Regina minister condemns gender and sexuality-based discrimination
Reflections on scripture, sex, and spiritual abuse
The Carillon has been covering the recent class action lawsuit against Legacy Christian Academy (LCA), which partly alleged homophobic treatment of students. In solidarity, the local regional council for the United church released a statement standing in support of the former LCA students. It was only two years ago that United Churches in Saskatoon had homophobic slurs scrawled across them due to their affirming stance on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues. This week, I sat down with Russell Mitchell-Walker, a minister at a United Church here in Regina to talk about Christianity and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
How do you personally view the history between the church and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community?
Well, the reality is that there’s a wide range of church belief and understanding, and the problem is that I think the public perception is one thing and the reality can be different, particularly in mainline churches. So, the United Church decided in 1988 that being gay or lesbian was not a barrier to being a minister. […] I grew up in the church, and when we had the discussions in ‘88, that really helped me actually come to terms with my own sexuality and realize that the God I believe in is a God of love, not a God of hate and fear. And so that just kind of affirmed for me that it was okay for me to be gay, and that’s how God wanted me to be and live. I’ve been pretty solid in that for all of my ministry.
Could you maybe tell me a little bit more about what you were doing at the time in 1988, and about that decision?
I was commissioned as a Diaconal minister […] in 1986. And then we settled in Lloydminster, Alberta, which was a fairly conservative area of Alberta. Through that time leading up to ‘88, there were studies that were coming out from the Church. […] There was a whole report, sexual orientation in the understanding of ministry that came out that we were studying. I was a new minister, fairly young, and a congregation that was not as conservative as some of the more rural ones in the area, but still somewhat conservative.
And at the same time, I met my husband, Brian. I went to a young Abbot conference, and we met there. We clicked and had lots of friends in common and started a relationship long distance. ‘87, that was. […] I remember one Sunday we had a kind of forum where we invited people to read the report and respond to the congregation what they thought. And it was one of the seniors that came out in favor and support of it. Like, “I don’t know what our problem is” kind of thing, 88-year-old woman. But others, like the chair of the board was like, “we should be united and separate from the United Church.” So, it just became clear that it wasn’t going to be a good place.
Your Regional Council had released a statement about the Legacy Christian Academy events in particular. What do you think needs to happen in that case going forward?
Well, I clearly think that the government shouldn’t be funding schools that are against human rights policy, really, or that promote hate or discrimination. And I don’t think religion gives us a right to discriminate. […] And there’s been more and more work done over the years around support for gender and sexuality alliances and things like that being encouraged or welcomed in the schools. […] The reality is that when young people don’t have that safe space and there is negative messages around who they are, the suicide rates are four times higher than their heterosexual peers, and that’s not acceptable.
Legacy Christian Academy in particular, but also some other events, have been associated with Evangelical churches. What are your thoughts on this particular branch of Christianity?
Well, they approach scripture and faith in a different way than we do. The problem is when you have a literal interpretation of scripture, which is what most evangelical churches have, and fundamentalists, then the problem and challenge with that perspective is that they don’t look at the whole picture. They just say “This is what you have to believe,” and there’s no leverage or room for questioning.
A lot of people come to a point in their lives where something happens that there’s not the clear answer for and the church camp respond appropriately, or they respond in ways that are actually inappropriate. Whether it’s like a woman facing sexual abuse and domestic abuse, and saying that, “you’re committed to this marriage, you have to work it out.” Or someone who is 2SLGBTQIA+ and not getting the support they need to sort through those questions. […] When we take the scripture in context and know the context and the historical and cultural realities, most of the passages are about cult prostitution or rape and abuse, and none of us would support those. […] It’s not about love. It’s about abuse.
And those are the things that we need to be addressing and concerned about. And what’s the problem, as I say that with the literal perspective, is that it ends up creating more abuse and creates spiritual abuse because to name someone as demonic for who they are is spiritual abuse and it causes trauma.
There’s also a number of other denominations who don’t yet allow gay ministers. Why do you think that’s still a problem for some other churches compared to the United Church?
I’d say largely because of their approach to scripture. […] When we look at, like my colleague Carlo Blakely, who I worked with on Camp Firefly, she did a thesis on queering the Bible. And one of the things that she identified that’s a common Jewish understanding is what’s called Merisms. When God created the night and day, it wasn’t just that God created only night and only day. It’s night and day and everything in between.
So, God didn’t just create male and female, but male and female and everything in between. And so that kind of understanding and liberation is so important to again, not just taking things at face value in terms of what scripture quote unquote says, and so those churches that are not yet affirming are still caught in those past understandings. The reality is that things have changed so much. I mean, I kind of laughed when there were a number of people leaving United Church because we were making the statement on gays and lesbians and going to Presbyterian or Lutheran or whatever, because we’re everywhere and we’re more open and more out and we’re pushing for rights. And so it wasn’t long before all of those other denominations were needing to make the same decisions and choices.