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God's Liberated People? Men and Women in the Metropolitan Community Church

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004423/00001

Material Information

Title: God's Liberated People? Men and Women in the Metropolitan Community Church
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: O'Neal, Kathleen
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: MCC
Gender
Queer
Queer Church
LGBT
Sociology
Queer Christianity, Metropolitan Community Church
Gay
Lesbian
Spirituality
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: The Metropolitan Community Church, as a liberal mainline Christian denomination that caters to the LGBT community, provides an open and safe space for people with non-normative sexual and gender identities to practice religion. However, Christianity has a history of being a patriarchal and heteronormative institution. As a progressive denomination, the MCC strives for gender equality, but still works within a religion built on rigid hierarchies. Twenty qualitative interviews were conducted with attendants of a MCC church to determine how queer men and women understand gender in their gay-affirming church. The aim was to determine what role gender plays in the church, as described by this group of gay and bisexual men and women. Participants valued spirituality as important and came to the church for community and activism more than religious rituals. Some saw gender within the church, in both patriarchal and queer ways; others seemed to studiously not see gender in the church, and this serves as a possible example of gender blindness. Results suggest possibilities of expanding queer theory to include religion and spirituality as positive forces in the lives of LGBT people, while further exploring LGBT lives in an organized Western religion
Statement of Responsibility: by Kathleen O'Neal
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Fairchild, Emily

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 O5
System ID: NCFE004423:00001

Permanent Link: http://ncf.sobek.ufl.edu/NCFE004423/00001

Material Information

Title: God's Liberated People? Men and Women in the Metropolitan Community Church
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: O'Neal, Kathleen
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: MCC
Gender
Queer
Queer Church
LGBT
Sociology
Queer Christianity, Metropolitan Community Church
Gay
Lesbian
Spirituality
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: The Metropolitan Community Church, as a liberal mainline Christian denomination that caters to the LGBT community, provides an open and safe space for people with non-normative sexual and gender identities to practice religion. However, Christianity has a history of being a patriarchal and heteronormative institution. As a progressive denomination, the MCC strives for gender equality, but still works within a religion built on rigid hierarchies. Twenty qualitative interviews were conducted with attendants of a MCC church to determine how queer men and women understand gender in their gay-affirming church. The aim was to determine what role gender plays in the church, as described by this group of gay and bisexual men and women. Participants valued spirituality as important and came to the church for community and activism more than religious rituals. Some saw gender within the church, in both patriarchal and queer ways; others seemed to studiously not see gender in the church, and this serves as a possible example of gender blindness. Results suggest possibilities of expanding queer theory to include religion and spirituality as positive forces in the lives of LGBT people, while further exploring LGBT lives in an organized Western religion
Statement of Responsibility: by Kathleen O'Neal
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO NCF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Fairchild, Emily

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 O5
System ID: NCFE004423:00001


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GOD'S LIBERATED PEOPLE? MEN AND WOMEN IN THE METROPOLITAN COMMUNITY CHURCH BY KATHLEEN O'NEAL A Thesis Submitted to Sociology/Gender Studies New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Emily Fairchild Sarasota, Florida May, 2011

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Acknowledgm ents I would first like to thank my sponsor Dr. Emily Fairchild, whose patience and encouragement enabled me to see the worth in my own writing and helped make the thesis process virtually painless. Not only did she guide me to a thesis I could be proud of, she even took me to a major conference to present it to my peers in sociology. Many thanks also to Dr. Sarah Hernandez and Dr Heather White for sitting on my committee and providing advice whenever I needed it. I could never put in words how much I appreciate Dr. Cris Hassold's unwavering s upport and commitment to pushing me to do my best in everything I attempt. She has been there for me every step of the way, from my first year on and I will always cheris h her wisdom. Thank you Mackenzie for being my Proofing Partner and whipping my thesis into shape, and for all the other ways you supported me through this process. I also owe a great deal of grat itude to my friends Sarah and Jacki; I could not have conducted re search without you. This is not to forget my other friends and family, especially Elis e, who helped me through the thesis process and my academic career as a whole; th ank you all for your love and understanding. Finally, I would like to tha nk all of the people at the MCC for their enthusiastic participation and commitment to my success. They welcomed me into their community and were eager to answer any question I put to them. This wonderful group of people literally made my thesis and subsequent gr aduation possible, and for that I am very grateful. ii

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T able of Contents Introduction........................................................................................................Page 1 Literature Review...............................................................................................Page 6 Methods..............................................................................................................Page 24 Analysis..............................................................................................................Page 28 Importance of Spirituality.......................................................................Page 28 Gender Roles..........................................................................................Page 32 Importance of the Gender of the Pastor.................................................Page 37 Discussion...........................................................................................................Page 48 Conclusion..........................................................................................................Page 56 Appendix............................................................................................................Page 61 References..........................................................................................................Page 62 iii

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iv GODS LIBERATED PEOPLE? MEN AND WOMEN IN THE MCC Kathleen ONeal New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT The Metropolitan Community Church, as a li beral mainline Christian denomination that caters to the LGBT community, provides an open and safe space for people with nonnormative sexual and gender identities to prac tice religion. However, Christianity has a history of being a patriarchal and hete ronormative institution. As a progressive denomination, the MCC strives for gender equali ty, but still works within a religion built on rigid hierarchies. Twenty qualitative inte rviews were conducted with attendants of a MCC church to determine how queer men and women understand gender in their gayaffirming church. The aim was to determine wh at role gender plays in the church, as described by this group of gay and bisexual men and women. Participants valued spirituality as important and came to the c hurch for community and activism more than religious rituals. Some saw gender within the church, in both patriarchal and queer ways; others seemed to studiously not see gender in the church, an d this serves as a possible example of gender blindness. Results suggest possibilities of expa nding queer theory to include religion and spirituality as positive forces in the lives of LGBT people, while further exploring LGBT lives in an organized Western religion. Dr. Emily Fairchild Sociology

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Introduction Religion is one of the major organizing forces of American life. Among other things, it teaches right from wrong and gives pe ople a way to find and create meaning in their lives. This institution provides structur e and order to most of the world. In the United States, almost eighty percent of th e population identifies as Christian and only eight to ten percent of the population reports that they ha ve no religion (Keysar and Kosmin 2009). While there is a range of religiosity spirituality, and pr actice within this majority, it is safe to say that America is not only a religious c ountry, but also a very Christian one. Christianity is very important to most people in America and it affects even those who are not religious or who subscribe to a different set of religious beliefs. It is the norm and default in many social situations and is in corporated into daily lif e even in places we often consider secular. Non-Christians ge nerally have friends, family members, and coworkers who are Christian and most of the ideas on right and wrong that we are inundated with everyday through media and othe r outlets stem from Christian morality. While this religion gives many people mean ing, its norms and beliefs can hurt certain parts of the population, including women and people with non-normative sexual identities. In the current study, I look into how gender affects gay men and women who attend the Metropolitan Commun ity Church, a gay-affirming church. I ask the question Where do the men and women of the MCC see gender in their church? Though gender has been important in many Christian denom inations, as part of a queer church, I hypothesize that the people of the MCC will not experience traditiona l gender differences 1

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in the church. This church is very inclusiv e of all people who wish to join, and does not uphold scriptures and practices th at alienate or oppress any ge nder or sexuality. It strives to fight hierarchy and patriarchy in its pract ice of Christian religion. This could very easily affect how gender is practiced in the church and wher e people see it. It has been shown that the structure of many Christian churches, based on biblical scripture, have been hierar chal and/or patriarchal, and have given very different responsibilities to their male and female members. Women have almost always made up the majority of Christian church members, vastly out-numbering men (Bendroth 1993). But while women fill the pews, it is predominately men who lead and control what happens in the church. This placement of wo men is justified by a section in the Bible written by Paul that says that women should not be allowed to teach or have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12, King James Versio n). Churches that have traditionally not allowed women to be leaders fall back on this quote often, though many liberal contemporary churches have started reinterpre ting or ignoring this passage. While women are rarely church leaders, lesbian, gay, bise xual, and transgender (LGBT) people are even more rarely accepted into the church as equa ls and almost never openly hold leadership positions (Wilcox 2009). Christianity's hostility toward homos exuality generally stems from several passages in the Bible that, though widely su spect in interpretation, seem to condemn homosexual activity between ma les. If individuals ignore the rules and norms of heterosexuality within marriage, they ar e usually ostracized by their religious denomination, kicked out of th eir church, or even pushed to convert to ex-gays through intense religi ous outreach. 2

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While religion and homosexuality have of ten been seen as mutually exclusive, there has been a growing trend among some religious and LGBT communities to critically analyze this relations hip. It is no longer tr ue that to be gay means to be secular or that to be Christian means to be straight. Despite the perception of antagonistic identities, gay Christians have created institutions and practices that unite these identities. People coming from both sides of the disc ussion emphasize problems with the current mainstream understanding of religion and how it interacts with people's non-normative sexuality and/or gender. Many have atte mpted to work through and around these difficulties to make a Christianity that sp eaks to and for them. Some gay men and women have decided to integrate their sexual and re ligious identities, rather than choosing one over the other. This process is expanding a nd reshaping what Christian and gay mean in our society and is paving a new way of understanding religion in America. As a queer church, the MCC is providing a space for LGBT people to expl ore both thei r sexualities and spiritualities freely. The MCC is a liberal Christian church that was formed in 1968 by Troy Perry, and today has congregations all ove r the world (Dart 2001). He star ted this church to make a safe and welcoming place for gay people to co me and worship the Christian God. It is based on liberation and queer theo logies that involve reinterpreting the Bible as a way of fighting for justice, especially for those w ho have been called weak. These theologies shift the focus from damnation, sin, and control, to those of justice, love, and peace. Like many minority-group based organi zations, the MCC has an activ ist side and encourages its members to fight for acceptance and visi bility on issues such as gay marriage and discrimination laws. This church gives its me mbers the ability to hold on to the belief and 3

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m eaning systems of Christianity while sti ll affirming their non-normative gender and/or sexual identities. The relationship between religion, partic ularly Christianity, and homosexuality has become a popular topic in sociological and theological circles recently, precisely because it is an important issue to society whose questions have not yet been answered. As more LGBT people are coming out and coming out within churches, the mainline religions of America are scrambling to find, to defend, and to stick with a position on homosexuality (Wilcox 2006). Gay people are te lling others about their sexuality and they are demanding not just tole rance but acceptance and rights. This subject has come to the forefront in many religious institutions w ith the controversy and legislation over same sex marriage. Churches and their congregati ons are trying to figur e out whether they should perform these ceremonies or ban them Increasingly more ministers, priests, preachers, and rabbis are also coming out as gay, and issues related to homosexuality are causing heated debates in many denominati ons and religious in stitutions (Wilcox 2006). Social researchers are right behind churches and their members trying to figure out what is going on and why. This disturbance of the religious order in the U.S. is far from inconsequential to most of the nation's citizens; this is a major social event of our time. This shake-up and the negotiations that are taking place because of it will determine a major part of the religious and secular future of this country. Many fascinating recent studies of these events and conflicts within religious organizations have tended to see denominations as one large, integrated whole. However, most churches are not as homogeneous as they seem. Each congregation may have different stances on how to handle the incl usion and exclusion of members of LGBT 4

