My family knows about vulnerability. I cannot name the strange seam that runs through the rock we are made of – call it neurological disorder, call it mental illness, call it hypersensitivity, call it madness, call it artistic temperament, call it dysfunctional, call it what you like – it’s there, and we live with it. It disadvantages us in the mainstream, though not in other respects. We are perceptive, we are creative, we are talented – but truly we are not like “everybody else”; an unsatisfactory statement since by definition nobody is like everybody else, but it’s the nearest I can get to explaining it.
Whether it’s my grandson with his waist-length hair (he is completely freaked out by the prospect of having it cut) and inability to draw a simple thing at four years old, his need to tear around wildly whenever something affects him deeply (like church worship for example – yes, oh dear); or my father who had to move out of his home with my mother after 49 years of marriage because his need to be alone got irresistible – I mean, he phoned her many times a day and they holidayed together and often ate together, he just had to be by himself. Or my daughter who cannot tidy a room because she is unable to perceive categories without help, or my other daughter who as a teenager became so overwhelmed by the vibes in the home where she’d taken a Saturday job as a cleaner that she locked herself in the bathroom and couldn’t come out. Or me in a church service holding tight to the Badger’s hand talking quietly to myself (“It’s okay, Ember; you’ll be okay – you can do it; calm down, you’ll be okay . . .”). Regular employment is out of the question for nearly all of us – but like water we find our way through, find our way round the blocks. And what we have learned is that we can make it if we stick together – help each other. Even that isn’t always easy because the vulnerability of one makes it hard to look after one of the others when their vulnerability means they require help on entering a mainstream situation! But we do our best, and we have got very canny and adept at survival. Our strengths have got very strong because our weaknesses are massive.
I am telling you this to make clear that I understand vulnerability.
I am telling you this to make clear that I understand vulnerability.
So when the World Vision fiasco happened, it affected me very profoundly.
I heard Evangelical friends saying they would not stop supporting vulnerable kiddies in poor countries, they’d just pick a charity aligned with their ideology and support that one. I heard them say that it’s tragic when we fight over this issue of homosexuality because it’s not a core issue – we should focus instead on the things that really matter. I heard them say that it’s not unreasonable to withdraw support from a charity that makes a change misaligning its ideology with their own, because surely a person has the right to donate in line with their profoundly held beliefs. And I watched as Evangelical friends (not in my personal sphere of acquaintance I mean, just “friends” in the sense of fellow human beings) pulled out of supporting the world’s poorest children then, when this achieved its effect and World Vision did a U-turn, asked for their sponsored child back or came back and picked a new one.
And I think today it has dawned on me why I have an issue with this and they don’t.
When I married the Badger, it involved my leaving the place where I lived and moving to a different town in a district far away. This caused me acute anxiety. I explained to him that I am not the type of person who can just transplant – find a new job in a new place. Because of The Family Oddity, it takes me two to three years to put down roots and figure out how to earn a living; I can’t fit in to the mainstream. The Badger heard me say this and did not disbelieve me, but he is not himself that kind of person. He can drive on motorways. He can make phone-calls. He can hold down a job and earn a living. He is vulnerable as all human beings are vulnerable, but he is not Vulnerable if you see what I mean. He can transplant. It took him a few years of living with my family to get the hang of it – we are not lazy, not pampered, not failing to get a grip; different. Now he understands, but he didn't get it at first.
I realized today that these people pulling their funding and then offering it again once their objective is achieved are probably not Vulnerable. They are mainstream types (that’s why they have money). They don’t get it. They don’t appreciate the mayhem their actions cause, because they don’t live permanently on the edge. I do; that’s why I can see the problem.
When, about ten or eleven years ago in the UK, our tax credit system launched, the fallout was terrible. Our Inland Revenue assessed families as eligible for financial assistance – then on review decided they were not. So people were given a new (apparently reliable) income source that allowed them to adjust family circumstances; and then it was pulled, leaving them with bills for essentials they could no longer meet. If they’d been left alone in the first place they could have worked out a life strategy; but their circumstances collapsed because their life strategy was worked out to take account of a revenue source suddenly pulled (and the Revenue not only stopped the payments, they wanted repaying for the ones they’d already made). It was a wrecking ball of significant size.
And bear in mind, Vulnerable people take longer to work out a new strategy. That’s the implication of being Vulnerable. That’s why they needed help in the first place.
