WSCF’s first global LGBTQI gathering opener:
Dialogue and the quest for inclusive community

Why do we need to build an inclusive community?

This was the question put forward to the more than 50  participants from India and across the world who gathered for the public opening of the first ever global event organised by the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) on the subject of human sexuality.

Held in Bangalore, India from November 1 to 5, 2017, the Inter-Regional Leadership Training Program (IRLTP) 2017 on Identity, Diversity and Dialogue (IDD) was organised to create space for youth to explore different ways of dialogue on human sexuality from the perspective of the Christian faith and to lay the groundwork for building an inclusive community within the Federation.

Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Collin Cowan, general secretary of the Council for World Mission (CWM), issued the challenge as he addressed the theme of the event, “We Are Not Outside, We Are Inside: Building an affirming and inclusive Christian community for justice and peace for people of different sexual orientation and gender identities”.

Drawing attention to the motive driving the quest for inclusive community, Rev. Cowan asked the WSCF gathering: “Are we interested in the subject because we want to do something for someone”, those who are categorised, stigmatised and excluded, “or are we interested because our very humanity is inextricably intertwined in this?”

He suggested that “we are already together, connected and bedded, whether we like it or not.” Explaining that “identity and diversity are indisputable realities” because “no one can change the intrinsic worth that defines me as a person” and that “however much I may try, I will never be able to alter the personhood of another”, Rev. Cowan believes “we are [already] all on the inside,” and as such “we must be prepared for dialogue”.

But dialogue, Rev. Cowan claims, requires the self-understanding that “I am the recipient of God’s amazing grace” and the acknowledgment that “others are equal beneficiaries because nothing makes me any worthier of this gift.” He said “an inclusive community, marked by justice and peace” can be imagined only with a disposition that sees dialogue as “the capacity for face to face encounter despite our differences”, as “honest, heart to heart conversation that exposes our vulnerabilities”, and as a process of deconstructing entrenched positions that “requires an openness to listen to each other's story with an interest and a desire to be enlightened”.

Rev. Cowan proposed that an inclusive community calls for change in “three windows”: cultural norms (a rethinking to liberate ourselves from oppressive and life-denying practices), scripture (a rereading for life-giving and hope-inspiring alternatives) and personal perspectives (a reframing for the sake of our common humanity). 

Rev. Cowan addressed the WSCF gathering from his “social location” as an ordained minister in Jamaica, “one of the most homophobic places on earth”, and as one who is passionate about the role of the pastoral ministry in nurturing resilient and life-affirming communities. 

In responding to Rev. Cowan’s address, Luciano Kovacs, WSCF’s Executive for North American and Global Advocacy Director agreed to his presentation saying that, “for too long, most Christian communities have determined that people of different sexual orientations should be on the outside of the church, if not entirely condemned for being who they are…we are queer and we are inside the church, despite what some believe. It is not up to straight people to determine whether we should be inside our outside, because we are the church too. He reminded that “as followers of Jesus, it is our responsibility to counter such hegemonic mentalities and their nefarious consequences.” 

Kovacs further affirmed Rev. Cowan’s proposition that in "the process of deconstruction with regards to LGBTQI rights, the church community needs to acknowledge the pain and the collective trauma that queer people have had to endure and that this pain is real and scorching. Peace-making through dialogue is possible if justice is called upon and practiced. When we are unable to see injustice as you mention in your section on rethinking cultural norms I come to think of what African American request white people to do in their quest to dismantle racism. We need to put our bodies on the line, we need to call out our privilege as white people, we need to dismantle white supremacy. It is white people's task to do so. On the same token, it is up to straight allies to dismantle homo/transphobia since it is our hetero-normative society that has created it. Jesus calls us to turn the tables of racism and Heteronormativity upside down.”  

He thanked Rev. Cowan “for being so candid about (his) your personal journey from having being socialized in a homophobic culture to coming to a place that is not longer determined by such cultural inculcations. We need these stories of conversion to be told, especially in Christian contexts where many believe in conversion therapy for LGBTQ people. “ Kovacs added that this “story is an antidote to the violence that many LGBTQ people have to endure, physical, spiritual and emotional, at the hands of homophobic societies…the onus in on us prophetic communities to acknowledge oppression, critique our environs and promote transformative attitudes. Even a homophobic society needs the see/ judge/act paradigm of the prophetic voice.”

WSCF General Secretary Necta Montes introduced Rev. Cowan during the opening program; while welcome remarks were given by Sunita Suna, regional executive for WSCF Asia-Pacific and WSCF global program director for IDD, and by Inbaraj Jeyakumar, general secretary of the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI), which hosted the event. 

WSCF organised IRLTP 2017 in partnership with CWM, an international mission organisation working with 32 denominations across 41 countries. Founded in 1895, WSCF is a global fellowship of around two million students participating through more than a hundred student Christian movements (SCMs) located in 94 countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Latin America and North America.

9 November 2017