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people. It often gets even m ore complicated than this; a congregation as a whole may outwardly espouse one ideal while many memb ers in the group uphold another. Members of a religious community tend to have a gr eat deal of control over what kind of space they are creating for themselves and the admittance of outsiders. The price for tolerance and even acceptance in Christian churches is usually high, and even gay-affirming churches often push for conformity in some areas of life to make up for freedom of expression in others (McQueeney 2009). Peopl e do not only have one identity but often several, including religion, sexuality, gender, and race, and they do not necessarily coexist peacefully. There have been quite a few studies and theoretical works published over the years on how people could identify themselves and understand who they are in terms of a self. They have continuously explored how people take up a gay or lesbian identity, and how the two compare both to each other a nd to the mainstream heterosexual world. However, their focus and background has main ly been secular and I believe that this limits their conclusions on the assumption that gay people are not religious and/or that religious people are not gay. This recently st arted to shift, but the new sociological works do not yet have an analysis that seeks to determine if gay men and women see gender in churches differently or how gender affects church congregations. This study attempts to fill that gap and further understandings of gay and lesbian religious life. 5

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Liter ature Review This literature review will provide ways to understand the roles religion can play in LGBT people's experiences and show how the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) as a gay affirming and gender inclusiv e religious organizati on helps shape their lives. I will begin by looking into the rela tionships LGBT people have had with both organized religion and spirituality. Then I will move to issues of gender difference in Christianity, the MCC as a relatively recent Ch ristian organization that reaches out to people with non-normative gender identities, a nd the potential benefits queer theory and religious studies have to offer each other in this analysis of a queer church. These discussions should provide a thorough bac kground for examining the role of gender within the queer Christian space of the MCC. Religion and Sexuality Religion and LGBT individuals do not have to be adversaries. Many LGBT people still have relig ious faith and even more feel drawn toward the concept of spirituality (Barret and Barzan 1996; Garcia 2008; Halkitis et al. 2009; Tan 2005; Yip 2003). There is almost always an initial struggle, however, to make religion and nonnormative sexuality work together (Buchana n et al. 2001; Rodriquez and Ouellette 2000; Schnoor 2006; Shallenberger 1998; Smith and Horne 2007). Options for dealing with conflicting identities, such as leaving organized religion or re interpreting sacred texts, are not always available to everyone equally; pe ople in racial and et hnic majorities and people with higher incomes, for example, are mo re likely to have fr eedoms to mix almost any combination of those options to their own benefit. Others who cannot afford to change their lives so drastically, socially an d/or monetarily, are of ten limited to only a 6

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few and generally choose one identity over a nother (Cohen 1996; Jef fries 2008; Thumma and Gray 2004). Social experiences such as gender as well as ideology play important roles in decisions about faith and how well one handles conflicting identities (Rodriquez and Ouellette 2000). Many LGBT people have spiritual beliefs, e ither those they grew up with or that they came to later in life, though most are no t members of a religious institution (Halkitis et al. 2009). Three-fourths of the participants in Halkitis et al.'s study were raised in religious households, but many chose to leave their childhood religious institutions later in life. While only about twenty -five percent of their sample reported that they held a membership in a religious institution such as a church or mosque, many others identified themselves as religious and the majority identi fied as spiritual. This study showed that a majority of those who were raised in a cer tain religion, including Christianity, Jewish, and Eastern religions, stayed religious or spiritual even while breaking ties with their specific institutions. While they stopped attendi ng church services, th ey still saw religion and/or spirituality as wort h holding on to. Religious faith for these LGBT people was seen to have a large amount of power to negotiate challenges in their lives (Halkitis et al. 2009). LGBT people seem to appreciate spiritual and religious beliefs, even when they cause them pain because they find a way to use them as positive forces in their lives, much like their straight counterparts. They work around the problematic parts of their religion to focus on the hope, guidance, and st rength it can provide (G arcia et al. 2008; Yip 2003). This trend relates to the power of spirituality over religi ous authority, as the self provides the moral framework from which LGBT individuals interpret their religious 7

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beliefs. Personal spiritual experiences conn ect th em with a highe r power who offers acceptance, allowing them to work around restri ctions they may encounter within their institutionalized religion or l eave institutionalized religion a ltogether (Barret and Barzan 1996; Yip 2000, 2003). LGBT people who are Ch ristian often interpret the Bible and their faith in their own term s, not necessarily those laid down by the institutionalized Christian denominations (Ba rret and Barzan 1996; Garcia et al. 2008; Yip 2003). This allows for a flexibility in belief, and an acco mmodation of both their religious beliefs and sexualities. A majority of LGBT people see in stitutionalized religion as threatening, restrictive, and alienating, while spirituality is understood as open, expansive, and accommodating. The former ideas stem from Chri stian doctrine that is often interpreted and then preached as anti-gay (Tan 2005). Religion in general is also less desirable because it involves giving up personal power to define the religion and one's religious identity in a way that spirituality allows. Lesbian and gay participants in Barret and Barzan's (1996) study viewed religion as someth ing external to them and spirituality as something internal, within themselves. Buchan an et al. (2001) found that an individual can have either an intrinsic or extrinsic orientat ion towards religion, where the religious authority is the individual or the institution, respectively. While these studies show how important both religion and spirituality can be for LGBT people, for the purposes of this study I shall now turn our attention specifically to those who deal with organized religion (Christianity). Previous work with the M CC and with LGBT Christians in general suggests that as members of the MCC, my participants should be people who want something more structured than spirituality alone. They should thus turn to an 8

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institutionalized religion that af firms thei r multiple identities (Wilcox 2006; Yip 2003). The process of handling of ten conflicting sexual and re ligious identities is not usually simple, however. When LGBT pe ople encounter religion, particularly Christianity, there is not one path to handling it and thei r sexualities, but many. The options to handle these issues include: integrating into one's institutionalized or established religion (this can either be a mutual integration or one where part of a person's identity is repressed and ignored,) adopting an out of the mainstream or Eastern religion, developing a new religion based on gay/queer theology, focusing on personal spirituality instead of instituti onalized religion, or rejecting bo th religion and the spiritual by becoming an atheist (Buchanan et al 2001; Rodriquez and Ouellette 2000; Schnoor 2006; Shallenberger 1998; Smith and Horne 2007) People's spiritual journeys can take many directions; identity is both constructed and fluid. It cannot be thought of as something static or completely imposed by institutions (Schnoor 2006). The scholarship suggests that in the past, most LGBT people had to either choose between their religion and their sexuality, with many pressures fr om their families and communities to suppress their sexuality. Prior to the 1970s, this was seen as the only option they had, because communities had not yet been built around nonnormative sexualities nor were any other churches accepting of their se xualities. The political and so cial upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s made room for people to explore Easter n religions and create new religions based on liberation theologies. More recently, studies show that most LGBT people are opting out of organized religion in favor of individua listic spirituality, while many others try to find a way to integrate their identities (Halkitis et al. 2009; Shallenberger 1998). Many studies have discussed the range of sexual identities people take on that tie 9

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into their spirituality and/or religion. Many LGBT people do not have all of those options open to them when trying to figure out their sexual and religious identities; they face limits and constraints from their community, fam ily, and/or culture (Jeffries 2008). This is particularly true in this c ountry for people of color. For many Latino and Black LGBT people, most of the previously mentioned optio ns are luxuries they can't afford. There are queer religious communities of color, but there is less research on these communities. Situated knowledge must be taken into account ; these ideologies and experiences are in part determined by people's race, class, gender, and age. As a prime example of this for the curr ent study, Rodriquez and Ouellette (2000) found that while the MCC is a gay-affirming and open place for LGBT people to be Christian, there are often gender differences in positive identity integration. Males in the MCC experienced more prolonged conflict between their two identities than females. Rodriquez and Ouellette attribute this to th e fact that women were more active in the church and thus were able to get more suppor t and help in managing their identities. This also could be the result of the Bibl e having harsher comments against male homosexuality and un-orthodox gend er presentations than the same things in females. Their findings on the differences between genders in the MCC served as the impetus for this study. I want follow-up on their exploratory findings; wh ile they just noted this difference while studying identity integrati on within the MCC, I intend to make gender my focus to see how my sample compares to th eirs. I want to see if participants in my study show similar trends. Another study whose results are very relevant for my study and helped narrow my focus in on gender was done by Melissa Wilcox in 2009. As part of a larger study on 10

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wom en's spiritualities in LGBT religions, she looked into women's roles and participation at a MCC in Los Angeles through interviews and participant observ ation. She found that the gender of the pastor affected the gender makeup of the congregation. This congregation went from having strong female le adership to male leadership and many of the women left when the man took over. She described the women who left as waiting for the male pastor to prove his feminism before they returned to the church. Wilcox (2009) concluded that having a woman as head pastor attracted women but did not drive men away (Wilcox 2009). From her study, I will make sure to focus on the gender of the leadership as potentially important for gende r dynamics as a whole in the church. Even where variations in sexuality and spiritual ity are accepted like in the MCC, gender may still be a factor in how people worship. I am open to all ways gender affects a queer church, from ways expected in Christianity to those that ar e new or different based on the church's queerness. Women and Christianity Women have also had complicated rela tionships with Chri stianity, stemming again mainly from passages in the Bible. Un til the last century, women were often not seen as equal to men in many forms of Chri stianity. Men and women had very different roles and expectations both within the church and the rest of their lives. This was mainly understood and articulated through the idea of complementarity (Webster 1995). The two genders were seen as opposites that were made for each other by God and fit together because they differed. Men were seen as the rightful head of the family, as both father and husband. They were the bread-winners and decision-makers for their families. They were encouraged to become leaders of th eir congregations by going to seminary and 11

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other higher education. Women, on the other han d, were supposed to be subordinate and submissive to the men in their families as well as to the men in the church. They were not seen as capable of truly understanding doc trine, and not worthy of passing religious knowledge to others. Throughout Christianity's history, women were seen dichotomously as Madonnas and whores. At times they were viewed as the ultimate in purity-innocent, sweet, and child-like. These pure women were chaste and modest, and made for nurturing and obedient wives. Other times, or even si multaneously, they were seen as naturally treacherous and sinful, temptresses of men and in need of someone to control them (Braude 2004). From these differences in roles and expectations, it is clear that men had the power in Christianity; they made and enforced church rules that often worked to their benefit at women's expense. Women's infe riority was built and institutionalized in Christianity, based on values explained in th e Bible. The idea of complementarity came from the very first book of the Bible where God made man and woman in his image, and was reiterated in later secti ons throughout the Old Testamen t. Genesis also included the beginning of women's inferiorit y as well as the concept of original sin. Eve was created as a helpmate for Adam, not as his equal companion, and she brought about the expulsion of mankind from paradise by being too weak to resist the tree of knowledge. In the New Testament, Paul, the first pope and leader of Christianity after Jesus' death, calls for women to be silent in churches and never to teach or have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12, KJV). While there are also parts of the Bible that call fo r gender equality and sameness over difference, the passages of women's subordination were seen as more important and were turned into laws and pract ices that help define Christianity as an 12

