by Chris Savage
from Signs of the Times No. 64 - Jan 2017
Many years ago, I discovered in a South London church a placard with a cynical message;
‘Do not despise the wisdom of the Church, it is the only tyranny that has lasted two thousand years.’
At the time, discussion about the Church was invariably the charge that religion was the cause of all wars. While that is questionable, there is much truth in the statement and global religion is not exactly seen as a bringer of peace and harmony. Institutions like the Church of England are good at resisting change and using power to protect itself against what is often seen as the vagaries of secularism.
The author of 119: My life as a bisexual Christian writes under the pseudonym of Jaime Sommers. The book is mainly about her confrontation over her sexuality with the diocese in which she was training as a Reader. The title reflects the number of words dedicated to bisexuality in the Church of England statement Issues in Human Sexuality. Those words state that bisexuality inevitably leads to unfaithfulness, heterosexual marriage or counselling ‘to achieve inner healing’
As well as being a very courageous woman with a burning faith in the redemptive power of God in people’s lives, Jaime is a very engaging writer whose style makes it easy for us to enter her world. Born in 1971, she was a typical child of the seventies, getting into the music of Blondie and Dire Straits as well as enjoying The New Adventures of Wonder Woman on television.
Jaime begins telling the story of her sexuality by describing her awkward crushes on girls and teachers in the 1980’s and how she met her husband Edward in 1991. She continually affirms his great support for and understanding of her need for physical closeness with both sexes to feel well or ‘whole’. They stand apart from the Church that seems unable to accept a theology for bisexual people. Certainly, diocesan pastoral support for them is non-existent.
What starts as a developing and loving relationship with another woman turns into a kiss. It does not end there, for the woman lodges a complaint of sexual harassment against Jaime. The ‘church militant’ kicks into action in the form of diocesan officials. They are very good at hugs but not at understanding. Jaime has crossed a line and she must pay the price. A bishop ignores her when it suits him and she has to still be mother to three children despite the hell the Church inflicts on her.
Death is followed by resurrection. Jaime begins her epilogue almost indifferently;
‘Well, readers, I did get sacked, on 20 November 2015 to be precise. My bottom prophesied correctly.’
On the same morning she learnt that she had been awarded a substantial grant from a large American sexuality think tank to engage in faith and sexuality research in the USA.
‘Within half an hour of receiving notification of this, Darton Longman and Todd emailed me the exciting news that this very manuscript had been accepted for publication. God was speaking loud and clear.’
Jaime’s wrestling with the Church of England has many similarities with the Book of Job. He never lost his faith in God despite the recriminations of his three friends and the feeling that no one was listening. So too with Jaime, who had to fight against a system that showed no understanding of her sexuality. To insist that LGBT members should abstain from sexual expression is not only a false theology - it is also a denial of a God given orientation. Jaime writes:
‘I felt led by God to tell my story because nobody else is telling this story. I am driven by a passionate concern to address the wellness of bisexual Christians. Bisexual people have the worst mental health of all LGBT minorities, and Christians probably suffer even more’.