Young Queer Theologians and Activists talk about the Importance of Safe Spaces in Faith Settings

By YVC Secretariat – Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Queer Theologian in Praxis (QTIPS) and Youth Voices Count officially launched its first online course on Queer Christian Theology. This unique engagement with faith-based organizations and queer theologians would hopefully pave a way in creating safe spaces for LGBTIQ youth in conservative faith-centered spaces. The classes are spread out over the course of four months and conducted via Zoom. Coursework and discussions are conducted via Google Classroom. Currently the course has participants from different countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, South Korea, Thailand, USA and Canada.

The course’s objectives are hinged on contextualizing the articulation of queer theology, utilizing queer theology to deepen and create safe and sacred spaces for sexual minorities, and to design and produce learning materials that would promote and advance the cause of queer justice.

The course explores academic literature on contemporary Christian Theology from renowned authors. The book collection which constitute as an integral part of the course syllabus include the works of Linn Tonstad (Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics), Marcella Althaus-Reid (Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology: Readings on Poverty, Sexual Identity and God), Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. (The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament), and selections from Asian theology scholars and authors.

This course is even more relevant to the existing and volatile social and political environment across the world when we look into the 2019 “State Sponsored Homophobia Report” of ILGA World. The report paints an important picture of legislation and policy influenced by religion across various countries. The report provides a contextual background of legislation that criminalizes the expression of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These laws are heavily influenced by religious dogma, cultural traditions, belief and values and are therefore not easily averted. However, from the report, we can also discern that LGBTIQ-friendly and affirming religious institutions, faith-based organization, and faith leaders can be strategic and effective allies in the marriage equality and decriminalization advocacy spaces.

In the introductory class of the course, the group discussed Patrick Cheng’s book Radical Love: Introduction to Queer Theology. The introductory class gave the participants the opportunity to discuss the definition and sources queer theological teachings and principles. The vision of this online course is to develop transformative and radical spaces where queer theologians are equipt with practical knowledge and resources in doing advocacy work.. We are building a community of young queer activists with the mission to create inclusive, affirming, and queer-friendly faith spaces. We have asked some young participants of our online course about their aspirations and activism.

Amadeo Devin

(he/him/his or they/their/them) is from Jakarta, Indonesia

He is currently a staff member of the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Trauma Studies at the Jakarta Theological Seminary. He is a Pentecostal and belongs to a local Pentecostal church in Indonesia.

Q: What inspired you to participate in this queer theology course?
Amadeo: I was concerned by the fact that Pentecostal churches in Indonesia predominantly oppose sexual and gender diversities. The root of this opposition is limited openness to science, but also the lack of understanding of, and exposure to queer theology as a way of doing theology. Another underlying cause of this opposition is the high view of the Scripture to the extent that Scripture is unchallenged because it is a product of divine inspiration. My objective is to introduce queer theology to the churches, mainly the Pentecostal churches as a feasible way of doing theology. It should be understood that theology is not only construed out of the Scripture, but in dialogue with individual and communal experiences of God's many creations, including people of queer identities. I feel that it is important to familiarize our churches with queer theology and create a space for dialogue between the Pentecostal theology and queer studies to construct a Pentecostal queer theology, which is relatively unknown of among the majority of Pentecostals in Indonesia.

Q: What are the main obstacles in advocating for gender equality and social justice in faith settings? How can these be addressed?
Amadeo: I think the main obstacles lie in the high view on the Scripture. People read the Bible as a document of faith that is solely concerned with spiritual things. The Bible is regarded as a set of guidelines for a nourished and healthy relationship with God to make us more spiritual. There is a proclivity to overlook the fact that the Bible is full of narratives that show God's contempt for social injustice, and also gender inequality. For example, in the Book of Amos, the author expresses their despisal of the rich and powerful who amass their wealth at the expense of the poor. This is a telling and obvious denouncing of injustice that can be found in the Bible. Paul, in Galatians lays an important yet oft-forgotten creed of early Christianity, by saying that in the Christian community, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female for everyone is one in Christ Jesus (for reference; Galatians 3:28). These are the evidences that the Bible is not impassive or silent when it comes to God's or the prophets' stance on social justice and gender equality. It is true that it can be found elsewhere that the Bible might sound misogynistic or unjust. Here we should be open to the possibilities that the Bible, regardless of being divinely inspired, was written with different motifs. A way of addressing this issue I think is by introducing a critical point of view of the Bible through Bible teaching classes, Bible discussions, etc. I think there should be a space for Christians to discuss the Bible critically, not with the intention to attack the biblical accounts of it, but to get a clearer sense of what the Bible actually says.