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institution. Another very important aspect of gender in Christianity is modesty and the control of women's sexuality. There is a ge ndered aspect to sin, especially sexual sin. Women have most of the responsibility for sex and the most regulation against sex, for both genders. While both men and women are expected to abstain from sex before marriage and not commit adultery, Christia n women often face worse consequences for their sexual sins than men. There is a double standard here, where women are seen as inherently sinful. In many religions, not just Christianity, they must cover their bodies far more attentively than men (Braude 2004). It is not the men that must stay virtuous, because they cannot be expected to cont rol themselves when around promiscuous or scantily clad women. While some women take pride in modesty and sexual purity, they must still constantly work to be seen as vi rtuous and control their bodies, much more so than men. This is just one more added burde n that Christian women must bear to be good women and strengthens the Madonna -whore dichotomy. Not only do women shoulder the blame for original sin, their religion imposes many rules about their sexuality, behavior, and bodies that they have little say in (Bendroth 1993). When moving from women's everyday lives to Christian structure, I can see that while there are more women in churches f illing the pews, there are many more men in positions of power. Women outnumber men in almost every congregation, in the U.S. and internationally. In the US, si xty-one percent of church par ticipants are women (Bendroth 1993; Woolever et al. 2006). They also are more deeply involved with their congregations and do more activities within the church than men. These often include organizing Sunday school, picnics, bible studies, choir, social activities and youth outreaches. 13

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W omen are far less likely to be clergy th an males however, filling only attendance and support roles. Men are mainly the ones who pre ach and lead services as well as interpret biblical passages and enforce Christian laws. Women serve as a support structure to the men, following but rarely leading. One Protestant man in the nineteenth century explained religion like this: life is like a football game, with me n fighting it out on the gridiron, while the minister is up in the grandstand, explaining it to the ladies. (Bendroth 1993:65) This conceptualization of life, and religious life specif ically, leaves little room for women to be active and powerful members of a church. Of course, like the norms and expecta tions mentioned earlier, these roles vary from denomination to denomi nation and church to church ; there is no one unified experience of women in Christianity (Woolever et al. 2006). Their experiences have much more room to vary than people with non-normative sexualities, mostly because homosexuality is a great taboo in the Bibl e. Homosexuals are not only inferior to heterosexuals, they are deviant and going ag ainst God's will. The positions of women, however, are more variable because there is more room for interpretation in passages about them in the Bible and none of them are as negative as those on homosexuality (Braude 2004). In this study, I will be using traditional understandings of how Christianity affects women's lives to frame my gender compar ison between gay men and gay women. These institutionalized roles and norms are not just ab stract ideas but are practiced in Christians' daily lives. They affect not only women in Ch ristianity, but men as well. Gender rules are dominant forces in all parts of both genders lives, both within and without the church. They shape how women understand themselves and how they interact with the world 14

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around them including the church as an institu tion as well as the people inside it. I want to investigate gender differences between th e gay men and women at the MCC to see if the same roles and norms affect their lives, and how they do so, within a progressive church that is open to people of all sexualities and aims to be gender inclusive and equal. The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) As mentioned earlier, the MCC was creat ed in the late 1960s by a man named Troy Perry and the church is often called the start of the ecclesial gay liberation movement (White 2008). Perry was a Penteco stal minister who was defrocked by his church and abandoned by his wife and children when he came out to them as gay. Not long after, he decided that a space needed to be made wh ere all people could worship God, regardless of sexuality. The MCC thus began with a dozen people meeting at his house and grew within weeks to a size th at needed its own bu ilding (Dart 2001, Maher 2006, McMullan and Berggren 1994, Rodriquez and Ouellette 2000, White 2008, Wilcox 2001). Perry did not found the MCC to just be a space for gay people, but one open to all who wanted a Christian message of love (W hite 2008). However, most of the original members were gay men and the church was initially set up to fulfill their particular needs. Most of those on the outside of this church believed it was doomed to fail, as many other gay explorations into spiritualit y did in the 1970s. However, membership has continued to be on the rise for decades, a nd the church has been very successful in helping and reaching LGBT people (White 2008, Wilcox 2001). In fact, the MCC has grown to be the largest grassroots organi zation of LGBT people in the world (Howe 2007). Two years after the first meeting of the MCC in Troy Perry's house, several congregations came together to create the Universal Fe llowship of Metropolitan 15

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Community Churches (U FMCC, often referre d to simply as MCC), a new Christian denomination. A denomination is a subgroup of a religion where the churches in that group share an identity and vi ew of their faith. Lutheran s, Methodists, and Mennonites are examples of other Christian denominati ons. While the UFMCC is not as large or influential as a denomination like Catholicism, this was still a major step in this group's development and showed that a gay affi rming church could be organized and institutionalized. The church experienced e xponential growth and e xpanded all across the world after attaining denomina tional status with the first international congregation in London. During its first eight years as a denomination, the UFMCC grew at a rate of about ten congregations per year (White 2008, Wilcox 2001). By 2001, the church claims to have over 32,000 members in more than 20 countries worldwide (Wilcox 2001). The majority of these churches are found in the Bible Belt of the American South, where one's religious beliefs are often central to one's sense of self (Dart 2001). This is a place that is almost ninety percent Christian, and where social norms of Christianity make it difficult and undesirable to be non-religious. Most memb ers convert to the MCC from other forms of Christianity, a nd this church gives its member s the ability to hold on to the belief and meaning systems of Christianity that may have developed in their childhood while still affirming their non-normative ge nder and/or sexual identities (Dart 2001, McMullan and Berggren 1994). Studies have shown that the MCC helps people integrate their sexual and religious identi ties, and that the more people are active within the church, the more integrated they become (Rodri quez and Ouellette 2000). Also, the MCC not only serves a community of LGBT people, it can help create and sustain these communities, such as Mount Vernon Square in Washington, DC. This is a neighborhood 16

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of over 600 people that is centered around the M CC. The church was the focal point of their community, around which they organized both their identities and social lives (Paris and Anderson 2001). This area is just one example of the important roles the MCC can play in LGBT Christians' lives (Paris and Anderson 2001). In the 1970s, women began demanding equal access and representation in the church. The first woman minister was ordained in 1972 and she fought many battles to to get female pronouns added to church literat ure about ministers (Wilcox 2001). Lesbians in the 1970s continued to fight for equality in the MCC and were able to add Goddess worship, New Age spirituality, and universa lism to the church. These contributions, however, were never very substantial and all but the emphasis on universalism were eventually removed from most MCC church es. They were shrouded in controversy because many within the church did not be lieve that things like Goddess worship belonged in a Christian organi zation and that these ideas w eaken their cred ibility with mainstream society. The spirit of many of these additions was not lost however, and in 1981, a new policy established the use of ge nder inclusive language for God (Lukenbill 1998). By the 1990s, there was a gender balan ce within the MCC due to specific efforts to make lesbian women feel just as welcome and included as gay men (Dart 2001). These are just a few examples of how the MCC con tinually adapts to the political and social environment, always trying to reach its goal of inclusivity. Many people over the years have tried to understand how and why the MCC did not die out but thrived. Some believe it has been able to grow because it fills a gap in gay people's lives. Some scholars, for example, believe that gay men and women have been conditioned to not expect any so cial or political solution to their problems, and thus turn 17

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to the MCC to find a spiritual af firmation of their sexuality (W ilcox 2001). The church has also been described as a safe haven and a field hospital for the spiritually wounded, a place that picks gay people up after they have been wounded by religion (Dart 2001, Paris and Anderson 2001). Since many attacks on gay people, both verbal and physical, have often stemmed from Chris tian ideas of sin, these explanations make sense. However, one of the most compelling reasons for why the MCC has been so successful stems from Perry himself and how the church is organized (Dart 2001). Perry was a charismatic leader, and was very vo cal about his beliefs about equality and spirituality being connected. It was Perry who pushed the church in an activist direction, participating in many protests in the 1970s (Dar t 2001, Wilcox 2001). Many practitioners at the time did not approve of Perry's actions outside the church and wanted to keep the MCC apolitical. It seems in retrospect however, that Perry's activism played a great part in what kept the MCC alive. His motivati on and dedication through the church and his push towards public light helped give the MCC legitimacy and the attention it needed to draw in new members. Like many minority group based organizations, the MCC has an activist side and encourages its members to fight for acceptance and visibility on such issues as gay marriage and discrimination laws (Dart 2001). Also, the church's open yet defined or ganizational structure provided a strong backbone for growth. The church has to balan ce its need for openness and change with a structure that can hold everyone together and it has so far been very successful at this (Wilcox 2001). The MCC is constantly updating th e issues it addre sses and the people it reaches out to in order to stay relevant and inclusive in the ever-changing American 18

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society In the past, the MCC made space fo r women to participate more equally and extended ties to people of ethnic and religi ous minorities. The MCC took a strong stance on gay liberation and has continued to make more space for transgendered people to feel welcome. Most recently, the church has help ed fight to make gay marriage and adoption legal in the U.S. as well as trying to get the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy overturned. These changes in support and focu s have not been random or uncontrolled, but carefully chosen by many leaders in th e UFMCC so that the denomination as an organization could stay coherent and st rong as well as relevant (Wilcox 2001). Finally, the MCC has prospered because it is a valid practice in our culture to form a community around se xual identity (Wilcox 2001). The MCC as an organization has done very well because it is built off th e belief that building social groups around sexuality is rational. Like race, sexual identity is just one thing people use to group others and themselves in our society. People in both of these classifications have often been seen as inferior or undesirable, leading them to be excluded by the majority culture so that they often form oppositional spaces of their ow n. With LGBT people, this has lead to the development and survival of the MCC, using the rhetoric of queer theory to support a religious space that fights the heterosexual norm of human relations. Queer theology has provided the ideas and support for a Christian religion that welcomes people of all sexualities and genders, shap ing the MCC into the queer church; it challenges the heterosexual and gender norms of biblical pass ages and the text as a whole, showing a way to find understanding and hope about sexuality in a text that is usually thought of as sexually restrictive (Wilcox 2001). 19

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Queer Theory and Religion While queer theory started out as a philo sophical and abstract reconceptualization of sexuality, it has continued to grow and expand to be taken up by many fields of study. Queer theory developed in the 1990s as a way of moving beyond what it considered constraining binaries of gender and sexuality, mainly male and female and gay and straight (Plummer and Stein 1996). Queer is no t a word that is strictly defined; it actively works against rigid categories of understanding, seeking to be fluid and inclusive (Wilcox 2006). Many queer theorist s deal with issues of id entity, language, meaning, and power. Plummer and Stein (1996) discuss four hallmarks of queer theory, including the idea that power is evident in all layers of social life a nd is enforced by boundaries and binaries, that gender and sexua l categories are not stable or certain but need to be problematized, that assimilationist civil rights strategies should be rejected in favor of deconstructionist politics, and that sexuality is seen and enacted in many parts of life that would normally not be seen as sexual. Queer theory provides a way of looking at society critically, calling into question sexual and gender beliefs people in this societ y take for granted that limit the range of human experience. Gender and sexuality are created and upheld by our society and the people in it. Queer theory pushes people to understand sexuality and gender not as fixed or biologically determined, but as ideas that have been made over time. These ideas work for the benefit of the majority in our societ y and those within it ha ve a stake at keeping them the same. Adrienne Rich (1982) discusses how heterosexuality is the default category in our society; it is what people classify as natura l and normal and the yardstick against which any other forms of sexuality ar e judged. Heterosexuality is compulsory in 20

