A volunteer at the Wild Goose Festival wears the colors of the rainbow in her hair (Photo credit: Luke Moon/IRD).
An annual gathering of emergent, progressive and liberal mainline Christians embraced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) causes as it met outside of Asheville, NC this week.
Wild Goose Festival organizers maintain that it aims to be a “safe space for dangerous conversation.” Sessions about Christianity and homosexuality in the two previous years have led to festival sponsorship by the homosexual advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
The 2013 festival may have been the most outwardly pro-LGBT to date, with workshops on transgenderism, intersex, an address by an openly gay Roman Catholic priest and a panel discussion led by HRC.
A push for pro-LGBT advocacy even permeated seemingly unrelated workshops, with a speaker from Muslims for Progressive Values touting Islamic gay unions while sessions on immigration reform attempted to find “intersectionality” with same-sex marriage advocacy.
Gay and Catholic
Roman Catholic priest James Alison offered a presentation from the festival’s main stage centered on homosexuality. Alison, who self-identifies as gay, asked how progressive Christians could stretch out a hand toward the scandalized, characterizing opponents of same-sex marriage as the scandalized group facing inevitable defeat.
“If we are in a place of victory but are inclined to despise the losers, then my worry is that we haven’t actually won,” the British cleric shared. “How can we make it clear that this change is of the Bible?”
Alison was dismissive of Catholic opposition to homosexuality, comparing church leaders with Italian traffic cops: well-dressed figures who occasionally feel the need to emerge from their booths and direct traffic, causing more problems.
“They should be ignored,” Alison declared.
Catholic teaching about the “intrinsic evil” of homosexual acts was inconsistent, Alison argued, with the understanding that the attractions themselves were not sinful.
“Most Catholic bishops know being gay is a regularly occurring non-pathological variant condition,” Alison asserted, equating homosexuality with being left-handed. The evil, Alison maintained, is how the left hand is used, not the using of the left hand itself. Listing group rape and pagan orgies resulting in self-castration, Alison suggested that these were in fact what scripture warned against when forbidding homosexual practice.
The Brazil-based priest also waved off religious liberty concerns as bishops “rabbiting on” about fortnight for freedom. Catholicism, Alison suggested, issued rules for a Mediterranean culture with a relaxed view about church authority. American Catholics were in the unfortunate situation of hearing those rules amidst a “Protestant conscience” forcing them to obey.
Fielding questions from the audience, Alison sympathized with a married lesbian from the Archdiocese of Detroit who was struggling with “new, young conservative leadership.” Some Catholics, Alison assessed, were in the unfortunate situation of being in a diocese where “pharisaical” leadership had taken over.
Wild Goose participants were asked to consider how to make their congregations more inclusive of transgender persons. Asher Kolieboi, who was born female and now embraces a male identity, led an afternoon workshop titled for Galatians chapter 3:28. Raised in the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, Kolieboi now embraces a liberation theology.
“Trans Theology,” is needed, Kolieboi maintained, because of violence against transgender persons in the form of sexual and physical assaults, as well as denial of access.
Suggestions for creating a more transgender-inclusive church included affirming transgender youth.
“Talk about it when they are young – very young,” Kolieboi prescribed. The United Church of Christ candidate for ordination also suggested churches “let kids make choices so boys aren’t all shepherds and girls aren’t all angels [in Christmas pageants].”
Offering naming or re-baptism ceremonies for those transitioning to another gender identity was also suggested, alongside studying “trans folks in the Bible,” of which Kolieboi suggested the Ethiopian Eunuch baptized by Philip was one of many.
“We all need to re-think gender,” the Vanderbilt Divinity School student declared. “It took $40,000 a year of divinity school to show how shockingly queer the Bible is.”
Asking how rural churches could be more inclusive of transgender persons, Kolieboi heard from an audience member from Georgia who flatly declared that “outside of the Atlanta perimeter, we live in hell.” While urban churches were assumed to be more inclusive than rural ones, no mention was made that the vast majority of violence perpetuated against transgender persons occurs in the inner city.
“When male and female is not enough”
In a session entitled “When male and female is not enough,” participants listened to the story of Lianne Simon, a woman born with a mixture of ovarian and testicular tissues. Raised for a time as a boy, Simon struggled with anorexia and depression, eventually concluding that she had been incorrectly assigned at birth.
“I still deal with questions of God’s intent, so I have to live by grace even more,” the soft-spoken author shared. “The Gospel is the most important thing that has happened to me.”
Simon was joined by Megan DeFranza of evangelical Gordon College, who read Jesus’ words from Matthew chapter 19 about marriage and eunuchs, suggested it was the way to approach intersex persons:
“Jesus gave me different eyes to see people differently,” DeFranza stated. “How can we make space for those whose identity doesn’t align with their body?”
Both speakers noted that there is not a place in American society for hermaphrodites, and that a child must be raised as a boy or a girl – leaving a child “neuter” until their sex was made clear was not an option.
“Most intersex will tell you they are one gender or another,” Simon reported, adding that only about 5-10 percent would be “flamboyantly other.”
“The idea that gender is learned is not necessarily true,” Simon suggested. The author of Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite noted that a previous generation of physicians told parents of hermaphrodites to choose a gender, operate accordingly to remove unwanted tissues, and then raise the child as that gender without ever telling them. The passing of the older generation of doctors would be necessary before real change could occur, Simon assessed.
“Admitting complexity when we want to put everything into a nice little box is a good place to start,” DeFranza offered.