Q: What is the importance of queer theology in ensuring safe spaces for people of diverse identities in our faith spaces?
Amadeo: I wrote in a forthcoming article that queerness stands in opposition to any kind of fixation of one's identity, which produces hegemony and power-relation. I think queer theology is a critique of any fixation of the depiction of God or God's creation. Queer theology, built on postcolonial theories and postmodernism, is I think an acknowledgement of diverse identities. Queer theories -- major theoretical framework of queer theologies -- can even be critical of LGBT discourses that are excessively informed by the western notions of them, and hence neglect and exclude other modes of queerness in non-western contexts. This is why I agree that queer theology can be used as a foundation for the acknowledgement of multiple and hybrid identities in our communities of faith.

Amadeo advises young people, “not to invest your time in the people you cannot change, people who do not want to listen to your message; it is a waste of time. Find a common ground and spaces of negotiation to share your views with them; you will find it as you know them better”.

Julian Munro

(they/them) is from Toronto, Canada

They are a member of the United Church of Canada.

Q: What inspired you to participate in this queer theology course?
Julian: My queerness is encompassing of my whole self and therefore is engrained into the work that I do; my mnistry and my passions lie in putting the spotlight on queer individuals and fighting for justice. This course is going to give me the opportunity to learn about how God is working through others whom I never would have.

Q: What are the main obstacles in advocating for gender equality and social justice in faith settings? How can this be addressed?
Julian: Each person faces personal obstacles when engaging with unwelcoming faith settings, and I want to urge individuals to stay safe always. In my experience, many obstacles come when folks in congregations don’t want to “change anything” and keep the status quo. In these situations, I start small: find one or two people who are willing to listen and hear you. From there, you can rely on those people. It becomes less difficult as your “team” grows.

Q: What is the importance of queer theology in ensuring safe spaces for people of diverse identities in our faith spaces?
Julian: Queer theology helps ro radicalize our understanding of God’s love and God’s meaning of “ALL”. We are safe, seen, and grounded when our queerness is incorporated into our faith.

Julian advises young LGBTIQ people to remember that “God’s love is all encompassing. Anything that is within the human process (including all gender and sexual identities) is within God’s creation and is therefore precious in God’s eyes. That is the message we are spreading: we are just as loving and capable of spreading God’s word and our queerness makes us strong.”

Jonie Ben A. Marasigan

(he/his) is from the Philippines

He is a proud member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines - Christian Youth Fellowship. Currently, he is the national chairperson for Christian Education and Nurture of the CYF and working at the national office of UCCP as a support staff. He is facilitating the gender justice discussions and also serving as an HIV peer educator and community based motivator in their church and wider communities.

Q: What inspired you to participate in this queer theology course?
Jonie: Being able to meet new international friends and to hear the struggles of my fellow gender minorities in different contexts and experiences in advocacy works is the main reason why I joined this course. It will help me to be a more equipped gender rights advocate and a youth leader of the church.

Aside from it, being blessed to be invited to participate in the Queer Theology Course without paying any expenses, without having to go anywhere during a pandemic, and in a safe space set-up, gave me a reason to accept the challenge in developing myself and to gain more knowledge on the matter. I contemplated that this opportunity is highly beneficial to our church, specifically my organization whenever my learnings will be applied and integrated in our programs.

Q: What are the main obstacles in advocating for gender equality and social justice in faith settings? How can this be addressed?
Jonie: One of the obstacles in advocating for gender equality and social justice in a faith-based setting is the standards and norms set by the society, as well as the church which have been continually passed on for generations. For a long time, the church has instilled the idea of God who only created male and female, that being in a same-sex relationship is a sin, that we should dress based on the standard clothing of being a male or female, and many more.

Another factor that serves as our challenge for this kind of advocacy is the privileged and selfish thinking of the members of the church. Even though they can see the struggles of others, some of them are neglecting and staying silent on the issue, just because they are not directly affected, and they are in a higher level of societal status.

Given these kinds of struggles in our advocacies, there is a great challenge for us to continue educating them in order to break these barriers and boundaries, and to obliterate the discriminatory, stigmatizing, and exclusive mindsets that the society inculcated to us.

Q: What is the importance of queer theology in ensuring safe spaces for people of diverse identities in our faith spaces?
Jonie: Generally, queer theology has opened up the church as a movement for inclusivity and diversity. It has essentially become an avenue to critically analyze the understanding of the bible, specifically with a gender justice lens. Furthermore, it transformed the conceptualization of the “church” and the underlying meaning of being a “church”. Alongside the society’s queer movement, this theology has advanced the call for the church to be a safe space for people of diverse identities and it strengthened and transcended the voice of empowerment into different faith communities.

