IT IS not new to Church Times readers that the relationship between sexual identity and faith is not only complex, but also fraught with pain, hatred, and fear. Unorthodox does not offer an academic approach to the topic. Instead, 12 British people, including a transgender Anglican priest, a bisexual Hindu, a Muslim gay man, and a transsexual Jewish woman, tell their stories with a bold mixture of sorrow, shame, hope, and joy.
It is astonishing to realise that, although each chapter is utterly unique, they share so many patterns: the exitus and reditus of the divine, the conflicting burden of shame, the fear of judgement from their community, resistance from families, and the tireless search for self-understanding. Holding these patterns together is the wish to love and be loved.
In his introduction, Séan Richardson suggests that those whom he interviewed “lay claim to faith”. It is very well put, as we see, throughout, the harmful struggle to find a way of living with paradox which LGBT+ people living with faith have to bear. Each journey points to Jacob’s disjointing a hip through his wrestling with God. They know the cost of belief; their honesty about their sexual identity creates stumbling-blocks along each path.
The Revd Rachel Mann’s account sets the bar high: she writes with clear-eyed acuity about her religious conversion, which turned her life off course. Her reflections on vocation and priesthood should be required reading for ordinands and weary clergy: Mann’s struggle to be honest about her gender is reflected in her struggle to be a faithful priest, and these synergies are probably pertinent to us all.
Another highlight is Khakan Qureshi, who expresses the delight that he now takes in reading the Qur’an in context, and the joy of eventual reconciliation with his father. With pathos and poetry, Mr Ekow, a Ghanaian rapper from Croydon, raised as an Evangelical Christian, describes with haunting words the work that he has done to salvage his faith, his family, and himself in his journey of reconciliation. His chapter, “No Man’s Land”, begins with his own lyrics:
Caught between the Rock and a
Feels like I lose no matter what I
I’ve tried and tried
I’ve tried and cried
I’ve lost my mind
This book may be slim, but has the potential to make a weighty impact for all people of all faiths.
The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain of Goodenough College, London, and associate priest at St George’s, Bloomsbury. She is the author of This Is My Body (Canterbury Press, 2017).
Unorthodox: LGBT+ identity and faith
Séan Richardson, editor
Five Leaves Publications £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20