Interfaith Week: Reverend Hayley Matthews Interview

Publish Date: 23/11/2011

Over the last few years the subject of people within the LGB&T community working in religious environments has attracted much media attention and recently it has been announced that The Church of England is undertaking a review into its policy on the ordination of gay bishops and its stance on same-sex relationships.

Here at The Lesbian & Gay Foundation we are privileged to know and work with many people who represent their chosen faith while being out and proud and one of those people is The Rev'd Hayley Matthews who last year was appointed to serve as Chaplain to MediaCityUK at Salford Quays in Greater Manchester. Here Hayley talks about the Church, her work, her faith and coming out.

When did you come out? For the first time?

1989 Then continually, the process never ends.  I also had a significant period when I felt unable to accept my sexuality because of what was happening to me via the church and it was really difficult and painful to come to a place of realising that I was still, always had been and ever would be gay.  It was much harder to start coming out again after that, as I felt extremely afraid about what I might be subjected to and what I might lose in the process.

Was this before or after you were ordained?

Initially over twenty years before, but the second time was during my training.

Did you receive any negative reactions when you told the public/your congregation?

Yes, mostly negative.

What sort of reactions were they?

People refusing to allow their children near me, being thrown out of church along with my long-term cohabiting partner, a negative local news article (I was a semi-residential youth worker at the time), people praying outside my flat, verbal abuse, having to go through ‘healing’ ministries at church, bullying by my peers…shall I go on?

Did you receive much positive feedback?

No!

A lot is made of the interpretation that the Bible is against homosexuality; how do you deal with this?

I have studied the few scriptures relating to it to the nth degree in their original languages and read the countless interpretative theologies surrounding them.  

I then place them in the context of two things: I studied hermeneutics, which helped me greatly in my use of scripture, as I was equally guilty of misappropriating/interpreting texts from a rather limited worldview that had been dictated to me.

Instead I learned to ask who wrote this?  When? Why? Who for? How is their worldview different to mine?  What did those words mean in that era? Look at the word wicked a hundred years ago to these days, for example. What might I be back reading into it given my understanding of the world?

Secondly, as an Anglican, I placed them in the centre of scripture, tradition and reason alongside many of the other scriptures we have chosen to ignore.  For example the eight scriptures on not charging interest on loans – any interest-free Christian banking going on in your neck of the woods?  Thought not, or how about the clear teaching about not judging one another that both Jesus and Paul give in no uncertain terms.  

Romans 14:4 quite clearly states, ‘who are you to judge your brother?  To his own master his stands or falls.  And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.’ It is never our own righteousness or even ‘perfection’ by human standards that saves the day, it is ever and only by God’s grace, and that is a free gift to everyone by however far they fall short of God’s holiness.

Do you enjoy pushing boundaries and challenging people’s perceptions?

I’m not sure about that; I think I would say that I wish I never had to. I am actually an intensely private person but more and more these last years I’ve had to expose myself in a much more public way than I would otherwise want to.  I think I would say that I cannot bear injustice in any form and I find it hard to let it go, even when it costs me dearly.

What role do you feel the Church plays in today’s society?

That’s such a difficult question. Where your church is and how rooted in the community it is makes such a difference as to the answer on a local level. If I were to consider the Church as in every Christian denomination worldwide, I would say it was essential. 

We are there to love and serve, to challenge and speak for those without a voice and to witness to God’s love for all within our communities.  It is vital that this threefold ministry continues throughout every aspect of our lives but it may happen through an individual, a small group, a church or even a denomination.

What do you think needs to be done to make the Church more inclusive to the LGB&T community?

Focusing on the whole person for a start.  I remember being sick to death of being introduced followed by a sotto voice whisper about my sexuality, or being invited to a new place and finding that everybody had been ‘pre-warned’.

I think the church finds anybody outside of a nuclear family configuration difficult. I have been single for many years in the church and became fed up of being seen as a babysitter, lift-giver or person with enough ‘free-time’ to join just about every ministry going.  

The church is not very good at recognising and affirming people without children, and I have older widowed and divorced friends, and know childless couples that have all expressed difficulty with the child-focussed family events. It would also be helpful if people didn’t immediately ask about whether or not you are married/have children, which is difficult for those with fertility issues too.

Perhaps people could ask one another about their interests instead and wait to be offered such information? I do think it would be wonderful if Civil Partnerships could be affirmed, although I can’t see that happening anytime soon in the Church of England.  

Having said that, acknowledging and affirming somebody’s life-partner when introduced is a better way to treat LGBT people than spending time trying to disrupt the relationship by fair means and foul, and I say that advisedly.  I do have concerns for transsexuals as I feel that the church barely acknowledges their existence. I heard a wonderful talk on trans-gender issues and the Church at Greenbelt two years ago and despite the enormous tent I was one of less than thirty people who had come to listen, and it was clear that she was preaching to the converted.

One would think we were living in medieval times where superstition and ignorance ruled the day, but to hear the rejection and demonization of those with gender dysphoria or Klinefelter / XXY syndrome, for example, by the Church defies belief.  Surely we should be leading the way with support and acceptance for every single person made in God’s image? Education would certainly be a good start on all counts.

Is there anyone who inspired you to achieve as much as you have so far?  

I could name Nelson Mandela for racial and political justice, Mother Teresa for selfless love of the poor and outcast, Joni Eareckson Tada for her courage in the face of accidental quadriplegia.  Peter Tatchell really motivated me during the 1990s, and Henri Nouwen, a gay priest whose teachings are not just profound but were lived out inspires me greatly, but really it’s got to be Jesus hasn’t it?  How could it not be, when it was Jesus who inspired people like Mandela, Joni, Teresa, Henri and countless others I could mention here?

What do you predict for the future in terms of the ordination of LGBT people?

I’m not one for predictions, but as it was so it ever shall be, and gay people have been ordained throughout the Church’s history both implicitly and explicitly and surely that will continue.  Ideally, the same precepts of faithful, covenanted, lifelong relationships will be extended to all. Who are we to forbid some and not others to love?

My hope, my dream, my deepest, soul-felt prayer, is that one day people will not dread being asked about their sexuality as a precursor to suitability for ordination because the Church will have recognised people of all sexual and gender identities as having been made in God’s image.

Do you think the Church will ever fully accept homosexuality?

Yes I do.  Look at Rosa Parks in 1955; it’s not ancient history is it?  Still, sixty years on and we’ve only just overcome racial segregation in South Africa and that took one man to lay down his life in prison for decades and endless campaigning and lives needlessly lost.

Women’s liberation has taken over a century and still continues to be an issue and as for those with different abilities, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of our accessibility issues.  We’re getting there, slowly but surely. Only when we finally acknowledge that there is one humanity under God will we be the people we were always meant to be.

What are your hopes for the future of Christianity in this country?

That our orthodox Christian faith of love, forgiveness, mercy, service, kindness, humility, peace, patience, hospitality, joy, healing, unity and salvation will prevail. I also long for a day when people will no longer use the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to bully, betray and deny the dignity of any other human-being made in his image, and for whom he laid down his life.  

I really do want to see the diversity of all humanity fully integrated within the Church, and I especially long for the day when, as Jesus said, ‘as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ Seeing that, my friend, would thrill me.

You can read Hayley’s blog: http://chaplainmediacity.wordpress.com