Sunday, October 29, 2017

At the Expense of Evangelism: A response to the Archbishop’s defence of the Million Dollar Donation to the ‘vote no’ ad campaign.

I recently spoke on a panel event advertised as ‘Evangelicals Supporting Marriage Equality’. In the weeks preceding the event, I had coffee with an Anglican minister to discuss my involvement as a panellist, the use of the word Evangelical, and whether I apply it to myself.

In this piece, I respond to the letter written by the Sydney Anglican Archbishop, in which he defends the million dollar donation made by the Sydney Anglican Diocese to the Coalition for Marriage, urging Australians to ‘vote no’ in the postal survey on same-sex marriage. But my response to that letter is connected to the fact that I do, in certain key ways consider myself an Evangelical, so I will begin with a consideration of that term. Then, in responding to the letter, I suggest that as Evangelical Christians, we should consider how the million-dollar donation, and the defence of this action by the Archbishop, may actively work to detract from the evangelistic work of sharing the gospel.

Labels and Tags: Evangelical

I'm not particularly fond of labels and tags, but, as someone who spends a lot of time in feminist and queer theory, I understand there is value in declaring one’s subject position. Let me do this without the standard tags: I’ve dated a couple of men and – to borrow from Katy Perry -  I’ve kissed a girl, and I liked it. I’m unmarried and childfree. I read feminist theory. I critique cultural marriage narratives. I’m for feminist, transformative politics and subversive story telling[i].  Two of my grandparents were German-speaking Jews who came to Australia by boat, but I’m an inner-city white girl who grew up in the Anglican church.

I will take the label ‘Evangelical’. I do so because as a Christian there are certain key beliefs and values I align with that fall under the 'Evangelical' tag. The great source of knowledge that is Wikipedia defines Protestant Evangelicalism as a Christian movement which:

maintains the belief that the essence of the gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or the "born again" experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.[ii]

Amy DeRogatis, writing in Church History, uses ‘Protestant Evangelical’ as an “umbrella term”, for Protestant Christians who “who affirm the necessity of a spiritual rebirth” and are “grouped together by their literal reading of the Bible, their emphasis on inerrancy, the imminent return of Christ, mission-mindedness, and in many cases—though certainly not all—their suspicion of "worldliness" and the perils of secular culture”[iii].  While I do not insist on reading the bible through a literal framework, I do believe in the authority of scripture (and I seek to do justice both to the text and to the lived experience of people around me. I figure this is my duty if I'm to adequately pastorally care for my friends and family). I believe in salvation by grace. I do believe the gospel is good news, and I think most people I know would know that I'm always ready and willing to talk of my own faith, and of religion (and sex and politics).

Spending and Defending One Million Dollars

So here I am, a feminist who is critical of marriage narratives, but has voted yes, and a Sydney Anglican and Evangelical, who is deeply concerned by the words that the (my) Archbishop has used in his defence of the million-dollar donation made by the diocese. I find his defence problematic for several reasons, but I want to focus on a particular paragraph which stands in tension with the core Evangelical goal of evangelism. Let’s look at the words of the archbishop, sent in a letter to churches, read at synod and available on the Sydney Anglicans website:

This is not a debate of our choosing. I am sure that we would prefer to spend our energies telling people about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but in God’s providence, this is the point of engagement with our culture at this time.[iv] 

This statement is a striking admission. Firstly, it privileges donating to an ad campaign over and above the evangelical work of sharing the gospel, that is, the good news of salvation by grace and making disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19-20). It removes our agency and responsibility (We didn’t choose to debate same-sex marriage, it was thrown at us, and though we would ‘prefer’ to do something else we are, apparently, powerless to do so). An organisation that can find a spare one million dollars to give to an ad campaign cannot, with integrity, claim to be without voice or agency. But perhaps, most significantly, these words and the donation, actively detract from evangelistic or missional work and activities that Christians are currently engaged in as it deters people from seeing the beauty of the gospel.

A story of Evangelism

            Let me tell you a story of friendship, which is, in it’s a way, a story of evangelism. I first invited Lisa[v] to church over five years ago. She was not my “project”, she is my friend, but I confess that behind my first asking her there was a fair slice of evangelistic guilt; I was aware that I was not doing my bit as an evangelical. I was not inviting people to church. So, I asked Lisa.

She came with me to my local inner-west Anglican church a couple of times. Later when we were both living in London, she would occasionally join me at a small West London church where we attended a traditional prayer book service. Lisa recently told me it was in London that she “fell in love” with “the church service”. Then, when we were both back living in Sydney, and I had found a new church, I again asked her to come with me. We dropped into the afternoon contemporary service, and after a few weeks settled at the early morning, Book of Common Prayer service. For a few years, Lisa came to church steadily and, for a while, went to small group run by a mutual friend. Moved by an announcement in which our minister told the congregation we were at risk of not making our budget, she began to financially give to the church, because she was beginning to consider our church to be her community. During this time, Lisa also came out. 

            Lisa continued coming to church with me. She didn’t, as far as I know, become a Christian. She dates women. She still loves the Book of Common Prayer. She still thinks about Christianity. However, heartbreakingly, as a result of the Anglican Church’s donation to the Coalition for Marriage she has no intention of ever coming back to church. There is no conversion story. No Evangelistic ‘happy ending’ (there’s a phrase I never thought I would write). Some people might think I failed to pray hard enough for Lisa’s conversion. But where I sit, I see many years of investment in a person, in a relationship. I see over five years of actively inviting someone into my spiritual life, by inviting them to church and always being willing to talk about questions of faith and of sexuality. And I also see that in the days following the announcement of the donation, that any sense Lisa had of belonging at church had been eroded. She said to me, “I know it’s not personal, but it feels that way”.

