Wonderful to have Sorèl Coward, my dear friend and fellow Anglican priest, sharing some of her story as a keynote contribution to this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras - another beautiful expression of the rich diversity, generosity and developing life of our fabulous Australian queer community.
For (too) many years, with others, I've coaxed and cajoled. Sadly though, at this transition point, I’m going to have to say it clearly once more - many ‘affirming’ church leaders truly frustrate me and are major problematic parts of the continuing ‘issues’ that churches and wider society have with sexuality & gender Individually some church leaders can be quite kindly in disposition, as well as otherwise gifted, but as a body they are a key element of the (straight) problem we have, alongside the bigots they refuse to face down publicly. It also sometimes feels like they are stuck in a time warp. For two things stand out...
With thanks to the terrific Fr Peter Maher, it was good yesterday to share in our national Equal Voices' welcome of Pope Francis' support for 'same sex' civil unions (see our media release below, and here) - in itself a very small step of LGBTIQ+ affirmation, but historically highly significant and very important within the largest and most powerful Church in the world's largest religion. It is also a small ray of light in the face of reaction (not least recently in the Anglican Church of Australia).
I have to say however that I do remain quite frustrated, not only by the slowness of fuller Christian affirmations, but also by the continued use of the outdated binary term 'same sex' - which has been unhelpfully extended by many (like the leading Anglican Australian bishop aka Primate) to cover relationships like my own 'same gender' marriage. Trans and non binary relationships need to be recognised properly, not just lumped in with binary 'same sex', whilst transphobia is at stake in religious limiting of relationships too. It is multi-dimensional 'equal marriage' we're seeking everywhere, for the diversity of loving human relationships who seek this - not other clumsy conceptions. However one step forward is better than nothing :-) ...
In the face of wider societal backlash, a fellow transgender Anglican priest in Australia (the Revd Sorèl Coward - pictured with my wife and I above) has been refused a license to officiate - this at a time when trans people need all the help we can get, and when we were explicitly excluded from national church ‘same sex marriage’ discussions (the ostensible reason for Sorèl’s rejection), This is such a confused decision by the Archbishop of Adelaide (who is also the Primate, i.e senior Australian bishop, of the Australian Anglican Church) that it is hard to know where to begin or end with the questions it raises. But now it is in the public sphere, I at least will ask some of them - and I hope as many people as possible will do so too. It is a direct consequence of official Church refusal to engage appropriately with the complexity of human gender and sexuality, and how little gender and sexually diverse people are even allowed to contribute our expert wisdom and experience. It is potentially another step to narrow sectarianism and such sad treatment of a lovely person who, ironically, has both the professional expertise and personal experience to help the Church grow in these matters. The affirming model of trans care is clearly vital to anyone with the eyes to see - and this certainly doesn’t involve using people’s long established loving marriages (blessed in Church for God’s sake!) against them. It is more than time for the Church and others to do all that is possible to address the deficit of transgender care and celebration.
Initial coverage of this novel problematising of transgender Anglicans can be found here and here. My wife and I, as married Anglican priest in good standing, have written today to the Archbishop of Adelaide - a letter which can be found below (or downloaded here).
I was told this morning that David Ould (the vocal Senior Associate Minister of the Anglican Cathedral of Parramatta) is once more writing about myself and my marriage and making statements which are a mixture of provocation and exaggeration. This is despite David never having met me, never mind talked to me about this or other things. I will not post a link as I do not like to encourage an audience for his blog. I do wish to state however that several of his statements about my Archbishop and diocese are wrong or misleading and his words should thus be treated as malicious. Sadly - as his column freely admits - such aggression is a consequence of confusion caused by the Australian Anglican Primate's recent action towards another priest (who also happens to be trans, just as some of us have other differing characteristics), particularly the Archbishop's misuse of the term 'same-sex marriage'...
