Every Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world wear their faith on their foreheads in the form of ashes. It’s a solemn and public act that marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of fasting and reflection within the Christian calendar.
This year, in an effort to highlight queer spirituality, some Christians added a bit of glitter to the holy day.
The Glitter+Ash project seeks to celebrate queer Christians’ “gritty, scandalous hope” on a day that many in the church choose to be visibly Christian. According to Parity, the Christian LGBTQ organization that helped organize the event, 14 denominations participated in the project. Parity reportedly sent out packets of purple glitter mixed with blessed ashes to 150 sites in 29 states and three countries.
The organization hopes that during a time when queer Americans’ human rights are being taken away, these glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder not to despair.
“God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another,” the organizers wrote on Parity’s website. “This Ash Wednesday, we will make that spark easier to see.”
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen, executive director of Parity, told The Huffington Post that she spent Wednesday morning distributing ashes at the Stonewall National Monument.
“It was very meaningful being at Stonewall, of all places, and remembering the thousands and thousands of LGBTQ+ pioneers who fought so hard for someone like me to be able to be a lesbian minister, and for my transgender teenager to be safe in the world,” Edmonds-Allen told HuffPost. “It’s a long line ― a legacy of love and activism.”
But Parity’s project has attracted the attention of critics. Some Christians complained that the glitter takes away from the solemnity of what is meant to be a day of repentance and reflection.
Jacob Lupfer, a contributing editor at Religion News Service, called the project a “distraction at best and a sideshow at worst.”
“Ash Wednesday services are neither the time nor the place for churches to fight their perennial battles over LGBT affirmation,” he wrote in an op-ed.
For Rev. Elizabeth Edman, an Episcopal priest and the author of Queer Virtue, Glitter+Ash is a chance to apply the lens of queerness to the Christian tradition.
“Queer theology ruptures false binaries. I see within Christianity a relentless rupturing of false binaries ― between the human and divine, sacred and profane, self and other, life and death,” Edman, who also distributed ashes at Stonewall, told The Huffington Post.
Edman said that queer Christians have much to contribute to how the church thinks about the season of Lent ― about the suffering and crucifixion of the faith’s founder, and also the joyful hope present in Jesus’ resurrection.
“Queer people know more about that experience than most people recognize,” Edman told HuffPost. “We know so much about what it is to put ourselves at risk for the sake of love, for the sake of what we know to be true. All of us face spiritual violence, and many of us also know what it is to face physical violence, often justified by appeals to religion.”
“So to me, the glitter is a spark of life and hope even in the midst of that kind of fear and challenge.”