Now, what kind of gates come to your mind, I wonder, when you hear Jesus speaking of being the Gate? For me, as an English woman by origin, one wonderful set of gates that have recently been opened are the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Gates at Lord’s Cricket Ground, sometimes known as ‘the home of world cricket’, in London. These gates are a powerful symbol of life-giving change, as well as a visible, practical reminder of those who made that change possible. For Rachael Heyhoe Flint was an extraordinary pioneer of women’s cricket, as well as a truly great player, and this recognition of her at Lord’s is witness to the growing equality of the women’s game, as well as another step in the growth of diversity. When the MCC (not the Christian Church but the Marylebone Cricket Club) came to consider a memorial they also did well, since a gate is so much more significant than a plaque, or even a statue. For a gate offers the possibilities of dynamic movement rather than static presence, and of further openings up, transitions and new participation.
Well, as I said earlier, there is also a good deal of restrictive gatekeeping still happening. Thankfully we staved off the attempts of the last Federal Government to create new and damaging religiously discriminating fences to restrict access to education, health and other human rights for LGBTIQA+ people, and to enable some faith bodies to kick some of us out. However, several barriers and hurdles remain, not least for transgender people. Speaking, as I have, about women’s sport, we know how much frankly deliberately misleading transphobic claims abound. More broadly, race, age and dis/ability are areas where restrictive gates are still in place.
Watch out for, and name, the thieves
We therefore have to see John chapter 10 as a challenge, as well as a comfort to us. It is tempting, for example, to concentrate on the second half of that magnificent verse John 10.10, where John’s Jesus says ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ As Pastor Uncle Ray Minniecon says however, hold on a moment. Let’s not jump over the first part of that verse too quickly, where it says ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’ Jesus’ life-renewing calling is clearly contrasted with others, and, as Uncle Ray says, that first part of John 10.10 is typically what Aboriginal people have experienced since Europeans first came to Australia, and it is where so many people, not least First Nations people, live. If we are to receive and celebrate the gift which Jesus brings –life in is fullness – then we also have to name the thieves and the thieving and address them. Jesus’ fullness of life is intended for everyone. The Gate cannot be salvation for a few.
What other thieves and thieving do you see today? The plundering of the Earth for private gain, and the consequent results of climate change and other forms of violence, must surely now be obvious? The obscene extremes of power and wealth in our world, and even in our own nation and city, are also hardly Jesus’ life in all its fullness. Limited access for refugees and asylum seekers, together with the narrow gatekeeping at our borders are also surely a betrayal of God’s salvation. Meanwhile, though progress has been made for women and queer people, there is more to do, not least in terms of ending conversion therapy and orientation change attempts and lifting transgender and intersex restrictions. That is before we come, as people of faith, to the ways in which Scripture, Tradition and Reason are still used to build and maintain gates of exclusion. If such gate-builders and gate-keepers are not, to use other words of Jesus, wolves in sheep’s clothing, then they are certainly, in today’s Gospel terms, thieves of souls inflicting great harm.
the impact of negative gatekeeping
What a terribly pernicious impact negative gate-keeping has! It is not just that such things as racism, sexism, ableism, and queerphobia create legal and practical fences and locks, preventing access to fruitful pasture. It is also the psychological and spiritual locks and fences they create in human minds and souls. Indeed, talking of cricket, I remember our local state school team winning our county under 15 cricket competition. As a result, the following year we were drawn to play a prestigious private school in Nottingham, who had won their own county championship. All went well in preparation, for we had a very good side, with some particularly talented batters, including an Australian as one of our openers. The moment we reached the private school gates however, confidence simply collapsed. Those school gates, set in plush and luxurious grounds, were just so imposing – and deliberately intended to be so. They shouted, no they screamed, money, power and privilege – big money, power and privilege as none of our team had ever experienced, and almost everyone would likely never experience. Our team fell immediately silent, intimidated, and we never, sadly, recovered.
The Christ Gate
The Christ Gate – the Gate of Jesus – is a very different kind of gate. It is not made of marble, polished granite, with huge gold letters, a flamboyant crest, rich insignia, or even a motto in Latin (though you can have that if you like). Nor is entry limited to those with the right class, face, race, gender, ability, sexual desire, or configuration of genitals. Indeed, it is a deeply personal gate – for as scholars will point out, shepherds in Jesus’ context would form the gate themselves, with their own bodies. It is as deeply embodied and as profoundly relational as that. It is not a structure staffed by a particular set of people in clearly defining uniforms, robes and regalia. Indeed I am tempted to say that the Gate of Jesus is not the gates of Hogwarts, Harry Potter world, either, but, for all J.K.Rowling’s more recent transphobic nonsense, actually it is a bit like that. For the Christ Gate lets us all through, whatever our blood, however much of a Muggle we might be. After all, as someone once said, if Harry Potter’s story means anything, it is that no one should ever have to live in a closet, under the stairs or anywhere else. Rather, to recast a phrase of Emma Watson in a wonderful put down of J.K.Rowling, Jesus did not come just for some witches, but ‘for all the witches’. Isn’t that the truth, the wonder, the glory? That is John 3.16 isn’t it? – ‘For God so loved the world, that God gave their only begotten, that whoever believes/trust in them should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Whoever – that is who is able to come through the gate of Jesus. Whatever kind of witch you are, I am, you are. However then do those gatekeeping Christians get away with their ignorance of the Scriptures?! Again, are they not thieves of souls, thieves of the Bible, thieves of the life-giving Word of God which offers life for all, and life in all its fullness? Thank God that Rainbow Christian Alliance has long been such an opener of the gate of Jesus, and has inspired others to follow. Yet there is more to do, especially as some still lack full confidence in the Gate of Jesus and so do not enter into the fullness of life offered to us. Let me then very briefly offer five ways in which together we may share the Gate of Christ in our times, and help God lead more of us into good and even better pasture. Each way starts with a different letter, which together form a word, a mnemonic, FLARE - F-L-A-R-E…
Firstly, F, for Flourish: or, to put it another way, can we stop talking about ‘inclusion’ and help queer people actually flourish? Part of me would frankly like a Christian moratorium on the word ‘inclusive’. I am not far off feeling the same about ‘affirming’ too. Both words are still better than ‘welcoming’. However, they are sometimes just as frustrating in addressing what we may call the ‘Russian Roulette’ of Church life that queer people experience. It is like that once popular song ‘For everyone a place at the table’. No. I don’t want a place at the table, at least as it is. It is my table, after all: in so far, as, being Christ’s table, it is anyone’s. As a trans person, I want a different kind of table, a different range of food, and a different range of conversation - not just a safe place, but a space, true pasture, in which to flourish. We need flourishing – the good pasture of the Gate of Jesus.
