An integral part of IAM’s work is to ensure that strong, mature LGBTQIA+ people are empowered to assert themselves and embrace diversity in all contexts, based on the integration of their faith and understanding of their own and other’s diversity. IAM has designed a programme for LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming (GNC) people to assist with their integration of sexual and gender diversity and spirituality called The Journey of Hope. The Journey of Hope is a space where LGBTQIA+ and GNC people creatively engage on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), wellness and spirituality through a variety of different mediums. To strengthen change agents to be visible, vocal and involved within faith communities, it’s important to have a space that allows them to engage with religious texts, to reflect on their themselves, and to be supported without question or suspicion.
In 2019, the Journey of Hope participants came from diverse backgrounds, but all identify within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and are actively involved in ministry (at differing levels). Religion and faith have been used to exclude many bodies and people, and much of the activist community rejects faith (namely Christianity) in response to the hurt and victimization inflicted by pastors, family and community. This hurt comes in many forms: the exclusionary interpretation of scripture demonizing LGBTQIA+ bodies; the demonizing of LGBTQIA+; and calls for ‘conversion’ and salvation through prayers, meditation and conversion camps. IAM believes it is important to assist LGBTQIA+ people of faith to attempt to reconcile and integrate their spirituality and sexuality to understand that there is a place for them in faith. IAM uses contextual bible study as one way to facilitate this integration using a process called Reading Together, which encourages participants to engage with the sacred scriptures within a safe space to actively engage and explore what the literal and contextual interpretations of the texts. Learning to read the text like this provides the participants an opportunity to understand what the scripture means for them and realize that the Bible cannot only be understood in one linear way.
In the 2019 Journey of Hope, we explored the Luke 24 text about the walk to Emmaus. The walk to Emmaus passage tells of two disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem on the day of His resurrection. The disciples initially are unable to recognize Jesus as He is hidden from them and they get into a conversation about His crucifixion. The disciples later describe their experience with the risen Christ as “our hearts burning within us while He talked with us” (Luke 24:32). We held daily morning devotions followed by reflection sessions on how Christ has walked with us, hidden from us, recognizing His being with us. We shared our stories of journeying to a space where we own our identities, all within a space where others could position their bodies to accompany one another’s. The space became one of where the importance of support, healing and interventions were identified, and where participants asked how best can we gift others as they embark on their own journeys of self-discovery?
Accompaniment of LGBTQIA+ persons on their journey of reconciling their sexuality and spirituality is one of the core elements of support that IAM provides in our work. During a feedback session, one participant raised a question about “how do we construct gender and navigation of relationships?”, and most importantly, “how do I relate with everyone–queer bodies and non-binary bodies, as there are no social learnings as opposed to the heteronormative [narrative]?”. There is a need for us to have spaces where we nurture, support and give space to allow LGBTQIA+ bodies to interrogate what are healthy, unhealthy and toxic relationships in relation to their contexts, expression and being. Often, we find ourselves having to unlearn and relearn how to relate with ourselves, our families and communities later in life as all learning at a young age comes from the gendered, binary lens of heteronormativity. Reflecting on the process, one participant said “I have gained a lot of knowledge on the diversity of the “queer” community. I have also found deeper connection in myself, discovering and re-discovery.” Another shared that they learned “how our own experience can formulate a powerful tool to initiate change, [and the need to be] aware of systems of oppression we have regarded as a norm.” There is a need for spaces such as these to allow the process of sharing our narratives, retelling our stories from a point of celebrating our trials and tribulations and offering our lessons learned as gems for younger LGBTQIA+ youth.
IAM envisions a continued need for workshops like the Journey of Hope as the need for such platforms remains a gap and in a community that requires bold queer voices of faith to reclaim their spaces within Christianity. The participants were invited to co-create and rewrite the process as they map and reflect on their lives against the story of Emmaus. Participants highlighted that there is a need for a secondary workshop within this series, namely the Journey of Healing where participants are empowered to unlearn harmful coping mechanisms and deepen a space for discernment around harmful scriptural teaching and beliefs. In 2020 would like to extend this space as there is a deep need for honest sharing of our experiences, creating authentic narratives of LGBTQIA+ experiences and safe spaces for conversation and dialogue. The overall outcome will be the documentation of this process in order to empower other activists, friends and families to be able to host conversations on the integration of faith, sexuality and the bible in an affirming manner.