Women-Church, Queer-Church – and House Slaves


 

Rev Andy Braunston, MCC

 

In 1895 Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the final part of the Women’s Bible. This book was a commentary on the Bible with one simple premise: texts that oppressed, or could be used to oppress women, were not the word of God but the words of men Over a hundred years later Christianity is still experienced as an obstacle by some women.

Ruether and Schussler Fiorenza are two modern theologians who propose the creation of something called women-church. They point out that the Greek word for church. ekklesia, is taken from Greek politics, and referred to an assembly of all free citizens. Many women, however, have not  found themselves free in the Church.

The decision by the Anglican church to ordain women in 1992 caused widespread dismay and led a number of priest to leave and join the Roman Catholic Church….. There have been many attempts to reform the churches over the years, most notably the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church. This great Council made many reforms and Catholics thought it would become rejuvenated in its attempts to reach out.  Many women embraced the reforms and worked to change that church. Yet the extent of the change is debatable.  So much was promised yet so little delivered by the reforms in all the churches.

Some women started organizing their own liturgical communities…These feminist communities have an influence which is much greater than one would expect from their size. Together they constitute a movement which has become known as women-church. It is not a new denomination. Many of the women involved remain in within another denomination.  Nor is women-church just for women. Many men and children are also involved, to seek out a “discipleship of equals”.

Queer Christians can learn a lot from this model of women-church. Queer agendas will never be delivered by straight people, no matter how well-meaning.


When slavery was legal in the United States, some slaves were allowed to live in the master’s house. These slaves were dressed in fine clothes and had to give off the air of being paid servants  and not slaves. Beneath the veneer of respectability there was a harsh reality of humans owning other humans. These were the “house-slaves” and in many cases they became “house-trained” – they took on board the values the master wanted and made sure they propagated them themselves.  We can see a similar parallel every year when we celebrate the Stonewall riots. For this one day of the year the Queer community holds sway and we dress up and parade through town….However, every year we see some sections of our people saying we should not be so “flamboyant”, as we will upset some straight people who might be on our side.  The house-slaves are still with us.  Perhaps this is most obvious in the churches where the number of gay (and lesbian) ministers living closeted lives is becoming increasingly obvious. ……But liberation can never come  whilst closets exist, for a closet is a state of oppression. Yet usually coming out as a minister means exclusion.

The sad thing is that queer people are leaving churches in their millions. We don’t want to play by those rules any more. So what choices do we have? Many of us have adopted the ideas of Schussler Fiorenza  and created our own religious communities: queer-church. These take on many forms, from the world wide queer denominations (the Metropolitan Community Church), through to support and campaigning groups like the LGCM in Britain, Dignity and Integrity ans so forth in the USA.  There are also independent groups that function as churches in everything but name. The thing that unites us is the feeling that we are making the rules for ourselves.

We have many choices as queer Christians. we can see ourselves as house-slaves, who are just like any other Christians really, not wanting to cause a fuss or disturb anyone.  This strategy might work for a time, but will, I fear lead to frustration, as these terms will never be affirming or life-enhancing. Or we can let ourselves go on the exodus that God calls many of us to. ..There are dangers with the exodus – we might lose our way, we might get tired and want to want to go back.  There is a danger that whilst we have left Egypt, Egypt has not left us, and we might succeed only in creating carbon copies of what we have left behind – but the danger is worth it.

-Extracts from Andy Braunston, “The Church

in “Religion Is a Queer Thing: A Guide to the Christian Faith for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons

(Elizabeth Stuart, ed.)

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