Community resources

Support to Survive

Support to Survive is a space which acts as a survival kit for those doing feminist, queer, decolonial, and trauma informed church work. In this post, Rosie Clare Shorter reflects with Tracy McEwan, Steff Fenton, and Erin Martine Hutton on why they started the Support to Survive community.  

When you begin a research degree, people throw all sorts of ideas and tips in your direction. ‘Keep your notes in a systematic manner,’ they say, at a university induction, as though no-one has ever recommended this before. And you nod diligently, and then go home to a hundred multicoloured Post-it notes scattered over your desk. ‘Write drunk, edit sober,’ suggests a parishioner during an online church service in the middle of Covid-19 lockdowns. ‘Research is lonely; find your people,’ was a common piece of advice at academic conferences.

Research certainly can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

As we each worked on our respective research and wrote about gendered, racist, and sexist exclusion and harm in Christianity, we realised that our work was sometimes isolating. At times, it even felt alienating and risky. You can feel incredibly small when you stand up and call out heterosexist ideology. When you name sexism and racism within long-standing and well-resourced institutions. When you name it as harmful and violent. When you say that church teaching and culture can be a contributing factor in disaffiliation, intimate partner violence, homophobic, and transphobic harm and violence. Even when you know that there is a growing body of research behind you.

It can feel lonely, too, because this work can be not only theoretical and academic for us. It can be personal, and lived, too. For some of us doing this work, we have direct experiences of gendered, sexist, and racist harm within Christianity. We carry our own experiences with us as we research. As we hear the stories of others. It is also almost impossible to research and write about gendered, racist, and sexist exclusion and harm in Christianity without being impacted by what we read, hear, and learn.

Yet, our research also brought us together.  The more we did this work, and discussed it with each other we realised we weren’t alone, and we weren’t the only ones saying these things. We quickly realised that similar projects were happening across different faith traditions, from different angles, and in different disciplines; sociology, studies of religion, theology and biblical studies.

That’s part of why we started Support to Survive.

We started Support to Survive because we didn’t want to stand on our own, and we wanted a way to stay connected. We wanted to know we had someone to hold our hand when we didn’t feel brave. Someone to read our drafts when we felt unsure. We wanted peers to stand with, collaborate with and celebrate with. We wanted to cultivate health and healing together.  We wanted to slowly build a network, so that together we could have support to survive.

On our blog you’ll see the claim, ‘survival is a team sport.’ When you engage in feminist, queer, and decolonial work, having the support of others can be what keeps you afloat. Community keeps you going.  Sara Ahmed (2017, 235) contends that: survival ‘refers not only to living on, but to keeping going in the more profound sense of keeping going with one’s commitments. … Survival can be about keeping one’s hope’s alive; holding on to the projects that are projects insofar as they have yet to be realized. … Survival can thus be what we do for others, with others. We need each other to survive; we need to be part of each other’s survival’.

We’re not 100% sure what this space will look like as it grows. When we first discussed setting up some sort of network we had Ahmed’s depiction of a feminist killjoy survival kit in mind, and thought about how we could become part of each other’s survival kits. How we could help assemble a survival kit for others doing similar work. We firmly believe that if we are to keep on being committed to finding ways for religious institutions, organisations and communities to be safer and more inclusive, we need each other to survive. We might even find a way to thrive in this work as well.

In Complaint! Ahmed talks about how we chip away at institutional sexism, racism and violence. This work is slow, especially if you are chipping away on your own. We started Support to Survive because we wanted company while we chipped. We wanted to know we were chipping in the right places. We wanted support to keep on chipping away. We wanted to know someone else would carry on chipping when we were tired and needed a break. We wanted others to reassure us its ok to stop chipping when we need a break. We needed friends to encourage us to let go of the work when we were too close to it to realise. Working collectively matters. On our own, our voices are small, our chipping is minimal, but as Ahmed (2021, 277) reminds us, ‘we are not alone. We sound louder when we are heard together; we are louder’.

Doing this work in community is central to surviving.

We first imagined Support to Survive as a survival kit for people doing feminist, queer, decolonial and trauma-informed work and research within Christian organisations and communities. However, it is our hope that in time, Support to Survive will be an interdisciplinary and multi-religious space where many people share ideas and resources, and find a community of hope and healing. We want to create space for ‘coalitional thinking’ (Butler 2004, 11) – one of us might be particularly focused on how the religious institutions can contribute to primary prevention in Domestic and Family violence, while another is focused on how Christian churches can read the Bible to promote more expansive understandings of gender. Together, we can see how our specific projects contribute to broader conversations. Together, we can chip away at the walls of cisheterosexism and racism that are maintained by the harmful (mis)use of theologies and doctrines. Together, we can feel less alone. Together we are part of a movement of change.

We can support one another, even if the particular focus of our work is different. We want to collectively build a toolkit that contains a range of resources –  ideas, conversations, events, resources, friendships – that help us to do what we do. We’re hoping that our website can be a place where we can platform each other’s work, share new ideas on our blog and recommend existing resources. To get going, we’re hosting an online gathering on July 26 which will be a chance to think about what care and compassion looks like in our work and research practices.

Come join us as we slowly build a network and continue to chip away at sexism, queer exclusion, racism and violence in religious and faith-based settings.

Rosie Clare Shorter (She/her) is a feminist researcher interested in religion, gender and sexuality. She works in research and teaching roles at Deakin University, the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University.

Tracy McEwan (PhD) (she/her)  is a theologian and sociologist of religion and gender at the University of Newcastle. Her research interests include women in Catholicism; domestic and family violence; and sexual and spiritual abuse

Steff Fenton (they/them) completed their Master of Divinity at the University of Divinity in 2021. They are a trans Christian speaker, writer, educator, and advocate who publicly shares the intersections of being queer and Christian. 