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that ev ery person is assumed to be straight and this society's institutions push everyone to conform to heterosexuality regardless of our desires. These norms of heterosexuality become tied up with norms about gender so that to be female is to be attracted to men and to engage in certain prescribed roles in life such as wife and mother. This is the heterosexual matrix at wo rk (Butler 1990; Rubin 1992). Queer theory has recently found an ally in sociology, which makes sense given that the queer emphasis on fluid categories is based on a social constructionist view of the world (Gamson and Moon 2004; Seidman 1996). Queer theory went farther than classical conceptions of social constructionism to note that not only are sexual identities and categories fluid and dynamic, but that power is inevitably intertwined with sexuality. There is power involved in who defines a catego ry and in how an identity or desire is seen as normative or not. There is power in who creates sexual norms as well as who enforces these norms (Gamson and Moon 2004). While queer theory is about opening up to possibilities and multiple identities (or no identities at all), organi zed and institutionalized religi ons involve strict roles and identity rules for their followers. Christian ity in particular tends to see sexuality as potentially sinful in most situations, unle ss sex is done by only two heterosexual partners within the bounds of marriage and for the purpose of reproduction (Bardella 2001). In traditional Christianity, gender and the role s assigned to each of the two, man and woman, are clear and hierarchic ally understood, from the very story of creation in the first book of the Bible. Queer theory thus can and does critique many writings and agreed upon beliefs of this religion for being lim iting, controlling, and unforgiving (Bardella 2001; Hutchins 2001; Loughlin 2008; Wilcox 2006). It also critiques how these 21

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foundational texts have been and continue to be practiced by patriarchal groups unwilling to question their black and white views on ge nder and sexuality For many years, queer theorists either ignored re ligion or saw it as an excl usively heteronormative and oppressive institution that could mean nothing but homophobia and ostracism for LGBT people (Wilcox 2006). Only recently has queer theory begun to see religion as not only an important part of many LGBT people's lives, but as an institution that could potentially be a positive force in their lives and how they come to understand themselves. The benefits can go both ways; queer theory can benefit from gr eater attention to the study of religion in two ways: in anal ytical scope and in forms of methodology (Wilcox 2001). Queer theorists should understa nd both the negative and manipulative tendencies that religion can have and how as an institution its power is used to create and monitor hierarchies of thought. They should also, however see the positive and helpful roles religion can play for LGBT people right now, as well as how it shapes their lives everyday (Wilcox 2006). Including religion and spirituality in queer theory can help it delve into and understand the range of LGBT experiences better, by not assuming all queer people are or should be against relig ion. Looking at how religion works in a queer context will expand the ways queer theory can be discussed and understood to include groups that are often excluded from both the norm of society and the queer. To queer religion as an institution, and Christianity specifically, people must examine the dynamics of gender and sexuality th at religions hide in plain sight and find ways to challenge heteronormativity's dualisti c ideas of gender. Queer theory offers Christianity (and individual Christians) a way of moving beyond patriarchal oppression of women and gay people to an inclusive and equal way of practicing spirituality 22

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(Schippert 1999; Schneider 2000). Q ueer theo ry can help make Christianity more accessible to those struggling with their iden tities, reaching out and helping an even larger portion of the populati on. One of the best ways it can do this is with a queer Christian organization such as the MCC, which shows that LGBT people can still be religious and proud of their multiple identities. The MCC shows that queer religion is not only possible, but is powerful in assisti ng LGBT people and their communities. Queer theory can also change Christianity in a more general way by showing other options besides heterosexuality and hierarchical gender norms to those within mainstream churches. Overall, queer theory and religious studies have powerful and transformative things to offer each other. This study will hopefully show how both can be strengthened when neither is forgotten. Examining how gay and bisexual men and women of the MCC see gender in their queer church may furthe r articulate the relationship between queer theory and religion; it might also help de termine what they can offer each other. This discussion of inclusivity and equality is something often seen in the rhetoric of the MCC. It is often seen not only as a queer church, but as the queer church, the place for confused, hurt, and questioning people of a ll sexualities and genders to come and find spiritual healing (Dart 2001; Rodriquez and Ouellette 2000 ; Wilcox 2001). I will be looking to see how my sample fits into the queer religious disc ourse, hoping to find new ways of combining these two perspectives. My gender comparison will also provide me with the opportunity to see if the inclusivity and equality the MCC reaches for is felt not only across sexualities, but genders as well. Using queer theory as a foundational support, I examine understandings of gendered spiritual ity in a space whose existence seems to go against heteronormativity and homophobia as we ll as traditional ideas of Christianity. 23

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Methods In order to understand how men and wo men of the MCC view gender in their church, I conducted qualita tive interviews. This method allows participants to define and express themselves in their own words. It gi ves me a direct way of finding answers that are not easily put into a survey format. So me questions are in-depth and complicated; participants needed the room to say what they thought and felt about them in an open environment. I did individual interviews because these are sensitive and often private topics that people may feel uncomfortable sharing with ot hers in a focus group setting. Also, a group setting may have changed how they responded, consciously or unconsciously. A few examples the questions asked during interviews include: What does it mean to you to be religious/spiritual ? Has the church/congregation changed since you started attending? How? What do you think it means to be a man/woman in the MCC? Does gender matter in the church? as well as questions about their religious background and experiences being gay and religi ous/ spiritual. These were meant to gain understanding and depth of pa rticipants' thoughts on both their own spirituality and gender experiences, as well as what they th ink about how spirituality and gender work within the church. I began recruiting by emaili ng the pastor, Reverend Jacob1, telling him about what I wanted to do and asking for his help. I then attended two Sunday services that place on the same morning to recruit; they ha ve a service at 9:15am and at 11am each Sunday. I attended four services in total, ove r two Sundays. On the first day, I made an announcement to those in the 11am service a bout my study, after I had introduced myself to the pastor in person. Because I was una ble to announce my study to those in the took 1 All names have been changed. 24

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9:15am service this first wee k, I returned the following Sunday to make an announcement about my study to them. For both weeks, I a pproached attendees af ter the services and handed out fliers with my contact inform ation. I also went to a Wednesday night fellowship dinner the church provides every week where I made an announcement and handed out fliers. The pastor put a digital version of my flie r on the church's website and email list. I conducted sixteen interviews at the church, two at the participants' home, and two at New College, for a total of twenty. I scheduled interviews by telephone. I met four people outside the church because they want ed to meet when the building was not open, two at their home and two at the New College Library. Interviews lasted about an hour, ranging from half an hour to two hours. I move d the interviews from the recorder to my computer as soon as I came home each time a nd wrote field notes. I also went through each recording to make sure sound quality was good. During each interview I took notes of not only what was said that struck me as important, including gender, sexuality, and religious identity, but also body language, a ppearance, and tone of the conversation. While there was a great deal of interest from those who attend the MCC, I had to limit my interviews to twenty. Attendees seemed to relish the oppor tunity to tell their stories and share their perspectives, but I did not have the time or resources as one student to interview all thos e who expressed interest. In order to compare gender among the participants, I kept my sample gender balanced. From the church's website, I knew that the church was very close to being ge nder balanced, well educated, older, and about eighty percent gay and lesbian. In 2009, about one hundred fifty people attended weekly services. While I knew most of participants were going to be older because most of the 25

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people in the church were over fifty-five, I m a de sure to get at least a couple of people from each age range at the church, starting w ith people in their forties up to people in their seventies. I thought it would be important to hear the perspectives of different age cohorts, as forty year olds sometimes have a different view on life, sexuality, and religion than sixty and seventy year olds. I wanted to make sure that I heard from the greatest range of people that attend this church to be able to make comparisons and get a more complete picture of the church and what it means/has meant to those who attend it. My sample reflected expectations about the congr egation, with the majo rity of people being over fifty and white. The average age was sixtytwo and most people ha d attended at least some college. Many of the men were or had been involved in ba nking and investments while many of the women were or had been in the health fields including nursing and therapy. Most had realized or developed their non-normative sexual identities when they were children and the majority came from Christian backgrounds. Coding and analysis involved going through each interview several times to pick out what was important for that person, what was special and different about their story and how they told it. I pulled out quotations th at formed patterns and those that related to gender. I paid particular atte ntion to gender, not only in how men and women differed in what they said but also how they said it and how gender was experi enced in the MCC. I also referred back to my field notes during the interviews and those organized after. Questions guiding my analysis included: Wher e and how is gender salie nt to participants? Are there differences between what the genders talk about and how they talk about it? Do these participants' experiences and explanati ons match those mentioned in the research? Is there anything unexpected about their re sponses? How does what participants say 26

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about gender fit with the MCC' s standpoint 's on gender as well as those of more traditional Christian churches? Using these a nd other guides, three main themes emerged from the data: the importance of spiritual ity, the existence of gender roles, and the phenomenon of the pastor's gender affec ting the gender make-up of the church. 27

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Analysis Introduction The three themes to be explored here d eal with both spirituality and gender. First, I will look at how most participants describe d individualistic spiritua lity as important and sometimes more than the organized religion of Christianity. The range of spirituality and Christianity of this group shall be explored, as well as reasons why those who do not feel tied to an organized religion attend a Chri stian church. Next, I will look into where participants saw gender in the MCC, first in gender roles regarding church work other than leadership, then in how the gender of the pastor affects the gendered makeup of the congregation. Some of the pa rticipants saw men and women do different tasks for the church on a regular basis, though not in the way most expected within a Christian church. Also, almost all participants attributed men l eaving the church at an earlier period to the fact that the church began to be led by women instead of men. All the patterns explored in this analysis point to the complicated nature of the MCC as a queer church and the range of experiences seen within it. The Importance of Spirituality One major subset of my questions dealt wi th the role of spiritu ality and/or religion in my participants' lives. They were used as a way of understanding their religious or spiritual identities as practiced in the MCC. A little over half of my sample expressed a disconnect between themselves and Christian ity as a religion. They believed that their spirituality was as important or sometimes more important than their religion. Their concepts of spirituality and religion corre sponded to the those outlined in previous literature; spirituality was understood as a kind of personal and individual relationship 28

