Queer Virtue – ‘What can the LGBT experience teach everyone about Christianity?’

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“God queers our lives and our world”  – Liz Edman

Philip-Christopher-Baldwin-CircleThe sun is shining and the sky is blue. A steady flow of pedestrians walk through the courtyard, on their way to Soho or Piccadilly Circus. Dappled light is reflected through the foliage of trees onto the glazed surfaces of the Ham Yard Hotel. A bronze sculpture by Tony Cragg gleams behind us. London is looking resplendent. It’s Liz Edman’s last day in this city, before flying back to NYC in the evening, and she’s agreed to meet me for breakfast to chat about her new book Queer Virtue.

The book sets out to explore what the LGBT experience can teach everyone about Christianity. Liz asks her readers to think about Christianity in a new way. Liz demonstrates that the LGBT way of life and LGBT love can revitalise Christianity. She perceives Jesus as setting out to rupture false binaries, or opposites, drawing a parallel between “queering” and “rupturing.” Paul, in Galations, sets out how Jesus sought to challenge the greatest binaries of the day, that between Jew and Greek, slave and citizen, and even around gender. Jesus, himself, blurred many boundaries, between the human and the divine, life and death, the sacred and the profane. This queering, whereby false binaries are challenged, Liz argues, is inherent to the Christian tradition. Rupturing binaries runs to the core of Christianity, to the most basic question of “Who is my neighbour?”

Liz asks LGBT and non-LGBT people alike, to reflect on the Christian call to perceive anew and revaluate our relationships with the people around us. Aristotle taught that virtue was a quality which could be cultivated: “You have to try, fail and try again.” The path of Queer Virtue, as espoused by Liz, provides a template on how to live life, whether gay or straight and how to transform the church today. When discerning our identities and building communities, we should look to the margins of society and include those who are struggling. This can inform how we navigate relationships and perceive the world. This process of discordance and reforming, inherent in the LGBT experience, is also found within Christianity. LGBT people should understand the gift that we are to the Church and the wider world. Liz’s message is empathetic and empowering. Comprehend the virtue within your LGBT experience and your inner beauty. Try to find a community where you can express yourself and where you can learn from your experience. Queer Virtue allows LGBT people to find a place within Christianity and identity with the tradition. Positioning the Christian Church, or any faith, as the guardian of boundaries is toxic. The misappropriation of faith to reinforce prejudice is a leitmotif of our age. Our church must be inclusive and not exclusive.

Liz has devoted a considerable portion of her ministry to helping people living with HIV. As a Christian, who is HIV positive, I was particularly moved by what she had to say. During the early years of her ministry Liz worked with people impacted by HIV. She sought to include the excluded. Liz worked in a church is East Harlem, where she ran a Bible study programme for women living with HIV. A number of these women were discussing which biblical text had most meaning for them. Suddenly something clicked and each one began to recount how their experiences had left them feeling as if God was protecting them, walking at their side. Looking over their shoulder, there was a second set of footprints in the sand, which became one when the going got tough. The Lord was carrying them! This is something I can very much relate to. During times of hardship in my life, at points where I have been uncertain or frightened, my Christianity has been a massive source of comfort. I cried and the Lord answered my prayers. I am empowered, stronger and happier with Christianity in my life.

The Episcopal Church is at the forefront of LGBT inclusion within the Anglican communion. The progressive elements within the Episcopal Church have become stronger and stronger. In response to homophobia within the Christian Church, many LGBT people have seen their faith wither and die. We need to re-evaluate the gospel, not just on human sexuality. A church must be a place of life. When Nicholas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham, came out in the summer, I felt as if the Church of England had progressed by at least half a decade on LGBT issues. The news made my heart leap! We must allow people to be authentic. Liz emphasises that the Anglican Communion should not be afraid of love that is radical.  We need to proclaim a better gospel. An inclusive Church is the foundation for an inclusive society.

The sunlight bounces off the surface of the sculpture. As we parted, I felt I had made a firm friend, my faith reinvigorated. Liz’s book is intelligent, empathetic and inspiring. It provides a compelling template for LGBT Christianity and the future of Christianity, in general. The breadth of her ministry is reflected in its pages. LGBT people should be proud of who they are, not reticent in affirming their faith identities. Jesus would have been on every gay pride and human rights march. God’s love radiates from every LGBT person.

You can Find Queer Virtue at amazon.co.uk

Follow Phillip on Twitter @philipcbaldwin

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