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 😻
I continue to be flabbergasted (that’s the polite way of putting it) by the attempts of Churches to ‘apologise’ to LGBTIQ+ people whilst continuing to ignore our voices, maintaining shame, and hurting us afresh. The latest astonishing ‘apology’ is by the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Australia - actually ’deploring’ activity which it had itself just demonstrated.
NO - this kind of ‘apology’ is not acceptable and represents a mockery of the deep understanding of costly repentance and reconciliation in the Christian tradition.
Meanwhile, the Uniting Church - with more credibility but with significant holes in its LGBTIQ+ ‘inclusion’, including a current low level of trans awareness and engagement - has also been pursuing an apology process. This is a much better concept but one in which no transgender people have been included in the ‘apology’ group! (so there’s a first apology to make)
A few obvious starters therefore for such ventures:
* ‘Nothing about us without us’
* Cheap grace betrays the Gospel
* Reparations matter
My years in Toowoomba were both full of wonderful things and also wrestling with the need to come out publicly in my authentic gender. So it has been good to reflect again on this as I responded recently to the invitation to share in the Make Visible project developed by artist Shannon Novak with the support of QAGOMA. This aims to grow support for the LGBTQI+ community in Queensland, Australia by making visible challenges and triumphs for this community. One of the satellite sites and partners is USQ at Toowoomba, who asked me to write a short letter, headed 'Dear Toowoomba'. They also invited me to be a part of the Launch of the project 'Its' ok to be me' at USQ and to share in a panel on ways forward. I hope my contribution may be part of contributing to the further maturing of a city with so many fine features and people, but still with a little more work to do in fully celebrating and empowering all its people. It has also reminded me of the many people (and a wonderful dog!) I miss in Toowoomba and its achievements and potential...
A Prayer of Blessing for LGBTIQ+ Celebrations
by Josephine Inkpin, written for Sydney Mardi Gras 2022
You dance among us
in a glorious riot of expression,
embodying afresh the generous love of Jesus,
and all who have embraced love at the heart of being.
Bless all who gather at this time to celebrate
the gifts of sexual and gender diversity.
As you have inexhaustible pride in your rainbow children
so may we have such life-bearing strength
in ourselves and in one another.
Touch our lives and bodies with your transforming Love,
shining light where there has been darkness,
bringing healing where there has been hurt,
and making visible what has hitherto been invisible.
Inspire us to deeper intimacy and interconnection,
opening up the closets of all that remains damagingly repressed,
and leading us along fresh pathways of hope
to a more joyous and glittering future for us all.
Recent weeks have been some of the hardest of my life in Christian ministry. Discussion of the Religious Discrimination Bill proposals fell into another debacle in the midst of concerted opposition and some brave Liberal backbenchers who stood out against the Bill's cruelty in the face of approaching election pressures. The political use and abuse of transgender people, especially school children, was particularly monstrous. Coming on top of several years of similar controversy and very slow positive changes in Churches, the pastoral burdens and spiritual impact was hard to bear. Thankfully, in the Uniting Church at least, opposition to the form of the Bill was expressed from the top clearly and positively. Particularly encouraging was the UCA President's Pastoral Letter which opens up possibilities for real progress, especially in addressing the deficit in transgender and non-binary care and celebration. In general however, there is such a long way to go and the 'gruesome week' demonstrated that amply. Media outlets, notably ABC's The Drum (see, for example, the clip on YouTube above) and the Guardian Australia (see article here) were kind enough to interview me and share some of my LGBTIQ+ faith perspectives, which I know are so vital to so many.
It was an immense joy recently to take a ferry trip out to Watson's Bay to share food and a great time with one of Australia's foremost LGBTIQ+ elders and leaders, Anthony Venn Brown. Although Penny Jones (not least, as one of the very first female priests in England) and myself are pioneers in our own ways, Anthony came out and broke new ground at a time when things were so much tougher for LGBTIQ+ people. His example, encouragement, and continued advocacy and support remains so vital in Australia :-)
For more on Anthony Venn Brown, do read his story in his book A Life of Unlearning - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith and check out his continuing work through ABBI (Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International)
As leading organisations representing and advocating with LGBTIQ+ People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities, we urge that the current Religious Discrimination Bill be withdrawn from Federal Parliament and a genuine participative process be established to enable widely-agreed protective, not persecuting, rights for all. As it stands, the Bill can only enflame and enable further religious-based repression, without addressing the most pressing issues of religious concern, which impact upon marginalised people like ourselves.
So many of members of our religious communities are victims of religious-institution-based abuse and these experiences of abuse are a significant driver of our desire to see real safeguards for people of faith and all Australians, so that we are all able to live out our religious beliefs and other convictions without experiencing harm in our community places, where there should be safe places for all Australians.
We have seen (not least in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child
Abuse) how easily that safety can be lost - and how easily the true religious values of church or religious institutions are lost - when leaders exercise power without scrutiny and accountability. As LGBTIQ+ People of Faith, and People of Faith who support our LGBTIQ+ members, our participation in religious bodies takes many forms, but one central aspect is to challenge the self-serving actions of institutional leadership, and to create and push for checks and balances to the abuses of power and political influence in the hierarchies of religious bodies.
We are concerned that this Bill would further embolden those who currently wield so much institutional power, to use this power to the detriment of ordinary People of Faith in religious institutions and schools, who find themselves the target of harassment and bullying for their sex, ability/disability, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity - ordinary People of Faith who are there in every congregation and school, and who ask only to be accepted and supported in their faith journeys.. This Bill, as currently framed, would make it extraordinarily difficult for ordinary people of faith to experience this safety and acceptance; it would make it difficult for us to hold our leaders to account.
LGBTIQA+ people are to be found in every faith community, and have particular need for
understanding and support in contexts where they have historically been abused,
misunderstood and scapegoated. LGBTIQA+ People of Faith don’t just cease to exist
because a particular religious faction refuses to acknowledge their presence. LGBTIQ+
People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities
refuse to stop existing simply because an institution would prefer us not to exist. We are a part of our faith communities, and that we continue to offer service to our faith and our religious institutions. We ask that our basic human rights to be recognised and those of all other vulnerable people whose lives are at threat from this legislation.
Australian Catholics for Equality
Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Australia
Progressive Christian Voice
Rainbodhi LGBTQIA+ Buddhist Community
Rainbow Catholic InterAgency for Ministry
Sydney Queer Muslims
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.