Faith to me is first and foremost a George Michael song. Something you hum along to in the kitchen rather than carry through your life.
For many of my formative years and well into my twenties, I was quietly pretty hostile to all matters of religion.
I can’t really place where that feeling started and can only assume it was a cumulative gut reaction to hearing one too many church and faith leaders condemn homosexual “lifestyles”, the promotion of homosexuality in schools and same sex unions.
When Section 28 (or 2A as it was in Scotland) was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the lessons she banned were the lessons this kid needed to hear.
That it was ok to be me and to feel what I felt.
When the Scottish Parliament repealed it in 2000, this 18 year-old felt a weight of hurt and anger lift that she didn’t know she’d been carrying.
For a while I was probably an atheist. Someone who was actively scathing of religion.
I know, and I am now embarrassed to say, I would ridicule people who I knew to be extremely intelligent for believing in what I considered to be a fake entity.
How unkind and disrespectful. How unchristian.
Finding respect in friends’ faith
Decades on, my views have changed considerably.
While I don’t belong to any particular faith or denomination, I do, now, have a great deal of respect for those who do.
Dare I say it, some of my closest friends are religious…
And it was that exposure to friends who are believers that made all the difference.
They didn’t need to cite passages of any religious text to convince me of their Christian values.
They lived by them. Acting always with kindness, warmth, generosity and integrity.
Those aren’t uniquely Christian values, they’d be shared by most religions.
They’re also not uniquely religious values, as many humanists and agnostics would argue.
But to my friends, that’s how their faith guides their life and they are the very best people as consequence.
‘Hail Mary mother of grace, let me find a parking place’
My time in Parliament led me to meet the Reverend Lorna Hood, who was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland back in 2013.
We became the firmest of friends and have done lots of work together with Remembering Srebrenica, a charity that focuses on challenging hate and promoting tolerance and inclusion.
We’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country doing talks about our work and had a lot of time in the car to chew the fat.
And the closest I’ve ever got to God was in her company.
We were making a pitstop to the M&S in Silverburn and Lorna was determined to drive right to the front of the humungous car park in order to save some time.
I asked her what she was doing, as there was no chance we were going to get a space, and she looked to the sky with her hands on the wheel and said in prayer “Hail Mary mother of grace, let me find a parking place.”
A split second later a car rolled out of the front row and the space was ours.
I was mesmerised!
Taking the long view – when patience pays off
Those long journeys in the car and the long lunches we’ve shared since have been spaces to explore why the Church of Scotland opposed gay marriage.
I just couldn’t understand it, especially as all the Christians I knew supported it.
They believed in marriage as a union of two people rooted in love, respect and commitment and wanted it for everyone.
Lorna explained that while that was true, there were many others who took a more traditional view.
The view that 20-year-old me used as reason as to reject all religion and any respect for it.
She believed that in time things would change, but that it would require patience, dialogue and space to talk.
And she was right, as she so often is.
Church of Scotland may be willing to accept gay marriage
Just this week, the Church of Scotland announced that 29 of its presbyteries were in favour of ministers and deacons conducting the ceremonies of same sex couples should they so wish.
The Church is a democratic institution so the final word will go the General Assembly next month.
But assuming it’s a Yes, the words “I do” could be said by same sex couples in churches by the summer.
— Church of Scotland (@churchscotland) April 26, 2022
That is absolutely phenomenal social progress by any measure.
Yes, it took time. And there will be those who will say it took too long.
But it has been done respectfully, in conversation and through dialogue, with the goal of bringing as many people to the same conclusion as possible.
That is the hard work of progress.
And it is also, for me, the ultimate lesson in the importance of spending time with people who appear to hold very different values to your own.
Conversations lead to illuminations.
And these can shed light on the truth that we all want much the same; love, tolerance and a little respect.