One Story. One Person

            So what. One story. One person. That’s not evidence you say. Sure. It might not be conclusive. But it happened, and it is the truth of our experience. In this week, all I have had time for is to gather personal stories. Anecdotes. I had coffee with a friend on Wednesday. She and her husband are appalled at the million-dollar donation. She sent me a message on facebook a few days later  to say they had spoken with their church leadership and have left their Anglican church. I spoke with a colleague yesterday. A gay man in his fifties, raised in the Catholic church. He’s fully aware of the actions of the Anglican church, and that it is a church I belong to. When people like him look to the church, what do they see? Via messenger, he wrote to me:

it does surprise me that there is enough money to put into some things, yet not enough for others of more importance. I was quite shocked at how much they'd allocated to domestic violence in comparison. I would have thought it was a more urgent and important matter.

Indeed. I’ve seen some clergy try to defend this. They say DFV is getting ongoing funding (which it may well be, and I’m very glad that it is). I’ve seen them suggest that the postal survey is a “once in a lifetime” event, requiring a sudden injection of funds, to stop society irrevocably walking down a path to destruction. The Archbishop’s letter, admittedly puts it more mildly, saying we “should stand firmly for God’s good plan for marriage in a world that has increasingly abandoned that plan.”

            Can we pause and reflect on that for a minute. Even if we work within the framework that views homosexual acts as sinful[vi], what we see in the rhetoric of church leaders, when they describe this money, this campaign to vote no as necessary to stop society abandoning God’s good plan for marriage and walking headfirst into supposed moral decay, is that the prospect of a gay or lesbian couple being married is considered more destructive than domestic and family violence. That is not only deeply insulting to gay and lesbian people, it glosses over the very real danger to those in unsafe relationships.  You might feel like these are very different issues, but at their core, both DFV and same-sex relationships ask us to think about marriage, sexuality and what it means to be ethically responsible. Given that Christians, have traditionally opposed same-sex relationships on the understanding they are immoral, there is also an important question here about what constitutes immorality. Rather than uncritically equate homosexuality with immorality (thereby making a ‘no’ vote seem easy and obvious), it may be more ethically responsible of us to think hard about what immorality is. Because there are many ‘immoral’ or unethical sex acts, and if domestic violence and sexual assault does not evoke at least the same amount of moral outrage and financial intervention as the thought of a committed, monogamous, state sanctioned non-hetero marriage, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions, and perhaps reflect on the bible verse about specks and planks of wood[vii].

Again, I know, the interaction with my colleague is ‘just’ an anecdote. I sometimes wonder when the Archbishop  last had to discuss his actions with a gay colleague or a queer best friend. But even if I am the only person in the diocese with such stories, I believe that even one such story matters. I believe that one person who is no longer coming to church matters. I believe that one family leaving their church matters. I believe that one gay man, looking on at the church while still remembering the hurt of being bullied in school as a 12 year old matters.

We believe in a God who would leave the ninety-nine to go searching for the one. And it just might be that the one, like my friend Lisa, is a lesbian. This week, when Lisa looked at the actions of the church, she learned that, perhaps, in the eyes of the church, she did not matter.

            How I long to tell her she is wrong.

But that doesn't feel genuine. Yes, she matters to me. And I believe she matters to my creator God. But, I cannot, with any sense of honesty tell her she matters to my church. As she walks away from my Anglican church, I want my Archbishop, and my diocese, to know that I didn’t just wish I could have spent my energy telling her about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, I did do that. And I want the Archbishop to know that letting an ad campaign take precedence over evangelistic work signals a major shift in Evangelical church priorities.  While I try to find a way to tell myself it was well-intentioned, I cannot help but think that collectively, the Anglican church risks failing to go looking for the one, choosing instead to feed and protect the ninety-nine.




[i] For ideas on subversive story-telling, see Jack Zipes, (2016),  ‘Once  upon  a  time:  Changing  the  World  through  Storytelling’, in Common Knowledge,  22 (2), 227-283. doi: 10.1215/0961754X-3464961.
[iii] DeRogatis, A. (2005). What would Jesus do? Sexuality and salvation in Protestant Evangelical sex manuals, 1950s to the present. Church History, 74 (1),97-137. doi: 0.1017/S0009640700109679.
[v] Name changed
[vi] For a comprehensive discussion on different approaches to understanding what the bible teaches about homosexuality, I thoroughly recommend, ‘Two views on homosexuality, the Bible and the Church’, edited by  P Sprinkle, published by  Zondervan.
[vii] Matthew 7:1-5

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Things i think about while washing up...

