is right on our doorstep, starting with our neighbours.

    Jeremy Marks

    27th March 2012

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  • February 2012

    “Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie”: Romans 1:25a

    In 2008 I wrote a book with this title, in which I explained (amongst other things) why I believe St Paul’s words give us a vital clue to understanding ourselves—as gay Christian people.

    All my life I had been taught to believe that if you said you were gay, you were denying the truth of God—which is that we are made male and female and therefore, by default, we must be innately heterosexual. In fact, in Romans 1, Paul is totally unambiguous; he is not saying that homosexuality is in itself is an act of rebellion against God’s creation; he goes much further, by declaring (vs 24) that homosexual practice (described in terms of the pursuit of unbridled lust) is God’s punishment for our idolatry. Dr Keith Sharpe points this out in his very helpful and illuminating new book, “The Gay Gospels: Good News for LGBT people”. In other words, being gay is the punishment not the crime! Presumably this is why the traditional Christian understanding of homosexuality was that gay people are beyond redemption; our acceptance of being gay is a sign that we have already been cast out. The difficulty with this view is that one has to ask, why then are there so many gay people in our churches, including leadership positions? Has the devil infiltrated our churches by the back door?

    I have recently been reflecting on the profoundly traumatic experience that so many young gay Christian people go through, when experiencing the reality of attraction towards the same sex, often during our adolescent years. As long as the majority of heterosexual people around us tell us that we are wrong about this and that our feelings (and therefore our understanding of ourselves) is not only untrue, but actually a sign of deep-seated rebellion against God, we find ourselves forced into a kind of schizophrenic double-think. Because in order to understand ourselves (according to this world view), we have to say to ourselves, “I am feeling this way, yet I am told by others that I am not this way, but that actually something else is true about me that I don’t feel, or understand or connect with. Consequently, I doubt my own ability to perceive anything correctly! I cannot be sure of anything that I instinctively feel or believe is true, because the majority view of others is that I am wrong about myself.”

    Now in my sixtieth year, having learned to be open and honest about the truth that I am gay, I sometimes discover that I am still having to grapple even now with this deep-rooted all-pervasive sense of self-doubt. It catches me unawares, especially in recent years when some of my closest friends (who disapprove of the change in Courage’s approach from ex-gay to gay-affirming) tell me that I am deceived and leading people down the slippery slope—away from the light God has revealed to us through the Bible and into outer darkness. Do I dare to believe in my own intuitive sense of God’s leading, or do I believe in the years of self-doubt, and agree that I am incapable of true judgement? My former friends leave me alone now—expecting me to discover the error of my ways when it will be too late.

    My solace comes in deciding that what is true, therefore, IS the truth! What is true is not an opinion or an idea or a tradition about a cherished viewpoint; nor is commitment to orthodoxy the same thing as commitment to the truth. The truth remains that, like most gay people, I always knew I have found myself attracted to the same sex not the opposite sex. I am just different in that regard to my straight brothers and sisters, just as left-handed people are different to right-handed people. If I say that I am not gay, to conform to the prevailing orthodox view in many evangelical Christian circles, then it is I who am exchanging the truth of God for a lie. Whereas if it is true that I AM gay, then I must accept that God loves me AS a gay man not in spite of being one. God is not hoping that one day I‘ll see the error in my thinking, repent, and “realise” I am straight.

    Whilst thinking about all this, I came across one of the most important books I believe I have ever read, that brings vital understanding to gay people as to why we can be so deeply traumatised. Entitled, “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world” by Dr Alan Downs, this is a study of the internalised shame that so many gay people suffer from, the devastating impact of shame on our lives, and the path to wholeness and authenticity. I’ll no doubt say a lot more about this book when I have re-read it, but I wanted to mention this important book now as I am sure many of us, straight and gay, will find it invaluable.

    So was St Paul wrong in Romans 1? Quite the contrary: I believe he gave us the clue to understanding ourselves here. As I indicate in my own book, if we know that we are gay from the internal witness of our own hearts, we must stay with that truth whatever anyone thinks about us. Otherwise we won’t be able to see anything straight (pun intended). In Paul’s own words, it is the rejection of God in favour of idols that precipitates the moral landslide into every kind of sin, including men and women being given over to “shameful lusts” (“men being inflamed with lust for one another,” vs 27).

