A 14-year-old lesbian from England killed herself because she didn’t feel she could legitimately be a gay Christian. Now her church is doing everything it can — short of violating the law — to make sure it does not happen again.
Lizzie Lowe died of suicide four years ago when she didn’t feel welcomed by Church of St James, Didsbury in Manchester. Now, after processing their own role in her death, the church and a related institution have focused on living out their idea of “inclusion.”
Four years ago, 14-year-old Lizzie Lowe took her own life because she did not believe she would be accepted at her church as a gay Christian.
Since then her church, St James in Didsbury, Manchester, and its sister church Emmanuel, has formally become an inclusive church — embracing everyone, regardless of gender, race, disability or sexuality.
Lizzie’s parents believe embracing inclusion could help save the lives of other teenagers.
Lizzie’s parents — Kevin and Hilary — loved their daughter unconditionally. Unfortunately, their church didn’t express those same feelings publicly. When Lizzie finally took her own life by hanging herself in a park, the parents fought for change at the church… and won.
Although leaders at St James and Emmanuel, in Didsbury, say the church was ‘open and welcoming’ before Lizzie’s death back in September 2014 they admit that sexuality was not discussed for fear of ‘stirring up a hornet’s nest’.
Now the church has adopted a policy of inclusion, welcoming everyone regardless of race, gender or sexuality. It has gained new members from the gay community and even invited the first Didsbury Pride event to take place in the grounds.
The move has angered some parishioners and 25 members of the congregation left the church in protest. Leaders have even received abusive messages saying they will ‘go to hell’.
The church is now open to gay members and is supportive of gay relationships, but it’s important to ask if they are going far enough to prevent another tragedy in the future. We asked a spokesperson for the church if they believe homosexual acts are “sinful,” and they said, “No!” We also asked about their views on same-sex marriage, which the affiliated Church of England is not supportive of. Nick Bundock, the rector at the church, said he does support same-sex marriage personally but added that they are “legally barred from performing them by statute.”
When asked if gay people must remain celibate in order to be good Christians, a common view among Christian sects, we were pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Enforced celibacy is cruel so absolutely we support loving sexual relationships. I believe that sex for all people is consensual, mutually uplifting and best within a stable committed relationship but that would apply both for heterosexual and homosexual people.
It seems like there are some real changes here. Unfortunately, it took the death of a young girl to make them happen.
… Bundock says the work the church is doing now is important and Lizzie’s death ‘puts everything in perspective’.
“I wish we could turn the clock back,” he said. “I wish we could have done something ahead of that decision Lizzie took that would have given her the slightest chance to open up, to find a safe place to talk and a way of making a decision that would have saved her life.
“We had to change. We had to make sure this never happens to anyone else.”
This church undoubtedly changed its ways for the better. But I fear Lizzie’s story won’t be the last one like it precisely because these archaic and barbaric faith-based views about homosexuality aren’t going away. Let’s hope other churches follow this example, and at least help minimize the effects of the church’s outdated views on sexuality.