We have started producing some short video clips from LGBTIQA+ folk at Pitt Street Uniting Church - partly for the Sydney WorldPride season but also beyond - but also to help others and transform the silence and distortions that still accompany our lives and living faith. This brief contribution is entitled: 'The Gift of Queer People of Faith: bringing us back to the heart of the Gospel, helping Love flow'...
One interesting contemporary term I’ve found helpful recently is ‘onlyness’ - in both its negative and positive aspects. ‘Onlyness’ certainly speaks to my experience both practically (in negotiating the deafening demands of ‘sameness’ and ‘togetherness’ in world and church) and spiritually (in seeking sources, connections and pathways to flourish).
Negatively, as this week’s inaugural LGBTIQ+ Leadership Summit in Sydney highlights in its introduction, despite significant advances (especially for L & G folk - T & I have a little more to see) queer ‘onlyness’ continues to be an issue in business and public life (even without including church spaces) and it is still hard for so many of us in simply pursuing our careers and vocations:
‘A 2020 McKinsey report identified that LGBTIQ+ staff are more likely to encounter microaggressions, experience sexual harassment (especially women), and become disengaged within their organisation due to “onlyness”.
Despite the overwhelming ethical and financial business case for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, it simply hasn’t happened. It is reported too often that LGBTIQ+ staff are excluded from promotion, are overlooked by superiors, and concerns regarding their gender and sexual orientation are dismissed.’
Being queer in the Church (even more tolerating and passively ‘inclusive’ spaces) sometimes feels like such ‘onlyness’ with bells on (sometimes the sort of bells tolled perhaps to warn people of the plague?). In the best of our mainstream Churches the obsessions with institutional ‘unity’, limited ‘brand’ identity, and not ‘rocking the boat’ also militate against receiving the gifts of ‘onlyness’ - even though they are an essential part not only of the continuing features of spiritual health in Churches but are also pathways forward if they were fully received.
The reality is that ‘onlyness’, spiritually speaking and in many manifestations, has always been essential to positive life and change in secular and faith spaces. A key saving grace of both my native C of E (Anglican), Reformed ‘liberty of conscience’ and wider Christian tradition has always been those who have lived into and out of their ‘onlyness’ - for it is from the depths of spirit, inner truth, our authentic dreams and stirrings, that true flourishing comes.
We are most certainly created to be social creatures, and our onlyness bears fruit and is enriched in mutual relationship with others, especially where they seek to honour and share their own ‘onlyness’. Yet so much remains, and rises afresh, to work against this - not least sadly in so many Church spaces - as organisations, communities and individuals settle for conformity and complacency (as well as coercion at times), resting on outdated assumptions and harmful stereotypes, unchanging inherited or ‘functional’ structures, and suspicion, or worse, of ‘onlyness’ (even in some faith traditions which speak of ‘conscience’ and being ‘prophetic’).
The LGBTIQ+ Leadership Summit puts it clearly:
‘LGBTIQ+ leaders have a strong legacy of driving positive change – even in the most difficult circumstances. In the 2020s, an era of the socially aware and responsible consumer, large organisations cannot afford to merely provide lip service to LGBTIQ+ inclusion.’
The same might be said of other leaders among us who lead from out of their ‘onlyness’ - not least the extraordinary First Nations leaders who have walked with, inspired, and strengthened me in singing new life in faith spaces (and without whom I’d have given up long ago) Like ‘onlyness’ however, such people not only need honouring, but supporting and releasing into greater life.
I’m angry again today - and with good reason, especially having just read a particularly heart wrenching cry of anger from an Anglican priest who has expressed so well their own anger at ‘straightsplaining’ so-called allies and the appalling personal cost upon him (I know, I feel and empathise with that pain on every level). As he says, we can usually cope with much of the reactionary stuff but it is what I call (straight and narrow) ‘passive inclusion’, accompanied by the continual injunctions (by those with comfortable privilege) to continuing ‘patience’, ‘calm’, and ‘good (aka cheap) grace’ that really burdens and eats away at souls, lives and ministries.
