Yvonne Aburrow, editor of The Unitarian magazine, recalls a reading of the Bible in Polari and writes about the role of the Unitarians in achieving LGBT equality.
Everyone should have the Bible in their own language, said Erasmus, so that “The farmer might sing snatches of his Scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.”
And so it is entirely right and proper that the Bible has been translated into Polari, the erstwhile language of Queer people, currently enjoying something of a revival. It should be heard in churches, too — and it is being embraced by LGBT Unitarians.
The occasion was the second Christmas service of Rainbow Unitarians, a group of Unitarian LGBTQI people, at New Unity Church, Islington, in December 2011. There was a reading from an article about Christian de la Huerta’s ten queer spiritual roles; there were carols and readings for Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas. There was a poem by Ursula Fanthorpe, and a reading of an article by a gay Anglican priest. And there was a reading from the Polari Bible: the Gospel according to Lucille, chapter 2, verses 1 to 18. It was so moving to hear a gay man read from the Bible in Polari. It was as if we had been given our language back.
Christopher Warleigh-Lack, partner of Alex, the founder of Rainbow Unitarians, says: “I had never heard the Christmas story in Polari and it made a huge impact on me – I was amazed that someone had gone to the trouble of translating it, and at the humour of the story when read.”
Even though I am not a Christian, I regard the Bible as a significant part of our culture, and to hear it in Polari gives it a whole new sparkle. And being able to hear it in a church was even better.
The amazing thing about Unitarians is that they include and welcome everyone. The church has been welcoming atheists since the 1920s (and not trying to convert them to theism); Pagans have been part of the movement since the 1980s (and pantheism and process theology were part of the Unitarian perspective even earlier); and Unitarian churches have been welcoming LGBT people since at least the 1970s.
The founder of the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, Dudley Cave, was a Unitarian; and Integroup, one of the earliest support groups for LGBT people, was in a Unitarian church, Golders Green, convened by the minister, Rev Keith Gilley. There have been various resolutions at Unitarian Annual Meetings in support of LGBT rights. In 1977, Unitarians resolved that the ministry of the denomination be open to all — regardless of gender, ‘race’, colour or sexual orientation – and expressed an abhorrence of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1984, they resolved that the age of consent for homosexuals should be the same as that for heterosexuals. In 2000, Unitarians supported the repeal of Clause 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, believing that this clause, prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, in practice encouraged homophobia. In 2008, Unitarians called on the government to introduce legislation permitting ceremonies for civil partnerships to be performed in any place of worship or other premises licensed for the celebration of marriage.
Unitarianism and Free Christianity is a non-creedal religious movement that seeks to unite people in fellowship, in a spirit of freedom, reason and tolerance. This liberal approach to building a community means that Unitarians value diversity, and recognise that congregational members can learn from one another’s perspectives. LGBT people are called to contribute their unique talents and views to the wider religious community.
LGBT people have made major contributions to the development of professional Unitarian ministry, and LGBT people hold positions of responsibility within the movement. There is no “pink ceiling”.
Rainbow, a group for LGBTQI Unitarians in London and the South-East, is a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Unitarians, of various ages and origins. The group is self-organising, and financially supported by the London and South-East District Unitarians. In a way, there is little need for the group to exist, because LGBTQI people are welcome at all Unitarian churches, but it is nice to have some queer space occasionally, to discuss queer spirituality.
Recently, Unitarians have been at the forefront of the campaign for marriage equality. The government’s announcement of equal marriage legislation was welcomed by Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, who said, “Unitarians look forward to the announcement and that this will mean we will be free to conduct same-sex marriages in our places of worship if congregations wish to do so. … We claim the right to do so in line with our own deeply held convictions about the inherent worth of all individuals and for public recognition of relationships. Civil partnerships in religious premises, whilst welcomed by Unitarians, are not a substitute for same sex religious marriage. The introduction of civil partnerships in religious premises has faced difficulties and progress has been slow although several Unitarian congregations have registered to host ceremonies and some have taken place; the first being in Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool.”
Unitarians, both LGBT and heterosexual, can be seen regularly at Pride marches and events, waving a banner with a chalice on it in support of LGBT rights. There was a brilliant Unitarian turn-out for World Pride in London, and the same in Manchester. Pride marches are probably the only time you’ll see a Unitarian minister wearing a dog collar — just to make the point that there is a religion that enthusiastically supports LGBT rights!