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Good News.

By Euan Thomson in All Sorts

reflecting on how we spread the good news for lesbians and gays and all peoples in this modern age

This year, one of my winter-time activities has been to begin sorting through my papers and effects. It takes time to read through documents that were once significant and that represent many hours of concentration and commitment from me and from others. Determining their fate is a dilemma.
Reading through my files relating to Glenaven Church has brought back memories of my intense involvement with the people and the buildings of this remarkable component of the Dunedin Methodist Parish. From relative obscurity it became, for a time, the focus of national debate which threatened the unity of Methodism in New Zealand. The issue was the acceptability for ordained ministry of gay men and lesbians. One of my papers reminded me that I was once a member of the Parish Leaders Meeting responsible to voice gay and lesbian issues and, though no longer a member, I think this is where I can perhaps contribute to Connections.
At the Explorers meeting on Sunday 27 August, Colin Gibson led a session looking at how the Dunedin Methodist voice might be heard amidst the din of modern media in the electronic age. It was a difficult question to answer. My first thought was that we need to join the revolution and make better use of the internet including social media. My next thought was that we need to have some understanding of just what the “Good News” is that we want to share.
When I first started attending Glenaven it was one of just a handful of congregations in New Zealand that unconditionally welcomed LGBT men and women. Two others were Broad Bay and Mornington. This was indeed good news for someone like me who had been exiled by the doctrines of most churches both here in Aotearoa and throughout the world. This unconditional acceptance attracted not only LGBT people and, for a time, the congregation flourished despite being ostracised by other churches in North East Valley. I thought that this was indeed The Gospel, the good news that was worth sharing.
Since 1978 the GLBT community has adopted the rainbow flag as a symbol of identity. This is not the natural rainbow with its seven colours, but a six stripe flag, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, usually depicted horizontally with red at the top. I had the idea that the newly refurbished Glenaven church might have a rainbow banner hanging from its bell tower announcing to the residents and many visitors to the suburb that here was a remarkable church with a remarkable message. This idea was not widely supported.
Since the law was changed in 1986 male homosexuals can no longer be imprisoned for intimacy. In 1992 it became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation (and the Methodist Conference of 1993 agreed to act within this law.) Now gay and lesbian couples are free to declare their love in marriage and to enjoy most of the rights of the heterosexual majority. However, within the Church and wider community, discrimination is still widespread. I know that I will be accepted and welcomed as a gay man at Mornington and Glenaven, but what is there to tell me this or, more importantly, to tell others this good news?
Years ago, as part of my work with Pflag, (Parents, family and friends of Lesbians and gays,) I created a simple plasticised rainbow flag with the words “This is a safe place for Lesbians and Gays” printed on it. The Methodist Mission displayed it in their office foyer, but Age Concern thought it inappropriate for their club rooms. Where do you think I might feel more at home? Could we display such a sign on all our church notice boards? Would it be an accurate statement?
There are many other reasons why people can feel marginalised; race, skin colour, language, religious belief, dress codes, age, gender, disability, poverty, to name some. Jesus lived amongst the marginalised of his time and society and through his life and his stories he proclaimed the all-inclusive love of God. I wonder what the “Good News” of the Gospel is for you and whether there is a way to share it amidst the din of our modern age.
Euan Thomson