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Religion And Sexuality Can Co-Exist For Rainbow Families

Can we update the godparent tradition to better fit all families?

23/12/2016 9:39 AM AEDT | Updated 23/12/2016 11:31 AM AEDT
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"There is much that continues to divide us when it comes to navigating the complex relationship between spirituality and sexuality."

I adore my godmother. She is gentle, smart and funny, and has remained a calm, consistent presence throughout my life. Our connection is no mean feat across four decades of incredible social change.

But when I became a mother, I was in a same-sex relationship. My family life was not reflected in church teachings, even if we may have been represented in their congregations.

And so my children's other mother and I made the decision to not seek the formal appointment of any of our beloved friends and family as godparents. We hoped, instead, that our children would grow up encircled by a robust but 'off-the-record' web of love and wisdom spun by their biological and chosen families.

Two very dear members of that extended clan have now had their own beautiful baby boy. His two mums are deeply connected to their families of origin, and treasure their role as godparents to their siblings' children. But they, too, will not be appointing godparents for their son. Instead, they have come up with a new, ingenious, and only partly tongue-in-cheek, tradition. In place of godparents, they are appointing 'gaylords'.

Deliberately reclaiming a term which has been used to mock, not honour, in our culture, here are their Terms of Reference: at least two gaylords are required for each child; they can be alive or dead, familiar or distant, friend or family, gay or other. Gaylords represent a virtue or accomplishment that parents hope will inspire their child, and promote values which align with their own approach to family life.

These spiritual guides will hold a privileged position in their modern, rainbow family.

I relish the joyful irreverence of this strategy for reconciling what can be a divisive issue for families and communities. And as a social researcher, I am inspired by this evidence of our wild creativity in inventing new ways of connecting.

But as a goddaughter, and the child of a Christian family, I understand that my delight in this reworking of a religious tradition may hurt those who have prayed for me in my path through life.

I was baptised at my family's Anglican church. Some of my earliest memories involve sitting in that tall, quiet building. It was a safe and loving place for me; an extension of my home life.

For my parents and grandparents, the church is elemental to life and identity. A place to practice faith, to share communion. One of my grandmothers had even been known to speak in tongues during prayer, which I wish I had witnessed for myself.

I was given the first name Christy, 'a gift from God', and my godmother's name as a middle name. I cherish the connections to family and culture that these names hold for me. These connections became ever more significant when I began to pursue a path that led me away from that church community.

Beyond my own understanding, a cultural disquiet was also growing regarding the teachings and practices of many religious institutions. Crimes were being revealed, and church leaders implicated in covering up a systematic, violent betrayal of the most vulnerable in their care.

Across the country, congregations of all kinds are now grappling with their distress and disappointment at these difficult truths. They are developing new strategies to do better.

Beyond these issues of institutional responsibility, there is much that continues to divide us when it comes to navigating the complex relationship between spirituality and sexuality.

But until recently we had also never witnessed, in western cultures at least, so much appreciation and support for diversity in gender and sexual identities, and for differences in relationship and family formations, including within some of our churches. We have also never seen such broad cultural understanding of why it matters that religious institutions receive critical interrogation regarding their practices and proclamations.

As a mother, I draw comfort from the values I share with my faith-based family. But my children are doubly blessed. They will grow up witnessing how love, compassion and justice are promoted by the religions practiced by many members of their extended families. But they will also have the opportunity to know, and to know deeply, how alternative expressions of those values enrich our world.

We must, as a society, get better at celebrating these points of intersection and connection between our religious and queer communities.

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