This paper (by the Revd Penny Jones and myself) was originally published in Coolamon, Issue 7 March 2023, the journal of the Australian Network for Spiritual Direction). It can be downloaded here. It explores some ways in which LGBTQ+ people contribute to our changing experience of God and reveal paths of enriching spiritual transformation. For sexual and gender identities have been at the heart of some significant recent features of both spiritual growth and conflict. From the late 1960s,1 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) 2, or queer3 people have formed increasingly effective social and political movements, transforming many cultural, legal and philosophical norms across the world. For many, this has also involved deliberate or unconscious spiritual expression. Progress has however been uneven, across time and space, and traditional religious formations and spiritual norms have been particular obstacles. Differing, and sometimes conflicting, conceptions of queer people and their gifts are therefore inevitably present within the spiritual direction space. Deeper exploration of these, and the underlying lived spiritual experience of queer people, is thus vital for the further flourishing of all involved. Indeed, whilst aspects may be challenging for some, the authors of this paper affirm that queer spiritual experience and understanding offers gifts which provide renewing insights for spiritual direction practice as a whole. Without unduly entering into wider controversies over sexuality and gender, this paper therefore suggests some life-giving ways to engage. These include exploring aspects of “queer virtues” identified by queer spiritual theologians and the metaphors of “coming out” and “transition” as embodiments of the paschal mystery and healthy, holy, transformation...
a conversation on The Latest
It was good to share recently on The Latest in LGBTIQ+ Health and Policy - a podcast that brings the health and wellbeing hot topic discussions that matter to LGBTIQ+ people:
Our conversation explored the intersection between faith and LGBTQ+ community, the changes happening within the church, overcoming barriers as a trans woman, and my 30 year relationship with wife Penny.'
This podcast was produced by JOY Media – Australia’s Rainbow Community Media Organisation. For more information about JOYs services, visit joy.org.au/services
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Budyeri Gamaruwa – greetings in Gadigal. I acknowledge elders, past and present, and all First Nations people here. For before these steps on which we stand existed, this was Aboriginal land. It is, and always will be, Aboriginal land. For true identity, love and self-determination are not ceded by the oppressions of others. That is at the heart of our simple act of solidarity today.
My name is Josephine McDonnell Inkpin. I am a transgender woman and a queer person of faith. including being Minister here at Pitt Street Uniting Church. So I thank you all for coming this morning. For gender diverse people and queer people of faith are very vulnerable right now. We are not surprised by current attacks. In fact, we trans people have been warning about them for ages, but typically our concerns have given little priority -– just as our calls not to issue a visa to an UK rabble-rouser could have helped avoid Nazis on the streets of Melbourne and feeding right wing forces across the country. Similarly, we queer Christians have called for our voices to be heard properly but, with notable exceptions, many key Christian leaders and some queer people have given little priority to our concerns – just as our calls to help us address the now visible Christian Right in Sydney could have helped avoid the violence on Sydney streets. This - must – change: both for the sake of trans people and queer people of faith and for us all. For an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us. Our attackers think that trans people and queer Christians are easy and weak targets. Well, we are so not weak in spirit, but we are not as strong we could be if we had greater voice and empowerment. This simple solidarity photograph is therefore a declaration of that intent...
I speak as both a transgender woman and as an Anglican priest, currently serving as an Uniting Church Minister. As a Queer Christian I am not alone. There are many of us in Sydney, and across the world. For we, and queer people of other faiths, have always existed. We can be found in the Bible, throughout history, and we are very much alive today. Yet our lives are so commonly denied. For we are an inconvenient truth: inconvenient both to the Christians who oppose us, and inconvenient also to others, including some in the queer community, who would deny our lives. As such, we are at the heart of the continuing culture wars we seek to end today and we share in the solidarity and hope which this gathering embodies. Indeed, without us the battles we face together simply cannot be won. We so need each other and we badly need others to hear our voices and act upon them...
As part of both Equal Voices and Pitt Street Uniting Church, it was an immense delight to launch our Queer Faces of Faith photo exhibition - check out the photos and stories online here - at https://www.amplifyqueerfaith.com.au - and/or visit the physical exhibition at Pitt Street Uniting Church in the heart of the city of Sydney from 16 February to 31st March (before it goes on tour!).
The physical exhibition will be accessible during the Sydney World Pride and Mardi Gras festival period 17 February - 5 March (10am-2pm - at least - daily).
#AmplifyQueerFaith #QueerFacesOfFaith #QueerAllyFacesOfFaith
It was an immense delight, and honour, to meet and share tea, conversation, stories and inspiration with the wonderful Peter de Waal - such a gorgeous person and one of our great LGBTIQ+ elders.
Peter and his equally terrific partner Bon enabled so much over the years, not least the vital public breakthrough with the ABC Chequerboard program in 1972 - including the famous first ‘gay kiss’ on Australian TV. Bon’s subsequent sacking as a church secretary was also but one part of the religious and other repression that then issued, but his and Peter’s willingness to stand up and speak out in those dark days has helped bear such fruit and should continue to empower us today. Watching the original Chequerboard program with Peter was deeply moving, particularly in hearing Bon speak so powerfully (as a then would-be Anglican priest, cruelly treated by his Church - not only in Sydney - which still has to grow up into humanity) reflecting life-giving faith as well as life and identity, and in hearing much more from Peter of accompanying stories, complexity and background. Without heroes like Peter and Bon, some of us would not be here today and certainly where and how we now are. Huge thanks therefore continue to be right and proper (as they say in some liturgies) and I certainly hope we may all meet again.
With many thanks again to '78er and fellow Pitt Streeter Meredith Knight for her friendship, inspiration and liaison in bringing us together.
It is (sadly) interesting to me that, whilst I am a lifelong Anglican, and one with decades of helping lead Anglican teaching and formation, my mother Church tradition rarely asks me to contribute to ways out of its neurotic obsessions with sexuality and gender, whereas others in other spaces do (‘a prophet is not without honour’ and all that?).
Here is a latest offering, with thanks to The Sisters of the Good Samaritan for the opportunity to offer a brief perspective on how flourishing LGBTIQA+ lives flow out core elements of Catholic wisdom down the centuries - not least in considering family, the Body, natural law, the imago dei, and God’s grace in Creation.
‘this is about reclaiming Catholic emphases on the centrality of God’s grace in the diverse expressions of creation and incarnation, rather than imposing false ideas of sin and shame on those who are actually gifts to help lead us into greater life together.
LGBTIQA+ people of faith do not need welcome, or inclusion, for we are already at home with God, as family members and part of Christ’s Body, wholly natural, and imaging the divine in our diverse ways. What we do need is space to flourish, and thereby we can enable others to flourish also.’ See link to the article iFlourishing Together' in The Good Oil here - or text below...
renewing Christian feminism
I am praying in the next few days for women in the many denominations of the Church, as some of my dearest Australian Anglican friends gather in Sydney for a Movement for the Ordination of Women gathering to mark the 30th anniversary of Anglican women's ordination in Australia. Due partly to family circumstances, neither Penny not I are attending ourselves. To be honest, we were also quite saddned that our offer of hosting an ecumenical communion service at Pitt Street UC was rejected - leaving the conference with no public female-led Anglican communion, due to Sydney diocese gynophobic policies. We had also hoped that, with such Anglican female sacramental leadership, this might be a way of connecting, celebrating, and empowering women from many traditions. It seemed a creative way of both honouring the more militant character of MOW, without which women would all still be waiting, and also contribute to the vital tasks of intersectional solidarity we need today. However we truly and warmly wish everyone well and hope that it may help renew the continuing work of Christian feminism which remains so vital...
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 😻
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.