Queer Resistance and Religious Alliance
Ha Na Park was visiting the United Church of Canada website last November when she happened across an announcement about an international conference – “Liberating Our Bodies: Sexual Politics, Queer Resistance and Religious Alliance Today”. It was being hosted by the Jakarta Theological Seminary in Indonesia and, because of the global pandemic, the conference would be held on-line. Ha Na was curious and excited.
Over the years in Winnipeg, Ha Na has met LGBTQ friends from a variety of backgrounds – from India, Pakistan, Syria, and other South East Asian and Middle Eastern countries – through New Pride. She wondered if the “Liberating Our Bodies” conference might help to build connections to affirming religious alliances in these regions and cultures. She applied to be a United Church rep.
CCS student Hyerim Park learned about the “Liberating Our Bodies” conference from program staff member Marcie Gibson and from Ha Na, her mentor in the CCS diaconal ministry program. She was surprised to discover an international conference on sexuality, gender, and queer theology coming out of the predominantly Islamic country of Indonesia.
Hyerim came to Canada from South Korea, where she experienced a patriarchal society and conservative churches that, as she says, “hate and exclude sexual minorities in the name of God.”
“As a sexual minority, I had a hard time in the churches. I got angry at the various forms of violence and oppression conducted in almost all places. I believe that the voices of marginalized sexual minorities – the voices of resistance – should be heard.”
Hyerim attended the international conference looking for hope and energy from those willing to take risks for resistance and alliance. The conference dealt with the ways that churches can ally themselves with LGBTQ people and how religion and theology can be effective tools for changing the hearts and minds of religious communities.
The conference consisted of thirteen sessions over fours days. (Or “nights,” as Ha Na says, noting that Jakarta is 13 hours ahead of Winnipeg, so night and day were reversed the whole weekend!)
The chair of the organizing committee, Amadeo Udampoh, welcomed participants, saying the conference was meant to be “a moment of celebration.” Presenter Hugo Cordova Quero called the conference “A beam of hope, not only to the Global South, but to all in the world.”
“Hope has become the library of liberation,” says Ha Na. The Jakarta Theological Seminary was proud to share its outstanding achievements and strong scholarship, contextualizing queer resistance and theories in Indonesia and other religiously diverse countries bound by a shared history of Western colonization.
The presentation on Queering Homiletics by Shauna Hannan – “Exodus: Come Out!” – encouraged participants to look at Exodus with new eyes. “Moses first hid his identity for his protection,” Hyerim recalls, “but eventually came out for his real life, risking the difficulties of his life. He was born into very complex, risky, and scary culture. We want to see him as a super power. However, there’s a power in vulnerability and weakness.”
Hannan invited participants to think about how much they are willing to take risks to participate in each other’s liberation. We know through the Bible what God is walking with the oppressed. God is standing with the oppressed.
Ha Na was thrilled to hear Hugo Cordova Quero from Graduate Theological Union speaking on Asian Queer Theologies and Resistance. (Quero is a successor of one of Ha Na’s favourite theologians, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and knew her personally.) Quero explained that liberation theologies such as Dalit Theology in India, Minjung Theology in South Korea, Theology of Struggle in the Philippines, and Burakumin Theology in Japan, have often been “a-sexual theologies”; they talk about everything but sexuality and gender, and thus fall short of reaching all people who are oppressed.
Quero called for a break from colonial mentality in queer theology. “We need to find our own [Indigenous/cultural] terminologies in equal place with the Western.” Quero quoted Indonesian theologian Juswantori Itchwan: “Some scholars link heterosexism with colonization. Colonizers from Europe brought Christianity to the colonies they established, and by the time they left, internalization of Christian capitalist values had replaced traditional tribal values. Such a phenomenon resulted in an increase in homophobia and heterosexism.”