Moreover, it transforms the embodied conservative theologies of the church to be inclusive to all wherein there is not just acceptance for the existence especially of the LGBTIQ+ community, but the struggles are acknowledged and fundamental rights are respected. And most of all, it helps to attain the basic mission of the church – to be a sanctuary for all.

For Jonie, acknowledging the continuous struggle of gender minorities, he mentions that the call to action, especially to young people, continues. This call to action, “will be attained if there is a consistent and collective action to arouse, organize, and mobilize.

            Arouse. We should awaken everyone from being close-minded as a result of the norms and standards set by the society through continuous education like theological studies on gender and sexuality, forum, etc. By having enough awareness, a fundamental change in approach will possibly occur.

            OrganizeAfter educating ourselves and others, we should organize ourselves and form advocacy groups that will serve as a safe space for everyone and will help to voice out the struggles that we have.

            Mobilize. Upon organizing, there should be an expression of our advocacies. We should strategize on how we can bring our advocacies on different levels. We can initiate model communities, programs, and campaigns where every individual can participate.

            Through this cadence, the youth will be deeply immersed and will be able to comprehend the purpose of forwarding calls for gender justice. Changing their mindsets implies changing their environment or the culture they are submerged in. And there is still a big gap which can be addressed through creating communities of the same mindset and shared purpose.”

 

When faith communities take a stand against bigotry, discrimination, and opppression of LGBTIQ individuals, they undoubtedly create a ripple of affirmative and positive messaging for LGBTIQ communities. One such landmark statement came from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a mainline Protestant group and Christian denomination in the Philippines. The UCCP statement entitled “Let Grace Be Total (LGBT)” in 2014 recognized that the condemnation of LGBTIQ communities is largely due to the “cultural ethos and values that are so patriarchal in nature, legalistic in perspective, pharisaic in world view and self righteous in outlook”. The statement avers that the church’s role to address the prejudices of society is to “engage in educational seminars and fora on this issue for both members and the wider community”. Since the statement, UCCP has taken proactive steps in their programming and ministry for LGBTIQ individuals.

(Members of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines during the Metro Manila Pride March 2018. Photo taken by Irish Inoceto)

While the present course being offered by QTIPS and Youth Voices Count is focused on queer Christian theology, we are exploring opportunities and building the capacity of our membership to continue working with faith-based organizations in developing safe spaces for LGBTIQ communities within religious contexts and communities. Acknowledging that there are various religions across Asia and the Pacific, we hope to engage these faith communities through similar knowledge sharing and capacity building programmes.

Some links to information and resources on Religion, Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights:

  1. The Global Interfaith Network for People of All Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions – established during the 2012 ILGA World Conference, GIN strives to provide safe space to convene, document best practices, develop resources and together create local, regional, and international strategies for the decriminalization of LGBTI identities especially with LGBTI people of faith from the Global South.

  2. The Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum – a programme of the Salzburg Global Seminar seeking to advance the human rights of LGBT people and communities around the world.

    a. The Global Online Forum on LGBT* and Faith – an online discussion about the inclusion of LGBT* people in faith communities and religious and cultural traditions.

  3. ILGA Asia Reports and Publications – ILGA Asia is the Asian Region of ILGA, representing more than 100 member organizations  from 39 countries.

  4. The Christian Conference of Asia – an organ and fellowship of churches and ecumenical councils in Asia for initiating and facilitating dynamic Christian witness and action.

    a. Action Together in Combating HIV & AIDS in Asia (ATCHAA) Programme – the ATCHAA programme seeks to build HIV competent churches and communities and to build the capacity of its members to become inclusive and relevant for People Living with HIV and AIDS.

    b. Previous engagement of YVC with CCA during the “Asian Interfaith Consultation in Strengthening HIV and AIDS Advocacy

  5. Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) – GNRC brings together organizations and individuals who work for pastoral care and justice for LGBTQI people and their families in the Roman Catholic Church and society.

  6. Q Christian Fellowship – an ecumenical Christian ministry focused on serving lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer, and straight ally Christians.

  7. The Queer Muslim Project – a digital advocacy platform focused on creating visibility and awareness of LGBTQ+ Muslim issues in India and South Asia.

  8. Human Rights Campaign Resources on Religion & Faith – The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States.

  9. Being LGBTI in Asia Country Reports of USAID and UNDP

References:

ILGA World: Lucas Ramon Mendos, State-Sponsored Homophobia 2019: Global Legislation Overview Update (Geneva; ILGA, December 2019)

United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Let Grace Be Total” (LGBT): UCCP Statement on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Concerns (UCCP, 2014)

Written by Justin Francis Bionat ([email protected]) and Abigail Amon ([email protected]). For additional information on the course you can email QTIPS through Jerlo Jaropillo at [email protected] 

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