Ashers, the diversity of Northern Ireland and loving your neighbor.

When I left Northern Ireland almost 18 months ago, it was a diverse country. In that time, I believe it has become even more diverse than ever and this is a beautiful thing. We need to be different, not simply because it would be boring otherwise but because we can learn from each other.

This applies to whether you live in Belfast or Detroit.

But the temptations still exist to pigeonhole each other. It makes life so much easier for everyone if we make huge assumptions about someone when we meet them which saves us the trouble of actually sitting down and talking to “themuns”.

Because Heaven for fend that we might actually come away seeing how we are similar.

But the real problem with ignoring our diversity is funnily enough that it leads to ignorance and arrogance.

When my worldview is threatened by coming across someone from a group that I had previously neatly squished into their box, I go on the defensive. I don’t want to be wrong; I can’t be wrong. If I am then I have to open myself up to everyone. And that could be disastrous for my beliefs.

I say all this because I have witnessed somewhat recently this very thing happening in Northern Ireland concerning the Ashers case.

Basically there are two camps. The Christian/religious camp and the LGBT equality camp.

At least that is what you may believe but the truth is that there are not two distinct sides but a blurry, kaleidoscope of differing and agreeing opinions. There are those in the church who think that all Christians are (or should be) in agreement with Asher’s and the recent DUP plan to introduce a conscience clause. Then are those outside the church in the LGBT community who think that all Christians are jerks and all look at them as perverse or abominations.

But even that isn’t right because, wait for it, there are those in the church who are gay. Yes, for many of us that is not shocking in the slightest but for a great deal more of you that just can not be true can it?

Not only that but there are those inside the church, who are gay who don’t support the Equality Commission. And if you think that is mad well there are those outside the church, who are gay and agree with Ashers and the Christian Institute on their stance.

You might need to sit down to try and collect your thoughts and preconceived notions.

I know I have. new UJ

But this is the beauty of Norn Iron. It’s a country that is changing. And changing for the better. Sure there are still bigots and there are still those who can not or will not let go of their hate. But rather than in the 70’s or 80’s or even for a huge part of the 90’s, when this was the norm, folks like this are now in the minority.

We do not have to agree. We do not have to see eye to eye. But we have to be willing to at the very least look into each others eyes.

Because when we do we may just realize that the beliefs that we hold so closely and vow to fight for so vehemently may well just be causing hurt and pain to others. Does that make our beliefs worth it? I’m not so sure it does.

Of course we still need to challenge bigotry and call out injustice as it happens. We still need to stand up for what we believe in but the minute we start dulling our love for those who are different than us simply because they are treating us poorly, the minute we have lost our own identity, not “them”.

For Christians in Northern Ireland are you willing to take the time to think through how your actions effect those in the LGBT community at large and the LGBT community in your congregations?

Love is a powerful force, much more than we usually give it credit for. I don’t really care what other groups do but as the church, our mandate is clear. It is to love everyone regardless of…..
(You can fill in what you need to here)

It that extremely hard? You bet it is. Is it the only way? You bet it is.

Are your beliefs as a Christian being challenged because someone can be gay and Christian? Or because a Presbyterian Minister can be a speaker at a Sinn Fein conference? Or because a Protestant could vote Sinn Fein and a Catholic could vote DUP?

If they are, don’t run from it. Don’t give into the voice that says they must be written off. Embrace it. Lean into it. Question why this might be the case. Look deep into yourselves and ask..

What belief is most important to you?

That being gay is an abomination?

Or that nothing is more important than loving everyone?

Do we really need Church?

There is a well known saying in Christian circles that the church is not a building but the people.

A few years ago when we were part of a new church plant in Belfast that met in a pub, people gave us weird looks when we told them where we gathered. Before that, when we met in a house, people who came to check it out would ask me “so what Church do you belong to?”… “Eh, this one” I would reply kind of confused.

Ensue awkward silence. Continue reading

Why we should stop caring about flags. Matthew 6.

My Pastor at Village, Lucas came up with the hashtag #inBelfastasitisinHeaven a while ago that he uses often uses on twitter.

That prayer is as much needed today in Belfast as it has in a long time.

He of course is borrowing from the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that is echoed by thousands of people every Sunday in churches all across Northern Ireland. Yesterday you may well have said it. We’re taught it from an early age and it becomes so engrained that we can recite it in our sleep.

Which is partly why I have a problem with it.

Not the prayer itself but how we have become so over familiar with it that I suspect we have forgotten or indeed never truly understood the power it has.

In case you don’t know it here it is.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Reading through it seems like a lovely prayer that we can use if we can’t think of our own words and need a little prompting. It seems to cover everything that Christians think are important. God, Heaven, forgiveness and sins. Pray for these things and we will be fine.

But it’s not an easy prayer to pray and mean. Continue reading