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with God, whether the C hristian God or not. The only actors involved in the practice of spirituality are the individual and God. While ot hers may come into this relationship and help the individual clarify thei r beliefs, it is the individual who defines the situation. As Helen (63, Spiritual-Mystic, Gay)2 puts it We are all connected to each other and to God, it's a beautiful thing and it has nothing to do with chur ch, it is a personal thing Religion on the other hand was described as restrictive and repressive; it was seen as an institution that required compliance and obedience without th e ability to question authority as well as a kind of fi ctional story or series of para bles not to be taken seriously. Members of this group rejected certain parts of Christian doc trines and beliefs they saw as limiting. Sam (37, Spiritual, Gay) and La rry (56, Christian-Spir itual, Gay) give examples of this when they say Some of the bible might be stories and some might be truths, probably elaborated on and exaggerated and I can't stand the thought of Jesus having to die to forgive people, that part of Jesus' story is a twisted myth and I can't accept it. Participants seemed drawn to spir ituality in the place of religion because it gave them personal power to worship and believe as they wanted to or felt they needed to. This could be understood as a way of comp ensating for a lack of power and autonomy in other places in their live s because of their sexualities. With opposite gender spouses, parents, siblings, employers, and friends, many participants we re told how to behave and what to believe. In this important aspect of their life and identity, however, they wanted the freedom to express their own beliefs. As Sam (37, Spiritual, Gay) puts it, We need to let people decide for themselves what they can do and what they can't do. While members of this group attended a Ch ristian church with rituals and beliefs 2 These terms were self reported by participants when asked about their age, spirituality, and sexual identity. Presented in their own words. 29

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that a re often traditional and structured, they re jected or qualified the identity Christian. Most of those who saw spirituality as important in its own right did identify as Christian, but felt the need to add a cav eat or explanation to that identity. This group could be described as Christian but... where a simple identification as Christian was seen as limiting. Another, smaller portion of people who valued spirituality did not identify as Christian at all, but as simply spiritual; one had adopted an eastern religion at an early age. Those that fit into the Christian but... category wanted to make sure that their understanding and practice of Ch ristianity was not misunderstood to be that of other Christians. They believed that Christian ity has a bad reputation right now because of what born-again Christians do to limit people's freedom and how hypocritical and abusive the Catholic church is and has been throughout history. In order to separate themselves for these negative views of Chris tianity, they said things like William (70, Christian, Gay) I'm a Christian, but in the broad sense of the word, not born-again or anything crazy like that. He believed that Ch ristianity has become twisted over time and that he feels almost ashamed to use the name Christian. He, like many others, based their Christian identity in love, fellowship, and fo rgiveness, not sin, damnation, and control. They felt that in this sense, a Christian identity alone was not enough to adequately incorporate their beliefs. A focus on spir ituality was understood as a way of being expansive and as a way of defining themselv es against Christianity as an organized religion. This gave them the space to take back personal autonomy in their religious identity. They established themselves as Chri stians against a norm of Christianity based not so much on their already non-normative se xuality but on a personal relationship with 30

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God. The smaller group of people who identifie d themselves as spiritual without a major Christian component of their identities fu rther displays the rang e of spiritual beliefs in this church. Those within this group sa w organized religion as a negative influence on both society and the individual and thus opted out of it earlier in life. As a group, they said they were familiar with Christian symbols and some beliefs, but rejected a Christian label in any form very strongly, in compar ison to those of the Christian but... group who accepted some aspects of Christianity but not others. While Helen (63, SpiritualMystic, Gay) for example, sees Jesus as one of her watching angels who helps guide and heal her, she attributes this to the fact that sh e was raised Christian. She does not uphold any of his stories or biblical bases, excep t that he believed in love as a norm and performed healing miracles. A spirit came to her in the form of Jesus because she was familiar with him, not because she sees hersel f as Christian. Most of the people in this group also attend a metaphysical church near the MCC as well as the MCC. Spirituality for them was not just personal and individual bu t also larger than a ny religion or group of people. They saw all people as connected and wished for a world based on kindness rather than any compulsory religious doctrine. It seems surprising that so many people identified as spiritual and continued to come to a Christian church. Previous literatur e has stated that peopl e are either spiritual or religious, yet many people here identified as both (Buchanan et al 2001; Garcia et al. 2008; Rodriguez and Ouellette 2000; Schnoor 2006; Shallenberger and 1996). These data seem to explain this as that they come and stay to this Christian church for the LGBT community and to do activism. They want to be around people similar to them on the 31

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basis of their stigmatized sexuality to inter act with and want to feel that they are contributing to the LGBT movement. Many of those who identified as primarily Christian also reported that this community space is a very important part of why they attend this church. Christophe r (66, Christian, Homosexual) had this to say about the church- The MCC is not just a place to co me and worship, it's a place to find acceptance and comfort. There's such a welcoming community and family here; often it is the ties with people that bring me back. While the literature suggested that gay people in the MCC were in the church because they wanted something more than spirituality alone and hinted that this was religious organization and structure, th ese findings point to different reasons. Instead of needing religious doctrin e, the gay people of this MCC who valued spirituality mainly wanted a space where they could meet with and be open with other gay people. Once a community was based on this gay identity, many then wanted to join the activist side of the church and feel like they were making a difference in society for gay people. Gender Roles One place where participants saw gender in the church was in gender roles. Some of the participants noticed that men and women as groups do different things for the church, other than leadership. They reporte d that women do physic al labor and outside work while men decorate and cook. Almost half the women of the total sample saw this difference while only one man did. Two people saw this as a humorous and inconsequential gender difference, something to tease others about. Two others saw this as a neutral to positive expression of gender, while one person saw it as potentially problematic. 32

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Two people, one man and one woman, sa w these gender differences as light hearted and humorous. They liked to tease others about them but did not see the gender differences as real. They said they did not identify with gender stereotypes and that gender is not a factor in the church. To them these roles are just trivial aspects of how people interact that should not be taken seriously or as indi cative of gender difference in the church. Kevin (69, Christian, Gay) remarks on this phenomenon: I have trouble getting into male and female roles. I mean, we tease a lot in the church-if we need some electrical repair or something we ask the lesbians to do it; when we need to decorate and put up curtains and so forth we ask the guys. But I don't identify with that at all. I just have trouble making a distinction between male and female in the church because I think we're all here for the same reason...we believe in God and want to participate in organized religion. Here the difference is visible to him, but his one statement about it is surrounded by the statements that he has trouble gett ing into these roles and that there is no distinction to make in the c hurch between men and women. While he does not take these roles seriously, he seems to want to make sure that I do not e ither by downplaying how often they happen and focusing on places where gender is not seen. Sarah's (68, Christian, Lesbian) comments on gender roles include gender is no t a factor...the guys decorate beautifully, women don't do such a hot job. So I mean it's kind of those things. Here again she starts by denying gender di fference, then mentions it, laughs, and downplays it with those things as if to sa y those unimportant things. Both of them recognize the same differences in gender role s but cast them off saying they don't actually affect the church or its members. Two of the others who saw gender roles took them a little more seriously, but saw them as a positive part of their church experience. While not humorous, they showed how gender roles in their church are different fr om the traditional gender norms and how free 33

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the genders were in the church, where m en felt good about doing women's work and women were happy doing men's work. The reversal of traditional gender roles was seen as empowering and unique by those in this group. Barbara (69, Spiritual, Gay) had this to say about gender roles in the church: I see men and women doing the same kinds of jobs and stuff like that. I don't see anything that's a gender issue here. I think we do very well with that here. I see women doing physical labor here, being in charge of physical labor things. It's not all just because they're men, they do all the physical stuff. And I see men doing cooking. So gender just doesn't seem to be an issue here at all. Again gender differences here is initially framed as non-existent, followed by examples of where it is seen, ending with gender still not being an issue. What is different here however is that there is no tone of humor or light heartedness. She recognizes that gender roles could be a serious issue and would not be positive, but ends by saying the church situation is positive because these issues do not exist. She is also happy that women do physical stuff while men cook because it is a reversal of what is expected of men and women. She seems pleased that they feel comfor table in the church sp ace to do tasks that are gendered, but do them differently than they are normatively conceived. Her tone belies that she finds women doing physical la bor empowering to them and that this is something to be proud of. The other woman in this group also expresses pride in the church saying that while men and women may have different ro les in this way, they saw them as nothing compared to at other churches where women can not be leaders or decision makers in the church. This form of difference is seen as inconsequential when you look at the big picture. Also, these gender roles indicated to them the lack of gender issues, because women can do stereotypically male things and men can do stereotypically female things. While the first group does not think gender roles matter in the church, this 34

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second group definitely believes that they m atte r, just that those within the church are doing it right. One person who noticed these gender roles did not see them in such a positive light, and definitely saw them as an issue worthy of serious consideration. As someone more involved in the church, Jan (58, Chri stian-Spiritual, Lesbian) had been paying attention to gender since she arrived. She was always cons cious of who was leading and performing which roles in the church, as she had had bad experiences with gender at past churches where women were not as valued as men and relegated to supporting roles. When asked about this MCC in particular, she said: In MCC, my experience hasn't been that th ere's been a lot of difference in the roles for clergy as part of the church. Women here do a lot of the outside maintenance and the men do the decorating and that was very obvious, the inside of the sanctuary was painted just before Jacob arrived. Was it painted because Jacob was a guy who was coming by a bunch of our male interior decorators? I don't know. If a woman was coming would they have painted the sanctuary? I don't know. We had clean up day recently and 80% of people here were women. Why is that? I don't know. She clearly saw the burden of more work on women, where they were expected to do more physical labor and do it more often than men. Near the end of her statement, she throws out questions she had been thinki ng about, looking for reasons behind the gender differences she saw but was unwilling or unable to answer them. Her tone implied that she did not believe the men w ould have gotten so involved in the church if another woman pastor was coming; she seems to think at least a little bit th at they provided their expertise and help because Jacob is a man and they want to support and celebrate a male pastor even before he arrives. She was also slightly upset that a large majority of the people that came to the church to clean it and maintain it were women volunteers, with few men willing to get their hands dirty. What she is seeing and reacting to is an example of traditional roles for men and women at chur ches to an extent. The literature shows that 35

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wom en are usually more involved with Christ ian churches, not generally in terms of physical labor but in terms of time and en ergy (Bendroth 1993; Woolever et al. 2006). This was seen in the viewpoint she expresses. This is often attributed to the fact that women cannot have structural pow er within the church as lead ers so they find other ways to contribute and find the church more impor tant to their identities than men (Wilcox 2009). Women and men share leadership here for the most part equally; power is available to women in other ways. Perhaps there is a different reason women feel more invested. The majority of participants said they saw no gender roles in the church at all and believed that there was little to no gender difference in the church. This may be because gender is not a salient asp ect of the church for most of the people that attend. The only gender difference in roles may be so insi gnificant that few actually notice it. A few women, those with power in the church, said that there are no gender issues because those that make decisions for the church activel y try to make and keep it that way. They do this by preventing the formation of men and women's groups, which are seen as divisive, and by keeping positions of power balanced on purpose, such as deacons and board members. When asked about gender role s in the church Jennifer (69, Christian, Non-identified) replied: They try to even things out fifty-fifty. Like deacons, if there are eight deacons where six are men and they need two more, they're going to get qualified women. They are pretty much even like that. We did not want to have a men's club or a women's club because it becomes 'us' and 'them.' One of our requirements for the new pastor was that he or she must be comfortable with both men and women, not just the phony thing, they must be comfortable and Jacob is comfortable. Despite these efforts for complete gender e quality and inclusivity, people at the church are still seeing gender differences in terms of roles and expectations. Some of these 36