When I was a kid my grandma would often suggest I do the washing up, but she could never just ask me.
She would say things like "Can you do the washing up for your mother?" or "Rosie, you should do the washing up before your mother comes home" (other variations included "be a good girl and... ")
Now, this used to annoy me a lot at the time, and i never really knew why. Sometimes i would snap back "if **you** want me to do it, just ask me to do it." (while thinking, and don't guilt me into it based on what you imagine my mother might want)
it's occurred to me, just now, that there are at least two problematic things going on when we say to someone "Can you do this task for you mother" .. And probably i instinctively knew this, and it's why I always flinched at it.
1) it implies that the only person who might benefit from the task being done is a person's mother, thereby teaching us that only mothers do housework, and only mothers appreciate it being done by someonelse.
2)secondly, and i think this is perhaps more interesting, i don't learn to do the washing up because it is a good thing to do, or simply because it needs doing, i learn to do it, that i might please someone, or be considered a good girl. which is disturbing because housework should not be moral or gendered. it just should be done. (And yes, i am writing a thesis on how we regulate behavior)
I then thought about how sometimes, back in the day, i would be doing the washing up at church, perhaps after supper, or after youthgroup and all the kids had gone home, and often I would clean up for my group and other groups, and someone (usually a man), would say something like "Its so good of you to do all this", or they would imply it was my spiritual gifting. And its a good thing I was also gifted with **some** patience or else there might have been a lot of punched faces, because i would politely smile, or with gritted teeth say, 'someone has to do it', but in my head i would be screaming "THIS IS NOT A SPIRITUAL GIFT. THE WASHING UP JUST HAS TO GET DONE. HERE IS A F*@KING TEA TOWEL"
but at the same time, i had learned that doing this did somehow make me morally virtuous. maybe people would affirm me and give me a round of applause and say "well done Rosie".
and now i think about how i found the New Testament story of Mary and Martha problematic. and i remember how the standard take home was to being encouraged to spend time in God's word, and i used to feel smacked in the face, because somehow simultaneously, i was a good girl when i cleaned up, and people wanted to call it a gift, yet it was also not to be done, because spending time at the feet of Jesus was better.
And whatever other lessons might be in that passage, i couldn't hear them, because my self worth (and maybe my salvation) was somehow in the washing up but it also wasn't, and i knew this .
the take home is not that i often got angry or upset while busily doing things for my church.I did those things (mostly) with energy and enthusiasm, and yes, i do sometimes regret the hours of my life I poured into those activities, but i did them believing them to be of value, and all things said and done, i am glad i did it, and thankful for those years. .. When i started writing this I didn't even realise it was connected to memories of church. that just kind of happened.
the take home is that something as simple as how we talk about an everyday task can actually contribute to all sorts of complex ideas about morality and ethics, about identity, about what it is to be a girl, and about who should do housework. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

We Are Not The Problem

I posted these words this morning as a (long) Facebook status update.

I've decided to give it a title and put it here too.

White male editor of a conservative publication laments that Manchester Bombing didn't happen in Sydney and take out the ABC studios, saying those employed there would not be missed as they make no contribution to society. SMH reports this, ABC asks for an apology and for the statement to be retracted.
This is an incitement to violence. If a muslim or POC said the same words the federal police would be at their door.

Remember that when a muslim woman of colour made comments on ANZAC Day that we (Australians) should remember the people who have been displaced because of war, The political right, who advocate freedom of speech, had a meltdown, called for her to be fired and even deported, and now the ABC has canceled her programme.
We, on the left are not the problem, so if 'we' complain about injustice or racism or sexism, we're not the problem. If we, or anyone of any political leaning, call out violence, sexism, racism or homophobia, we are not the problem. If we say freedom of speech ought to be limited by an ethical obligation to others, we are not the problem. We are not being "politically correct". We are not being "soft". We're not the ones having a meltdown or calling for those who are not "like" us to be deported or for news rooms to be bombed.
If you call out injustice you are not the cause of injustice even though you bring it to light.

you can read the SMH article here

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Apologies & Pixar

This last week I have been thinking about apologies.
Particularly, I have been thinking about the form that apologies can take.

Now, if someone alerts me to the fact that something I have said has upset them, it might seem like the obvious response is to simply say “I’m sorry”. But, the more I think about it, there are a variety of possible responses, indeed a spectrum of responses, and while all of these responses do something, not all of them apologise to the hurt person of allow for reconciliation between us.

Come with me on a journey of thinking about apologies. We’ll consider the form apologies can take, and what the words do. We’ll think about an apology I made, and a Pixar film I wrote about at uni last year that has helped me to think about human relationships.

At the one end of the spectrum we have a response of denial. It denies the hurt of the upset person, and the fact that I said anything that might reasonably cause offense. It takes this kind of form: “Look, you actually misunderstood me, that’s not really what I said”. What happens here, is the fault of bad feeling is placed on the upset person. They had the wrong feeling or the wrong response. I just need to point this out to them, and then we both go on our merry way and nobody has to change. I go on saying, thinking and doing the same things, and the hurt person can go on feeling whatever they like and it is of no concern to me.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have, I guess a response of mortification, where I take on a lot of guilt, and at first our roles seem reversed. I might say “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I did that, I feel so awful that you feel like this.” Now, I’m not sure this is really ok either, because the hurt person might now feel tempted to give ground and say they weren’t really that hurt, and not to worry about it. They might assume they overreacted, even though they’re thankful for the apology. They might even apologise to me for making me feel bad. So what does this apology do? It makes me a supposed victim, and it still erases the hurt of the person I upset. In short, not only did I upset the person, I then emotionally manipulate and bully them into thinking they hurt me.

