Late November last year I was sitting opposite Liz Edman at the table in our kitchen on the first day she arrived here for a tour of events across the Diocese of Liverpool. Liz is a priest from New York in the US Episcopal Church and author of Queer Virtue, a book which explores the Christian faith through a queer lens. She is soon to release another book Scandal of a Queer God.
While Liz was discovering the delights of British strawberries, scones and clotted cream and I was making my way through a pot full of coffee, at the kitchen table we had a really thought-provoking, profoundly healing conversation about what it meant to hold a Christian faith identity, a priestly calling and a queer identity. Liz was able to share the joy, and also the hurt and anger of living with that calling and the setbacks she faced while answering it.
She speaks about some of this publicly in a fantastic podcast broadcast recently, which is about an hour long and even references Liverpool Cathedral, which you can listen to here.
One of the things I asked Liz during our conversation was, as she is a self-defined ‘queer priest’, who does she feel called to be a priest to? Is a queer priest only a priest for queer people? In response, she said that there would always be people on the margins and always people who needed a priest, and that the majority of people in the Church are loving and accepting of one another. She said it was not worth investing too much energy and time in focusing in on people or groups of people who don’t accept you for who you are. That can be unhealthy. You can make yourself very unwell.
I found this response extremely helpful. It helped reshape my focus a little to what really matters. I have become less concerned with focusing on where I feel oppressed. I would much rather focus on the loving-kindness that exists in the people I know that make up the Church; whether that be the Tsedaqah Community, Liverpool Cathedral, Open Table, my church at home in Crosby, each, in their individual way, lends me a genuine experience of love and hospitality because of, not in spite of, who I am. I am surrounded by people living on the margins and I hold close to me the moments of great love and acceptance that the Church continuously shows me, and most importantly the experience of God in them.
I felt acutely this sense of great love and acceptance at Liz Edman’s ‘Queer Faith Voices’ tour across the Diocese of Liverpool late November. It brought such a diverse mix of people together from different Christian denominations and gave an honest voice to experiences of being both LGBTQ+ and people of faith. There was a warmth throughout the Liz Edman tour as groups of us gathered in churches and grappled with the scandal of the imperfect Christ, the incarnate, human Jesus, and learned to see the Christian faith through a queer lens – one which disrupts rigid, binary ways of thinking and lends us the tools we need for an exciting, authentic, living faith. You can listen to Liz’s lecture on Youtube here.
When the pastoral statement came out a couple of weeks ago, I read it via a link on Twitter scrolling through late at night and if I am honest I felt indifferent about it. I have become used to the rigid view of marriage and sexuality held by the House of Bishops. It was nothing new to me, just something that told me what still stands as the view of the Church on marriage and sex.
It was a badly worded, ill-timed statement and I am sorry that it is causing so much hurt, that it has made a mockery in the media of the Church of England and that it just creates ever more divisions in the Church.
When I read the outpouring of anger and hurt following the release of this statement from friends and people I follow on social media, I tried to put what Liz and I had spoken about into practice. I tried to focus more on what actions could be taken. I began putting more focus into Open Table; considered future possibilities like voting in Deanery Synod; and most importantly continued focusing on my lived experience of love which the statement did not really take into account, rather than focusing on the feeling of being oppressed.
I have felt the force of anger before and it is not good. In early November I was at a Christian conference. I took the microphone and spoke out against a lack of visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in a pamphlet about difference and diversity. I might have spoken three minutes, if that, and I was speaking to a conference hall of about 60, but my palms were sweating, my heart was pounding, my voice was shaking, my jaw was clenched, and I got so aggravated that I used up a lot of emotional and spiritual energy, probably more than the situation really deserved.
Not long after that, the Church of England decided not to elect Brock Womack, a Quaker woman married to another woman, to the Churches Together presidency simply because she was in a same-sex marriage, ignoring all of her other amazing activist work. I shared my disappointment at this on social media. I felt furious and embarrassed by my own Church.
It has been hard as an out, gay, Christian woman not to take personally moments when people in the Church act in a way that affects or oppresses the LGBTQ+ community. If I absorb something condemnatory of same-sex relationships in some sense or other from the Church, it has the power to really personally affect me. My self-esteem, my relationship with my partner, and my relationship with the Church all can become affected. I don’t think the Church realises the ripple effect for ordinary people in the LGBTQ+ community who are working to be disciples of Christ. It is hard from the outset to love ourselves and love others authentically and with integrity. It has felt sometimes like the Church just acts to make this even harder.
A friend sent me this quote in the midst of one slog of an anger spell, and it has become something else I can hold onto. It is from the Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes, and speaks about feeling anger and being practical with anger:
“…be warmly angry, be hot with anger, but do not boil away. Be warmly angry, but do not boil away. Feel what you feel, and turn the feeling to strength. Don’t mourn, organise. Let the person you are in God speak out, so that your own desires and your own anger become the engine for a just world.”Paul Bayes, Christian Today
“Don’t mourn, organise” I think this is the most brilliant response. Our comfort is in our organising, in our coming together, as a Church imperfect but in relationship as a family. We come to the table at least once a week, sitting down for a meal, and from there we can work things out.