Silence, violence and encounters on the pilgrim way

Archbishop Emeritus Anders Wejryd, Church of Sweden; Dr. Hyun Sun Oh, The Korean Yesu Church in Solidarity; and Rev. Judith Kotzé, panel moderator.

by Jim Hodgson

Must the queer and trans communities offer patience or solidarity to the Christian churches as they discern their way forward on human sexuality?

The question came from an audience member who expressed anxiety with the slow process of change. It might have provoked another hour of conversation had another group not been waiting to use the same space Thursday afternoon, 1 Sept., at Canisiushaus – the Encounter Centre for Women, Men, Family, Gender and Diversity at the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe.

“It’s not that some need to be patient or be quiet, because silence is violence,” responded Rev. Judith Kotzé, the panel’s moderator. “We need to be patient with the nuances of our use of language, knowing that we are having conversations on the pilgrim way.”

Kotzé, a South African member of the WCC’s Reference Group on Human Sexuality (RGHS) and of Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith, added: “The WCC is a global platform for meeting each other, and to grow, we use language to understand. If we misunderstand each other, it’s not neutral: it’s pain and tears and distancing. It costs us when we do not talk about sexuality.”

Earlier during the panel conversation on “human sexuality and the Bible,” Archbishop Emeritus Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden and chair of the RGHS, had spoken of the willingness of church people to encounter each other over their differences, and to share with each other as acts of solidarity.

For him, a key resource has been a 2013 study by the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission on moral discernment. “All churches use tools – tradition, scripture, culture, reason, experience, traditional wisdom – but the mixture is different.” The challenge has been to hear these emphases and to discern ways forward.

From right: Rev. Michael Blair, United Church of Canada, and Joshua Sauerwein of the Zwischenraum organization in Germany joined Rev. Judith Kotzé, Dr. Hyun Sun Oh and Archbishop Anders Wejryd (absent at that moment) on the panel.

Rev. Michael Blair, the Jamaica-born general secretary of The United Church of Canada, began with the words of Bob Marley about liberating ourselves from mental slavery. He then talked of his journey as a gay youth in a conservative church to finding a sort of liberation in historical-critical ways of reading the Bible. 

“I have a motto, and it’s that ‘silence is violence.’ One of the realities is that many of us experience violence because even folks who consider themselves allies perpetrate violence because of their silence,” he said. 

“We just need to learn to love ourselves, and be mindful that we are in relationship with a creator who doesn’t make mistakes. Other people may think you are a mistake, but God doesn’t. From our own self-hate, we can create challenges for ourselves, and also for others. It’s important to realize that we have a God who takes delights in us,” said Blair.

Dr. Hyun Sun Oh of the Korean Yesu Church in Solidarity (KYCS) said that her concept of church – developed as she was banned from her previous denomination and its seminaries – has developed from reflection on the encounter of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth as told in Luke 1. “I recognize them as outcasts in their societies. Mary and Elizabeth meet and they sing a song of solidarity among oppressed people. I like to make space like Elizabeth’s house: unity and reconciliation are found in the spaces of their lives.”

The youngest panelist was Joshua Sauerwein, a 25-year-old Trans man from Germany who came out eight years ago. 

“That was my lowest point. I didn’t want to be queer or trans. I felt shame. I let go of the hand of God, but the hand of God did not let go of me. I lost everything I was, and the Holy Spirit used that space and changed me.” 

“It’s a journey,” he said. “It’s always a journey. Just be prepared to let God surprise you again.”

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