Book Review: ‘Queer Holiness – the gift of LGBTQI People to the Church’ by Charlie Bell

The promotion of this book has been extensive on social media and I was very much looking forward to reading it.  The fact that I read it in three sittings, rather than my normal 2-3 months says a lot about the very readable flow and the engaging nature of Charlie’s analysis of church inclusion and hospitality in the 21st century. It was all very familiar grounds for me, as a seasoned LGBT Church activist these past 30+ years. It reads like an impassioned speech – calling the Church to ‘include us’ – and that was its focus rather than the slightly misleading title ‘Queer Holiness – the gift of LGBTQI people’. It described all that is wrong in the church – by which I mean the hierarchy & power structures of the Church of England (other parts of the Anglican Church such as  the Church in Wales, Scottish Episcopals, or other denominations  such as the Methodists & Baptists didn’t get a look in despite their strides towards progress these past few years). 

What I read was good – but it was not what I was hoping for – which would have been ‘a glass half full’ approach of identifying areas of progress, such as the regional spread of Open Tables or the participation in ‘Christians At Pride’ events, as grounds for celebration (not complacency) rather than lament or protest. I suppose June as Pride Month incorporates both Protest & Party though, as legitimate expressions of LGBT well-being.   

The book is excellent at setting out the grounds for inclusion on the basis of Scripture, Tradition and Reason – with Experience thrown in for good measure. It reads as an introduction to the historic debates in General Synod/ the House of Bishops these past 30 years – a primer for activism and awareness. It was certainly very readable & accessible, with a passion and anger which are real and measured, in the context of divine love and true Eucharistic fellowship. It is not an academic book, though it has sufficient footnotes for further study.

I would have liked to read more about Holy Joy, rather than lament – the “Happy Holy Homosexual” (HHH) as Mother Jide Macaulay describes it – and the Pentecostal gifts of insight, community, creativity & compassion generated by the LGBT Faith Community members – not just speaking truth to power but speaking prophetically from our liminal perspective (the “Beatitude of the Excluded”), embracing cosmic generosity. Yes, flourishing and well-being are mentioned with reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – but the self-actualisation is not spelt out – particularly in terms of “Queer Holiness” as the title promised.

Books such as R.Rohr’s “Wild Man’s Journey” or J.Stowe “Gay Spirit Warrior” would be recommended as necessary to re-set the balance. We are invited to look beyond the church for remedies for institutional sickness – as the entrenched debates on gender and sexuality have led us to internecine conflict rather than holistic Mission and Christ’s invitation to life in all its fullness (“Theology locked in a cave” as Charlie describes it). This says more about the nature of the cave than the world outside. There is a call for corrective therapy (or should that be surgery) – rather than Conversion Therapy in the Church – calling ALL the Church back to wholeness, wellbeing – and, yes, holiness – by demonstrating God’s Grace in Action. We are witnesses to Lazarus as he comes forth from the cave, and we are told to assist him to unwrap his burial bandages, so that he may again set unfettered at the Lord’s table enjoying the Holy Fellowship or ‘relational interconnectivity’. This book is a call to action (Isaiah 58:6). I am glad that I have read it.

David Austin TSSF is the regional ambassador for Oldham in the North-West.