One of the things Churches really struggle with is anger - not least Anglicans (born of ‘moderating’ control and English upper/middle class ‘restraint’) and (in my experience) often worse still, the Uniting Church (born of the bureaucracy and functionality that contains its own particular restricted range of Christian diversity). Yet too much of even the best of mainstream Church life has stoked, and continues to stoke, anger which needs to be properly acknowledged, heard and engaged with (not least by empowering, not silencing or sidelining, the huge gifts queer people are to every space, not least the spiritual). Sometimes I just wonder what Jesus it is that Churches read - but then personally I’ve never yet called those who hurt me ‘broods of vipers’ and the like, so perhaps I’m also failing on that score?!
I don’t expect Australian Anglican avoidance and maintenance of the straight, still largely boys, club to change quickly - nor the UCA’s complacency and irritating self-satisfaction about its often pleasant but limited ‘inclusivity’. They are both changing slowly - and this week’s announcement of a queerphobic breakaway ‘Anglican’ body is partly a sign of that change and an admission of that viperous tendency’s failure to win over others. Queer people of faith (especially local Anglicans this week) will continue to do it tough in many ways, but we won’t be crushed, because we are not only essentially gentle in spirit as well as vitally angry, but we are also extraordinarily fabulous and incredible gifts to our struggling world and to any Church that will not simply ‘include’ us but celebrate with us and learn from us. As the old Judaean said, ‘those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear’…
Meanwhile, some of us will keep on singing - and will also sing for those who are denied their voices, and for those who can sing no longer - for why wouldn’t we sing into being such wonderful gentle, angry, gifted, loving lives? 🏳️⚧️🌈
With huge ❤️ and 🙏 for all those doing it really tough right now. You are loved and more precious than you can ever know 😻
a reflection on the journey to genuine 'inclusion' for the Diversity & Inclusion Council of Uniting NSW/ACT
Thank you so much for the opportunity of sharing with you today. Let me first acknowledge the Gadigal peoples of the land from which I speak, and their elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to express my thanks for the work Uniting is already doing in terms of diversity and inclusion, including the vital encouragement this is to myself personally. For genuine visibility of our human diversity is so critical and enriching, as I know from my own experience and the huge number of people who contact me, from all kinds of places.
joyfully receiving gifts
One of the things I have learned from First Nations peoples is the importance of genuineness of spirit and intent. Back in 1986 in Alice Springs, Pope John Paul II put this well in sharing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ‘Until your gifts have been offered’, he said, ‘and joyfully received, the Church in Australia will not be that which Jesus Christ wants to see.’ That challenging truth remains central not only to the Church, but to all parts of Australian life. Until First Nations’ gifts have been fully offered, and joyfully received, with justice, then we will never be the country we can be. That must be the underlying theme of all we do in terms of diversity and inclusion. Yet those words apply more broadly, don’t they? Until the gifts of Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, African, LGBTQ+ people, and all kinds of Australians have been offered, and – crucially - ‘joyfully received’, then we will not be what we can be. ‘Joyfully’ is a key adjective. What spirit and intent do we really have? If we approach inclusion mainly as an obligation (politically correct or otherwise), we will have missed the point. For one thing, anyone feels more likely to offer their gifts if there is likely to be a joyful reception. We will never maximise the capacity of any organisation, whether a church, a nation, or Uniting, if we do not joyfully embrace the gifts we are offered.