Erin Marine Hutton (She/her) is an award-winning scholar and poet whose interdisciplinary research is aimed at preventing violence.

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Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm: A Toolkit for Churches 

The Shiloh Project is pleased to announce the launch of a new toolkit called Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm. The toolkit has been developed as an educational resource for church leaders, inviting them to reflect on ways that churches can become spaces where sexual harm survivors feel safe and supported. This resource can be downloaded by following the link to the “Accompanying Survivors Toolkit” page on this website.

Below, Emily Colgan (one of the creators and editors of the toolkit) explains more about the toolkit’s development and its goals.

Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm: A Toolkit for Churches 

Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm is a trauma-informed resource that offers education and support of Christian clergy and lay leaders as they respond to sexual harm in their communities.  The resource is the collaborate effort of seven academics, all of whom work broadly at the intersection of sexual harm and Christian faith traditions in Aotearoa New Zealand. Through our work in this area, we have long been aware of the distressingly high rates of sexual harm in our communities, and we believe it is important for churches to recognise that the trends we see in society more generally are reflected in church communities as well. Moreover, churches need to acknowledge that sexual harm is perpetrated within these communities—at times by those in positions of authority—and the primary response of church leaders has far too often been one of self-preservation and concealment. For the most part, churches in Aotearoa have not yet found a voice to adequately address the issue of sexual harm, which is endemic in faith communities and in society at large. We (as a country, generally) have a problem with sexual harm and, for the most part, churches keep silent on this issue. 

This situation has come into sharper focus since February 2018, when the New Zealand government announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care. In November of the same year, the inquiry expanded its scope to include abuse of those in the care of religious institutions. The harrowing testimonies of victims and survivors who experienced horrific sexual harm while in the care of religious institutions reveal that, for many people, churches have not been places of welcome and safety; they have not been places of good news. Churches have failed in their duty of care for the most vulnerable in their midst. The Commission’s work is still ongoing. But it has highlighted the urgent need for churches to be proactive in their support of victims and survivors, as well as in their efforts to ensure that church communities are no longer spaces where sexual harm can flourish. This resource is our – the contributor’s – response to this need. 

Over a number of years, we have canvassed stakeholders from within the Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions, seeking feedback about the educative needs of these churches for confronting the issue of sexual harm. We have also piloted this resource material with various church groups, seeking comment on the relevance and usefulness of its content for those in ministry. It reflects scholarship by experts in their respective fields, consultation with church leaders and those in frontline ministry positions, and insights and input from victims and survivors of sexual harm. It is by no means exhaustive, nor does it claim to be the full and final word on an appropriate Christian response to the issue of sexual harm. Instead, it enables workshop-based sessions which aim to educate clergy and lay leaders about

  • Understanding the nature of sexual harm and its prevalence in New Zealand society. 
  • Being alert to and responding in a pastorally sensitive manner to people within their community who have experienced/are experiencing sexual harm.  
  • Identifying and articulating some of the scriptural and theological foundations that work to justify/legitimise/enable sexual harm while silencing the voices of victims/survivors. 
  • Identifying and articulating some of the scriptural and theological foundations that work to challenge and resist sexual harm. 
  • Exploring how their church might work to create a safe space for victims/survivors of sexual harm. 

The toolkit will be of value to anyone in a church leadership position, including those training for Christian ministry and  those who have extensive ministry/leadership experience. It is intentionally ecumenical in nature and does not require knowledge of any one denominational tradition. While the format of the resource requires reflection and discussion in an “intellectual” sense, the aim of this work is to enable tangible, practical action in our communities that will support victims and survivors, and to make our churches spaces that are welcoming and safe. 

While some of the content relates specifically to the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the material can be adapted and used further afield. There is space offered throughout the sessions for participants to discuss how issues pertaining to sexual harm relate to their own communities. Participants also have opportunities to consider how their own cultures, contexts, traditions, and languages will help shape their role of accompanying victims and survivors. 

The toolkit is free for anyone to download and use. It can be accessed here on the Shiloh Project website. If you have any queries about the use of the toolkit, please contact us at [email protected]

We hope this resource is a useful and meaningful tool for all those who accompany victims and survivors on their journey.

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Infographic for the White Rose Project ‘Domestic Violence and Marginalised Communities’

The White Rose Network Project ‘Domestic Violence and Marginalised Communities’ (see here) led by Parveen Ali and Michaela Rogers of the University of Sheffield, is currently developing resources for researchers and activists.

Here is an Act-tea-vism infographic to introduce some members of the team (please see the attached pdf below for the full version). Special thanks to Mark Fitzgerald (see his picture in the infographic!) for his assistance.

Why tea? Drinking tea is an activity central to the domestic realm in many places and settings. Tea can provide comfort and also opportunity for social engagement and community building. Tea can play a part in grassroots activism, in providing support, and fostering solidarity.

Check out the complete document:

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Reading with self-care when reading in vulnerability

Today’s post is by Rebecca Parnaby-Rooke, Co-Leader at The Ordinary Office

Twitter: @Dechurching

Email: [email protected]

In this piece, Christian, activist and survivor Rebecca Parnaby-Rooke reflects on her experience of reading the new book by David Tombs, The Crucifixion of Jesus: Torture, Sexual Abuse, and the Scandal of the Cross, which is the latest volume to appear in the Routledge Focus Series, “Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible” (see here).

The book is out today and open access! Please see here.

