Blog: Caroline Pether

Manchester Camerata violinist and co-leader writes about about her struggle for acceptance as a gay, Christian woman

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Solve this impossible puzzle. That is essentially what churches that have rigid, black and white views on homosexuality are telling gay Christians, or, in their words, Christians who “experience same-sex attraction”. Exodus International, the world’s largest “gay cure” organisation at the time, shut down back in 2013 after 37 years of operation. Its president, Alan Chambers, was quoted as saying at its final conference: “My true story is that I spent the majority of my life pretending that I was something I was not because I was afraid of the Church… 99% of the people that I have met continue to struggle with or have same-sex attraction… those things don’t go away.” So in case we needed further proof, praying the gay away does not work.

I was one of many Christians who believed for years, as a result of guidance from church leadership, that I should not accept myself as gay but make every effort to change my sexual orientation, with God’s help. These years were by far the darkest in my life. I’m fortunate to be a natural optimist, but the longer time went on, the more these two aspects of myself were at war with one another. My faith and my sexuality felt like two jigsaw pieces that would not go together, no matter how hard I tried. I also felt very alone and kept it a secret for a long time. I was afraid that my non-religious friends wouldn’t understand what the problem was, and that my religious friends would keep encouraging me to “pray it away”. It’s not surprising that so many gay Christians, particularly those who are young and vulnerable, suffer from mental health issues, and heartbreakingly suicides are part of that picture. As I became a Christian at the age of 14 independently of my family, I should say that I wasn’t even able to embody my wonderful parents’ affirming love and spoken acceptance of all sexualities that they made clear to us as children. It demonstrates how strong the influence of one’s religious community can be: I chose to follow my church’s advice to deny myself, over the beautiful accepting love of my upbringing.

This first episode will take the audience on a journey from loneliness, shame and despair to acceptance, peace and celebration of self

As a violinist I was so fortunate to have music as a refuge and an escape. I was grateful for my bad-at-multi-tasking brain because it meant that when I was playing the violin all the noise around this huge problem went quiet and I could just focus on the music and its emotive potential and power.

It is precisely this healing power of music that inspired Manchester Camerata’s upcoming digital film series Untold. The first episode will tell my story, using a new format that combines music, played by me and fellow musicians from Manchester Camerata, with imagery and poetry. We believe that the negative-to-positive trajectory of these episodes beautifully mirrors the way that listening to music can bring healing and, in the words of our music director Gábor Takács-Nagy, act as “spiritual medicine”. This first episode will take the audience on a journey from loneliness, shame and despair to acceptance, peace and celebration of self. In choosing the music I was looking for pieces that were incredible works in their own right that we love to play, but also pieces that could reflect the different emotional spheres of each stage. Both Scots Makar (Poet Laureate of Scotland) Jackie Kay and award-winning filmmaker Paul Sapin have created poetry and imagery that converse with the music and tell my story.

After years of suffering I was finally able to break free from my old ways of thinking. I found some brilliant books that offered up valid and alternative interpretations of biblical passages, and they encouraged me to value my mental autonomy. I realised that church leaders, despite often having good intentions and loving hearts, are fallible like the rest of us and sometimes get it wrong. I was welcomed with open arms by a new church community that celebrated my whole self and my gifts, and which is led by people committed to a fully inclusive church. But most of all I began to trust my own God-given moral compass and conscience. Love is beautiful in all forms.

Caroline, the first in Manchester Camerata’s Untold Series, streams at 8pm on Thursday 1 October on United We Stream. Dates and times of the remaining series are to be released at a later date

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