Somewhere in the middle there are Quick Fix Apologies and Band-Aid Apologies.
In a Quick Fix response I say something like “hey, I’m sorry you feel like this”. This apology has a silent ‘but’. It is really, “I’m sorry you feel like this, but there isn’t anything I can do about it/its not my fault”. Here I see your pain, but I don’t think its any my responsibility. You probably feel obliged to say “no worries”, at which point we both carry on with our lives. We hope the apology covers up the incident, and business as normal resumes. It’s a quick fix because while it might allow a swift return to smooth operating between us, it doesn’t necessarily safe guard against repeat situations.

Very similar to the quick fix are Band-Aid apologies, but I believe Band-Aid apologies have some potential. In a Band-Aid case, I might say “look, I’m sorry you feel this way, but its really not what I intended”. This is ok. It’s a starting point, and I think we all make these kind of apologies all the time, and they do a lot to helping us to get on with our fellow humans. I acknowledge the other person, and I acknowledge their hurt, but I don’t accept any responsibility for it. This kind of response allows me and my friend to kind of patch things up. To stick a band-aid over the situation. She’s upset, I can see that, I’m sorry the situation happened, but it was all a misunderstanding. My friend is appeased, but there is no guarantee I won’t hurt her again, because I might carry on in the same way, and she might carry on ‘misunderstanding and being upset’.

This response though could start a dialogue of reconciliation and apology, because underneath Band-Aids we do often heal. I might follow up my initial comment, and say “I’m sorry you feel this way, and it isn’t what I intended, what can I say or do to avoid this happening again?” And then, my friend and I can enter into a dialogue and discuss the situation, and I can listen to them, and come to understand how my action was hurtful, and which point I might say, “I am so sorry. I’m sorry my words hurt you”.

Now, its possible that I might have said that last apology straight away. I might straight up say “I’m sorry my words hurt you. I’m sorry I hurt you”. Here, I acknowledge hurt, and I acknowledge that I said or did something that created hurt. This is an apology, and again this allows for reconciliation, and it allows for growth. We can grow together.

You might be reading this and thinking, but what if it was a misunderstanding? Or what if that person was having a bad day, was already on edge, or just thinks everyone hates them? Well, first off, I want to say, if someone claims you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. It may have been a misunderstanding, and maybe they do already feel like the world is against them, but if a person feels like the world is against them, then I say we go and stand with them and face that world together, and I can only do that if first I say sorry, and if second I go and listen to them, to paraphrase Maria Lugones, I have to be willing to travel into the world of the hurt person. The idea of seeing from the place of the view point of another, of world traveling is at the core of Lugones’ thoughtful and influential article, ‘Playfulness, “world”-travelling, and Loving Perception’, in which she insists that a failure to identify with another is a failure to love them. Lugones teaches us through the example of her relationship with her mother, as she writes:
To love my mother was not possible for me while I retained a sense that it was fine for me to and others to see her arrogantly. Loving my mother also required me to see with her eyes, that I go into my mother’s world, that I see both of us as we are constructed in her world, that I witness her own sense of herself from within her world. (Lugones: 1987:8).
What Lugones’ is hoping to show us is that empathy, love and understanding of others are interwoven. And an apology, a reconciliation is an act that requires empathy. If I’m to apologise effectively, I must be willing to imagine how my words sound in the ears of the other, even if they sounded fine to me.

Let me tell you of an apology I made perhaps a decade ago, that was made after a misunderstanding, and taught me to look from the eyes of the hurt person, even though they had misread me.
I was in church, perhaps 9 or 10 years ago, and I was sitting towards the front. I was very busy in this particular church. I was on Parish Council, I was a youth group director, I was on the roster at our youth/contemporary service as a Service Leader. I went to regular meetings to plan  and pray for the direction, activities an character of that service.  I was not without influence, though I don’t think I always felt that way at the time. This one evening at church, while I was sitting towards the front, we started to sing a particular song, and I turned to the person next to me and made a face. If you know me, this probably doesn’t surprise you. I’m not shy in letting people know I don’t like the vast majority of songs in the contemporary church repertoire. So, whats wrong with what I did. I don’t like a song, or I thought it was silly, and I make a face. I don’t have to like all the songs, so what’s the big deal? The deal is the song leader saw me, and read my face as being against her. She assumed I was casting judgement on her, on her musical abilities, her service and contribution to the church. She mentioned her hurt to a leader at our church, and I was spoken to and asked to write an apology. At first I was pretty indignant. I wanted to plead my case with this leader. I wanted to justify my actions. I wanted to explain that I didn’t have a problem with the song leader in question, but the reality was a woman at my church was upset because of something I had done. It didn’t matter how justified I thought my action was, what mattered was that I made steps to be reconciled. And as Christians, I think this matters particularly because we are told that to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters needs to happen before we come before God.

I wrote the apology. It was hard. I wanted to say “I’m sorry you are upset”, but my flatmate pointed out to me that this was not an apology. I’m going to be honest here. I don’t remember what I wrote. I don’t remember if my words were good enough. I don’t know if my apology did everything it had to. I don’t know if back then, in my mid twenties, I was capable of seeing that I had hurt a member of the body of Christ. I don’t know if I thought about the fact that if part of the body was hurting that perhaps the whole body was. I really doubt that I did. And I wish I could have done better. But I learned,  learned to be careful of my responses, of my in-jokes, in case they not always be thought of as witty or funny. I learned, but I’m not perfected, and I still sometimes catch myself eyerolling at a key change that I find unnecessary, and I remind myself that instead of demanding that all music be to my taste I should work towards being thankful for the time and talents other members of my church are willing to offer in service of our community.

