Meet Dave Tomlinson, the ‘Bad Christian’ on a mission.
Dave Tomlinson is a self-styled ‘Bad Christian’ whose church is unapologetically inclusive and whose books reach out to those on the fringes of faith, and even to outsiders. You may recall the media frenzy and raised eyebrows in some circles when he took the funerals of Great Train Robbers Bruce Reynolds and Ronnie Biggs. He’s also a controversial figure to some in the Anglican community for his positive and progressive stance on same-sex relationships and marriage, which he has outlined in two books, How to be a Bad Christian and The Bad Christian’s Manifesto.
Religion and all things gay generally get along about as well as the Wicked Witch of the West and a sudden downpour. That’s why we were fascinated to learn that there’s an Anglican vicar fighting our corner, and taking on his own church in an effort to change attitudes and doctrines.
We spoke to Dave at his church, St Luke’s in Holloway, London. He is genial and calm, which comes after a lifetime of preaching love and acceptance. He speaks with a warm voice that holds traces of a Liverpool accent, but he’s also prepared to stand up for his principles, and he spoke with great passion about how he wants to affect change in the Church of England in favour of celebrating gay unions.CREDIT: (C) Lissy Tomlinson
We asked him what he thinks conservative Christians’ beef is with homosexuality. “An awful lot it, within the church, but also society as a whole, is fear. Fear of difference. It’s a desperate sign of insecurity in any society that can’t accommodate and live with difference.”
But won’t conservative Christians just quote scripture and claim the argument is closed? “It’s all tied up with a very literal reading of the biblical texts, but the bible is the product of an age that no longer exists,” Dave explains. “I think what we now experience in same-sex relationships probably hardly existed at that time. There’s a very strong argument to say that all of the texts that the bible addresses that you can link to same-sex relationships involve some form of abuse; and not the loving, equal relationships that we have today. Sodom and Gomorrah, where the word ‘sodomy’ comes from is a horrendous story about rape. It would be incredible to think all of the men of the city were gay: it was all about abuse and power.”
With constant threats of schisms in the Anglican Community, we wondered if the arguments about homosexuality will ever show any signs of simmering down. “It’s not surprising that there are arguments in the church: there should be. But sometimes I think we’re having the wrong arguments. How can we still be arguing about same-sex relationships? It’s an argument that’s over now, really, to any sensible people.” We can only agree with Dave, and ask him about his own parishioners. “We’ve a lot of gay people and gay couples in this church, and I can’t for the life of me see any difference between what they experience and aspire to in their lives and relationships and what I do in my life. It’s an absurdity to me and what’s getting my goat at the moment is that we’ve now reached a point where same-sex marriage is accessible, and any church can make the choice to conduct same-sex marriages in their churches: except the Church of England! I’m outraged by that, and it can’t last.”CREDIT: (C) Lissy Tomlinson
Outrage is one thing, but does Dave think we’ll ever see gay Christians being married in Anglican churches? “Definitely, because ultimately right conquers. It’s just a matter of time.”
We ended our chat feeling upbeat, and we met many of Dave’s parishioners. As we chatted to them, it was clear than in St Luke’s, they’d found a spiritual home. For some, they’d returned after years outside the church. Whatever your religious beliefs (or lack of), through his sermons and writings, Reverend Dave offers something in stark contrast to what the gay community has come to expect, simply by reaching out with a spirit of inclusivity.
You can read more about Dave Tomlinson’s inspirational and spiritual thoughts in How to Be a Bad Christian and The Bad Christian’s Manifesto, which are published by Hodder & Stoughton. Follow Dave on Twitter @goodluker.