Sacred Space: Christ Church Cathedral and Same-Sex Desire
A project by Seila Rizvic, Daniel Saenz and Jesse Drukker
About the Video
Christ Church Cathedral is situated on a busy corner of Saint Catherine Street, between Union Avenue and University Street. Its imposing steeple, arched doorways and many stained glass panels stand in stark contrast to the modern city life that surrounds it. Inside, the high ritual, traditional liturgy and religious vestments maintain the traditions of Anglicanism, while at the back of the Cathedral, near the doorway, a rainbow flag symbolizes a very direct and sometimes controversial departure from tradition. The mingling of these seemingly divergent forces, the old and the new, traditionalism and progressivism, is what we strived to get across in our video. Even more importantly, we wanted to tell the stories of those caught at the intersection of these ostensibly contrasting identities and attempt to understand how sacred space serves as a way for LGBTQ Anglicans to meet their spiritual needs.
About Christ Church Cathedral
Christ Church Cathedral is an Anglican Church, located at 635 Sainte-Catherine Street West (Montréal, Québec). The Cathedral, as it stands today, was built in 1859 and consecrated in 1867. It is built in the neo-gothic style, typical of many other Anglican churches.
The Cathedral's clergy is composed of three individuals. The Very Reverend Paul Kennington, who is the Dean of Montreal and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, The Reverend Rhonda Waters, and The Reverend Dr. Donald Boisvert.
The Cathedral is committed to diversity, and strives to include people of all "cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and rejoice in the ministry of women and men as bishops, priests, deacons and community leaders" (Cathedral's Mission Statement: see link below). The clergy and members of Christ Church Cathedral are also committed to social justice, and they are actively engaged in these issues. They assert that "many of the structures of our world are unjust, creating inequalities, with the result that many people are oppressed, and subject to violence, lack basic necessities, and have little power over their own lives, overcoming injustice means more than outreach to those in need: it means addressing root causes in order to transform the unjust structures of the world."
For more about the Cathedral, please consult the following:
•Schedule of Services
•Events and other information
•The Anglican Church of Canada, Montreal Diocese
- •Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement (Columbia University Press, 2010)
In the introduction to their volume, Bender and Klassen write that "pluralism, variously specified as cultural, political, legal, or religious, has come to represent a powerful ideal meant to resolve the question on how to get along in a conflict-ridden world" (Klassen and Bender, 1). The editors of and the contributors to the volume define pluralism "as a commitment to recognize and understand others across perceived or claimed lines of religious difference" (2). Pluralism, therefore, is a framework which allows people, organizations, and societies to bring about social engagement across diversity and differences, notably religious ones. In the context of this project, pluralism allows us to understand the relationship between Christ Church Cathedral and non-heterosexuals.
As stated by Rev. Paul Kennington in the video, Christ Church Cathedral recognizes that all human beings are different and, rather than attempting to make everyone think, act, and be the same, this diversity is embraced as part of God's manifold creation. For Diane Eck, pluralism is an "energetic engagement with diversity that is achieved only through a dialogue rooted in the encounter of commitments. Pluralism is the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference" (9). The effort to understand and embrace diversity is not a once-in-a-lifetime action. Rather, it is a continuous process that requires an active and energetic engagement with different religions, cultures, world views, and sexual orientations. At Christ Church Cathedral, this engagement is a continuous one. First, some members of the clergy are gay, and this is a constant reminder of the Cathedral's position on homosexuality; one of acceptance and inclusion. Second, the rainbow flag hung in the back of the church. It serves as a constant, active reminder that this sacred place is also a safe one, where queer people might find a place to worship God without being condemned for their same-sex desire. Third, Christ Church Cathedral has participated in Montreal's Divers/Cite celebrations: they had a boot during the Community Day in the Gay Village and marched in the pride parade. This shows an energetic engagement to reach out to queer communities. Thus, Christ Church Cathedral makes a tangible social engagement across sexual diversity.
- Donald L. Boisvert, Sanctity and Male Desire: A Gay Reading of Saints (The Pilgrim Press, 2004)
Providing a more theological reading of this issue, Donald Boisvert (quoting Mark D. Jordan), argues that “Roman Catholic theological discourse, through a series of deliberate rhetorical devices, effectively ‘silences’ homosexuality within the Church, while at the same time opening up a vast panoply of performative possibilities for its energetic expression in, among other places, Catholic liturgical and cultic life” (Boisvert, 8). According to Boisvert, male saints are one of the possibilities for the expression of homosexuality within the Catholic Church. Although same-sex desire is unacceptable in young Catholic boys, they are “encouraged to adore and worship—and by extension, desire—the bodies of the saints […]” (Boisvert, 8).
- Patrick S. Cheng, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (Seabury Books, 2011)
Queer theology is about seeing the sacred from a different perspective, “reclaiming voices and sources that previously had been ignored, silenced, or discarded” (Cheng, 6). It is the case in the Christian tradition that some of the suppressed voices are those of LGBTQ individuals. Chen’s book argues that radical love is central to both queerness and the Christian tradition, thus bridging the gap between same-sex desire and Christianity.
- Carol P. Christ, “Why Women need the Goddess.” (Reprint, 2007).
Why do we need a queer theology? The answer is that heteronormative theology negatively impacts non-heterosexual people. Daniel, one of the filmmakers, elaborates on the words of feminist theologian Carol Christ and posits the idea that: “[Heterosexist theologies] centered on the worship of a male God create moods and motivations that keep [queer people] in a state of psychological dependence on [heterosexuals], while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of [heterosexual people] in the institutions of society” (Christ, 164). Since traditional theologies view heterosexuality as the norm, the identity of queer people is not represented or acknowledged as legitimate. This lack of representation has negative consequences, as queer people are led to believe that the only way of engaging with the sacred is by denying their sexual identity and trying to imitate heterosexuality. Subverting heteronormativity and creating a safe space for queer people in the Catholic tradition will therefore allow them to find their identity represented in the sacred in ways that promote the notion that queer lives are meaningful, loving, and desiring of protection and recognition.
- Donald W. Hinrichs, Montreal’s Gay Village: The Story of a Unique Neighborhood through the Sociological Lens (iUniverse, 2011)
An instructor of urban sociology at McGill University in Montreal, Donald Hinrichs conducted a sociological study of Montreal’s Gay Village. He writes that this neighborhood, as the tangible expression of gay culture in Montreal, “provides a safe space, a respite, a retreat, from a hostile world” (Hinrichs, 161). If we understand the hostile world to be everyday life where queer people experience hatred and discrimination, then we might see the Gay Village, a place set apart from these ordinary events, as a sacred space for non-heterosexual people. For queer people, a safe space promotes courage, hope, liberation, and protection. The creation of a safe space in Montreal is then beneficial for the queer community.
However, we believe that if we want such spaces to become more than a beautiful exception in the city’s landscape, we must extend this work into other domains as well, particularly into religious communities. This work is imperative because it is religious, notably Christian communities, who have historically isolated and marginalized queer people, condoning violence against them. It is therefore of utmost importance to become actively engaged in the creation of a safe, sacred space for queer Christians. At Christ Church Cathedral, this creation of a safe space is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. Rather, it becomes an active engagement, and their position is reaffirmed every time that the flag is replaced whenever it is torn down, every time the LGBT church-members get together for social activities, and every time that the clergy addresses homosexuality in their sermons.
Contact the filmmakers:
Student, Liberal Arts College, Concordia University
Student, Department of Sociology, Concordia University
Student, Department of Religion, Concordia University