I write these thoughts after I took part in facebook ‘discussion’ among Christians, where a few loud voices spoke back and forth at each other, and in the end, I don’t know if any of us benefited, or if any of us have had the opportunity to learn or grow from our interactions. In the end, the initial content of the conversation mattered much less to me than the suggestion by one of contributors that a hurt person had to prove they were sufficiently hurt (by him), before he would apologize. Of course, it’s possible I misunderstood him. I don’t know. I wonder, if when we find ourselves thinking someone needs to account for their hurt, if we might think differently if we were willing to travel into their world, and even if we’re sure we’re not to blame, maybe, just in case we are, we should try stepping into their world and seeing what they see.

Last year I wrote about the film Inside Out and the relationship between the anthropomorphised emotions Joy and Sadness. I used them to illustrate a concept of relational  identity and Posthuman subjectivity, as explained by theorists such as Allison Weir (through whom I encountered Lugones) and Rosi Braidotti (who I have been lucky enough to meet!). As I began to learn about relational identity I learned that through empathy and affective solidarity we can begin see the world not as self vs other, or us vs them, and instead we learn to grow in response to our encounters, our relationships, and our embodied experiences in the world. When I reflect on this interaction on facebook, in which a queer girl Christian told a straight white man Christian that his words contributed to an archive of hurtful actions on the part of the church even though he was well intentioned, I wonder what Joy and Sadness might be able to teach us here.

You might recall that early on this film Joy tries to erase and overlook Sadness by finding an out of the way corner for her, drawing a circle round her, and asking her to stay there. What good is Sadness in this mission of making the protagonist, Riley, happy? If you’ve got to insist on being sad, that’s fine, just be sad where you won’t get in the way. Its not until Joy and Sadness are both expelled from headquarters, have together suffered many trials and setbacks and then been separated that Joy, now alone in Riley’s memory dump, sees the value of Sadness. Here in the memory dump Joy can forget herself and cry. Reaching in to the bag she has been carrying which contains Riley’s core memories, Joy takes out a memory she has always considered a happy memory. As Joy replays the memory the beginnings of relational, transformative identification with Sadness occurs. On her second watch, Joy is able to see the memory turn blue, the colour representing sadness. Joy sees that this ‘happy’ memory is more complex, it contains multiple stories. The memory becomes happy only after it was held together in sadness. For Joy, this new identification with Sadness “becomes a process of remaking meaning” (Weir:2008:125). Joy learns to see the value in Sadness, and she learns that valuing sadness need not necessarily make her less joyful, instead it will allow them to work together more productively.

Joy and Sadness remind us that sometimes we need to travel out of the world where we are in control to learn what it is like to be hurt, to be upset, to be outside. To not be in control they remind us that empathy and apologies allow for reconciliation, for getting to know people properly which allows us to identify with people we thought were not like us. If I am a Samaritan on a lonely journey and I come across my cultural other, a Jew, beaten and left for dead, I can step into my other’s world. I can pick her up, and place her where she can recover from the hurt that in this instance, I did not cause, but that maybe I have contributed to or allowed to happen through years of inaction.  If I can do this I have learned to love my other, even though we have our differences.

For me, learning to apologise and to stand in the world of another, is part of learning to love. 

Braidotti, R (2013) The Posthuman, Polity Press: Cambridge & Malden
Lugones, M (1987) 'Playfulness, "world"-Traveling and Loving Perception, Hypatia, 2:2 pp 3-19
Rivera, J (Producer) & Docter, P (Director) (2015), Inside Out (animated motion picture), Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Productions, France and America.
Weir, A (2008) ‘Global Feminism and Transformative Identity Politics’ in Hypatia 23(4), 110-133. Indiana University Press. Retrieved August 20, 2016, from Project MUSE database.
  also, a google image search sourced the pic of Joy and Sadness for me... and apparently it was posted here

 **If you're a christian person and you're thinking about your connections, friendships and relationships with LGBTIQ people, and thinking about the necessity of apologising to LGBTIQ people, whether you should do this, or how it might be done, one thing you might like to consider is visiting Equal Voices, and taking a look at this info on an apology **

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Dreamt My Body

Or: Reflections of an Mres (cultural & gender studies) Student 

I dreamt my body in a warehouse
Hanging from the ceiling.
We planned to leave me there long enough for the lie to be read as truth.
I looked down on my feet, swaying, high above the floor and I feared, the deception being seen through, my body being shot, just to be sure.
I woke, my toes cold, and uncovered,
My quilt tossed aside.

Rub-a-dub dub, three masters students in a pub,
In a corner, dark and damp,
By the low light of a lamp,
One lass proclaims:
I kind of always hoped I’d grow up a lesbian.  Except the thought of going down on a girl is kind of unappealing.
and I respond, sure, but the thought of doing those things to a man isn’t much more exciting.
I stare at the wall. At an actual, literal wall. But maybe a metaphorical one too.  So many years of romance novels, of love songs, of wishing for a happily ever after, of being a morally good evangelical, of running from Cixous and De Beauvoir, of feeling offended by the liberals, coming home to the socialists, squirming at the radicals, but never ever pausing to consider what was beyond the veil of compulsory heterosexuality, because cloaked in the veil I had been unable to see it. And perhaps I will crawl back to them and utter, excusez moi, je vais ecrire maintenant. And I will write, this is all well and good, but what if, after years and years of being this person I rejected her, and, constituted a sexuality that is not one?

