The Revd Dr Andrew Teal has been applauded this week for a sermon given at Pembroke Chapel, in which he encourages the acceptance and affirmation of the LGBTQ community from the Church.

The sermon, entitled ‘An Overdue Apology’, explains Teal’s decision to hang a Rainbow Flag inside Pembroke Chapel as “an opportunity” to connect the religious and social symbolism of the rainbow, and to “challenge the Churches and some perceptions of faith as merely an instrument of oppression or control”.

The sermon began, “This week has been a very public one for Pembroke College, but it has focused attention on issues which are really quite public for wider Church and society.  I want to begin with an unconditional affirmation, however: that equality and inclusion, the protection of the vulnerable, and the right of all students and staff to explore questions around, and exercise the dignity of, their sexualities and genders without fear of hostility, ridicule or being belittled, is an absolute and irreducible starting point and the ground for all relations in this place.”

He then went onto criticise Cardinal O’Brian’s recent Sunday Telegraph article, entitled “We cannot afford to indulge this madness.”, in which he opposes the government’s plans to legalize gay marriage from the perspective of the Coalition for Marriage as they will ‘shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world’.

Teal continued, “So why is this flag here tonight? Together with an icon of Noah and the Covenant of whom the Rainbow is a symbol in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, here is a sign of God’s commitment to the life of each creature after the fury of the flood. It’s a sign of absolute commitment to each person’s authentic life, guaranteeing not only the right to exist, but the right and duty to flourish and to build a society together where love may be the guide. You could say that’s not what the rainbow alliance flag actually means in public perception. Well, perhaps it is an opportunity to make such connections, and to challenge the Churches and some perceptions of faith as merely an instrument of oppression or control.

Inhabiting who we are is the hardest part of the journey of being human: ‘Dost thou know who made thee’ asks Blake in the anthem the choir has just sung – made thee – just as thou art… The faiths hold out to us a challenge – to inhabit who we are perfectly – that’s what holiness and perfection are, not corresponding to a set of external and often self-contradictory and ambiguous norms, but to live with integrity the path of our lives without shame or fear: and to equip other people to be who they might be – to build a world of hope and tenderness and colour – a rainbow alliance, building on the first universal covenant made with all living creatures – manifesting and celebrating the obligation to flourish. So, in Cardinal O’Brien’s words, ‘We cannot afford to indulge this madness’ – we cannot afford to collude because of our fears with the rhetoric which ridicules and contributes to cultures of bullying, we can’t afford fear.

Teal closed his sermon in a redrafting Pope John XXIII’s prayer apologising for the Catholic community’s collusion with Nazism and historical anti-Semitism. He said, “I’m not the pope – nor even a Cardinal – and I can’t speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, or apologize or contribute to the discussion on behalf of Cardinal O’Brien after his article in today’s Sunday Telegraph: but I can redraft this prayer for myself, and the confused Anglican community of which I am a part:

We realize today how blind we have been throughout the centuries and how we did not appreciate the beauty of all your people, or recognize your  features in our belittled brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, queer, questing, asexual, or heterosexual. We are becoming uncomfortably aware the stains of persecution upon our heads and hands, and of the power of prejudice in our arguments and attitudes. In the course of centuries our sisters and brother have been lying bleeding and in tears on the ground through our fault, only because we have forgotten your love. Forgive us our unjustified condemnation of those whose gender does not conform to our conventions. Forgive us that by crucifying them we have crucified You again, and deny much that is uncomfortable within ourselves. Please forgive me, forgive us. We still do not grasp what we are doing.’ 

He ended, “If flying a rainbow flag can communicate that – you are not alone – to one desperate, lonely, or rejected soul, then I will wear one.”

Thomas Barber, LGBTQ Rep at Pembroke college, was “extremely grateful to the Chaplain for his decision to hang the rainbow flag”. He told Cherwell, “Andrew is of course a very highly respected figure who members of the community look to for moral guidance and spiritual insight. His deliverance of such a progressive and forward-thinking sermon was an extremely courageous move which will undoubtedly go some significant way to increasing the sense of self-worth of many members of, and encouraging more tolerant and understanding views in society towards, the LGBTQ community.”

Pembroke’s MCR President, Gabriel Schenk, commented, “It was beautifully written and expressed, and the tone was just right — not judgemental, not political, just a rush of genuine love, kindness, and clear thinking.” Following the sermon, Pembroke MCR unanimously chose to support the JCR’s original motion to raise the Pride flag, and expressed their gratitude to the chaplain for his words.

Jess Pumphrey, OUSU LGBTQ Officer, said “It’s great to see a church figure promoting equality and showing that the animosity shown to LGBTQ people by the church is needless and not in line with the values of Christianity. It is very affirming for students to be openly accepted by their wider communities such as their churches and colleges, not just within the LGBTQ community itself”.