The Church of England has recently again refused to allow same-sex marriage, while instituting some blessings for sex and gender diverse persons. While not under the dictate of Church of England determinations about the marriage canon, 2SLGBTQIA+ persons in Canada, even in officially “affirming” communities have been subjected to renewed “both sides” discourse which portrays these issues as matters of disagreement felt as more-or-less equally painful on all sides. In general, 2SLGBTQIA+ voices have not been centered, and the discourse has failed to adequately express dynamics of oppression, or to call for justice.
On Sunday, February 19, 2023, the expressions at an Evensong service hosted at Holy Trinity Anglican Church were markedly different. Organized by queer Anglicans and with a liturgy affirming 2SLGBTQIA+ Christians, this service, along with the food, conversation and friendship following, offered essential nourishment to those gathered. During the service Matthew Bowman preached:
As both fully God and fully human, Jesus occupies what theologian Kwok Pui-Lan describes as a “liminal” or “hybrid” space, a space that exists as a sort of borderland, his body blurring the borders between divinity and humanity. Queer bodies often occupy similar liminal or hybrid spaces, transgressing societal expectations of gender or sexuality, blurring distinctions and breaking false binaries. If Jesus, God’s own child’s body is a queer, transgressive body, this says to me that those of us who identify as queer are created in the image and likeness of God, not in spite of our queerness, but because of our queerness. It’s in queer bodies that God reveals Godself as a God who disrupts norms and transgresses lines. Far from being sinful, or something to be tolerated yet secretly looked down upon, queerness is holy. It lies at the very heart of God, and queer voices and bodies are critical to the flourishing of the Body of Christ, are critical to the Church living into being its truest self. The Gospel has always been queer, and queerness is holy.
This feature hopes to continue the work of centering holy queer voices by spotlighting three reflections from 2SLGBTQIA+ persons connected with the Diocese of Rupert’s Land on institutional sin and the well-being of sexual and gender diverse persons in the Anglican church.
Beyond Just “Hurt Feelings”
We are in the midst of a moral panic, centered on 2SLGBTQIA+ people. This is a truth that we, as justice-seeking people, should acknowledge, understand, and react to. This panic is evident in the hundreds of anti-trans laws being introduced in the United States, and in the hate- filled protests of queer events and venues. We also see it in the demagoguery of populist politicians and religious leaders. We also see the outcome of this moral panic in the increase of violence towards queer and trans people throughout the world.
Over the previous years, queer and trans Anglicans have had our lives subjected to “debate” and “conversation,” often by people charged with our pastoral care and with church leadership, and often in forums that we have little say in. The opposition to our rights, dignity, and inclusion is framed as a “difference of opinion,” and injustices done to us as “hurt feelings.” This seriously misconstrues the actual harm done, which is the continual whittling away of the humanity of 2SLGBTQIA+ people. When our dignity, rights and needs are seen as something negotiable or debatable, it degrades our safety and has real, tangible effects on our lives.
I’ve been carefully watching these “debates” play out: whether it’s the debate around amending the marriage canon, the Archbishop of Canterbury affirming that our sex lives are “sinful”, parents “concerned” about 2SLGBTQIA+ books in libraries, and panic about our medical care, sports participation, or washroom use. They all have the same effect, beyond just “hurt feelings.” The true effect these things have is the creation and perpetuation of a climate where we are seen as unwanted, an inconvenience, or even a dangerous threat.
We are well beyond the point where apologies or platitudes are effective ways to combat the hatred being piled upon 2SLGBTQIA+ people. Recently, Pope Francis, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and The Moderator of the Church of Scotland all condemned anti-gay laws. While this is welcomed, and extremely overdue, it does little to stem the tide of hate that we are facing.
As long as the lives and humanity of 2SLGBTQIA+ people are seen as appropriate and suitable for debate, we will continue to face marginalization, exclusion and violence.
The Warm Embrace of Our Community
My partner and I got engaged right around the time that the Anglican Church of Canada was deciding whether to allow same-sex marriage within our church. When the vote failed, largely because of lingering resistance in the House of Bishops, our story was made public as we coped with what this decision would mean for our plans, for our ability to get married in the church we called home, and for our willingness to continue to identify as members of a church that didn’t seem to want us.
In the aftermath of that decision, we had countless people reach out to us to affirm that we were loved, that we were full and valued members of the church, that they were outraged by this decision and would continue to fight it. We had never felt like anything less than family in our home church. But when even
the Bishop reached out to us personally to tell us that he was going to ensure that queer couples wishing to marry in his diocese would be able to do so with the full support of the church, we felt truly celebrated—like everyone that mattered had our backs. We would have to keep fighting for our siblings whose communities were less supportive. But the powers that be who had pulled every trick in the rulebook to ensure this marriage vote got defeated? It seemed the only thing they had really accomplished was to prove themselves out of touch and not worth listening to.
