Thanks to ABBI (in this Trans Awareness Week) for featuring the 25 minute documentary Faithfully Me - now available (after being on ABC licence) here online and for educational use etc. Among other things, it is wonderful to be reminded of the fabulous support I had in coming out from so many Anglicans in southern Queensland - not least my amazing colleagues at St Francis College and in Milton parish, the terrific Dean and community of St John’s Cathedral Brisbane, and our border collie!
A brief synopsis:
‘Coming out as transgender in a Christian environment from two different sides of the pulpit has its challenges. Faithfully Me is a 25 minute documentary that follows the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin, Australia’s first openly transgender ordained priest, and Rhett Pearson, a transgender man, as they embark on their own individual quests to reconcile their true identities and their faith. Meeting the significant people in their lives gives further richness to their stories.’
As both a transgender woman and an experienced Anglican priest, it is highly disappointing to hear of the recent resolution of the Anglican Synod of Tasmania about what it calls ‘Biological Sex’. This betrays all the faults of what was a very late ‘motion without notice’: being ill-considered, under-informed and divisive, especially in its lack of attention to Anglican and other transgender people’s own well-substantiated experiences of faith and identity. For both Tasmania and the Anglican Communion are blessed with many wonderful transgender people who continue to enrich our communities and bring new life to others. What a difference it then makes when we are listened to and engaged constructively. For my own experience is that, in affirming rather than denying our authentic God-given (not human labelled) gender, transgender people are indeed so much more fully incarnate, at peace and flourishing in our skins, biology and divine purpose. Denying this not only helps maintain unnecessary suffering but restricts the love and joy we have to share within the Church and wider world. After all, St Paul (in 1 Corinthians 12) encouraged the Church, as the Body of Christ, to value its members that are weaker and shamed. This kind of action however feels more like being freshly beaten up and an attempt to cut off transgender members, our families and friends. That is not the message of God’s love that Christians have to offer the world.
The resolution also seems to reflect a recently constructed approach to the Bible which narrows God’s colourful and dynamic kaleidoscope of creation to simplistic black and white binary categories. This does not do justice to how mainstream Anglican theology has typically sought to value the rich and varied textures of the scriptures and the best of evolving human reason. Nor does it sit well with increasingly trans affirming developments in many Anglican dioceses, and other Christian congregations, schools, and agencies across Australia. I hope therefore that Anglican leaders in Tasmania will think again and not encourage their parishes, schools, and other agencies to take such an unhelpful path. The same Synod passed other resolutions making a continuing welcome commitment to addressing environmental challenges and supporting people with disabilities. These are just two of many ways in which Tasmanian Anglicans contribute positively to their communities. What a shame transgender people are not yet regarded as worthy of similar full respect and engagement. For neither trans people nor people of faith benefit from perpetuating today’s unnecessary culture wars, especially those of us who are both. Human beings have genuine differences but, as St Paul also put it, we are called to be one in Christ, in whom ‘there is no longer male and female’. We can be, and do, so much more together.
The Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin was ordained in the Church of England in 1986 and has served in many capacities in Anglican dioceses in England and, since 2001, in Australia, as well as an officer of the National Council of Churches in Australia for several years. She is an associate lecturer in the University of Divinity, a member of the global network of Trans and Non-Binary Clergy of the Anglican Communion, and the current Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney.
In the run up to Sydney WorldPride, SBS On Demand 'The Feed' were kind enough to produce a short feature on my wife Penny Jones and I,, which we hope may help and encourage others.
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
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. 💃🙏🦋
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: