AT what point did the LGBTI community get so many friends and allies in this world that we could afford to throw them away so lightly?

I’m talking about the accusations being publicised that Gosford Anglican Church’s Father Rod Bower is a hypocrite because he doesn’t perform same sex weddings.

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I have been involved in the movement for marriage equality for over a decade, performing “illegal” weddings in my capacity as a Metropolitan Community Church pastor, organising rallies and conferences, and writing and debating in defence of same-sex marriage.

As far as I know, the idea has always been that being involved in a same-sex marriage, either as a bride or groom, a celebrant or a guest, is a voluntary step people that make joyfully because they want to do so.  It’s not a test of loyalty to the LGBTI community, and we don’t condemn people who choose not to be involved. It’s a personal decision that people make for all sorts of personal, religious and political reasons.

Religious ministers always exercise personal discretion in what religious ceremonies they conduct. For instance, if I want to, I can refuse to perform any marriages at all, because I want to focus on other areas of ministry. Alternatively, I can perform many marriages and turn it into a cottage industry with a high turnover as a fundraiser for my church.

My own decision has been to perform marriages either in political demonstrations, or otherwise exclusively for members of my congregation when I have interviewed them and been satisfied that they’ve considered the responsibilities involved in a decision of this magnitude.

However, nobody has the right to compel me to perform marriages if I don’t want to. If someone disagrees with my decisions, they’re free to go somewhere else.

Since the rise to social media fame of his church notice boards, Father Bower has been one the best allies that our community could wish for. He has voluntarily taken on the stigma that LGBTI Christians carry all the time, and made the sacrifice of becoming a personal target as a consequence.

Other ministers from mainline denominations have “fallen on their swords” and lost their jobs and even their ministries because of their integrity in supporting the LGBTI community. Mike Hercock and Matt Glover are well-known examples.

Are we suggesting that this is compulsory for all ministers, and that those who fail to sacrifice their vocation are not loyal enough to our cause? Setting the bar this high will make it so difficult to be an ally that many people just won’t be able to do it.

And yet, such allies are incredibly important, because the LGBTI Christians they can support are some of the most vulnerable members of our community — especially the younger ones.

While the world becomes more accepting of gay kids, many religious families are making a point of being less accepting than ever in order to resist the social and peer pressures that they view as un-Christian. Consequentially, appallingly high rates of homelessness and rejection occur among LGBTI youth who come from religious families.

Just this month, Rolling Stone published a feature article following the difficult lives of many youth who have gone through just this.

That’s why voices like Father Bower’s matter so much. These are voices which stay within the religious context and provide an alternative narrative — one which might just save somebody’s life.

Being that person leaves Father Bower caught between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis of a global and national Anglican communion that intensely dislikes his views, and a secular community that wishes he would move faster.

Is it really so hard to understand that in order to show leadership within mainline denominations, sympathetic voices like his need to remain within the denomination, and to do so, he might have to compromise and observe a few church doctrines that he would prefer not to?

Karl Hand is a Pastor at Sydney’s LGBTI-friendly Crave MCC

(Main image: Karl Hand with Rod Bower (centre) and Mike Hercock at this year’s Mardi Gras Parade. Supplied photo.)

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