As its title already flags up, the content of David Tombs’ book is difficult. It deals with suffering, infliction of torture and sexualised abuse – but also with the horror of suppressing and denying such violence. Rebecca offers advice to fellow Christians about reading the book with an eye towards self-care. 

Reading With Self-Care When Reading In Vulnerability

Silence and violence. Key ideas throughout this book, and, as a package, something a person often doesn’t understand fully unless it touches their own life. Through their work, through anecdotal evidence. Through lived experience of a traumatic event. I’d go so far as to say silencing is an act of violence: from repeated neglect and dismissal of the same one’s voice every time a meeting is held, to the outright threats of “Don’t tell anyone!” which can follow a sexual assault. 

Rebecca Parnaby-Rooke, courtesy of the author.

My understanding of silence and violence is shaped by my own experience as a rape survivor. If we have the capacity (and only if), those of us who understand the complexities and repercussions of silence and violence have an opportunity to speak up, speak out and educate. We don’t have to agree on the ins and outs, the hows and whys, the extent to which we advocate. We don’t have to find the conversations comfortable or agree on the same premises. But neither can we dismiss very real possibilities and discussions which may prove revelatory, thought-provoking and immensely helpful to others.

Those of us working in and around Trauma Theology do this work not because we “enjoy” it, but out of a deep sense of justice, a calling even. Many in this area of work start from a place of lived experience, drawing from the well of those memories and the journeys back from their own trauma to speak into better practices for the future. Protecting the next “them,” when they could not be protected themselves. Others understand the societal and structural importance of safeguarding, protecting vulnerable people and supporting victims within a society that calls itself civilized and caring. Others still do it from a deep sense of conviction, that the work is right and important, and must be spoken out into the world whatever the cost. Professor David Tombs is absolutely part of this latter group.

This book gives careful attention to parts of the biblical text that have been ignored or overlooked or skated over. It invites the reader to confront these disturbing details. But one question is, how do we find out if something will be helpful or harmful to us before we choose to read a book? How can we know if it will harm us when the first of it we know is finding out it already has? How do we read difficult texts with self-care when we also want to inform our own healing journeys, in both vulnerability and faith?

Self-care as an active practice is vital when engaging in any form of study, activism or work on issues of violence. This is not an “airport book,” or something to be enjoyed by the pool with a Pina Colada. It will challenge you, shock you, upset you. It did all of those things to me. Unsurprisingly. The crucifixion of Jesus was, after all, a shocking and upsetting event, which has sometimes been sanitized. Over the years we have even come to wear crucifixes as jewellery and display their representations on our church walls. But nobody would contemplate admiringly or for long a true representation of the naked, exposed, beaten, bloodied and abused Jesus, not on the walls of the Sistine Chapel or anywhere else. Yet still, for all the brutalities confronted in this book, I encourage you to read it if you can.

Treat this book gently. As a rich, high percentage dark chocolate bar. It has much to offer and you can be nourished by it. But it may also bring a bitterness you will have to make a choice about. You can wrinkle your nose in disgust and push the remainder away. Or, you can reflect, let the taste linger and actually, as a whole, see there is more than just the sharpness which gave you cause to pause.

Treat yourself gently. You are a beloved child of God. You are treasured, and blessed. The themes explored in this book are painful. If you are not ready to explore them, then please, don’t. Those involved in the creation of this book do not want to cause distress or harm; that is the exact opposite of the intent. If you wish to try, why not set aside a period of time with a comforting drink and a scented candle, calming music, in a familiar space, with someone you trust on standby in a nearby room or at the end of the telephone. Try one chapter. Connect with the premise of the book in Chapter 1, understand what the book is looking to explore. Then put the book down, and give yourself some time to reflect. From there you can make your decision about proceeding, in discussion with your trusted friend if you need to. 

You may find you devour this book page after page with keen interest, reaching the end feeling like you have completed a sprint. Feeling deeply heard, represented and understood on a level never before reached. Feeling free. On the other hand, you may need to take a chapter, a section, a page at a time, as you would a devotional, establishing a safe space within which to contain your reading, process your thoughts and let them settle before re-entering the world. 

You could start a journal, either writing your responses or channelling them through art, helping you express what arises through your engagement with the book. You may want to consider reaching out to your church pastoral team if you have one, a spiritual director or a therapist should you require. Honouring yourself and your responses is vital. However you respond to this book, listen to what your body is telling you and give yourself what you need to remain well.

For that is the root of all of this. Central to Christianity is the belief Jesus came, lived, and died for us, so we may be made well. In all his ways, he taught us. Through the brutal shame of his sexual assault and murder, followed by the subtle beauty of his resurrected life, he taught us how to live again too. How to be in our own violated, traumatized body-minds. To have simple conversations with trusted friends. Breaking bread. Sharing vulnerabilities. Just being with your favourite people in safe places, by the waters, on long walks, reconnecting with yourself and them as you discover who you are in light of what has happened to you. I often wonder if what Jesus went through, and indeed what the disciples went through in witnessing, was just so brutal, that a soft period between resurrection and ascension was a necessary journey of healing and recovery for all of them, creating the space for the Holy Spirit to subsequently descend.

I pray this book gives you this gift. By journeying through and learning just how much Jesus suffered, you may see just how much he can, and has, walked with us through our suffering. That there is nothing we can experience which is too shameful, too awful, too degrading or horrific, that God would turn away. When we feel the worst has been done to us, our worth has been destroyed and our personhood diminished forever. No, my siblings. God has been through it too. 

In Chapter 4 David Tombs explores how, in recognising the full extent of the crucifixion pain, we too can also realise the full extent of the resurrection’s power. Know that Jesus will walk with each and every one of us for as long as our resurrection journey takes. So, if you can read this book, in a safe, measured and supported way, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. 