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attem pts are apparently failing to trickle dow n to those not in leadership positions as quickly and thoroughly as they intended, at leas t so far. Gender roles are still a part of life for some at this MCC and a minority of attendees still see them in the church, though they do not seem to be enforced as traditional gender norms are. Importance of the Gender of the Pastor In the past ten years, the church has unde rgone several changes in pastors. In this time period, there was originally a male pa stor who then left and was followed by a succession of three female pastors. A new male pastor came in and took over services six months ago. Due to these pastoral shifts and other possible reasons such as family, personal, and health issues, the gender make-up of the church changed during this time period. It started off in this period about gende r equal, then some me n left and there were more women. At the moment the church is ba ck to being about gender equal. When asked about change in the church over the past fe w years and/or gender in the church, all but three participants reported these events a nd attached value judgments to them. Not only did this majority acknowledge the events, but saw that gender mattered when it came to the gender of the pastor. They saw that shif ts in the gender of the congregation mirrored the shifts in the gender of th e pastor. Rather than any othe r reason for the congregation to change over time, they located the gende r of the leader as important. Those who saw congregational gender cha nges as the result of pastoral gender changes all described them w ith this narrative: when women took over the ministry after the male pastor left, many men left with him and now that there is a male pastor again, many of these same men are returning and new men are joining. This was the same observation told by everyone in this group; they differed, howev er, in their value 37

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judgm ents of the events and where they s ee the church now, with one group seeing the gender problems as over and the other seeing th em as still salient and negative. A little over half of this group who saw a gender shift believe that any gender problems the church once had are over and that the situati on is better now. While th ey see that gender was once an issue within their congregation, they believe th at it is no longer relevant and that the genders are fairly equal and balanced now. The gender of the pastor may have been important and maybe even had a negative impact on the church in the past, but from their viewpoint, this was taken care of. Howard (46, Christian, Homosexual) describes it like this: When I firs t came here three years ago, ther e was some tension between the men and women because of the pastor; it's not like that now. Now we have a good mix of men and women. He says that others told him when he arrived about this change in leadership and he saw the church have more women than men. Over time, however, he has noticed a change where most of the peopl e in the church, male and female, are more comfortable with each other and the pastor. The reasons they provide for why the chur ch is doing better now vary and some participants offer no explanati on at all. Some say they are no longer affected by or care about what gender the pastor is because that should not matter. Helen (63, SpiritualMystic, Gay) had this to say about the gende r of leadership Gender does not matter for choosing a pastor, people are here for the message and to be spiritual; they are not here because the pastor is a man or a woman. She acknowledges that there were problems with this in the past but that people rec ognize now that a good pa stor is a good pastor regardless of gender. She believes that thos e who come to the church have gotten over their issues with gendered leadership and just want to worship. David (56, Christian38

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Spiritual, Gay), som eone who agrees that the gender of the pastor is no longer important, contradicts her however when he says You try to think the message is the message and not the vehicle but it (gender of the past or) really does make a difference. This difference is in his view benign, but acts as a filter that draws some people in and keeps others out, where those drawn in are usually the same gender of the pastor. Another popular reason given for gendere d leadership no longer being a problem is changes in society at large. Kevin (69, Christian, Gay) sums this up when he says The whole society has changed in its attitude s towards gay people, and within the gay community between men and women. He th en describes how gay men and women are no longer pitted against each other as they on ce were, not only within the MCC, but just in life in general. He sees gay men and women as interacting more now than ever before and that this is reflected in the church on a regular basis. While men may have had a problem with women leading before, in this new century Kevin and others see that both genders have become more accepting of each other. He is one of many who saw fighting between gay men and gay women as petty and a lmost childish and is thus very glad the church has moved beyond it. The last major explanation people had for the observed gender shif ts in the church that were positive or neutral was that they were a natural part of a church's life cycle. For this group, the gender and other aspects of th e congregation ebb and flow over time and are nothing to be concerned about. They sa w the changes and could see how others might see them negatively, but believed that they were inevitable. For them, men leaving when a woman took over is just something that happens in all church es and is in no way particular to this MCC. Jenni fer (69, Christian, Non-identifie d) explains it this way: I think we lost a lot of men because we had a series of female leaders and that can be 39

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attested to by watching the number of men w ho have either come back to the church or who have come anew. So I think this h as made a difference. Now, this wave goes on all the time. You wait hum years and Jacob leaves and a woman comes in and you'll find the same thing happen. So this is not unusual, nor it is bad I guess. She clearly saw how people came and left depe nding on the pastor's gender, but does not place a real value judgment on this occurrence. Other people in the church may have misunderstood gender changes as negative a nd created unnecessary tensions, but from her experience, these things happen all the time. They are nothing to be concerned with, especially now with such a good new pastor who appeals to everyone. She has a very pragmatic view of the pastor's role in the church and how the congregation works. Sarah discusses the situation as part of a cycle: There was a big split in the church, a political split and a lot of people left. We've lost some female members as a result of having a male pastor and lost male members when we had women pastors. But that doesn't worry me; if people are only coming to church for those needs and are so fixated on a person's gender in order to be a spiritual leader, they're going to bolt anyway. What is left is more enthusiasm. All organizations go through these cycles and we're on the good cycle now and I don't kid myself at all by thinking we won't have troubled times ahead also. Her lens for understanding what has happened and is happening in the church is very organizational. The MCC is just one type of organization among many and follows the same cycles and rules as other organizations, so change is normal. She is very positive about where the church is now and where it is going, but still recognize s that there is both good and bad in an organization. As was seen before, she puts down those who come to the church for the gender of the pastor; she does not believe this should matter. She goes on further to suggest that the c hurch is better off without people who are focused in such a way and that the church has been impr oved by the few people who feel that way leaving. Overall then, for her and the others of this first group, the church is in a good place right now in terms of gendered leader ship and a pastor's gender is no longer 40

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anything to worry about. This was not the view held by all th ose who saw the gendered changes in the church. A little less than half of this group believed that the gender of the pastor still seems to matter today and in a negative, not benign or positive, way. They do not believe that all the gender issues of the congregation have been solved. Instead, they see the fact that more men are coming back now that ther e is a new male pastor as indicative of a continuing problem. Danielle (57, Chri stian-Spiritual, Lesbian) says: When [first female pastor] came a lot of the men said 'I'm not serving a woman, screw you' and they booked. Men couldn 't stand it when [second female pastor] came-bright, beautiful, and 'I'm not going to hold your hand.' Some men made problems. Some who left, the older men, are coming back with Jacob. They see Jacob as somebody they can go to spiritually to help them with their journey. The gender of the pastor matters a lot in UFMCC, it doesn't in the Methodist or the Catholic because you only have boys. We really haven't come that far from what it used to be like. That's going to change and probably going to take folks like Jacob coming up through the ranks, folks who are comfortable in their beings to make a difference in the denomination. The gay culture has a lot of an effect on how people perceive themselves. Older folks, men didn't talk to the women, women didn't talk to the men and you can see that here sometimes. Danielle has a lot to say about gender in the MCC, particularly in leadership. She points out not only that men left when female past ors took over, but also how she believes many are coming back now. These men see Jacob as a spiritual leader and guide when they could not see this of the women before hi m. She thinks many men felt ostracized by the women leaders and couldn't stand the women in power. She notes that gender is definitely important when thinking about pastors in liberal churches where women can become pastors. She seems to make a link between larger and continuing gender issues in the MCC because of older gay culture where the genders did not interact. She, like several others saw how the genders sometimes continue to segregate themselves in the church for where they sit and who they talk to; she notes a kind of distrust of female leaders from 41

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the m en, as if they are not as capable as male leaders. The future does look better, from her view, because the newer gene ration of male leaders are more prepared to integrate the genders. Thus, not only will gender problems in this congregation fade away, they will also be neutralized in the denominati on as a whole in the near future. Danielle's thoughts are echoed by many part icipants in this group, including Jan (58, Christian-Spiritual, Lesbian) and Tabith a (50, Spiritual, Bisexual) Jan says there's been a dramatic change since Jacob arrived, definitely more men have returned to the church. The energy in the church is amazing; it's almost like a dam has broken. She also notes that men are coming back to church a nd bringing in great deals of energy. Again, while she sees how the church is doing be tter now because there are more people and greater energy to participate and help, she also see that this is partly because the new pastor is male. She cannot separate the church 's current success from the pastor's gender. Like Danielle however, she believes that J acob has and will continue to prove himself a good pastor and positive force in the church re gardless of his gender. Tabitha also picks up on some of the older ideas of gender that Danielle points out: Now we have a male and it's really helped a lot for the men because guys really have a hard time with it. A lot of men have been raised that the man is the leader and they just have a really hard time with women be ing in a leadership role and this church has been predominately women. It's diffic ult for men to take direction from women. There's been a reversal, it's more of a fifty-fifty and it's a lot better. She is more straightforward with her views on men, believing that it is almost ingrained in men not to respect women in leadership roles. She sounds frustrated that men have such a hard time with women in power, but defi nitely notes that this is both a past and present issue. In discussing past gender issues based on the pastor, she places all the blame for membership loss and change on me n who were incapable of accepting women 42

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in power She does see things as improved now and the church as more gender balanced. She still sees the church as a gendered place in term s of the importance of leadership. She is happy more men are coming back, just dissatis fied that it took a male pastor to bring them in again. The men of this group also remarked on th e importance of the pastor's leadership as negative and on-going, but from a different angle. They notice how they themselves often have problems with women pastors, even as they see this as wrong. Their viewpoint is thus based on being the one with the issue instead of being the one who sees the issue in others. Thomas (78, Christian, Homosexual) ha d this to say about gender in the church and women in leadership: Some of the men think (of the women) oh they're going to run me over, they're bulldozers. Some of the lesbians are very anti-men. They look upon men as the people who have had too much control for too long and in a sense they're right. Both men and women have transference from childhood based on a domineering mother or father. It is learned behavior to lash out at the opposite sex and I think many gay people do it without realizing it or realizing that it could be outdated. I do it myself. If I have a very domineering woman pastor in church, I could see myself reacting to Mother again and the anger that I felt. It's so learned, so ingrained, it bubbles up before you have time to think What am I doing here, what am I thinking? He discusses the previous changes in the congr egation based on the pastor but also speaks of being hostile to the other gender as someth ing current and hard to change. He notes that gay men don't like women in power because they feel threatened that they will lose their own power, while gay women don't like me n because they feel they have had and still have too much power. T hus it is not just men who are uncomfortable with women but both genders being hostile to each other based on perceived power. Thomas understands this hostility based on Freudian logic whereby a domineering mother for a gay man can be the root of his anger towards women pastors. He then admits that he does 43

