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Lesbian minister catering to LGBTQ+ people’s spirituality

ANGELINE JACKSON’S ministry is centred around affirming members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community, by providing an environment where they feel free to express their spirituality, regardless of their sexual orientation.

A unitarian universalist minister in training, 33-year-old Jackson shared that she had taken a “scenic route” on her spiritual journey, starting in the Brethren church before becoming agnostic, and then finding her way to unitarian universalism – a faith tradition that accepts diverse spirituality by encouraging each person to develop their own faith.

“[We are] very social justice-oriented, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all people,” she said.

Growing up in St Ann, Jackson said she has always had an interest in ministry, but understood that as a woman in the Brethren church, this was not allowed.

“But then, as I realised I was a lesbian, then it became, well, … I really can’t be a minister in the Brethren church; none of those identities make it possible,” she said.

To fulfil her interest in ministry, Jackson took on an activist role, volunteering at HIV and LGBTQ organisations before starting her own in 2013. And, even though she was content in this work being an “expression of ministry in the world”, she knew she wanted to do more.

“I got to a point in my activism where I realised that a lot of the work that we need to be doing in Jamaica has to have a way of talking to people of faith. And so it became important to me to find how I was gonna be able to do that,” she said.

In 2020, she started her training as a minister and was recently affirmed in fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowships Committee.

“As I trained, I began to realise that I don’t want to be arguing with Christians about LGBTQ+ rights. I don’t think that is the right approach. What I want to be able to do is to minister to LGBTQ people and their families and to let them know, as queer people, that they are loved as they are by God, and to let their families know that you can love this person, and being able to have that conversation; to be able to affirm the spiritual, affirm the worth and the dignity of LGBTQ+ people, and helping their families to come to that space,” she explained.

This curated space, she said, is rooted in the belief of unconditional love.

“I believe that God is love and God loves every LGBTQIA person as they are, in the fullness of who they are. And what I try to do with folks is to get them to the point of looking through the Bible for themselves, reading additional material, not just what you might get from a tract distribution from a church that is saying you are sinful, but reading a book that explores the biblical verses around homosexuality and what those mean,” she said. “The way we understand the Bible, we are layering our biases, our interpretations, our prepositions on the Bible.”

She added that ultimately, there should be no tension between being queer and religious beliefs.

Currently, Jackson said she hosts meeting sessions online and has about 10 members, but that number is growing.

Jackson was among stakeholders who were convened by the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) to discuss partnering with Rainbow Faith and Freedom and the Global Interfaith Network (GIN) to implement a two-year project aimed at creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals of faith.

The project is seeking to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people of faith in Jamaica by shifting social norms or community acceptance on LGBTQ+ issues while reducing discrimination and violence.

Jackson hailed the organisation for further facilitating the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ people and religion while recognising the “spiritual orientation” of Jamaica.

“What does it mean to be a Christian and to disagree with somebody? And, to me, that means that I disagree with you but I don’t want to see you suffer, I don’t want to see you homeless, I don’t want to see you struggling in life,” she said.

Meanwhile, CVC Executive Director Ivan Cruickshank, who convened the session, stressed that there is a need to bridge the gap between religious groups and LGBTQ+ communities in Jamaica while promoting greater acceptance.

“I’m excited about this project and the difference it will make in the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Jamaica. The project will see members of faith communities working with LGBTQ+ communities on a number of initiatives,” he said.