I’ve already told you I’m trans. However, now I feel a need to come out to you again – this time as an Anglican.
When I reveal that I’m Anglican to people, they often ask certain questions: “Why are you part of a religion that hates you?” “How can you be both queer and a Christian?”
These questions usually have their basis in a certain belief I’ve frequently encountered in queer circles, and in leftist circles more generally, which holds that Christianity is inherently anti-queer. According to this story, there’s no way to queer Christianity.
This belief poses several problems.
First, it oversimplifies Christian thought. Christianity as a religion is extremely diverse. Anglicanism, in particular, gives its adherents much leeway in matters of faith. You can find everyone from Roman Catholic-style “traditionalists” to “postmodernists” within the Anglican Communion. This narrative usually reduces Christianity as a concept to Roman Catholic or conservative evangelical theology. Though Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism are very socially prominent, their views obviously do not represent all Christians.
Second, it ignores the progress that Anglicans have made within their own faith and in society in general. In recent years, various Anglican clergy have started blessing or marrying queer couples without the Church hierarchy’s say-so. Although it’s against church policy at present, it’s pretty clear that North American Anglicanism will have marriage equality soon, both because support for it is common and growing and because many hardline conservatives have been trickling out of the established church. In the U.S., conservatives have been particularly discontent with the ordination of openly gay bishops, such as Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the American province of the Anglican Communion.
Furthermore, Anglican clergy have also supported the LGBT rights movement within the political sphere. For example, Stephen T. Lane, the Bishop of Maine, openly opposed Question 1, a referendum question in the state which sought to deny queer people civil marriage.
Third, this construction of Christianity creates a bizarre and foolhardy consensus with conservatives, who hold the same beliefs about the inherency of anti-queer messages in Christian theology. This consensus implicitly accepts the conservative reading of the Bible, even though it’s based on cherry-picked verses known as the “clobber texts,” passages interpreted without any consideration of their historical-cultural context – or of the context of the Bible as a whole. By agreeing with conservatives, leftists cede all ground to the conservatives in Christian discourse, which allows them to gain ground among people of faith, since their ideas face fewer challenges in the public sphere. This retreat marginalizes the Christian left, including queer allies.
Fourth, this discourse ironically parallels the gender binary. The binary assumes that all people are straight and cis gender. As a result of these assumptions, society “straight-washes” and “cis-washes” queer people, effectively denying either the existence of queer people as individuals or as a group. In the same way, this idea about Christianity “conservative-washes” Christians, denying the existence of those who dissent from the conservative view.
Such a conception of Christianity erases many people’s personal experiences in faith. At my own current church, Christ Church Cathedral on Ste. Catherine, I see the rainbow flag flying in the narthex every Sunday, and I hear explicitly pro-women and pro-LGBT sermons quite frequently. Most importantly, Anglicanism has provided me with the support to come out as trans. A couple months after I came out to myself as trans, I had lunch with my Anglican minister back home. He suspected I was queer and attempted to make me feel comfortable enough to come out. He was so successful that, several hours later, I came out to my parents, even though I hadn’t come out to anyone else before that, apart from one of my best friends in Montreal and a therapist.
Not surprisingly, then, I find this view of Christianity frustrating.
That said, the church today isn’t queer. Queer people still the face “Christian” bigots, both in churches and in the public sphere, where conservative interpretations of Christianity serve as justifications for bigotry. Additionally, even though there’s support for LGBT Anglicans, there’s still a crucial lack of understanding of what “queer” or “genderqueer” mean – or what the gender binary does. That binary infects Christian ritual – for example, in the Eucharistic prayer, where it’s said that “male and female He created them,” and the binary governs one of the most socially-significant Christian rituals: marriage.
However, I don’t believe the binary to be inherent to the religion – indeed, when I read the Bible, I find a message that opposes all forms of oppression. As a result, I have no intention of leaving the faith. Instead, I seek to queer Anglicanism, just as I seek to queer society.
Quinn Albaugh writes in this space every week. Draw them a fish in the sand: firstname.lastname@example.org.