One of the most profound things about being a priest is sharing in great transition times in all kinds of people’s lives. Sometimes these are also marked in special ways at special times and/or places. Sadly, whilst they were much better at this in former ages (including adapting ‘pagan’ practices), Christians recently have often narrowed, and even exclusified, our human ‘rites of passage’ - with beautiful exceptions, like Dorothy McRae-McMahon, who have actively explored words and symbols for a much greater range of vital human experiences. In one sense ‘holy holding’ of transgender experiences is part of this, though particularly gorgeous! 😻🧚
I've shared in other similar occasions in recent times, but I’m really looking forward to this coming Sunday - partly as a contribution to the renewed unfolding of divine presence and naming, encouraging others to the same (seriously its not hard to do!), but above all for the opportunity to lead our parish in celebrating a beautiful person (and increasingly beloved friend) in our Milton Anglican community. The eye shadow may or may not be on show - and glitter is sadly out due to COVID-19 - but there will certainly be dancing in the heart of God. 💃🙏🦋
As my wife Penny and I approach our 35th wedding anniversary next month, we are increasingly aware of how our marriage has become one of God's delightful little prophetic jokes to prompt deeper loving awareness. The other day, for instance, we went to a shop in Brisbane to see if we could buy some dresses for our upcoming renewal of vows event. I found a splendid one I liked quite quickly and the shop assistant asked me if it was for a special occasion. 'Yes', I said, 'Penny and I are renewing our vows in a few weeks time. It will be our 35th wedding anniversary'. The assistant was very professional and just murmured 'how lovely'. For the next few minutes however it was very evident that the cogs were whirring in her brain. Clearly I 'passed' more than well enough for her to be considerably puzzled how two women could be marking 35 years of official marriage. Maybe she wondered if we came from some country she hadn't heard of which had quietly adopted marriage equality decades before others. Perhaps she pondered if there was some special lesbian rite she had never imagined. Whatever the case, as for others in society, and certainly within church circles, our fully sanctioned and richly flourishing marriage had stirred the pot. Once again Penny and I were a gentle loving challenge to preconceptions and an invitation to more expansive relationships and celebration of life...
‘I didn’t marry a gender. I married a person.’
- this has always been a truth of our marriage, before and after Josephine came out as a transgender woman. Just as God ‘looks on the heart’ not ‘outward appearance’ (1 Samuel 16.7), our gender and sexuality are not the core of our lasting relationship. What matters is the love we have for one another, part of God’s greater love. In that way, ‘rainbow marriage’ is also a gift for all...
I speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
Some days we can glimpse why we were put on this earth. Yesterday was one such moving moment for me, as I led a short rite for a soul friend preparing for gender affirmation surgery. We made no extra special great fuss about this. Nor should we have to, for such signs of grace for LGBTI+ people are really very natural, if our world would but allow itself to know it. Yet it was profoundly significant in the journeys we are making at this time. For today's sea-change of understanding gender and sexuality not only brings healing and hope to specific individuals. It also offers vital hope and healing to tired aspects of our society, not least to religious groups and their members. In a profound sense it is thus sacramental: helping to reveal what has been hidden, opening up and helping to sustain fresh pathways of life and transformation. Our short rite yesterday was like that. It publicly honoured deep movements of life and spiritual wrestling which have not only been unacknowledged and unsupported, but often tragically dismissed and disastrously resisted. It also proclaimed that new life for all of us is to be found in the tender solidarity of us all, in the mystery of God's extraordinary and abundant grace and diversity. Our 'transgender' rite was just a small part of our usual Milton Anglicans Sunday parish eucharist. As such however, it was no 'hole in the wall' secret ceremony, but a truly grounded and open affirmation both of a remarkable sacred particular person and of our growing sense of what it means to re-create community and 'church' today. It felt like a renewing movement of spirit for our community, certainly for my own sense of priesthood, and a re-presentation of what it means to be differently ordered bodies together in the body of Christ. It also made us wonder why such things are not expected in the life of all spiritual communities...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: