‘It is time that leading politicians and religious leaders stopped abusing religion to hurt people and cling to power’, said the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin, a transgender Anglican priest and Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney, speaking ahead of this Saturday’s protest at Sydney Town Hall against the One Nation ‘religious freedom’ and ‘parental choice in education’ Bills in NSW Parliament.
‘As I, and so many people of faith embody,’ she said, ‘there is no necessary conflict between being part of the LGBTQ+ community and being a person of faith. The attempts to drive a wedge between people undermines our nation’s shared commitments to human rights and a ‘fair go’ for all. Jesus was quite clear – ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is at the heart of divine law and compassion. Shockingly however, the cross, a symbol of love for all, is turned upside down by some to become a sword to damage others'...
First of all, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and all First Nations people in this area. I also give thanks for this cathedral, so important to me in my own journey in recent years, and all who have helped develop the unfolding work of Christian feminism which we highlight tonight.
In introducing and commending Mavis’ book, I am reminded of a number of things from the first wave of Christian feminism, which was the subject of my Ph.D. One is a famous quotation from the northern English working-class leader Ada Nield Chew: women’s advance, she used to say, ‘’tis a long row to hoe.’ What we do today, as Mavis encouraged in her book, is part of a continuing journey. The South African writer Olive Schreiner put it strikingly in one of her essays, which drew heavily on biblical imagery, and helped her become the ‘muse’ of first-wave Christian feminists. One of the Anglican suffragettes, Lady Constance Lytton, referred to this in her autobiographical account of the sufferings of female campaigners in prison. We were encouraged each night in Holloway, she recalled, by readings of Schreiner’s work, not least the story ‘Making a Track’. An allegory of women’s, and others’, struggles for justice, this described a long trail of the bodies of insects stretching over a long distance. These learn, as Olive Schreiner put it. to ‘take off the shoes of dependence’, to clothe themselves in ‘the garment of Truth,’ and to use ‘the staff of Reason’ when they are lost and cannot find a way. Eventually the track of bodies reaches the banks of a river to cross into a more spacious land of freedom, fording the river with the costly solidarity of their bodies. On the other side, there is room for more authentic life and expression. ‘But what of those who did not make it?’, asks one of the characters in the story, ‘those who were swept away by the current or did not even build the bridge with their bodies?’ ‘What of that?’, comes the reply, ‘they make a track to the water’s edge’ and ‘over that bridge, which shall be built with our bodies… the entire human race will pass.’
Mavis was one of those great Brisbane women who helped form the bridge of women’s ordination, and stepped over. Yet, as the exhibition of Anglican women’s history in this cathedral affirms, she would not have been able to do so without others who had made the track to the water’s edge. Vitally, she also knew that stepping over the bridge was not enough. Much more was needed. Some of that has been in evidence in recent years, including the first female bishop in this diocese. Yet Mavis was clear that such landmarks are insufficient without a much greater transformation. This is what she calls us to in her book Gender Balance. It seeks, and embodies, not an end but an encouragement to travel on. Indeed, for me it is a particular delight to see it published, for it represents a key part of the track – after the ordination of women - that was so difficult, and which is so easily ignored. If we are to travel on further, into fuller life and freedom for all, we need to see the whole track and learn from it. This is what Mavis’ book helps provide. We are diminished without it.
Understandably, after the first ordinations of women, the movement which brought them about lost steam. Partly this was because so many wonderful women poured their hearts, faith and lives into parish and other ministries hitherto denied them. This brought much fruit but came at a cost from which we are still, I think, recovering. As a lay woman who had helped lead MOW locally, Mavis saw that. Gender Balance thus represents her perceptions of what more is needed on the track. She perceives the insidiousness of patriarchy and clericalism. She asks us to go deeper, to reconsider symbols and language, relationships and support. She also reminds us of the bigger vision of Christian feminism, so much larger than ecclesial offices or church facing concerns. Lift your gaze, she continues to challenge us. Renew the pathway and the purpose your forebears marked out, at the cost of their bodies, lives and faith struggles.