Hyerim recalls that Quero doesn’t use the term “minority” in his work. “The term minority came from minor,” she explains. “A minor is an under-aged person that has to be taught, guided, restrained, so the minor can’t learn until it gets to adulthood. Sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, cultural minorities never get to adulthood in this society. They always remain second class because the same pattern of majority is a colonial pattern that keep people always in a second class.”
The presentation on “Strengthening Lesbian and Bisexual and Queer Women Activism” demonstrated why LGBT is not a western concept in the Philippines society. Activist Irish began by recounting the historical impact of the Babylans – predominantly women, some male cross-dressers – who resisted Spanish colonial conquest in the Phillippines. Ha Na was inspired by their story and by the tenaciousness of LBTQ women’s organizations and activists around the world, rooted in each region. Ha Na was also inspired by Shinta Ratri, the founder of the Muslim Boarding School, which gives liberation to transwomen who, as they are aging, want to search for God and reclaim the transgender rights to worship.
Hyerim was impressed by the presentation from the United Church of Canada’s Rev. Michael Blair, who stressed the importance of acknowledging the ways that the church has been a stumbling block to fullness of life for LGBTQ people. Blair highlighted three commitments required for ally-ship to be meaningful in faith communities: First, the commitment to accept the principle of the right to life liberty and security for all persons without any distinction. Secondly, the commitment to do no harm. Thirdly, the commitment not to be silent in the face of violence and injustice against LGBT people. Silence means consent. It is an act of evil when people of faith remain silent.
Presenter Hendri Yulius Wijaya, originally from Indonesia, now teaching at the University of Australia, explored the term “queer” and the meaning of queerness in the Indonesian context, noting that in 2018 the term “LGBT” had become a trap in Indonesia – It scared people, and the media were abusing the term to manipulate homophobia and transphobia. In response (and strategy) the word “queer” started being used more.
Wijaya raised many important questions: What do we want to achieve by using the word queer? How far do we want queer theory to be anti-normative? Do we follow the Western conception of queer? What kind of approach fits in the context of Indonesia? What is the indicator of acceptance in our context? Legalizing same-sex marriage? Can each queer person be happy with legal documents giving them the same rights as heterosexuals? A lot of queer people struggle with acceptance from family, which is more about communal acceptance than individualistic legal rights. Not all queer people can talk about their identity openly, so who has the privilege of representing the Indonesian queer experience? Only those who are educated and have English knowledge? How can we create a more inclusive, representative politics of queer?
The questions raised in the conference prompted Ha Na to wonder about her own connection to the affirming work and struggles of Rainbow activists and theologians in Korea, where she came from.
“Especially having a zoom conversation with Rev. Lim, Bora, who Hyerim and I chose as our advisor, led me to realize that I cannot separate my growth as a Korean queer person and ordained minister in The United Church from supporting Rainbow ministry candidates in Korea, most of whom are closeted in theological schools and their congregations and yet desire to change the church and the society in their ministry in the future.”
“We have so much work to do,” Ha Na says, “regardless of where we live. Queer means to me creating the waves of solidarity and challenging the current patterns of both oppression and liberation; continually examining our internalized ‘queer Euro-American-centrism’ and social darwinism (i.e. “Today is better than the past.” “The West is more advanced in LGBTQ equality than the rest of the world.”) in order to support, find and sing the Indigenous, land-based and local-based narratives of being queer and queering. In the world, in ourselves, for friends, and for our ancestors before the colonial era.”
Hyerim left the conference feeling deeply connected to the suffering of sexual minorities all over the world who are being subjected to violence, discrimination and exclusion for political, religious and cultural reasons. “It is a pity that people who should be seen as loved by God live in oppression,” Hyerim says. “As a Christian, I would like to acknowledge the historical fact of oppression against minorities and break my silence. As a woman, person of color, and sexual minority, I deeply sympathize with the pain of social minorities, and I want to make a voice for people who are marginalized in the church, region, and community.”
photo credit: Joseph N. Goh