What an opportunity we have as we emerge from, hopefully, the worst of what COVID-19 has done to expose the divisions and distinctions of wealth and power among us in Australia! To build back best, fully, and joyfully, enabling diversity and inclusion is vital. The character of our intent and its spirit is crucial.
weak inclusion - as a noun
In my experience, ‘inclusion’ can be a very weasel word, covering many continuing sins and PR appearances. Organisations have at least three approaches. The first is what I would call ‘weak’ inclusion. It is better than obvious exclusion but essentially about degrees of permission to belong. It is like a noun: it is somewhat fixed, concerned with quotas and boundaries, but really still involving social distancing rather than engagement. At times and in places, the Uniting Church exercises this kind of inclusion. You can belong as a minority, but are you really honoured, engaged, and joyfully received? That too is where many First Nations people were in Anglican circles in Southern Queensland, including in Anglicare, until we began our Reconciliation Action Plan a few years ago.
medium inclusion - as an adjective
Secondly, there are ‘medium’ approaches to inclusion. This is what I have experienced in moving into Uniting Church ministry. It involves a genuine welcome, with some affirmation, openness to involvement, and certainly much kindness. Whereas ‘weak’ inclusion is mainly being allowed to the table, this might even include being at the head of the table. Other than Anglo ethnicities, and LGTBQ+ and other networks are also taken with some seriousness. Inclusion becomes more like an adjective than a noun – it is about being inclusive, more dynamic than simply inclusion. It is where the Reconciliation Action Plan was in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland when I left, and maybe, where Uniting is right now. It is, however, only a happier, but not yet fully joyful stage.
strong inclusion - as a verb
A third stage of inclusion has a deeper spirit and intent. This ’strong’ stage is not about even genuine welcome, but about revealing the gifts of all. It includes affirmation but is really about celebration, led by everyone in our diversity when we are all truly empowered. It is about inclusion as a verb: about active practice day by day; including like Uniting, as a dynamic community of living and belonging. It is also wonderful for any organisation. For we no longer have to work hard at showing we are diverse and inclusive. We demonstrably are. It is our very DNA. Others see it, which also saves many promotional expenses! The Uniting Church aspires to this, and at times manages it. The most visible sign is the Covenant with Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Congress - although, even there, questions remain, including about resourcing and how voices are actually heard and make a difference. Yet the Uniting Church as a whole is not there yet. I sense however that Uniting can move into at least some kind of ‘stronger’ inclusion, where all levels of staff and operations see it as their own work. That is another major shift, but ultimately, as it becomes more natural, it in fact requires less work from advocates and leadership than ‘weak’ and ‘medium’ inclusion – for it belongs to everyone, when everyone truly belongs. True including thus also leads on to expansiveness.
We live in the tag end of some frankly rubbish times, when the very dignity of some human beings has been under question. We have major policies of exclusion in Australia, including towards First Nations claims for justice, towards refugees, some migrants and the poor. Currently, we also have hurtful bills of religious discrimination in federal and state parliaments. Yet my belief is that these are rotten but passing times. I see the journey towards Australian diversity and inclusion as like a sea-change. The waves come in at different speeds. Sometimes they rise high: as with the 1967 Referendum, the Apology to the Stolen Generations, Marriage Equality, and so forth. At times they fade away and we think the tide has gone. Yet it will assuredly return. The key thing is to hold faith and make ready for the next big wave of Australian diversity and inclusion. It will come, and those who are prepared can surf it. Others who do not prepare will flounder. For there is, let’s face it, no vibrant and really sustainable future for Australia without renewing our multicultural identity. Uniting is well placed to seize that time when it comes, if it continues to move more deeply into diversity and inclusion. So, May God bless us all in this exciting journey!
As I come, this Saturday, to give my final lecture as a St Francis College Brisbane staff member, it is poignant to do so on the subject of ‘The Vocation of Anglicanism’. In that light, it is such a delight to find today an Ad Clerum from Bishop David Jenkins - written in 1993, in the white heat of conflict, as the final legal steps for the ordination of women went through Parliament. It is a typical +David description of the Anglican (Church of England) spirit in which I was raised - so far from so much that passes as Anglican in some places today - not least these key points which also sit so happily with the UCA ‘Basis of Union’ ...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.