Mavis thus recalls us to the promise of the 21st century in which we live and to a better Faith in which to live it. She outlines how the continued undervaluing of women is a major feature of what she calls ‘Christianity’s Credibility Crisis’. Indeed, she shows how women and women’s experience is devalued in aspects of our Faith and how dissent is resisted by entrenched attitudes and structures. At the heart of this is what she calls ‘The Embodiment Problem’, even though women carry with them connections and resources which can bring new life. She affirms that women’s theology and spiritual experience can thus help to renew the expression and work of the gospel, providing health in so many other fields also.
Gender Balance is not entirely complete as a vision of Christian feminism for today. For there are some new elements recently which have entered the journey, which can make us stumble or enrich us. Mavis does not really speak for example of the rise of sexual and gender diversity, which have made the track more complex and enlivening. She also wrote at a time before the full rise of recent phenomena of terrorism and anti-terrorism, and the resurgence of populism and authoritarianism in politics and religion. Yet, even in the face of such factors, Mavis reminds us in the book of other features which we have neglected. Not least, particularly at the end of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is the value she rightly gives to solidarity and co-working across our denominational and national boundaries. She thus draws widely on the work of Catholic and other theologians, and on ecumenical connections, not least the inspiration that was the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. What an idea that would be to see again! What a difference it makes when women and others make fresh linkages together, as the #MeToo movement and Marches for Justice have shown recently – the wider and deeper agenda of liberation is not lost, but renewed.
I sadly only met Mavis in person once: when she came to my home, on the St Francis College site, to talk with some of our students and others about the ordination of women struggle, its legacy and learnings, and the need for the continuing journey. Yet I feel strongly that, if she were here today, she would be warmly encouraging us to take the next steps on the track – and this, she indeed does today through this book, distilling some of her lively insight, informed reading and personal wisdom, continuing to challenge us (as the self-confessed ‘Anglican spiritual guerilla’ she was) and willing us on.
Do take up Mavis’ book, learn and inwardly digest, and, inspired by her spirit, and that of all who have gone before us and made the path to the water’s edge, build the next bridge and help others cross over. For like Mavis, we either help to make our own history, or are condemned to be victims of it.
After marriage equality law passed, I was delighted, but cut ever deeper to the heart every time someone excluded from Australian Anglican rules asked if I’d preside at their wedding. It is one significant reason I now rejoice in sharing in Uniting Church ministry . It’s three decades since, as a priest, I first blessed a same gender relationship (a gorgeous couple in a former coal mining village on the top of England) so even blessings (aka ‘crumbs from the hetero/cis table’) are really just not enough anymore. So I was hugely delighted today to talk with a wonderful gay couple about their forthcoming wedding at which I’ve been asked to preside - so good to meet their needs for a priest in Sydney.
Our queer God will find a way
(With love and prayers for those continuing to work for change in every faith community)
I've been very glad to contribute to this series of essays on Contemporary Feminist Theologies, with such a distinguished and lively group of contributors. My own essay is on the need for supporting trans theological voices and their/our emerging insights - 'From footballs to Matildas?' Overall, this book explores the issues of power, authority and love with current concerns in the Christian theological exploration of feminism and feminist theology. It looks particularly at issues such as embodiment, intersectionality, liberation theologies, historiography, queer approaches to hermeneutics, philosophy and more. With thanks to the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies. More about the book here.
This was SUCH a joy! A little bit of history too, as, in being inducted as the Minister-in-Placement at the Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney, I became the first transgender person to be called and inducted into ministry in a Christian Church in Australia.
