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...
Among the several fine contributions to last Saturday’s ‘Voice and the Church’ gathering was that by the Revd Dr Rangi Nicholson, Assistant Priest of Rangiatea Church, the oldest Māori Anglican Church in Aotearoa, and author of ‘Treaty, Church and Nation’, reminding us that though our own struggles are specific they are also common and enriched by solidarity with others across the globe. He spoke powerfully of what needs doing from Māori and Anglican experience in Aotearoa New Zealand - including how, without meaningful resources empowerment is limited, and how the Church needs to be held accountable for benefitting from oppression. There is so much, he rightly identified, that the Church needs to do in terms of recognition, repentance, restitution and reparation.
His three future hopes are pertinent to struggles in Australia too, and beyond:
1. More commitment by the Church to truth telling and ‘the whole story’ - with repentance and reparations
2. the Church needs to put its own house in order re authentic partnership whilst offering constructive critique of Government’s commitment to the UN rights of Indigenous People, reimagining a more just Church and nation.
3. the need for the Church to contribute boldly and with love to a new constitution - to visioning and values clarification for the future of the country - as part of restorative justice
As he says:
Whilst Treaty, in the experience of Aotearoa, can be a ‘sacred covenant’ allowing new life and renewed attention, there needs to be much more - for:
‘Restorative justice needs to become a priority’ - led with young people...
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
The prayer I wrote for this Good Friday I put with this powerful arresting image from Hailey Kean (courtesy of Unsplash). For whilst Good Friday is also about the ultimate triumph of Love, it is vitally about facing and holding the cruel realities of life and betrayals of love - which are very, very real for so many this day, including in the devastating pain of violation, abuse and silencing of victims. There can never be new life for the abusive and violating structures and features of the church and the world without this recognition, and deep, demanding, repentance - also not the work of a single year or decade, never mind one day in the year. Irrespective of legal rights and wrongs, this is, for example, a powerful message to be heard from survivors after the High Court's verdict on George Pell's case this week.
May those who have been violated and abused know that they are not their violation and abuse but love and loved, and my the light of resurrection ultimately shine in the midst of the crucifixions of this time.
A few days ago I was approached by meditation friends to lead a flag washing ceremony this Australia Day. I am happy to do so. The concept is deeply peaceful and nonviolent. Washing is a natural, soothing and renewing process and has spiritual resonance with all kinds of faiths and cultures. As a response to the challenge of celebrating Australia on the day of dispossession of its first peoples and ancient cultures, it is also a creative one. Surely that is a conflictual and offensive anachronism which one day will be replaced by another date for a genuinely whole community affirmation of Australia's amazing nation? In the meantime, washing the flag is one way in which we can together ask for healing and renewal for us and the wider world. Whereas burning a flag is a furiously aggressive and destructive act on various levels, washing can be both an appropriate act of repentance and reconnection.
Within Australia, the inspiration for our Toowoomba flag washing comes from Western Australia, where, on 27 January last year, a group of Christian leaders led a public ceremony of repentance outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre (see story here). The liturgy used was drafted by the Revd Elizabeth Smith and is the basis for the one I have drafted for our own gathering here.
Our flag washing ceremony is open to all and will take place towards sunset at 5.30 pm this Monday, 26 January 2015 in the Tom Doherty Park in Acland. Such a venue, built and maintained by volunteers over decades, was suggested by those who approached me as appropriate because it is a symbol of community life and hope. For Acland, today radically changed due to mining developments, has been a place of contention over a number of years and a place which thereby symbolises many Australians' longing for healing and reconciliation. As the friends who will join me have expressed it:
The Australian flag is a powerful symbol. It has the strength to unite. The act of washing is tender and compassionate. It symbolises a desire to be a nation that is kinder, more gracious, more generous and inclusive of all who live here and of our natural treasures.
As we join together in this symbolic act of purification, we cast aside despair and argument and celebrate our shared values and the decency of ordinary people.
We understand how very blessed we are living in this amazing country.
We believe that if we are all people, we are all equal.
We believe that good will prevail and that light will flourish.
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.