We see our bodies as a landscape
Of borders and unknowable terrains.
I planned to leave myself unknown until such time as…
… But now it’s been over a year since the first time the last man held my body against his, and maybe there will be another, and maybe there won’t.
In his kitchen, blues music, softly sweetly, and my cheek, my chest against his, and then suddenly but not surprisingly my lips against his.
Another day, I would drive away from his house and feel some sense of obligation to record the first time he crossed the borders of my body, but I left that page blank.  

On a Saturday night, a tired broken girl lies in the arms of a broken boy, and she wonders what it would be like if those arms were somebody else’s arms. He rolls over and goes to sleep and she lies awake and in her mind summons a vision of the face, the eyes of another. Tries to imagine their smile, wonders whether she would delight in undressing, in being undressed, in their company.  Would she delight in removing the veil, in uncovering herself? And if she takes out her phone, and sends a message in the middle of the night, will she be glad in the morning, will she want to stand somewhere proud and say, this is who I am, or softly, slowly, silently sink back under the sheets, the blanket, the quilt, wrapped in the warmth of the covers.

An intelligent woman, a beautiful woman, a research student, a teacher, starts dating someone. She says, it is so wonderful to be with someone who makes me breakfast in the morning. Someone who wants to shout out from the rooftops how great I am. Another woman says how nice it is to be with someone who listens when she cries. Elsewhere a woman steps out of the shower and cries for no reason in particular. Another crying woman imagines a new life taking form in her body, but immediately replaces the dream with one of loss, and tries to comprehend losing a life that never was. Across town another woman will sleep alone, afraid of the man she has left, because given a chance he would squeeze the life out of her. And we say don’t kiss frogs, but sometimes we only see the prince. Because despite everything, life teaches us that happily ever after is there for the taking. And maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But the ending, which is not an ending, is that we are here, the quilts tossed aside, our toes, our bodies, ourselves uncovered. It is that we are living and that we lived. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

One in One Hundred: a Christian’s experience of negotiating Faith and Homosexuality

I was in my tiny London box of a bedroom getting ready for work in the West End. It was a Wednesday morning, between Christmas and New Years’ Eve, 2012. This is a strange time of year for me. In 1999, at the age of 17, I spent this week on the Mid North Coast, 600km from my Sydney home, living on a campsite with a group of evangelical Christians, telling children and teenagers the enduring good news that Jesus loved them. I did this for ten years.
While planning the 2007 evangelism trip I met Andy. Kind, intelligent, musical, dedicated to God, he quickly became one of my closest friends. He stayed my friend for the two and a bit years I dated an atheist. With amazing empathy, he listened to whatever I threw at him.
And then on that Wednesday morning in 2012, we caught up via skype, and I asked him how his Christmas was, and he said, “Oh, really nice, until I told my family I was gay.”
Sorry, what? I type.
Yeah, not a typo, He replies.
Something was wrong here.
Having grown up in the Anglican Church, I confess that in my late twenties, I carried some unquestioned narrow opinions on sexuality. I had no problem accepting that people, out there, in the world, might be gay. For goodness sake, I worked in theatre. But Christians. They weren’t gay. It was something I assumed could not be possible.
 Later, in Sydney, Andy would tell me he also had assumed being gay was not an option. He was twelve when he started experiencing what most churches will only describe as same-sex attraction. Believing this was sinful, he worked to push those attractions aside.
 While at uni, he dared to ask his closest Christian friends to pray for him. He never said he was gay, or even that he was same-sex attracted, instead, he told them that previously he had found gay porn a temptation. He’d struggled with it. He’d ask them to pray that the struggle wouldn’t come back. But the reality was the struggle, or temptation, or whatever you want to call it was always there. It never went away.
At some point he was going to have to admit he wasn’t a straight man with a misplaced inclination for gay porn. He was, in fact, gay.
Never having heard his quiet prayer to be released from the temptation of gay porn, not having known he’d spent years seeing a councillor in an attempt to banish his same-sex attraction, Andy’s seemingly nonchalant typed coming out message that January morning took me by surprise. I didn’t know what to do with the information he was telling me. What did it mean for our friendship, for his faith? Andy assured me that identifying as a Christian remained his priority, which meant he had to reconcile two supposedly competing and incompatible aspects of who he was.  

Earlier this year, at the start of the Easter break, I drive round to Leichhardt to see Andy, and ask how the process of reconciling his faith and sexuality is progressing. We’re both back living in Sydney. Two years have passed since he began telling people he was gay, since his grandfather said he would go to hell, since a Baptist minister told him it would be best if he never spoke to anyone about his sexuality and a theology student told him he was questioning if it was time to ‘hand him over to Satan’.
I sit on the low brick wall at the front of Leichhardt Uniting Church waiting for him. A sandwich board on the footpath lets me know the church is open, and that justice is found here. Andy texts to say he is running late, but he turns up within five minutes carrying several packets of black sheets that will be used to cover the windows of the church during the candlelit Maundy Thursday service that evening. We leave the sheets inside the church, then head next door to the church owned residence where Andy lives.
In the kitchen he shares with twenty-two other adults, Andy flicks the kettle on and offers me left over gluten free vegetarian lasagne. I decline. We take our Earl Grey back to his room. I sit on the only chair, and Andy sits cross legged on his bed opposite me. It’s my turn to listen.