Secondly, L, for Lead. There are two parts to this. On the one hand, whilst thankful for many allies, queer faith leaders often find ourselves alone. Faced by the money and media power of the Christian Right, we have sometimes had to strain hard to hear the whispers of others. Like First Nations people who wonder where their supposed whitefella allies are, we know Martin Luther King’s words: ‘in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ On the other hand, more importantly, most queer faith leaders often do not feel we are really being supported, and heard, even by some who regard themselves as ‘fully affirming’ allies. We have lost count of the number of Church discussions which have taken place, and still do, without those who bear the cost, and who are the main source of transforming the issues. Meanwhile, the toll on queer faith leaders from this neglect of our leadership is huge, and reflected in our high turnover and burnout. We cannot simply wait for others to help us, but how do we help one another lead, pray for, and create, new approaches to the Gate of Jesus?
Thirdly, A is for Awaken: when, and how, will Christians together share the already substantial body of queer faith? After all, it is over 50 years since Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church, together with so many more steps forward, scholarship, and resources. Yet, in Australia we typically live and converse as if queer faith was still a hypothetical question-mark. We thereby help perpetuate the horrendous false cultural binary of ‘God versus the gays (and the trans)’.
Across the Australian Christian communities, what seems to be poorly understood, at least in so-called ‘inclusive’ quarters, is that we are living on rapidly evaporating borrowed time. For queer people, and most of wider Australia, 2017 was surely a line in the sand. The marriage equality postal survey was a horrendous, unnecessary, strain on queer Australians but the outcome was clear. All theology is surely now theology after marriage equality, a key signifier of an established, if limited, shift of values. The sheer energy of the subsequent Right wing ‘religious freedom’ push is witness to this reality. The Christian Right grasps this in a way that liberals and ‘includers’ do not. There is no way back, only forward. Yet the Christian community, even in some of its better guises, continues to act as if queer identity is still up for debate and disagreement, or is a matter of gentle tolerance without intentional policy. Thankfully we are taking new steps, such as the first ever Queer Theology university course in Australia which I have been helping to create this year, and I hope that together we can share a vibrant faith presence in World Pride next year, not just for Sydney but perhaps further afield.
Fourthly, R, for Resource: we need more support, don’t we? We could say much on this, but, for now, raise just one issue: apologies. Queer people have gradually begun to hear Churches formulate these. Yet we have a number of questions. Above all, we want to ask: ‘what power and money is being exchanged?’ Where, just on transgender issues for example, do we see active and resourced formulation and sharing of gender diverse expansive liturgy, pastoral care, children and family resources, theological and ministry formation education and awareness, and information and resourcing for campaigns of justice – or even properly marked toilets? The risk is that apologies are all too often simply more ‘cheap grace’.
Fifthly, and finally, E, for Express: how will queer people of faith continue to claim their/our power, and how will others share in genuine, active, partnerships? How do we move beyond the temptations to cheap grace? Church authorities no longer ‘turn a blind eye’ to queerness, pressured by understandable demands for accountability and transparency, as well as Right-wing moral crusades and culture wars. We cannot go back to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. We either come out, as queer people of faith, and as the wider Church, for a future worth having, or we will now simply die in the closet. So when I chose to take up the call to Pitt Street Uniting Church, I did so partly in order to nurture queer faith liberation more fully, and do so right now, in a wholly unapologetic, beyond ‘inclusive’, congregation. For to honour the great pioneers – like Dorothy McRae-McMahon, on whose shoulders I now stand in Pitt Street – we have to act likewise. In doing so we continue to share in opening the Gate of Jesus.
In the words of a great gay religious poet, may we ‘flare’ like the ‘fire-folk’ we are called to be: ‘selving’, ‘acting in God’s eye what in God’s eye’ we are – ‘Christ – for Christ plays in a thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not’ theirs.
by Josephine Inkpin, for Rainbow Christian Alliance at Tuggeranong UC, Sunday 11 Sept 2022
Question for Discussion:
What can help us FLARE – flourish, lead, awaken, resource, and express -
sharing as better gates of God’s Love?
 In a speech of 1965