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Rebecca Parnaby-Rooke

Content Warning. This book by David Tombs includes graphic descriptions and examples of sexual assaults. If you are a survivor who is still early in your recovery, I would suggest you exercise caution in reading Chapters 2 and 3 in particular, making sure your support network is on hand. Please be aware that the content might trigger traumatic memories, cause you undue distress, or put your mental wellbeing at risk.

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Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff and Students in Anglican Foundation Universities

Cover image for 'Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff and Students

Today’s blog post comes from Professor Esther McIntosh. She recently completed, with Dr Sharon Jagger, a two-year project exploring chaplaincy support for trans and non-binary staff and students at Anglican foundation universities, which is the focus of this blog. The project received financial support from the Church Universities Fund and ethical approval from York St John University.

Despite gender reassignment being named as a protected characteristic under the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, access to healthcare for trans folk is far from equal and the focus of mainstream media is not often positive or inclusive of the trans community. In 2020, an Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) report found that stories focussed on trans ‘issues’ increased by 400% between 2009 and 2019. Increased visibility and awareness of a minority group is not necessarily problematic and can improve representation and awareness; however, if the tone of the coverage is negative and not representative of the people it claims to be about, it is harmful. IPSO notes in its report that there has been some ‘increased hostility’ and ‘concerns relating to freedom of expression’, while research by Paul Baker for Mermaids, one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities, found a substantial rise in media reporting referring to trans folk as ‘demanding or aggressive’ alongside ‘an explosion in media stories relating to children and gender issues’ some of which is ‘misleading, ill-informed and even, at times, cruel’, whilst failing to engage with trans folk themselves. Mermaids CEO, Susie Green states: ‘One consistent issue we’ve found is that politicians, presenters, campaigners and influencers are eager to speak about trans and gender-questioning children without listening to them first’. Furthermore, attempts to reform the UK’s 2004 Gender Recognition Act and to introduce self-identification have received targeted opposition from self-named ‘gender critical’ feminists.    

Trans Folk and the Church of England

For trans people of faith, there is a potential double jeopardy. In addition to misrepresentation by mainstream media, the Church of England has been similarly guilty of writing about trans folk without consulting them. The 2003 document Some Issues in Human Sexuality contained a consideration of ‘transsexualism’, made use of the binary terminology of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as found in the biblical text, and reached its conclusions surrounding identity and sexuality without consulting any trans folk. Fifteen years later, the Church of England eventually issued new guidance permitting clergy to mark gender transition using the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith. While priests who are trans – Rev. Dr Tina Beardsley, Rev. Sarah Jones and Rev Canon Dr Rachel Mann – were consulted in the process and the guidance does represent a step towards liturgical inclusion of trans folk, the House of Bishops rejected the request for a specific liturgy for gender transition.[1] At present, the Church of England is nearing the end of a multiyear project entitled ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF). On the one hand, the project has commendably sought out a range of participants including those who are trans, non-binary and intersex to share their stories; on the other hand, the 2020 publication accompanying the project, whilst speaking of ‘learning from the mistakes of the past’ and promoting ‘a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church’ (pp. viii and vii), repeatedly fails to challenge the claim that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman understood in binary, essentialist and heteropatriarchal terms. Admittedly, the purpose of the LLF resources at present is to invite discussion and understanding regarding different perspectives on marriage, gender and sexuality, and we wait to see what proposals will be presented at the General Synod in February 2023, but it has not been an entirely encouraging process thus far. Fifteen months after joining the co-ordinating group of the LLF project, Tina Beardsley’s optimism was exhausted and she resigned, citing, in the Church Times, marginalisation, power imbalances and the serious harms that are experienced by LGBTI+ people when gender and sexuality are held up for debate. Furthermore, earlier this year at the 2022 Lambeth conference,[2] same-sex unions were the main issue of contention leading to reaffirmation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, of Lambeth I.10 (1998) which states that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman’ and that ‘homosexual practice’ is ‘incompatible with Scripture’; once again, despite claims that all ‘are loved by God’, LGBTQ+ folk have been left feeling hurt and rejected.       

Hearing the Voices of Trans and Non-Binary Folk

Hence, the impetus for our project was three-fold. First, as academics we were increasingly encountering transitioning and gender fluid students, and while our university was trying to be inclusive, some staff were struggling with terminology and pronouns, and some IT systems were not as flexible as they needed to be (for example, producing class lists with birth names rather than preferred or chosen names). Secondly, as academics in a department of religion, we were well aware of the difficulties that can be faced by queer and trans students with faith. Third, as cis feminists we believe there is an urgent need to stand up for trans-inclusion and to combat transphobia (especially anti-trans rhetoric from ‘gender critical’ feminists). Furthermore, given the prevalence of stories and policies written about trans folk rather than with them, at the heart of our project was the aim to hear and centre trans and non-binary voices, and to raise visibility and awareness of gender variance on university campuses. In addition, it was a requirement of the funding body that the research should enhance the Anglican ethos of the university or the presence of chaplaincy at Anglican foundation universities, which seemed like an ideal opportunity for us to also explore the ways in which chaplains negotiate the apparent tension between the inclusive ethos of a university and the less than inclusive religious institution that they represent. As cisgendered researchers, we paid attention to the ethical guidance developed by Johnstone (2019) and Henrickson et al. (2020), consulted trans priests before submitting the proposal, and made sure that the final report was written in consultation with our participants.

