Photo by: Velushomaz
It’s March 3, 2018, and Oxford Street is full of cheering crowds, rainbow colours, and fireworks. Among them is Uniting Network Australia, an advocacy group for LGBTQIA Christians within the Uniting Church in Australia. The 2018 theme for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is ‘40 Years of Evolution’. Corresponding with this, the Uniting Network marked 30 years since the first time a group from the Uniting Church marched in the parade—their theme, ‘Coming Out Since 1988’. Among them is 27-year-old Andrew McCloud. On every other day, McCloud is a Uniting Church assistant chaplain at USyd. But tonight, he has a bass drum strapped to his chest, celebrating marriage equality.
I met McCloud on the steps of Leichhardt Uniting Church, a small building, founded in 1880 as a Methodist Church. McCloud is a mission worker at the church; he takes me through the front door, and I see an intricate and colourful artwork of Jesus inside the hall.
Church has always been a big part of McCloud’s life. His parents met in the Churches of Christ in Adelaide. He also spent much of his childhood in church. Originally from Melbourne, McCloud moved to Sydney after finishing kindergarten. In Sydney, he didn’t start going to church until Year Seven when he began visiting an Anglican Church.
“As a church, it sat just slightly to the left of the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the most conservative Anglicans in the world. High school wasn’t the easiest experience for me though, and the church gave me friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
Marching in Mardi Gras this year was particularly special for McCloud as he and his siblings grew up in a non-affirming church. In an online article for Christian Students Uniting (CSU) he writes, “I was lucky enough to have my sister alongside me this year. She is an ally and an incredibly special person to me. Just ten years ago it would have been unthinkable that we would have attended Mardi Gras, let alone marched together.”
McCloud started working as an assistant chaplain from Semester 2 last year. He is openly queer while most USyd chaplains are not queer affirming, like Tony Mattar from the Catholic Church, who campaigned against same-sex marriage during the postal survey last year.
McCloud’s time at the USyd Multifaith Chaplaincy Centre coincided with the start of the postal survey. He tells me these circumstances made his job partly difficult. In spite of the inherent tension of working in the same building as non-affirming chaplains, McCloud has proudly supported same-sex marriage. One day he went into work wearing a marriage equality singlet. “I wanted to illustrate there are Christians for marriage equality.” He told me he received no negative feedback. The environment, he said, was generally “polite and collegial”. I asked him if his presence there would encourage a cultural shift at the Chaplaincy. “That’d be nice!” he remarks.
Part of his job at USyd is working with Christian Students Uniting (CSU), the Uniting Church student group which runs bible studies and social events. McCloud has helped differentiate CSU from other USyd Christian societies including the Evangelical Union. He told me he wanted to illustrate that the CSU cares about social issues including reconciliation, climate justice and equality.
During the postal survey last year, CSU actively promoted a Yes vote, and this year, CSU openly identified themselves as having an affirming theology at their OWeek stall. McCloud said he had discussions with conservative Christians because of this. He tells me some were genuinely interested in where he was coming from, while others were more strident in their beliefs.
McCloud told me a bit about his basis for his queer affirming theology. “Many of the passages that refer to homosexual acts in the Bible have other things going on in them at the same time. In some cases, in the Old Testament, the act of sex is an act of violence, it is men flaunting their power over another. Most of the debate though hinges around the passage in Romans in the New Testament but in that instant, many people are reading the text purely at face value.
“There’s no consideration of the context the text was written in. In our modern society, we have a very different understanding of identity and sexuality that wouldn’t have existed in the Ancient world—for instance—there was no word for sexuality then.”
I asked him why he wanted to be involved with the Uniting Church and its tertiary ministry. Part of that was due to the community it gave him. “The Uniting Church has provided me with a place where I can reconcile my faith and sexuality. It was nurturing and supportive of me when I came out, and now I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race with my friends on Friday nights!”
“As I see it, tertiary ministry is the future of the Uniting Church. I care about the institution and want to support its future. I studied politics at uni. Being gay is a political statement. Being a Christian is a political statement. So, there’s a fascinating intersection there to live out.”
McCloud has hopes for the future of the church. “My hope for the church…is that it…chooses to actively celebrate same-sex relationships, sexuality and gender diversity and take a lead on defending, protecting and advocating for the LGBTIQ community.”
Note: Views presented in this article represent McCloud’s own beliefs and not necessarily those of the broader Uniting Church.