United Church of Christ

Decolonizing Queer Bodies & Identities

by Rev . Izzy Alvaran

A couple of weeks ago I had the great opportunity to participate in the Faith and Family Power Summit in Salt Lake City, UT, organized by the National LGBTQ Taskforce.

The keynote address of openly lesbian United Church of Christ Bishop Yvette Flunder challenged me to seek learning opportunities that will sharpen my consciousness around the intersections of imperialism/colonialism and my own sense of queerness.

She pointed out: “A prophet is someone who has been delivered from religious constipation—who speaks when it’s dangerous to speak!”

Deliverance from “religious constipation” as the context of subverting systems of oppression invited me to reflect on my own journey to continually rid myself of any constraints hindering me from being a channel—a sacrament—of prophetic witness. With this in mind, I joined the workshop on the intersections of imperialism and queer identity.

Led by fabulous facilitator Malcolm Shanks, a queer Muslim organizing with the Taskforce, participants were confronted with the deeply entrenched historical roots of colonialism and how its racist hetero-patriarchal norms wiped out entire cultures that valued diverse expressions of human sexuality and relationships using brute force and religious (im)moral persuasion.

The ideological effects of conquest in North America and the wider global South is still felt today, with former colonial masters still wielding economic and political power with disdainful imperial lust. As an openly gay person of color and clergy in The United Methodist Church—a denomination with imperial outposts in different parts of the world a.k.a the “global church”—I am compelled to embody the spiritual practice of decolonizing my queer consciousness and politics.

Simply being part of the LGBTQIA community does not make me immune from the ills of colonial mentality, hence, decolonizing work is a constant practice.

Connecting queer struggles with racial and economic justice is an expression of decolonizing how we organize—by working together at the intersections of injustice. The colonizers that have occupied the Philippines, my homeland, came with weapons of physical and spiritual destruction against anyone who opposes what they consider as normative. Natives were forced to take on Spanish names, convert to Christianity, work as slaves, and dress up according to certain codes.

The babaylan (mostly women leaders who are healers and teachers), considered by some scholars as indigenous expressions of queer identity and practice went underground, many hunted as witches. Their male babaylan counterparts—who presented themselves as females—were charged with sodomy and death.

Colonialism is an evil that needs to be excised. It extends beyond physical occupation of land. It permeates socio-political structure, language, and religious life. The colonizers live by a basic principle—we are better than you and we will make sure you agree and conform. This hegemonic dogma is anathema to my understanding of Jesus’ teachings that are founded on human dignity, social interconnectedness, respect and love.

My queer self revolts at this notion of racial and cultural superiority, as it is the bedrock of bigotry and genocide.

I am often asked why I—a gay progressive clergy—am still part of an institution that perpetuates colonial rule. I stay in the church to help carry the prophetic torch and struggle against its ideological tendency toward hetero-patriarchy. I will use my privilege of being a cisgender male, and having been educated and ordained as clergy to resist any form of oppression.

I will not stop hoping that Filipino Methodists would rise up and claim full autonomy in administering the Philippine church. As an RMN organizer, I am working myself out of a job in making sure that all discriminatory laws against LGBTQIA persons in The UMC Book of Discipline are overturned.
I will not allow my queer body and mind to be occupied by the power of the conquistador. I will strive to be delivered from “religious constipation” and risk my life in speaking truth to power.

Originally published at Reconciling Ministers Network; Photo via flickr user Frisno Bostrom