Phase 1: We began by circulating an anonymous questionnaire and interviewing any staff or students who indicated a willingness to be interviewed, as well as interviewing fourteen chaplains at Anglican foundation universities and two prominent trans Priests.

Phase 2: We organised the provision of story boards on university campuses to raise the visibility and awareness of trans and non-binary folk. The story boards created an opportunity for students to share poems, narratives or comments about their identity.

Phase 3: The culmination of the project was the writing of a report with recommendations aimed at improving inclusion on university campuses. We sent a draft of the report to participants and then held workshop to ensure we had represented the participants accurately, and, further, to find out whether our participants thought that the recommendations, if followed, would improve inclusion. In order to keep the recommendations manageable, practical and effective, we combined an initial list of thirty into eight and worded each as a verb: something to do. In addition, in order to enhance accessibility, the final report is free to download from the Centre for Religion in Society website.    

Recurring Themes

We encountered a number of recurring themes. Some participants wished to challenge the homogenising effect of the umbrella abbreviation ‘LGBTQ+’ on the grounds that not all LGBTQ+ groups are supportive of all genders, expressions and identities. Other participants talked of living in stealth – having a trans history that is not part of their current public identity – and the ways in which the constant fear of being outed has curtailed career and other lifestyle aspirations that carry the risk of exposure. Relatedly, the trans priests spoke of the emotional labour and exhausting sacrificial work involved in having a public trans identity, especially through the constant ‘flag waving’ required for trans needs to be heard. The chaplains we interviewed highlighted the concepts of marginality and inclusion. They noted that while they often support those who are at the margins in the university context, they also operate from the margins of the Church. Moreover, they hold inclusion to be a baseline for the role of a chaplain and, yet, they face tensions supporting both trans folk and those who are opposed to gender transition. We were not surprised to find trans folk reporting negative experiences and barriers to inclusion in higher education, but these negative experiences are often hidden by the prevalence of rainbow lanyards on university campuses that can be a cover for action. Nevertheless, chaplains are in a unique position to signpost staff and students of faith to inclusive churches, and to influence university policies and practices.[3]

Surprising Findings

One of the more surprising findings for us arose around our use of story boards; we encountered resistance from gatekeepers of university spaces when we sought to increase the visibility of trans and non-binary folk. In spite of the promotion of events for LGBT+ History Month and the general perception that campuses are safe spaces, gatekeepers argued that it would not be safe for trans and non-binary folk to post comments on story boards. We stressed that posting on the boards was voluntary and could be anonymous, and within days the boards were filled with revealing comments: some trans folk expressed the freedom that university had given them to be themselves and to celebrate their identity, others reflected on the impact of the negative media coverage and on distressing estrangement from family members. On the one hand, the use of the boards suggests that trans and non-binary folk welcomed the opportunity to share their stories and to increase visibility and awareness on campus. On the other hand, the resistance we encountered from university personnel shows that trans folk are perceived to be uniquely vulnerable and confirms that, while the effort to protect groups seen as vulnerable comes from a place of good intention, it has the effect of making those groups invisible, taking away their decision-making opportunities and thus reducing their agency. As Doris Andrea Dirks (2016) argues, vulnerability discourse ignores the resourcefulness of gender variant folk and may serve to maintain marginalisation. Other findings included the view that encouragement to announce pronouns, which is intended to be trans inclusive, can be a form of outing for those who are questioning their gender identity; while, the use of Anglican cathedrals for graduation ceremonies can be a source of discomfort for staff and students who are LGBTQ+.

Recommendations and Concluding Remarks

Our recommendations were positively received and endorsed by participants. Although aimed at chaplains and intended to improve inclusivity on university campuses, they are applicable for others working in education and for other educational institutions. The recommendations can be read in full in the report. In brief, the recommendations are as follows:

1. To Listen and to Share: the importance of listening to and consulting with trans folk regarding their experiences on campus, and raising visibility through sharing stories is vital.

2. To Learn: current use of language is changing and what is liberating for some may not be for others; there is no one answer or solution for inclusion, rather, continual learning is necessary.

3. To Develop Trans-Inclusive Theologies: there is a need to challenge dominant theologies and to work with trans folk of faith to develop trans-inclusive theologies (this recommendation to challenge dominant texts and theories may also be applicable to other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, film, literature and so on, if the mainstream theories are cis normative).

4. To Influence: those with access to senior leadership teams can request training on campuses to improve knowledge and awareness.

5. To Be Visible: the rainbow is useful, but sometimes trans and non-binary folk feel invisible, and it can be beneficial to use specific trans and non-binary colours and symbols.

6. To Be Accessible: staff and students need to know where to access support, but those in supporting roles also need to know when to step back from a fixing role.

7. To Collaborate: support staff can engage in useful dialogue, organise events and share expertise across staff and student networks.

8. To Resource: support staff should be able to direct LGBTQ+ folk to inclusive churches, policies and networks (trans-inclusive resourcing is also important for libraries and for teaching materials).

Endorsements for the report include:

Tina Beardsley – ‘I feel well listened to, understood, and insightfully interpreted back to myself. I warmly commend this report. Based on interviews with chaplains, staff and students the researchers explore the pivotal role that chaplaincies can play among a ‘team of allies’ of trans and non-binary staff and students’.

Michael Bonshor – ‘The authors of this ground-breaking and thought-provoking report have adopted a refreshingly inclusive approach to their project. Rather than hypothesising about what gender-diverse individuals may or may not need to empower them in academic settings, McIntosh and Jagger directly consulted trans and non-binary staff and students about their experiences of life in higher education. Constructive recommendations are based on the research evidence and have been developed in collaboration with the research participants. This should be required reading for anyone who teaches or works with trans and non-binary individuals in higher education’.

Ultimately, the research underpinning the report has revealed the need for trans-inclusive campuses, for trans-inclusive feminism and for trans-inclusive theology; in particular, it is vital that diversification engenders LGBTQ+ inclusion by centring and amplifying the voices and concerns of the marginalised and we hope that the report may help to achieve this.

Works Cited

The Archbishops’ Council, 2020. Living in Love and Faith. London: Church House Publishing.

Dirks, D.A., 2016. Transgender People at Four Big Ten Campuses: A Policy Discourse Analysis. Review of Higher Education,39(3), 371-393.

Dowd, C. and Beardsley, C. with Tanis, J., 2018. Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Henrickson, M.; Giwa, S.; Hafford-Letchfield, T.; Cocker, C.; Mulé, N.J.; Schaub, J.; Baril, A. (2020). Research Ethics with Gender and Sexually Diverse Persons. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6615

Johnston, M. S., 2018. Politics and tensions of doing transgender research: Lessons learned by a straight-white-cisgender man. In: Kleinknecht, S.; van den Scott, L. J. and Sanders, C. B. (eds), The Craft of Qualitative Research: A Handbook. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, pp. 85-91.

A Working Party of the House of Bishops, 2003. Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A Guide to the Debate. London: Church House Publishing.

[1] By contrast, in 2018, Chris Dowd and Tina Beardsley published Transfaith in which they have written liturgies for trans and gender variant folk, see pp. 178-200.

[2] Lambeth is a decennial conference for bishops from across the global Anglican communion

[3] Chaplains sit on a variety of university committees and have easy access to senior leadership teams and vice chancellors.

Professor Esther McIntosh

Professor Esther McIntosh is professor of feminist theology and ethics at York St John University, and currently serves on the editorial board of Brill’s book series ‘Political and Public Theologies’, as well as on the Executive Board of the Global Network for Public Theology. Her work is interdisciplinary and underpinned by a concern for gender justice. Her most recent publications include ‘The Persistence of White Christian Patriarchy in a Time of Right-Wing Populism’; Blurring the Borders: Christian Women Negotiating Off- and Online Spaces of Feminism and Misogyny’; and ‘Gender in Religion, Religion in Society: The Agency and Identity of Christian Women’.

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Call for Papers and more Information about Abusing God: Reading the Bible in the #MeToo Age

Broken Glass

Abusing God: Reading the Bible in the #MeToo Age is a collaborative network of experienced academic researchers, church practitioners, and key stakeholder charities. Led by Dr Holly Morse (University of Manchester) and Dr Kirsi Cobb (Cliff College), the Network develops contemporary research that responds to increasing awareness of and concern about gender-based violence. Within the academic research agenda centred around the Bible and abuse in Christian contexts, Abusing God works towards positive change.

The Sophia Network’s ‘Minding the Gap’ report (2019) recently demonstrated that although women make up 65% of the church in the UK, 62% of these women have experienced some form of sexism in church. This data, along with Refuge’s report of a surge in gender-based violence following global lockdowns and cuts to key support services during the Covid-19 pandemic, means that it is more urgent than ever that researchers and professionals engage in the support of survivors, and work together to bring about culture change around abuse, including within Christian communities.

The Network aims to respond in three key ways. First, it will facilitate transinstitutional conversations between academic, church, and charity practitioners. Secondly, the Network will host two colloquia on topics selected by our stakeholders – 1) the Bible and coercive control, and 2) the Bible and hypermasculinity. These events will pair academics with practitioners to develop reflective, collaborative research papers. In doing so, the Network will offer new contributions to the growing body of practice-informed research in the area of biblical studies, which takes its direction from church and charity practitioners who have expertise on the lived experiences of Christian survivors of abuse and their relationship to biblical texts. Thirdly, building on the foundation provided by this new collaborative research, the Network also aims to develop an education resource pack for use in schools and/or university chaplaincies in their work with survivors of gender-based violence, as well as for Bible study or small-group support work in churches. 

This resource material will offer recommendations on how to approach biblical texts about abuse and/or sexual violence with sensitivity to meet survivors’ needs in a way that is supported by both contemporary research within the fields of biblical studies and survivor care. While there has already been considerable work done in academic biblical studies contexts on the gender-critical issues raised by challenging biblical texts, there is comparatively little research on or attention to the impact these texts have on survivors of sexual and/or domestic abuse who have a personal Christian faith commitment, and even less work aimed at encouraging collaborative work between academic, church, and charity practitioners. The resources we aim to develop will respond to this critical need, by drawing upon both contemporary academic scholarship, and the experience of church practitioners and charities, to understand better how biblical texts have been used both to contribute to and to prevent gender-based violence.

To stay up-to-date with events and outputs, please email [email protected] and ask to be added to our mailing list.

Call for Papers
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Christmas, Mary, and the new Nationality and Borders Bill

Today’s post is by Tasia Scrutton, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Leeds. Tasia’s research lies in the intersection between religion and human experience, including experiences of mental illness, bereavement, and displacement. Her most recent book, Christianity and depression: interpretation, meaning, and the shaping of experience came out with SCM Press in 2020 and you can find out more about it here. Outside of her academic work, she enjoys walking her dog Lola. She also volunteers with an asylum seeker charity, BEACON, whose work you can find out more about here: Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern (   

Kelly Latimore, Our Lady of the Journey (jpg purchased from the artist and reproduced with kind permission:

Kelly Latimore’s icon, Our Lady of the Journey, depicts the episode early in Matthew’s Gospel in which Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus flee to Egypt to escape the persecution of an oppressive government (Matthew 2:13-23). While many paintings have depicted the ‘Flight into Egypt’ in relation to the plight of refugees, one of the most striking features of this icon for me is the way it highlights the experience of Mary, and especially her fear.