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it him self and could easily see himself dislik e a domineering woman pastor because she would remind him of his mother. He is not pr oud of this response but he says that for most people, especially men, this has been so ingrained in who they are that it is almost impossible to get rid of; resentment of the other gender by gay people for him is learned from childhood and basically permanent. The ch urch has not gotten away from this now, though they have tried and continue to try. Men still prefer male pastors and women prefer female pastors in his opinion and though he wishes th is could change, he does not see how in the near future. Francis (73, Christian, Gay) is not as sure about why the gender of the pastor matters, saying With Jacob, more men have come back but I don't understand why. I don't see why preacher's gender had anything to do with it. I came in under a woman pastor and can not see any reason to leave be cause she was a female. Here he points out what has happened that is negative in his church, but cannot explain in the way Thomas did why the gender of the pastor matters so much. He makes a point of saying that gender is not important to him, locating the issu e very personally. This was common among the men of this group who saw the gender shift as negative; they felt the need to explain their position and defend themselves from any doubt in their commitment to equality. One other major difference between the genders among all of those who mentioned the gender shift at all was that women tended to focus on power while men did not. A majority of the women reference the money that men have and take away from the church when they leave. This was not de pendent upon whether the women saw the initial change as negative or positive, nor whether they continued to see the issue as relevant today. Women from every reference group and with varying value judgments pointed out 44

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that m en have the money, while none of the men made this connection. Tabitha mentions this when describing the time when men fi rst began to leave because of female leadership:It was a very difficult situati on; a very large group of men who had money left, and took their funds with them. The money these men took away from the church is very salient in her mind because it left the c hurch in a difficult position financially that they could not have foreseen. Speaking of the current situation with men coming back, Jennifer (69, Christian, Non-identified) says: To be very politically incorrect about it, bring the guys in and you get the money, 'cause guys have money and women will ha ve some but usually it's because of inheritance or something. We have some men in the group who are making very, very good money. You don't have very many women who are doing that, maybe three or four max. So that makes a difference and you can't ignore it. She is very frank here about her understandi ngs of how the church works, how the world works really. She is angry that men have mo re opportunities to make a lot of money than women do and thus have a greater among of po wer in the church. On a pragmatic level, men are wanted more in the church because they bring more m oney with them. Women have less access to this money because they cannot get powerful, high-paying jobs as easily as men can. For Jennifer (69, Christian, Non-identified), the problem begins out in society and is replicated within the chur ch. Like many other women, she may be upset that men prefer male pastors, but is glad they are back bringing thei r skills and funds to help the church, even if they are only back because Jacob is a man. These women discussed the hierarchy of the church where men have more power and control over what goes on in the church be cause they have more financial resources. Their participation can make or break the church and their decisions and opinions are given more weight because they have money to back themselves up. Thus, the church as 45

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a whole seem s to suffer when women are pastors because men leave and take their financial contributions with them. Some women also point out that women do not care about the gender of the pastor; they just want a good pastor. They believe that it is only men who have strong opinions on gender but beca use they have financia l resources, it is often they who affect the church's situation. This section overall shows that the ma jority of both the men and women of my sample saw how the gender makeup of the congregation changed as the gender of the pastor changed. Out of other possible factors that could have affect ed the gender ratio of the congregation such as persona l issues including the dislike of a particular pastor or external issues such as a sick parent, almo st my entire sample saw the gender of the pastor as the most important. They reporte d that men left when female pastors led services and came back when a male pastor returned. Most people saw this as a problem and a blemish on their church's history, but believed the issue was resolved now. Others saw the shift in the genders of the congregation as normal and part of a natural cycle of church function. Still others believed that the problem has not gone away and that the gender of the pastor is still affecting the gende r of the congregation, only this time in a positive way by bringing in more members. Finally, almost all the women who saw this change mentioned the fact that men have m oney, so when they leave they take their money with them. This aspect of male contro l in the church was not mentioned by any of the men. My analysis as a whole highlights the apparent complexities of this MCC in terms of spirituality and gender. Over half of the participants described their spirituality as distinct from their religion, including some that do not identify with Christianity at all. 46

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They theref ore seemed to come to this MCC to find acceptance for their sexual and religious identities within a community and to support activism more than to practice a religion. Participants saw gender roles within the church as well as the importance of the gender of the pastor for the gender makeup of the congregation. There were several values attached to both the gender roles and changes that depended on the pastor's gender, ranging from those that saw these situations as positive for the church to those who saw it as neutral or negative. While some findings fit well into the existing literature, many do not and thus they present new avenues to e xplore and contradictions to manage. I will discuss what these results mean for queer theory and religion as well as for future research in queer religion. 47

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Discussion These findings on spirituality within th e MCC were rather unexpected given previous findings in similar studies. The liter ature suggested that peop le either opt out of religion to become spiritual instead or stay in side their religion to fix it from the inside, not both (Buchanan et al. 2001; Rodr iquez and Ouellette 2000; Schnoor 2006; Shallenberger 1998). The people of this MCC however are finding ways to improve their religious experience by incorporat ing their individual spirituali ties. They did not feel the need to eschew their own sp iritual experiences or autonom y in order to practice an organized religion. They came to this religi on for the community a nd acceptance of their sexualities while creating room for a range of spiritualities and religiosities to be welcome. This MCC seems to provide a place to freely practice spirituality as well as sexuality. Spirituality can exis t in a community, as part of a group effort, not just on an individual basis. While religious rituals from the church's Christian focus are comforting to many, the community, acceptance, and activism are what bring and keep this group of people together as a whole. Where the role of activism in the MCC once seemed detrimental and potentially damaging to the growth of the church, it has now beco me one of the very things that hold congregations together. Perry's activism kept the chur ch alive in its early years, and the church's commitment to activism appears to be one of the major forces that is helping the MCC flourish today (Dart 2001, Wilcox 2001). The idea that the church is active politically, even without direct involvement from a ttendees, can be enough to bring people into the church and keep them coming back. This even further expands the options available to LGBT individuals who want to be religious an d/or spiritual. They do not 48

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need to pick one or the other and can even practice both in the sam e place. This is just another way that the MCC provides a queer spiritual space; people feel comfortable breaking down the boundaries between spiritual ity and religion as well as performing both simultaneously. When organized religion does not provide enough acceptance for LGBT to practice their sexual identities and when unorganized spirituality does not provide them with enough struct ure or fellowship, they can find a balance of both within an MCC like the one analyzed in the current study. In terms of gender, this MCC is sti ll a place where gender roles exist and the gender of leadership may affect the congr egation. However, this is seen in both patriarchal, traditional ways as well as queer, non-normative ways While participants saw men and women performing different role s in the church such as decorating and doing outside work, these roles were reversed from our society's traditional gender roles, especially within Christianity. Women were not expected to do domestic femininity by making the church beautiful or cooking meals and men were not expected to do masculinity by going outside and chopping down trees or doing electrical work. Participants mostly saw this as a freedom to express their gender as they chose, in contrast to strict rules and expectations as imposed by othe rs. Most participants did not remark on gender roles, saying that men and wo men do the same things most of the time. This may show that while gendered patterns exis t, they are not normative in that they are not based on societal rules for men and wo men. Participants said that men and women did what they were comfortable doing for the church, not what others expected them to do based on their gender. One way the gender roles mentioned c ould be understood as normative however 49

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was in term s of who was observed doing the most work. Previous research has shown that women have often performed more of th e behind the scenes work at churches for centuries (Bendroth 1993; Wilcox 2009). While there were many women in positions of power at this MCC in a way that is nonnormative within Christian churches, women were still seen to be doing more than men; though the type of work had changed, the amount did not. This church has places where it is more non-normative than others, appearing to queer gender within Christianity by switching roles while simultaneously upholding gendered Christian traditions in term s of the amount of work responsibility. The MCC thus creates a complex space for wors hip that is unique in terms of gender, especially since most attendees say they do not see gender in th e church at all. Another place where the influence of patriarchal Christia nity and ingrained sexism can be seen is in the importance of th e gender of the pastor. Participants saw that men left when women took over and many attributed this re sponse to the idea that men do not like women having authority over them and cannot respect them as pastors. There were several other factors that influenced w ho stayed and left when the pastors changed, including personal issu es with the leadership as a whole and conflict among friendship groups. These were not focused on however by either gender as most attendees saw the gender of the pastor as the main contributor to men leaving. As previously mentioned, it is written into the Bible that women s hould not have power over men and should not teach; while most liberal churches chose to i gnore or re-interpret this passage, this mindset still appears to affect the congre gation (1 Timothy 2:11-12, KJV; Braude 2004). While this is not surprising given that the MCC is a Christian church, it is rather unexpected given most previous literature a nd the church's goals as a queer church. 50

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Earlier works have shown that the M CC once had issues with gender since it began as a male organization, but that th ese were supposedly resolved decades ago, leaving this queer church inclusive and equali zing to all genders and sexualities (Maher 2006; White 2008). Queerness is all about br eaking down categories of gender and the power hierarchy that they are tied up in, not perpetuating them. One sign that this gender difference for leadership may not be very integrated into attendees lives is the fact that all of the men noticed this pattern and some admitted that they are uncomfortable with women pastors themselves. This shows a se lf awareness and reflection among the men that may eventually lead to more accepta nce of women in power in the church. While most people saw these gender differ ences and reactions, they believed that the worst is over now and that gender will s oon not matter in the church. They agreed, for the most part, that gender is not very impor tant in their church; when describing their experiences with the MCC, very few menti oned gender as having a large impact on their time there. It was mainly salient only to those who had to negotiate it in their daily lives outside the church, such as women with traditionally male careers. This can be understood as an example of gender bli ndness. Much like color blindness, gender blindness involves a failure to acknowledge gender differences and gender's social significance (Alston 2009; Chao et al. 2011; Woodhead 2003). This is often a result of misguided attempts at gender equality and activ ism. As Chao et al. (2011: 73) explained about color blindness, what once starte d as race should not matter becomes a commitment to the phrase race does not matter. Participants in the current study that did not see the ge nder roles that others were sure existed could be blind to gender difference in an attempt to make the genders equal. 51

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W hile this is definitely a positive goal for the church, pretending gender differences do not exist is not a viable way to reach that goal. Rather than trying to not see gender differences or trying not to mention those that are seen, a gender consciousness should be fostered by recognizing inequalities and diff erences. Only then will queerness in this context not mean gender blindness. Those in power at the church seem to have recognized this and are deliberately trying to eliminate gender as a negative factor for their congregation, from leadership down to the rest of the congregation. Perhaps then it is only a matter of time before the patterns still noticed here are no longer evident or that they are no longer of any import. As has been investigated before, the MCC has been very successful at evolving with the times to meet society's cha nging needs (Howe 2007; White 2008; Wilcox 2006). It brought more women into the church with pressure from the feminist movement and now reaches out to people of color and transgendered people as well as white gay men and women. Religion scholars like Wilcox (2006; 2009) have asserted that the gender of the pastor matters so much in the gay community because of the divergence of gay and lesbian cultures between the 1960s and 1980s. Because gay men and women had separate friendship, community, and activity circles due mainly to sexism, the two groups did not develop many relationships based on mutual tr ust and respect. Places like the MCC have allowed them to come together in community and activism where the ties between them have the opportunity to be strengthened (Dart 2001; Paris and Anderson 2001). The fact that this is an older congregation probably influenced this finding, as many of them lived a great deal of their lives in this time period and before. Younger generations probably have different experiences being queer and Ch ristian as well as interacting with other 52