The same applies (but plus plus) to these children in the poorest countries. If you fund them then suddenly pull the funding, you leave them far worse off than if you never interfered. You leave them up shit creek without a paddle.
And here’s the crucial mistake. If you are a person who moves easily in the mainstream, you tend to see both individuals and circumstances in terms of interchangeable units – lose one job, well then get another; fire one employee, get a new one. If you are a Vulnerable person, that cannot work for you, because it takes much longer to adapt and find a new strategy. So I think the people who pulled their funding, with the intention of relocating it with a different charity or putting it back once the ideological adjustment had been achieved, were probably mainstream types who failed to grasp the mayhem they would have caused. Because the thing is, children are not just interchangeable units, are they? If you cut off Billy’s schooling, food, medicine and clean water, it doesn’t help Billy if you supply it to Sammy instead. Four thousand Billys, too.
Then there’s the matter of the LGBT people themselves. I feel a bit queasy when people say let’s not fall out over that, let’s concentrate on the things that really matter – because I think, really matter to whom?
I mean, suppose Pat and Chris were a Christian homosexual couple working for a Christian charity, and their income depended on that and they had a big mortgage. And suppose the charity then said they would no longer be employing homosexual people unless celibate. Pat and Chris would suddenly have to choose between being parted as a couple or losing their home and incomes. Well, that's not peripheral or unimportant, is it? Not if you are them. I do not know a single heterosexual couple who would not think this absolutely intolerable if it happened to them – yet they seem to think it’s okay to do it to a gay couple.
I have had a taste of exclusion in my own life. For 24 years I was in a marriage within a tight-knit family group. My children grew up knowing and loving the children of my first husband’s brother and sister and the children of his cousins. From the age of nineteen I was part of a large, loving Christian family, included in all the family parties and events. Then my husband left me. And his family dropped me – just like that. The weddings I would have been invited to, the milestone birthdays, the big celebrations, I have been left out of. It has been as though I ceased to exist. The invitations still come to our home, but my name is left off them. Only in the last few days, an envelope came addressed to "The Wilcocks", so I opened it, and it was a wedding invitation; but on the invitation inside the envelope, the names were written of the other family members - but not me. I cannot tell you how much this hurts – how I have mourned to be shut out of seeing those children grow up. I know only what my own children report back from the parties they have been invited to and I have not.
Same thinking, you see. The man I was married to got a new wife. Just like those sponsors got new children to support. Interchangeable units. Same thinking as is applied to the LGTB people: "Oh - not you."
And I want to say, it matters. People matter. They are not units. Nobody is just “a wife” or “a sponsored child”, or a representative of an orientation type. Each one is a person, and people have feelings. They are not bargaining chips or pieces in a game.
Speaking from my life experience, I can tell you it is terrifying not to know how you will cope in changing circumstances and to know for sure that you do not have the characteristics that allow you to survive in the mainstream, and it is painful beyond belief to see the blessings of love and belonging taken out of your hands and put into someone else’s. It is not a passing twinge, it scars you forever.
And something else I would want to say to those who advocate homosexual celibacy is – you try it. If you think gay couples should live celibate lives – show them how. You live without sex your whole life long to show them how it’s done. If you think gay couples should be divided or lose their jobs and homes, you walk that walk before you dole out the advice.
“Do as you would be done by”, said Jesus.
I want also to say in passing that I know I have disappointed my LGTB friends by failing to stand up for them publicly in their struggles of the last twenty years or so for acceptance within the Church. The reason I kept quiet was that my silence kept others safe too. As a writer whose work is published in the Conservative Evangelical Christian market, I knew too well that it is a marketplace in which some customers would, without hesitation, take down a publishing house and all the writers whose work was involved with that, if they disagreed with the content or writer of one book; in just the same way as they would have taken down World Vision’s work. As a published writer, I regard myself as part of a team with my publishers and the other writers whose work they carry. So I kept quiet, and let my LGTB friends carry their struggle forward without my help. I don’t know if I’m sorry I did that, but I know it made me sad then and still does now, and I am no longer willing to maintain that silence.
There’s a song that has come back again and again to my mind as I’ve watched the soul-destroying, heart-freezing grief of the story of World Vision unfold these last days.
For LGTB people, for children trapped in poverty, for people hurt by divorce and family fractures, for the Vulnerable people - for all of us, really; this song: