Queer Theology as “Radical Love”- Patrick Cheng

Gay and lesbian theology has been around as a distinctive sub-discipline of theology for several decades.  Later, Queer Theology developed with its own distinctive identity, as Stuart describes in “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Difference“, a book I have found immensely useful in its tracing of the development of the different branches of theology with explicit focus on the LGBT/ queer community. However, this book was published back in 2oo?  and does not offer much on queer theology specifically beyond discussing its origins, and its strengths compared with earlier approaches.

Gerald Loughlin’s “Queer Theology” is valuable for gathering together a collection of impressive monographs by a range of authors, but it seems that there has not yet been a full length, introductory text book on the subject. That is about to change, with the imminent publication of Patrick Chen’s “Radical Love”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Put Christ Into Christianity: Robert Goss’ Queer Theology – Renewing Christianity

In her account of the historical development of gay and lesbian/ queer theology, Elisabeth Stuart says that the weakness of both the gay liberationist and the feminist/lesbian approaches is that by working from the basis of real life experience of gays and lesbians, they are not easily accessible by others who do not share than experience. They also, she says, have in practice placed so much emphasis on ethics and relationships that questions of the divine seem to fade into the background: their work barely qualifies as “theology” at all.

This is not an accusation that one could make against Robert Goss, a former Jesuit turned AIDS activist. In his writing, he places God, and in particular the person of Jesus Christ, firmly at the centre of his work. In marked contrast with both the earlier gay and lesbian theologians and the orthodox Catholic theologians of the Vatican, Goss’ theology is built on Christology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice.

When I was reading some biographical notes recently about the Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, I was interested to note that she began her career working for the church among the poor of Buenos Aires, applying the techniques of liberation theology to the “option for the poor”. Later, she applied those same techniques in slum communities in Scotland, before starting to apply the same techniques to the situation of the equally marginalized communities within the church itself, its sexual minorities.

I have never been engaged full time in this work, not worked directly with the poor, but in South Africa I did get involved as a volunteer in some of the activities of the Catholic Church Justice & Peace Commission, and attended several meetings and training workshops on the subject. A standard Scripture verse to open those meetings was the well-known words of the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

I clearly remember one major workshop at which these words were elaborated as a paradigm for the very concept of justice, as as set of three related relationships: relationships with God, relationships with others, and relationship with oneself.

The Jewish lesbian Rebeccah Alpert expands on this idea in her contribution to  Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible“, and emphasises an implication to this injunction that I believe is a key to resolving the difficult choices facing us as lesbian, gay or trans people of faith – the importance of coming out.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Queer Lesson of Nehemiah: “Rebuild God’s Church!”

Through the fog of millenia, foreign language, and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is easy for Christians in the twenty first century to miss the specific relevance of some passages in Scripture, especially the books of the “minor prophets” in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the queer references. When, with the help of suitable guidance, we do explore these, we may find some powerful material for reflection. I have found precisely that in a piece by Michael S. Piazza, “Nehemiah as a Model for Queer Servant Leadership” (In “Take Back the Word” , ed Robert Goss)The first likely question from those unfamiliar with the background (let alone even the basic story of Nehemiah), is what makes this a “queer” story? The answer depends on appreciating the cultural background, and in turn casts some light on several other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Nehemiah was one of many Hebrews taken to Babylon as a slave, where he was engaged as a “cupbearer” to the Persian king Artaxerxes (the Persians had replaced the original Babylonians as rulers) . The purpose of a cup-bearer was not simply to carry the wine glass – it included the responsibility for tasting and testing all the king’s food and drink, against the possibility of poisoning. As such, it was a position of great responsibility, and personal intimacy – and it was standard practice for slaves in positions of such personal intimacy in the Royal household to be castrated. It is likely, then, that Nehemiah was a eunuch. (According to one historian, cupbearers to the king were always the most attractive men). Living in such close proximity to the king, and sharing in his meals, also meant that he shared in a life of great luxury – almost as much as the king himself.

That’s the background. The point of the story in the Bible, is that some years after the first wave of Hebrew exiles had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, where the temple and the city walls had been destroyed. Without the walls for defence, the city was vulnerable to repeated attacks by its enemies.  Nehemiah became convinced that the Lord was calling him, too, back to Jerusalem, to do something about it.  Now, remember that Nehemiah was a cupbearer, used to luxury,  and not a soldier, a politician, or a religious leader. Nevertheless, he responded to God’s call, and secured permission from the king to return.

When he returned, he was initially ridiculed  for his presumption in undertaking such a preposterous task – he, who had not the skills or experience to undertake such a great project. But he set to regardless, and ultimately succeeded.

Michael Piazza, in his reflection on the story, uses it as a metaphor for the task that we as lesbigaytrans people in the church can face. There is a sense in which the wider Christian church, having lost its way in rejecting its own people, and placing (possibly mistaken) biblical literalism above the more fundamental lesson of love,  can be seen as a church which is broken and in need of rebuilding, just as Jerusalem needed to rebuild its temple.

Like the eunuch Nehemiah, we are sexual outsiders, and can easily be dismissed by the church for our lack of approved skills and insider accreditation as pastors – but we too are called by God to help in rebuilding God’s church. With application, prayer and God’s help, we too can prevail – just as Nehemiah did.

Adding to the power of Piazza’s telling, is his own record with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, where he is the senior pastor. This was founded in Dallas in 1970 – hardly the most obvious place for a gay friendly church. But in the years since, it has become the world’s largest gay and lesbian megachurch. Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem against the odds, and the Cathedral of Hope defied its location and prospered as as church serving an LGBT congregation.

We can and will do so for the wider church.

Queering the Song of Songs

Gay men and women could be excused for feeling more than a little ambivalent about the Song of Songs as recommended reading.  On the one hand, it is very emphatically and clearly a frankly erotic love song between two unmarried lovers. It is a celebration of physical love, and an important counter to the common religious view that sexual expression must be confined to procreation. The Song is the strongest possible proof that Scripture does not support that view (there are others, too.)

On the other, it is equally clearly an expression of heterosexual love – at least as known and commonly published today.( There is an out of print book which argues that the earliest texts described two men, and that one set of pronouns was altered by later editors. For an account of this, see the Wild Reed on “The Bible’s Gay Love Poem“. However, I have not seen authoritative support for this view elsewhere, and for today I shall stick with the better known version. )

So how is a lesbian or gay male reader to respond to this text? Read the rest of this entry »

Water Into Wine: Jesus’ Gay Wedding at Cana

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops’ opposition. “Take Back the Word” (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the “texts of terror”, to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  “Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body ” (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of the dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.

 

Who was getting married?

 

In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 – 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss’s “Take Back the Word”. It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the “water” of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the “wine” of celebration? Read the rest of this entry »