by Dani Gabriel
In a recent conversation with a faith leader I admire and respect, I inquired about what he saw as his responsibility to promote the leadership of women and gender nonconforming people. It was the day of the Kavanaugh hearings and I wanted to know, how are we as Christians working on this mess? What are we thinking about, and more important, what are we actively doing? His answer stung. While he talked about knowing his church is on a growing edge and wanting to be faithful, he didn’t discuss doing anything to promote leadership by women and gender nonconforming people, but focused on preventing harm to them and staying in relationship. He said he tries to listen to people and “allow them to pull my coattail when I’m falling short.”
I am a postulant for the diaconate in the Episcopal Diocese of California. I have been involved in a pretty intense preparation process for a couple of years, with a couple more to go along the journey before (God willing and the people consenting) I can be ordained. I am also a radical gender nonconforming queer woman with a ton of tattoos, weird hair, extensive trauma, and a lot to say. A friend who is in a similar process recently asked me “how are you doing this, as YOU?” It’s a great question. Leadership in Christian churches has mostly been closed to people like me. If we are included in God’s love, then we are included only to the extent that we are to be treated as human beings and allowed to be present, not that we are lifted up as leaders.
Solidarity is not enough. Jesus is not in solidarity with women. Jesus is fully engaged and promotes the leadership of women. He has a dialogue with the Samaritan woman who then goes out and preaches and converts, he learns a lesson from the Syrophenician woman. When we do more than just believe women but actually promote their voices and visions, change will come. Centering the leadership of women and gender nonconforming people is actually THE antidote to the devastating misogyny of the Kavanaugh hearings and the inhumanity of the Trump era, and no amount of organizing, or prayer, or policy change is going to get us there without it. In another conversation I had recently, a woman I was talking with about the leadership of women said “It means that there will be no homophobia. It means that there will be no tearing down of women, no bitches up in here. We won’t be talking about that. That means you can show up in a lace bra and fishnet stockings and you know you’re safe.”
There are so many reasons we strip women and gender nonconforming people of their credibility and deem them unbelievable and unsuitable to lead. If I can’t be ordained because I’m a trauma survivor, or because I’m a woman and gender nonconforming, or because I’m queer, what are we missing? If I can’t be my tattooed questionably gendered self and be a Sunday School teacher or a committee leader, what are we missing? If we allow people to participate “even though” they are members of marginalized groups but don’t consider them leaders or consider them for leadership positions, what are we really saying? I believe we’re accepting and actually promoting the same agenda as the Trump administration. More quietly, yes, but to the same devastating end.
There are churches that have not yet approached the subject of promoting the leadership of women and gender nonconforming people. There are churches still debating gay marriage and ordination, and there are churches who still have not begun the discussion. There are churches that are actively hostile to my community, staging protests and preaching hate. Christianity is the excuse for a lot of damaging policies and a great deal of harmful behavior. I have a lot of reasons to feel like an outsider and to be nervous about church. Actually, I have a lot of reasons to be horrified by Christianity and to run in the opposite direction.
And yet here I am, improbably, in an alb on Sunday. Because of the abuses of the church, we are in a unique position to incite change. In my little corner of the world, I have been overwhelmingly welcomed. I have not been troubled by my history, my appearance, my identity, or anything provoking that I have had to say. I have been able to walk into churches, conventions, conferences, and Commission on Ministry meetings and be met with warmth and an eager acceptance. I feel an intense desire in my church to reverse practices of the past and become more inclusive in its leadership. There are hiccups along the way, but there is a movement forward that feels swift and decisive. We can be instrumental in reversing the tide of misogyny and heterosexism that is swelling in our country today. But in this movement I want to do more than be allowed to pull on someone’s coattails.
Dani Gabriel is a writer, mother, and partner who lives in El Cerrito, California. She is a member of All Souls Episcopal Parish and a postulant for the Diaconate in the Diocese of California. Her personal blog is at https://www.allthepossible.com
image: Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well by Guercino