by Jay Clark
On Thursday morning, Christian writer Symon Hill began a 160 mile walk of repentance for his former homophobia. The idea of doing a pilgrimage of repentance first came to him over 18 months ago, and, speaking the night before he began walking, Symon told the audience at Carrs Lane church in central Birmingham that as soon as the idea formed he knew he was compelled to follow it through.
The walk is one of personal repentance, but also a call to Christians to speak out against homophobia. During the talk, Symon described organisations such as Anglican Mainstream as giving a ‘façade of respectability’ to homophobic views that allowed them to be propagated. He described the walk as a challenge, not just to Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong, but to Christians who think homosexuality is okay, but don’t give voice to their acceptance. Describing the reactions he has had to the walk, Symon talked about receiving emails from people who thanked him for being a Christian opposed to homophobia, because they had never met a Christian who affirmed gay, bisexual and queer sexualities. Rosie, a bisexual Christian who attended the event said she felt that Symon’s challenge to homophobia was important in a society in which it is still prevalent.
Symon spoke frankly about his former homophobic views that he adopted on becoming a Christian in order to fit in with the views of his church. He described the damage he felt he inflicted on other people with his homophobic views, clearly remorseful at the idea that he could have shamed people into suppressing their sexuality through his belief that it was sinful. He stressed, though, that ‘the pilgrimage is not an attempt to win God’s favour’ but rather to live out his repentance. The launch event came to a close with a blessing led by Methodist minister Robin Fox. Robin became an early supporter of the pilgrimage because he says that ‘Symon’s story mirrors my own. I used to be very anti-gay, and I should have realised it was because I was wrestling with my own sexuality.’ He too wanted to say sorry to anyone he might have hurt when he held homophobic attitudes.
The evening’s discussion touched upon the importance of creating non-violent relationships, Jesus’ breaking of the sexual taboos of his time and whether the word homophobic is unfair to Christians who may have prayerfully considered their belief that homosexuality is wrong. Symon pointed out that the Bible has much more to say about the importance of subverting power and redistributing wealth than about homosexuality, and quoted the verse from Corinthians often heard in Quaker contexts: ‘the letter kills but the spirit gives life’. He described the revelation he had when he realised that the New Testament calls Christians to live by the holy spirit, not the letter of the law. It is the spirit, he said, that compels us to create equality, the spirit that rejects the dominant views of society, and calls for us to take a stand for justice.
Before hurrying off to do radio interviews for the BBC, Symon described his feelings about the upcoming walk: ‘I’m really excited, a bit nervous, but very inspired and overwhelmed by all the support, encouragement and love that I’ve been shown tonight. The friends who gave me a rain jacket, the friend who brought a cake – just the kindness and support from friends, and from strangers’.
Symon Hill is talking at St Columba’s United Reformed Church, Oxford, on the 26/06/2011 and at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London on 1/07/2011.