Our friends from outside the church were (and in many cases remain) kind of perplexed about what we see in this archaic institution that is worth fighting for. But when I look around at my community, it’s hard to picture living out my faith anywhere else. In our messiness, in our diversity, in our willingness to call each other into deeper relationship, in our showing up for one another during the most joyous and most difficult of moments, in our laughter, in our gritty after-church coffee cups, this community I know as “church” embodies what queer love, for me, has always been about. It is about being able to show up as your whole self and being held and celebrated. That kind of queer love is so worth fighting for, whether it’s on the dance floor, on a ratty living room couch, in the streets, or in a church pew.
I do want the church to get same-sex marriage on the books—everywhere, and without hesitation. I want the tireless work of queer people and their allies in the church to finally succeed in changing policy. For me, change has already come in most of the ways that matter. We have been lucky enough to feel the warm embrace of our community regardless of what official church teaching states. I want that feeling for all my queer siblings, no matter which church they find themselves in. But where my faith in the institutional Church to bring about this kind of transformation is basically non-existent, my faith in the small “c” church to find ways to continue to grow in love for one another is significantly larger.
Kaitlyn (she/her) and her partner Moe recently transplanted to Mi’kma’ki but still consider the Diocese of Rupert’s Land in Treaty 1 territory home. She is completing a PhD at the University of Manitoba and works on food sovereignty and forest health at the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
Being Queer, Female, Neurodivergent, and “Too Powerful” in the Anglican Church
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.”
– Isaiah 43:1
I have grown up in the Church—involved in it throughout my youth and employed by it for the majority of my adult life as a classical singer, conductor, and liturgist. And for all of my life, the Church has given me the simultaneous message that I am both too much and yet not enough. For years it was that I was too young. Then, suddenly, I was too knowledgeable, too talented, and too vocal. A priest I long looked up to once told me that I am “too powerful,” that my (apparently and previously unknown to me) charisma and power were a “danger” and frankly unwelcome. And yet, I was also lacking: lacking the wisdom that parenthood should have brought me had I only been “selfless” enough to have produced children, lacking in the correct familial structures to give me an automatic place in the heteronormative mould which the Church so fervently upholds. For all my life I have had to uneasily wonder which “excess” or “lack” was to blame each time I ran into walls within the Church: Was it my gender? My queerness? My neurodivergence making me come across as too direct? When you exist as a person whose identity consists of multiple factors that are not typical of those who have always held power in the Anglican Church, it’s rarely clear.
The fact is that the Church has long been an oppressor of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, along with many other marginalized groups. As a child who was bullied badly throughout my school years, I have become an adult who is highly attuned to micro- and macro- aggressions. The recent decision out of England is an act of direct harm to our community. Rather than modelling the behaviour of the One who came to suffer our pain with us, who spent his time challenging systems of power and oppression, the Church has become synonymous with the very systems that put Christ to death, who hold power and won’t relinquish it, who further marginalize those already sidelined by mainstream society. We as the Church must never forget that Christ came to and as part of an oppressed people, that his message to the downtrodden was to find ways to challenge those systems, while his message to those in power was one of disruption and a call to let go of wealth, power, and systems of disenfranchisement. If my siblings in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are out of patience with the institution when it comes to recognizing our full personhood in every respect, with the failure of the Church to even acknowledge, much less challenge and change its own systems of oppression, I cannot blame them. When we still hear of arguments over changing bathroom signage, of parishes’ refusal to announce the Anglican presence in the Pride parade, when clergy members’ non-normative marriage partners are actively not included at conferences, when leaders refuse to call out each other’s deliberate acts of oppression and sin, I see institutional sin.
At a time when every parish in the diocese is wrestling with difficult questions about the future, now more than ever does the Church need people with vocation and gifts to share. Yet many of those very people are, at best, not being adequately welcomed into structures that haven’t given thought to their existence, and at worst, being actively driven away. The irony is poignant and painful.
It has been some time since I stopped being afraid to use my own voice in every possible sense. I have lost my fear of being seen as “too much” for the Church, despite the recurring acts of hurt I experience as someone who is part of it. What I know, and pray that my siblings in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community can still see, is a God who has called us each by name – our own, chosen names – and claimed us as God’s own, in the complexity of our identities, in our beauty, in the talents with which we were gifted, and most of all, in our power.
Sandra Bender (she/her) is the Music Ministry Coordinator & People’s Warden at Holy Trinity Anglican Church and works at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.