Be here, be Queer, and never get used to it
The highlight of our annual service of thanksgiving and celebration at St Botolph's, Aldgate last Saturday was Alison Webster's extraordinary sermon, queering the story of the woman caught in adultery.
Defining 'queering' as a verb 'that means going beneath surface meaning; disrupting accepted meanings, and bringing to bear my experience as one on the underside of power, to see what usually remains unseen, and create meanings that differ from the accepted meanings', Alison talked of structural sin, of queer virtue and of making our churches more like the TV programme Queer Eye, places 'where we are each cherished for who we are'.
Drawing on her own work, and that of Liz Edman, whose visit to the UK in 2017 OneBodyOneFaith supported, Alison conculded with a blessing and a challenge:
And never get used to it.
Be here– in the sense of standing our ground. Wherever our ground is: inside an institutional church context or without it. Standing our ground means understanding ourselves not as supplicants saying ‘please’, but embracing our agency as prophets and pilgrims, building something new.
Be Queer– in the sense of being our best – scandalous and disruptive - selves. Bringing our gifts of queer virtue – our pride in who we are; our courage in coming out (over and over); our love of beauty; our creativity and resourcefulness; our compassion and skills in community-building; our ability to ‘think outside the box’; to create spiritual meaning and relational models that are just and true, because they are born of our experiences of oppression.
And never get used to it.By which I mean two things. Firstly, let us always remember how good and beautiful it is to be who we are. To be gifted with queerness, and all that that means. To be fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. To be chosen as God’s people, and to live out our purpose and vocation. Let’s not ever let that shine wear off.
But secondly, let’s not become complacent. In 2015 I heard Labi Siffre interviewed on the 30thanniversary of his song ‘Something Inside So Strong’, which was written in response to Apartheid. He was asked whether he was optimistic about social progress in eradicating racism, and the promotion of LGBT equality. Bear in mind that his male partner of 49 years died in 2013. His reply was cautionary. He said something like, ‘never make the mistake of thinking that oppression has gone away. Oppression doesn’t go away, it transforms itself and manifest itself in new ways.’
The rise of hate crime in our own context, and of right-wing terrorism globally, is an eruption of a backlash against all the gains we might have thought were secure: it’s a poisonous mix of resurgent nationalism based on insecurity, passive-aggressive machismo, deep sexism, and violent reassertions of heteronormativity and strict gender binaries.
Let’s return to where we started. One of our queer virtues is to sniff out misuses of power and to expose the misnaming, and deliberate mislocation, of sin. We need to keep these skills honed and keep our analytical wits about us, way into the future. And extend our purview, always, to all marginalised people, and in an era of ecocide, to the planet itself.
So I say again,
Be here, be queer, and never get used to it.
Liz Edman will be visiting the UK again in autumn 2019 and she and Alison will be leading some sessions on queer theology and ministry; more details to follow.