In this respect the icon is realistic, since the fear of asylum seekers who are women and girls is very real, and very well-founded. Women who attempt to flee their country of origin in hope of better, safer prospects are at risk from the same very-real threats to life that men experience, as was devastatingly laid bare with the recent Channel crossing drownings (see here). But women who flee their countries of origin are also vulnerable to additional dangers: to rape, to sexual trafficking, and to other forms of sexual exploitation, both on their journey, and in the place where they seek refugee status. In the words of one woman, who fled from Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal:

“I came to the UK because I was raped, beaten and locked up in my country because of my sexuality. When I arrived, I didn’t know where to go or what to do and I had never heard of asylum. I thought I was coming to a country where I would be accepted for who I am but that was not the case.

Being a refugee in a new country, you don’t trust people easily, especially if you have been through so much hatred, so much abuse. It took me a while to trust people who told me about the asylum process. When I applied, it was a very long journey of stress and struggle. The Home Office said they didn’t believe my story and refused my asylum claim. I was depressed and had nowhere to go for support. I had to sleep on the bus and the only way to survive was to have sex to get food. It was traumatic and degrading.” 

(‘Anna’, quoted in Women for Refugee Women : Legal Opinion: The Nationality and Borders Bill will harm women)

Detail from Kelly Latimore’s Our Lady of the Journey

In addition to the sexual violence and exploitation they face, women are also more likely to be travelling with children, whose presence makes the journey harder, and the stakes even higher – since women asylum seekers are risking not only their own lives, but also the lives of their children. And especially if the children are girls, they too are vulnerable to violence and hardship, including sexual violence and exploitation.

These dangers might make one wonder, why would any woman take these terrible risks? The answer, of course, as ‘Anna’s’ story highlights, is that the things that make women risk all these things are yet more terrible and fearful still.   

The way in which female asylum seekers are especially vulnerable – what we might call the ‘gendered aspect’ of asylum seeking – makes the UK government’s Nationality and Border Bill, passed by the House of Commons last week, all the more cruel and unjust. Briefly, the Bill allows the government to deprive a person of citizenship, without even notifying them. This can be done, either if the Home Office does not have the person’s contact details, or if notifying them is ‘not reasonably practical’ (see here).

In addition, the same Bill criminalises anyone taking part in the rescue missions in the English Channel. To put this another way, it means that the people we regard as heroes for helping persecuted people escape torture and death (for example, people who smuggled Jewish children to the UK during the Nazi regime), would be regarded as criminals in the UK, according to the new law.

Although it doesn’t explicitly target women, the new Bill is, in practice, misogynistic, since it will disadvantage women and girls especially. This is for a number of reasons, but I will highlight just three here. First, the new Bill will introduce a ‘two-tier system’ that discriminates especially against asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via what the Home Office considers illegal means, such as in small boats. People coming from Afghanistan are among those asylum seekers especially likely to arrive in small boats – and women and girls from Afghanistan are highly likely to be fleeing, because of the newly-installed Taliban regime, which has, since the 2021 offensive, severely constrained women’s and girls’ movements, including access to education. In other words, the new Bill won’t discriminate against women explicitly and directly, but by virtue of discriminating against people who come via ‘illegal routes’ on small boats, it will effectively discriminate against people who are forced to flee from places such as Afghanistan, for gender-based reasons. 

Second, the new Bill will mean that there is a ‘heightened standard of proof’ expected of asylum seekers, and that cases will be considered at a more rapid rate (see here for the Executive Summary).  But women and girls who have frequently experienced rape and other forms of sexual torture are often traumatised to the extent that they do not have a coherent narrative about what has happened to them. Narratives of trauma often emerge only long after the traumatic event itself, because victims of sexual violence and exploitation experience guilt and shame, because being a victim of sexual violence is still a cause of stigma in many cultures, including our own. The asylum process is stacked against them. And asylum seekers are oftentimes interrogated without sensitivity about the violence and torture they have experienced.

Third, as human rights lawyers have pointed out, the new Bill’s clauses about modern slavery and trafficking will make it harder for women and girls who are victims of trafficking and modern slavery to be identified and protected. This is contrary to the UK’s obligations according to international law. In addition to that, the much swifter process that will lead a woman or girl to be deported may well mean that there is not enough time for trafficking claims to be determined (see here, for the Executive Summary).

I could go on about the other ways in which the new Nationality and Borders Bill will harm female asylum seekers, not just because they are asylum seekers, but (additionally) because they are women and girls. But those who are interested can read more about the reasons here.

So instead, I want to return to where we started – to the Bible – and provide just a few passages for reflection about the way the Scriptures encourage us to show solidarity with the oppressed, and hospitality to asylum seekers in particular. At the very end, I suggest four  ways in which we can help.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34).

You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 24:22).

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and she will repay her for her deed (Proverbs 19:17).

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute (Psalm 82:3).

 Learn to do good;
 Seek justice,
 Rescue the oppressed,
 Defend the orphan,
 Plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another (Zechariah 7: 9-10)

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

Four ways you can help:

  1. Join, donate, or volunteer for Women for Refugee Women: Women for Refugee Women
  2. If you are in the UK, write to your MP and oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill. You can find out who your MP is, and how to write to them, here: Find out who your MP is / mySociety . If you’re stuck for what to write, you can copy or adapt the template here: #antirefugeebill (
  3. Sign up to receive campaigning news and opportunities from Asylum MattersHome | Asylum Matters
  4. Encourage your church and any other organisations with which you may be involved to join the Together with Refugees coalition: Join the coalition – Together With Refugees
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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Saima Afzal!

