The more long-suffering visitors to this blog will know that for the last 6 years, I have been involved with a local RSL Christian radio station in Manchester called Refresh FM which broadcasts for 3-4 weeks at Easter time. This post is not for sympathy or for an agenda, but because the writing is a helpful expression of how I feel about what has happened over the last few months.
Over the years I have helped Refresh in a variety of roles although mainly as a presenter and producer. I have been part of the Scheduling Team and also helped set up the music playlist. They have been a big part of my volunteering life for over half a decade and I will always be grateful for the opportunities offered and the trust placed in me by Refresh FM.
However, unfortunately, that relationship has now had to come to an end. Every year I have presented a show called the Theatre of Noise with one of my friends. We have developed the show over the years and it has been a big part of the evening schedules. Eyan, my co-presenter, was asked in the summer if he was willing to take a larger role in the organising and leadership of the station.
At this stage, Eyan felt it was important to be open with Refresh and informed them that he was gay. Within a month, Eyan and I were invited to a meeting with the leaders of Refresh where Eyan was informed that it was no longer possible for him to continue as a presenter due to his sexuality and the incompatibility of his lifestyle choice with the core evangelical message of the church that runs Refresh FM. For Eyan's eloquent account of this incident visit his blog for the initial article and a follow up piece. There has also been an article in the Guardian CiF section on the wider issue of volunteer rights.
While Eyan was left with little choice as to whether he could carry on, it was made clear to me that because I am straight, I was welcome to continue with Refresh. In the end, I felt that I was unable to reconcile how my friend was treated due to the narrow evangelical views of Refresh's leadership and the core message of Christianity. Therefore, I took the decision to step down from presenting and my positions on the scheduling and playlist teams.
The whole situation has caused upset and soul-searching in all parties and I'm worried for Refresh's future. I have always had such high hopes for a station that has taken some very bold steps in the past (the moment they defied critics to broadcast a Catholic church service in the Sunday morning service slot made me very proud to be a part of the organisation), and I hoped they would react better in this situation. Sadly, it seems (as is the way with us Christians in general) sexuality proved a step too far. My worry is that Refresh will withdraw and look inwards and try to involve only those who share their core beliefs. Its biggest strength has always been the involvement of a wide range of Christians of all denominations, ages and backgrounds. My suspicion would be that a good number of key volunteers would not be willing or able to 'sign on' and that would only make the station poorer.
On a positive note, Eyan & I have already had a meeting with someone interested in perhaps giving the Theatre of Noise a new home. So the Theatre of Noise is dead. Long Live the Theatre of Noise.