I have been quite moved this week - with all kinds of trans pride, past trauma and hope rising up - as the reality sinks into my body and consciousness that the Uniting Church makes a vital little bit of history this Sunday. For we hold the first ever Induction in a mainstream Australian Church of an openly transgender ordained person (as distinct from allowing someone to continue in an existing role after coming out) - and without all the cruel insistence on justifying trans existence so often present around us. Trans people do not need churchy validation, but, my God, as I know from others, it makes such a difference for so many journeys of affirmation and empowerment when pathways are opened. It is a huge tribute to those who have made the way - to trans and other queer people ourselves, and not least to those in the Pitt Street story who've created the ground for this and other things (not least my distinguished predecessors). Of course, this placement is about much, much more, but it is one significant aspect. There's a long way to go, but I'm so proud of the Uniting Church in this, and pray that it may be a contribution to the much needed changes in law, health, and education required to support gender diverse people who are currently under such attack (not least in New South Wales right now. I'm also thrilled to have so many different people attending, and messages of encouragement, from right across the Christian and community spectrum, and I know that what we share on Sunday is part of the broader changes coming into being also. May all people and their/our gifts flourish!
Why are we here? Why are people of so many diverse faiths involved today in worldwide climate change advocacy and why do we need to sound the alarm?
The short answer is - We are United by a common human spirituality - of solidarity, scriptures, and science...
(my brief address at the Sound the Alarm Green Faith day of action for climate change, 11 March 2021)...
Three things then:
1. We are United by Solidarity - with our planet and its suffering peoples (those closest to the land and seas)
* We increasingly make Acknowledgement of Country but are we listening and honouring the spirituality of First Nations people - who speak particularly as voices of the Land and seas themselves?
* Let us indeed listen to the voices of our land and seas!
* Why are we not listening, for example, to my friend, the Senior Queenslander of the Year, Aunty McRose Elu and Torres Strait Islanders (king tides etc)?
* Why are we not responding to our Pacific Island neighbours?
* Why we not acting to address the increasing numbers of Environmental Refugees?
2. We are United by Scriptures
* The BIble at least is quite clear - indeed the first command in the Bible is to care for Gods Creation
* The Book of Deuteronomy is but one further key text - telling us that God, land and people all suffer when one suffers
* Jesus also drew his teaching from the Earth - can we not see the seasons? Jesus said
* Jesus too called us to wake up, to repent (that is, to turn around and change our behaviours), and to sound the alarm
* These themes are echoed in other faith traditions - hence our common stand today
3. We are United by Science
* Science is no enemy of good faith but rather faith and science are essential partners
* Climate change is such established scientific fact, just like Covid-19 - and like that virus we need to act effectively (as Australians, including our Governments, have shown we can do with Covid-19)
* Let us take but one recent report - where 19 out of 20 Australian key ecosystems that were examined were found to be collapsing - from coral reefs, through Murray-Darling waterways and arid desert, to our extraordinary rainforests
* Have we forgotten the devastating bushfires just before the Covid-19 outbreak?!
* We’ve made Gods out of narrow economic growth totems and fossil fuels - so its time for change, as with lead pollution and CFC’s
* Research also shows we can best address jobs and futures through climate change action - thus also addressing the manifest inequalities and stresses revealed by Covid-19
* Action benefits us all
Solidarity - Scripture - and Science are as one...
so let us Sound the Alarm - The time for action is now!
Great work by the Pitt Street Uniting Church Earthweb team today - with excellent accompaniment by Ecopella and John the bagpipe player - Sounding the Alarm on climate change as part of the worldwide Green Faith actions.
I've been warmly welcomed by members of the Uniting Church as I prepare to be inducted to ministry with Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney. Here below is Jonathan Foye's article for Insights (Uniting Synod NSW/ACT) - reproduced from the magazine here...
Tired’ (with rage) writes Anna Spargo-Ryan - full article here - and that is one way of putting it! Is there a problem with men’s ears and hearts? Day follows day in the revealing of our deep cultural violent sexism and still no action, other than deflections?
“We don’t want the government to host a morning tea, catered by women, organised by women. We don’t want their 30-second video patronising our womanhood. We need them to come out loudly against sexual assault. We want policies to protect women from harm, to support their recovery and keep them safe. We want action against a nation-wide culture that says women are liars. Take over the burden of carrying blame.”
It’s much more than feeling tired of course, but Anna is right: our federal government’s reactions to the endemic truths currently courageously articulated and focused by Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and others known and unknown are pitiful. And - yes indeed! - Church leaders need to look at their/our culture, language, and actions too...
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.