Saima Afzal is founder and director of SAS RIGHTS, a Community Interest Company that is all about dynamic and creative ways of problem solving and generating community-led activism. 

Saima has often collaborated with the Shiloh Project. You can read an interview about her organisation SAS RIGHTS, and she was one of our 2018 activists and participant in our lockdown series. Saima also  ran numerous campaigns last year aimed at challenging Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), some of which were profiled on our blog (see here and here.)

This year, too, Saima has worked tirelessly at reaching the most isolated and marginalised members in her community of Blackburn with Darwen, facilitating support, information, and networking. This has included a fabulous vaccination drive (in two languages). Given the constrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Saima’s personal hardship with aggressive treatment for cancer, these activities were particularly challenging. All the while, to keep things going, Saima also had to raise funds for her various projects: this in an environment where funding streams are fewer and donations harder to raise. Quite simply: in insecure times like the present, with many struggling financially and feeling anxious, it’s tough to fundraise.  

But… Saima is resourceful. And she has also gathered around herself a loyal and committed team of specialists and volunteers. Somehow, she has managed to do a great deal, partly with the help of grants from the National Lottery Fund, which help cover expenses.. 

Saima and her work in action – see @saimaafzalmbe

The VAWG work Saima leads has the title, ‘Truth, Art, Action and Activism’. This has a number of separate ‘branches’: such as, the ‘From Isolation to Cohesion’ project, offering talking therapy, including by Zoom, during times of social distancing and restrictions; the ‘Take A Break Project’, providing fun online exercise and wellbeing sessions; and the ‘Opening Minds – Love Difference Project’, opening up important conversations on topics that can be difficult to talk about (such as sexual orientation or domestic violence). Quite often, participants from one project find themselves opting in to another – with chats after the exercise class, for instance, leading on to involvement in group discussions, and from there to talking therapy or referrals. 

Saima has decades of experience of working in safeguarding, specialist advising, and human rights advocacy. Most of her work has been in supporting women who experience or live within controlling relationships, or in community structures and cultures that make accessing support difficult. Alongside facilitating help and support to minoritized women, another kind of work Saima does so brilliantly is building bridges of communication and understanding between disparate groups: such as between people of different religions, backgrounds, professions, or ethnicities.

Thank you, Saima, for the invaluable work you are doing and for the goodness and optimism you model and exude. 

If anyone can donate to Saima’s work, please visit here

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16 Days of Activism… Celebrating Transformation Through the Arts and Humanities

Today’s post is bitter-sweet. Bitter, because 2021 is the first year since 2013 that the UK has not met its 0.7% of Gross National Income spending target for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Instead, the UK contribution has decreased to 0.5%, with devastating consequences for many vulnerable human beings. The impact of the cuts is profound, and far-reaching.

The cuts have also severely impacted all ODA research funding, with many grants suspended, reassessed and reduced, or withdrawn (see here). Many Humanities subjects, including the study of religion, were already vulnerable in the higher education sector, and now international research on religion and development, too, is further compromised.

More sweet, is the release today of the research report “Transforming Conflict and Displacement Through Arts and Humanities,” by Robyn Gill-Leslie (PRAXIS, Arts and Humanities for Global Development. Leeds: University of Leeds, 2021), see attached.

The report makes a very strong case for what the Arts and Humanities bring to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to human flourishing. 

Dr Neelam Raina puts it beautifully in her foreword: 

“What is especially relevant about this report are the invisible, faint lines of emotions,
reflections, shared experiences, resonances which are echoed across communities and geographies. These lines, best captured by Arts and Humanities approaches to understanding our world, need urgent recognition and exploration, as they are our connection to the possibilities of creating and living in an equitable, peaceful world.” 

Dr. Mmapula Kebaneilwe at Women’s Rights NGO Emang Basadi (Gaborone, Botswana in 2018)

After an introduction, the report illustrates this claim with several case studies and impact assessments. Two of these are projects led by academics associated with the Shiloh Project. One is the recently concluded project “Resisting Gender-Based Violence and Injustice Through Activism with Biblical Texts and Images” (see pages 74-79 of the report), which was centred in southern Africa and led by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna, together with Katie Edwards and Mmapula Kebaneilwe. The other is ongoing and led by Adriaan van Klinken (one of our activists from 2018 and a participant in last year’s lockdown series). Adriaan’s collaboration is called “Sexuality and Religion Network in East Africa” (see pages 86-91 of the report). 

Please take a look at the report and you will see how collaborative, creative, meaningful and purpose-driven both these projects are. (And the same is true of the other wonderful projects profiled in the report.)

Tom Muyunga-Mukasa, campaigns for TB, HIV and Covid prevention and care (Nairobi, 2020)

Moreover, these particular projects show that some literacy at least, and preferably nuanced understanding, of religions and religious studies is not only desirable but, we would say, essential for working in Sub-Saharan Africa. After all, as Adriaan points out, in this vast region between 50% and 70% of all health, education and development services are provided by faith-based organisations, which means “religion must be incorporated into development analyses and interventions” (p.87).

Today we are grateful for a report, which acknowledges and describes friendships made and productive collaborations forged towards sustainable development initiatives. 

We are fearful of the consequences of sharply reducing ODA, especially at a time when populations already vulnerable are battered also by the Covid pandemic and its many repercussions. Alongside keeping up pressure for the reinstatement (and, if possible, increase) of previous levels of UK ODA spending, we also hope for more recognition of the Arts and Humanities, including the study of religion. 

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