    If we know that in truth we love God and we live a life of worship, whilst at the same time we are attracted to and fall in love with a member of the same sex, then we must believe that these factors reveal a different understanding of what God is saying and doing in our lives, and follow the leading of the Spirit accordingly. We are surely the “eunuchs who are born that way,” as Jesus reveals to us in Matthew 19:12. Because unless we begin by believing the truth about ourselves, we won’t be able to trust our own judgement or intuition about anything in life at all.

    Jeremy Marks; 8th February 2012

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  • January 2012

    This year began with a rather exceptional event for me—a great beginning to the New Year which is so often rather dull in the UK with short days and dismal weather! I was invited to be keynote speaker at the GCN (Gay Christian Network) conference in Orlando, Florida for the first weekend (5th - 8th January). GCN kindly paid for Bren to come with me too. You can find out more about GCN and the conference here.

    Here we are, enjoying one of the sessions.

    The title for my talk was, “Crossing the Rubicon”—an old-fashioned idiom which essentially means to pass the point of no return. My message for the conference was basically that, although so many gay people experience a profound sense of “Crossing the Rubicon” when they come out as gay, knowing that once this is known people will never forget it and will judge them accordingly, there is a much more important sense for us as Christians: this is the point where we give our lives to Christ. Because most of us live in “Christian” nations, where at least the churches have long been established and we are not persecuted for our faith in Christ, nevertheless, that decision we make to follow Christ is also a point of no return, the point when our lives change forever. And if we are not careful, as gay Christians, we can get so preoccupied with trying to work our life and faith out in churches that don’t want us or accept us, that we can forget the real impetus for our lives—which must always be our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Nobody can take that away from us.

    In the workshop that followed, we had a fascinating 90-minute Q&A session that was very far-ranging in scope. One of the great things about speaking in the USA is that the Americans are always so enthusiastic, appreciative and never shy to speak up! So we had a great time.

    Another very significant part of the conference for me was sitting on a panel with Justin Lee and several other key leaders known to me, to interview Alan Chambers, the current president of Exodus North America. Having been part of the ex-gay movement myself in the past and President of Exodus Europe back in the 1990's, I was quite surprised that Alan Chambers even came to the conference since, as gay Christians, we are very much perceived as “the enemy” in Exodus circles. His own compatriots would almost certainly see him as “supping with the devil” in coming, and I wonder how long he will keep his job?! On the other hand, many Christians who have suffered greatly at the hands of the ex-gay movement seemed horrified that Justin Lee should even have invited Alan for discussion. I should note here that those who protested the loudest were not present at the event itself, where Justin Lee was given a standing ovation at the end. I don’t think that Alan gave anything away really, except to admit that 99% of people he knew in the ex-gay movement had never actually experienced a change of sexual orientation. However, I believe Justin’s motives were very honourable, in attempting to build bridges and reduce the polarisation that is so damaging in Christian circles.

    We have all been on a long and sometime tortuous journey to self-acceptance, by the grace of God, and we have to respect that not everybody has yet reached that point of acceptance.

    Jeremy Marks, 24th January 2012

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  • Post Courage Blog intro

    2012 heralds a year of big changes for me; also for “Courage”, the ministry I began in February 1988. Perhaps the most significant month will be September 2012 in that it marks 25 years since I left my job as a full-time professional photographer to start a totally new life —supporting, ministering to LGBT Christians. I began working on a trainee basis with Love in Action, founded & directed by Frank Worthen, based at that time in San Rafael California.

    Courage itself began in February 1988, and became part of the “ex-gay” movement, endeavouring to help people not to be gay anymore or at least to live a celibate life, according to the requirements of our traditional theology. Courage has already been through one metamorphosis, around the turn of the Millennium, when I felt bound to declare our “change of approach”—because my conviction was that we were doing more harm than good, and we needed to accept our gay sexuality as a gift of God. From then on, we continued our Christian pilgrimage, in the belief that God accepts us as we are. Moreover, we understood that the kind of change God seeks in his disciples is a change of heart, not change of sexual orientation. A change of heart means moving away from a self-centred life towards a Christ-centred life. as Paul put it, rhe evidence of that change being, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) Because, as Paul teaches, “Against such things there is no law.”

    For more details of the background, read my articles “History of Courage” and “The Times they are a’Changin”.

    This new website is a means of keeping in touch with friends, supporters, enquirers etc.

    I am planning to be publish short articles on this blog from time to time, monthly at least, plus other information that may be of interest to readers, supporters, former Courage members and no doubt many more.

    So, watch this space!

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