Andy’s Christian story begins in a similar way to that of many children born to church going parents. He grew up in a Christian family, as had both his parents. There was constant exposure to Christian influence. His family, however, always encouraged him to question what he was taught, and not to take everything for granted.
                “I think,” Andy pauses, “I think I was a pretty snobby kind of Christian, a culture Christian.”
                “A snobby Christian?” I ask, “As in, what you thought about God or how to do church was right and other Christians were wrong?”
                “Perhaps. Well, probably more that I thought being a Christian was definitely better than not being a Christian”. He laughs, “That I was enlightened”.
                Like other enlightened Christian boys, Andy knew God required a strict sexual ethic, but unlike the others, feeling like he was attracted to guys and not girls, was going to make life trickier.
                “So what did you do?”
                “I spent a large chunk of my life trying to get rid of that side of me, and trying to understand where it had come from, and what on earth I had done wrong. I believed, theoretically, that God loved me, that I was a Christian. But I also felt that I was gay. So, I reasoned that therefore, I had to not be gay because I couldn’t be both”
                Andy is not alone in having felt that because love for God was his number one priority, the fact that he was gay, had to be silenced. At my own church, I am told there are some people who identify as same-sex attracted, but when I asked to be put in contact, I was informed they didn’t like to talk about it. I can only wonder what stories they might be able to share.
                 Psychologist Stuart Edser in his 2012 book Being Gay, Being Christian: You Can Be Both, writes of his own pain in reconciling faith and sexuality. As a psychologist he sees many people who experience depression, guilt and shame because they are gay. His writes that just as we can’t be sure how many gay and lesbian people there are in wider society, we can’t really be sure how many are in the church, yet there is no reason to think or believe gay Christians don’t, or can’t, exist. He references several surveys which have tried to determine the percentages of gay and lesbian people in the general population. Most are not conclusive, but suggest around 3% of people are homosexual, however some report up to 10%. When I consider that over a hundred people attend my church, chances are that there will be someone who doesn’t fit the heteronormative ideal, and even if it’s only one person, does not everyone in the flock of one hundred matter?

                Before finding his home at Leichhardt Uniting church, Andy had been going to an inner city Baptist church. He started attending this church in 2006 after moving to Sydney to study at the Conservatorium of Music.  Though he made friends and was involved in the activities of the church, his unfading, but unspoken, attraction to men always made him feel more sinful and less loved than everyone else. Christians believe we’re all inherently sinful, but Andy felt that his sin, the sin of who he was, was worse than the secret failings of others. Yet unlike other character flaws like greed or lack of compassion, the fact he was attracted to men seemed impossible to control.
                On the recommendation of his church, Andy went to counselling, with the goal of understanding, and overcoming, his same-sex attraction. He didn’t call himself gay. In fact, he didn’t think anyone was actually gay, just that some people had been conditioned to think they were. The theory being that without the right kinds of male influences in youth, the need for male affirmation had become sexualised.
                “Did this help?”
                “A bit, because it made me feel less like the way I felt was my fault. But it didn’t solve anything. People would assume I must have had a bad relationship with my dad, been neglected or abused. But my relationship with my dad was great, so the only other theory the counsellor had was peer pressure.”
Without experiencing any real results, Andy persisted in counselling, in asking for prayer, in hoping for change. At the end of 2009, changes did start to come his way, but not in the way he’d expected. Instead, Andy found opportunities to leave Australia.
                Andy travelled the world with many varied motivations. He went to South East Asia to take part in humanitarian projects helping with community development; he want to Germany to attend language schools; he moved to London for teaching experience. One of the unexpected, though perhaps not all that surprising, outcomes was the opportunity to experience different expressions of Christianity, and as a consequence rethink his own faith. The snobbery he had felt in his secure, educated, mostly middle class existence began to fade.
                “I met a lot of different types of Christians. They practiced Christianity differently. They had different theological understandings to me.”
                “How where they different?”
                “Oh!” Andy, makes a long exclamation that is part sigh, part a gathering of thought. “Experience of the Holy Spirit. That was a really big one. I couldn’t understand why so many of these really solid, so called bible believing Christians, who really had their faith built around an academic understanding of Scripture, could brush away so much of experiential faith.”
The Christians Andy met while travelling, were all experiencing their faith within the bounds of their own cultures. All these people were living and worshipping in different countries, in different spaces and with different influences. But they were united in experiencing the Holy Spirit as a reality in their lives. Belonging to God was perhaps bigger than belonging to a particular denomination, and physical local church.
                The process of analysing his faith enabled Andy to reconsider the expression of his sexuality within the context of that faith. When Andy came home in 2012 he wanted to get on with being committed to the church, to mission, to serving his community, to caring for those who were in need. But now having seen so many other types of church, as Andy sat back within the walls of his Sydney church, it didn’t feel like home anymore. He wanted to be able to talk honestly about his sexuality, and for it to be ok for him to admit who he was. He wanted to stop cagily talking about a weakness for gay porn, and stop pretending he was still looking for the right woman to cure him of illicit desire, and be his wife.
                Over the winter his church took a break from regular weekly bible study meetings and ran some topical sessions. Working with a local ex-gay ministry organisation, his church hosted some sessions on Christian responses to homosexuality. Curious, Andy went. On the final night the main speaker, a man now married but who had previously identified as same-sex attracted, said he’d never met a same-sex attracted man who’d had a good relationship with their father, implying that the key to a successful ministry was to first deal with the broken relationship.
                Andy was uncomfortable.  People had been telling him this for years now, and it ignored the complexity of his situation. At the end of the session, he walked away from his friends and went to confront the speaker.
                “You can’t use that line with integrity anymore. You’ve now met a same-sex attracted man who has a great relationship with his dad. Me”
                Reflecting on the talk, it occurred to Andy that this man, who was married, was confessing to the fact that sometimes, just like everybody else, he still had to resist temptation, to be careful with the material his eyes strayed upon while he was online. That sometimes, the lure of gay pornography still called. People in the audience had nodded along, but suddenly Andy thought, hang on, most men, would be choosing to turn away from graphic pictures of women, not men. And maybe if the attraction is still there, even though you married a woman, and had children, maybe you’re not ex-gay at all. Maybe you’re actually gay. Andy was done with lying. He wasn’t going to change, he’d tried for fifteen years, and he’d had enough. He was gay.
After this Andy spent around six months reading and considering the passages of scripture that seemingly spoke against homosexuality. Still cradling his now cold cup of tea, Andy looks at me.
“At that point I thought, this is just kind of like a disease or something, perhaps like being born disabled. It’s something that’s not necessarily part of the natural order, but, something that just is, and therefore we find a way of dealing with that.”
I simply nod.
 “I thought, you know, people weren’t designed by God to move about in wheel chairs, they’re designed to walk on two legs, but, we’re in a world where bad things happen. People can be born disabled, through no fault of their own, through no external circumstances either, and we find a way of coping.”
For a while Andy framed his homosexuality within this context. Ideally he would have been straight, but he lived in a fallen world, and he was gay. He would admit to it and live with it. He would be different to everyone else.  He would choose to be celibate which would be tough, but that seemed the only way forward. The alternative, seeking a gay relationship surely meant leaving the church, and in his heart, Andy knew he wanted to stay. The church, well more accurately God, was his first love.
“I thought, God wants me to live a holy life, so that’s the kind of life I will live.”
                Andy began to accept who he was. But this reasoning pathologises homosexuality in a way that, long term, isn’t particularly helpful. Celibacy is a difficult calling. Whether freely chosen for the sake of committing to mission, or in the case of the Catholic Church, entering the priesthood, or because you’re single and believe the only right expression of sexuality is within a heterosexual marriage, it is a difficult road to walk.  If your community does not support you, or is structured in a way that implies single life is somehow less valid, committing to celibacy will not only be difficult, it will be isolating and unappealing.
                Andy went to see his minister to talk through his concerns.  The conversation was abrupt. If he wanted to stay in the church and stay on ministry teams, he was to be celibate. Andy laughs dryly as he tells me the line from his minister was “the day you enter a relationship with another man is the day your relationship with this church ends”. He decided to leave before that happened.

