In a climate of international religious conservatism, Nancy Wilson stands out as a defiant voice for gays and lesbians in the church.

She was the first out lesbian to graduate from her Catholic seminary and has published theories on queer characters in the Bible.

And last month she was chosen as the next international leader of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), the worldwide fellowship that embraces gays and lesbians.

Now Reverend Elder Wilson, 55, is bringing her message of inclusion to Australia, with a visit to MCC Sydney this week as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations.

On Sunday she will speak at two services and meet with members at MCC Sydney’s Petersham headquarters.

Wilson’s Australian trip will be a brief interlude before she takes up the challenge of steering the 43,000-member fellowship in October. She will be only the second moderator in MCC’s 37-year history when she replaces Troy Perry, who founded MCC in 1968 after an established church rejected him for being gay.

Wilson conceded she would inherit the role in a difficult period for religious progressives. As Anglicans clash over gay rights, and the Vatican reportedly moves to block gay men from becoming priests even if they remain celibate, Wilson told Sydney Star Observer she was optimistic in the long run for gay and lesbian inclusion.

But sometimes they say the dinosaur gets very cranky before it dies, she said.

There certainly is a rise of fundamentalism right now in the world, in all religions, not just Christianity.

I think we know that in the long run, time and truth are on our side, because I don’t believe you can stop the movement of freedom that gay and lesbian people have experienced.

As MCC moderator Wilson will draw on a history of shirking religious tradition. After joining MCC in 1972 because its inclusive teachings captivated her as an out lesbian, Wilson graduated from a Catholic seminary in the US state of Michigan in the early 1980s.

I was the first woman protestant minister to graduate from that seminary, and of course the first open lesbian, she said.

She would agitate further with her mid-1990s book Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus and the Bible, in which she presented theories about gay and lesbian characters in the Bible.

It’s really fascinating and I do think if 10 percent or so of people in the world are probably gay or lesbian, I think 10 percent of people in the Bible would be. It’s just a matter of finding them because they’re there, she said.

Nancy Wilson will preach on Sunday 4 September at 10am and 7:30pm at MCC Sydney, 96 Crystal Street, Petersham. She will also host discussions with MCC members on Saturday 3 September.

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