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genders. All of this, as well as the current findi ngs of this study, suggest that while gender might still pose some problems for the church, its members have the drive and potential to actually make it irrelevant for expressing th eir spiritual and Christian identities within the MCC. This work provides many suggestions and opportunities for future research. This queer church does not seem to escape how gender has worked and continues to work in both Christianity and society at large. Social scientists mu st change how they study the MCC and queer churches in general, looking not only at how they are different from mainstream religions but also how and where they are the same. The field would also be strengthened by looking into queer people w ho are non-religiously af filiated to see if patterns of gender and sexuality differ base d on religiosity. The MCC was created from and born out of previous vers ions of Christianity that were less kind to the LGBT community and women; this relationship shoul d not be forgotten, but further explored. This works proves that queer theorists cannot ignore or side step religion any longer, for two reasons. One, there are obviously many queer people who are religious and/or spiritual and their experiences should be taken into account and valued. Two, Christianity, even queer Christianity like that practiced at the MCC, still seems to have much to gain from close re lationships with queer theory and feminism. Despite this church's queer and liberation theo logical roots, its attendees still saw gender difference as important in terms of gender ro les and the gender of the pastor. The genders cannot be equal when women in power are not as respected as men in power. This is not to say that there is not gender equality at the MCC, just that some within the church feel that inequality lingers; most participants felt that times were changing and getting closer 53

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and closer to equality and this probably true, esp ecially if they continue to work towards it as they have been for years. A continue d dialogue between the MCC and queer theory can help move those in the church away from gender blindness to gender awareness and eventually to even greater gender equality. Queer theory and feminism have obviously already had quite an impact on the church in terms of gender as well as sexuality; this can be seen in the fact that women and men can a nd do lead just as often as pastors and that those in power try to prevent gender ine quality on many levels. Many people were satisfied with the church's gender dynamic and felt that gender role s did not apply in a normative sense. However, it seems there is still work to be done before the church reaches true gender parity and inclusivity. Wilcox (2009) shows where the MCC and research on the MCC need to go in the future in terms of queerness. She also found that the gender of the pastor affected the gender of the congregation, but the genders were switched. While she described her women as waiting for the male pastor to pr ove his feminism, the men who left in my study were credited as doing so because they were uncomfortable listening to a woman in a leadership position. In both situ ations, the gender of the pa stor was very important to who stayed in the congregation. The men who le ft as discussed in my study seem to have been more concerned with patriarchal notions of gender than the fe minism of those in Wilcox's study, whether based on religious convictions or merely unquestioned social norms. Many aspects of gender in this MCC seem to have been influenced by gay and lesbian cultures of previous decades as well as social conventions more broadly. My study proves that LBG identities may not automatically mean more gender equality and camaraderie in a church, but may actually mean less. The results on gender 54

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were unexpected when the church is understood in term s of its formal dedication to queer theology, which emphasizes breaking dow n the boundaries between genders and dismantling gendered power struct ures. Coming from this pers pective, one would expect there to be few gender differences in the church and definitely no gender hierarchy. However, if the church is conceptualized as a group of gay men and gay women who for decades have had separate cultures and few in teractions with each other as social groups, these findings begin to make more sense. Wilcox (2006; 2009) has concluded from her studies that gender matters more in queer ch urches and communities than it often does in heterosexual or straight churches. She sees that LGBT communities tend to fracture along gender lines in ways that straight co mmunities do not because of their divergent cultural histories. While the MCC can offer a place where gay men and women can come together to build ties and friendships, this study, as well as those done by Wilcox, demonstrates that this interactional growth still has its limits. Not only is gender salient in this queer church, it may in fact be more salient here than in straight ones. Queer theory is therefore vital to the study of LGBT relig iosities and to the future of the MCC; it can provide ways for researchers to further breakdown gender pa tterns within religions that serve LGBT communities such as this one. It can also help dismantle remaining patriarchal assumptions that some gay men and women still hold, creating a more egalitarian religious space for pe ople of all genders. These findings also complicate conceptu alizations of queerness by showing how a space and a group of people may be queer and not queer simultaneously. There are many different ways of practicing queerness and the attendees of this MCC point out the 55

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contrad ictions that can arise in a setting that aims to be inclusive of everyone. As noted earlier, this church is seen as a very comfortable and safe space for people to share their sexual and spiritual identities. People's sexua lities are no longer used as the singular way to define them nor as means of condemning them as sinful or inferior. This celebration of a range of sexualities fits well within understandings of queer theory; patriarchal notions of gender difference however, do not. Results of this study can help expand how theorists and researchers think about queerness. As shown here, it is not an all-or-nothing practice but something, especially within a religious cont ext, that is filled with contradictions and negotiations. Future research should focus on age and qu eer churches and/or queer spirituality. There are studies on older LGBT people and religious LGBT people, but very little investigating how the two inte ract. Perhaps younger spiritual/r eligious LGBT individuals practice their spirituality diff erently than older generations, and if they do, someone should find out why a difference exists and how it developed. The pa triarchal conceptions of gender that were found to still influence people most likely as a hold-over from gay cultures in the 1970s and 1980s may not be as prevalent among a younger cohort. One example of this kind of study would be to locate MCCs with different average age ranges, comparing churches made up of primarily younger members with those that are made up of older members. While the current study sh eds a great deal of light on the relatively unexplored aspect of gender in a queer chur ch, it also opens many doors for further study to help social scientists better understand how people practice thei r sexual and spiritual identities. 56

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Conclusion This study investigated how LGB me n and women of a MCC congregation perceived gender in their church. The aim was to determine how the queer church handled issues of inclusivity and equali ty in terms of gender (Dart 2001:6). As a progressive denomination that caters to the LGBT community, the MCC strives for gender equality, but is still based on a religion defined by rigid hierarchies. I wanted to see if gay and bisexual attendees at this church saw gender in a traditional Christian way, a radical queer way, or something in between. There were three major themes in previous research: the relationship betw een religion and LGBT people, the relationship between women and Christianity, and the relationshi p between queer theory and religion. This literature shows that many LGBT people are re ligious or spiritual, with the majority identifying as spiritual because they did not want to practice orga nized religion; they focused on their individual relationship with God (Barret and Barzan 1996; Garcia 2008; Halkitis et al. 2009; Tan 2005; Yip 2003). Prev ious works also show that men and women have different expectations and roles within Christian churches, based on passages in the Bible (Bendroth 1993; Braude 2004). Finally, qu eer theory and religious studies have a great deal to offer each other, and queer theo ry can be used to help researchers understand gender in LGBT religions such as the MCC (Plummer and Stein 1996). Twenty qualitative intervie ws were conducted with people who had attended this church at least once. The only other requireme nt was that participants not identify as heterosexual. Ten women and ten men were in terviewed, keeping gender parity to hear multiple points of view and to compare the two genders. Almost all participants were over fifty-five, with an average age of sixt y-two. All but one were white and most were 57

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well educated and eith er are or were employed in profe ssional careers such as nursing and banking. Interviews lasted about an hour and covered topics such as how they identified sexually and religiously, how they came to understand thos e identities within the church, and whether it mattered to be a man or woman in the MCC. The analysis of these interviews resulte d in three major themes: the importance of spirituality, gender roles, and the importance of the gender of the pastor. A little over half of the participants believed that their spirit uality was as important as or more important than their religion. Many in this group e xpressed a dislike for organized religion yet attended this church fairly regularly. Some qualified their Christianity as something nonnormative and related to a distinct spirituality A few did not identify as Christian at all. Many came for acceptance of their sexualities wi thin a community and an opportunity to participate in activism rather than just re ligious ritual. Participants saw gender roles within the church where women did the physical labor and outside work while men did the decorating and cooking. There was a rang e of opinions about the importance and seriousness of these roles, and th e majority of participants said they did not see them at all. A large majority of participants beli eved that the gender of the pastor was important for determining the gender composition of the congregation, at least in the past. A few years ago, the church had been led by a male pastor who was then followed by a succession of female pastors. Very recently, a new male pastor came and took over leadership of the church. All but three partic ipants knew this story and believed that men in the congregation left when the male pastor left because they did not want to hear the sermon from a woman and are coming back now th at there is a new male pastor. Most of 58

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them believed that this gender leadership i ssue was over now and that the gender of the pastor no longer matters, while some believed th at gender shifts were just part of the church's normal cycle, and others still saw the gender of the pastor as important when they pointed out how men ar e currently returning. The findings on spirituality were unexp ected and show how the MCC has queered what it means to be religious and/or spiritua l so that they are not mutually exclusive categories. The MCC allows a freedom of e xpression for both sexuality and spirituality. The findings on gender are complex and make visible the contradictions of queerness where gender was seen in both patriarcha l and non-normative ways. Participants' unwillingness to see gender roles and the impor tance of the gender of the pastor can be understood as examples of gender blindness. In th eir desire to have a gender equal space, they ignore existing gender di fferences and/or downplay thei r significance in ways that can reify rather than challenge gender norms Gender may matter more in queer spaces than it does in straight ones and this might make it even more difficult for the MCC to reach gender equity. Future research should look into different age cohorts of religious and/or spiritual LGBT individua ls to see the role age plays in queer gender norms within a religious context. It shoul d also focus on questions of intersectionality to see how gender, sexuality, and age relate to each othe r. This could, for example, help us determine if older gay men approach spirituality, religi osity, and identity differently than younger gay men or older gay women, testing the theori es mentioned in this study and Wilcox's. Overall, LGBT individuals who are spiritual an d/or religious face hardships and obstacles that others are not confronted with, from conflicting sexual and spiritual identities to gender groups that have little practice interacting. This study of a MCC congregation 59

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shows how com plicated these i ndividuals' religious lives can be as well as the continued salience of gender in queer religious institutions. 60

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Appendix Interview Guide/Questions: Tell me about your experiences with the MCC and how you came to the MCC. How long have you been a member of the MCC? -Of this specific church? What does being a church member involve? What can you tell me about your time in the church? Have you attended other churches or religious institutions before/other than this one? -Tell me about you time there. -Have your experiences in the MCC differed? How so? Why MCC over other churches? How is it different/special? -Do you attend any other church or religious/spiritual group now? How old are you? Do you have a pa rtner? How would you describe your gender? What can you tell me about how you identify sexually? Religiously? -Did coming to these identities involve a process/processes? If so, what can you tell me about it/ them? Did the MCC play a role in how you have come to understand your sexual and religious identities? -How would you describe this role? Has your involvement with the MCC changed how you identify or what it means to be gay/Christ/etc? -How so? What it mean s to be gay/Christian. How see yourself? Have you had difficulties being Christian and gay? -When and where in you life did this ha ppen? -Is the MCC different? How so? Do feelings made in church transfer over/affect life outside church? How so? Thoughts on maturity/ age range of the church? Has the church/congregation changed si nce you started attending? How? -Have pastors been important of that change? How so? -Was gender a factor? Do you think gende r of the pastor matters in general? What do you think it means to be a man/wo man in the MCC? Does gender matter? -In previous churches you were a part of? What does it mean to you to be religious/spiritual? To be gay? To be both? 61

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