                Many people might never have stepped into a church again. But Andy searched for a church that welcomed gay and lesbian people, and he found Leichhardt Uniting. The church website advertises that they are a safe and affirming church, welcoming people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.  The church leadership seek to be loving and supportive of all the people in the congregation, regardless of their background, status, ethnicity or sexuality.  
                The reverend Dr John Hirt, who leads the congregation at Leichhardt knows several ministers who are quick to acknowledge they have friends who are gay, or that there are gay and lesbian people in their churches. However, it often transpires these people are on the periphery of parish life. Dr Hirt, however, strives to include gay and lesbian people in all aspects of church life, to demonstrate that he believes all members of his congregation are equal in the eyes of the Lord. If people in his congregation have gifts and talents that can be used to serve the community, if they live in a way that demonstrates the reality of their love for God, if it appears that the Holy Spirit is shaping the character of an individual, these are the things Dr Hirt looks at, not their sexuality.
                Being welcomed by Leichhardt Uniting gave Andy a place to continue living as a committed Christian, without feeling ashamed of his sexuality.  He met and talked with other gay Christians. One couple, have been together for a decade. There are gay Christians on the leadership team, leading music, contributing to decision making and planning. They readily admit that being able to be so involved at church keeps faith at the centre of their life.
                In a community that so happily recognises gay and lesbian Christians, Andy finally felt he was allowed simply to be. Rather than be questioned for even daring to think he might be gay, or might want a relationship one day, Andy could be supported in coming to terms with the tricky passages on immorality, and the apparent sinfulness of homosexuality. He grappled with definitions of sin. After much prayer, bible reading, meditation and reflection, it seemed sin was something that was damaging. Either to himself, to others, to his relationship with God or to his ability to witness. According to this understanding, being gay did not seem sinful, and ultimately nor did the prospect of going out with another man. He questioned what he believed about salvation. He was not saved by not being gay. He was saved through faith in Christ.

                “Do you ever feel angry at God?”
 “No, not angry. I used to feel disappointed that I couldn’t be straight. Now I’m disappointed in the response I sometimes get from other Christians,” Andy looks down. “Sometimes there is a happiness in ignorance. Sometimes you can go along to church and think you’re thinking about things, but you’re not really.”

                It’s now dark outside. My tea is finished. The Maundy Thursday service will be starting soon. I want to give Andy so many hugs to make up for all the years where, because he felt unable to talk about his sexuality, I wasn’t able to be as supportive as I would have liked to have been.  It’s a good thing I have this life and the next to make it up to him. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

All That Remained

The first morning
I woke up in your house
You walked outside
To find
That in the night
Your bird had flown away
And all
That remained
Was me
And her cage.