|by Tom Bohache
|Origins of Gay/Lesbian Theology
While most gays and lesbians are aware to some extent of our origins as a political movement, I am continually amazed at the lack of knowledge within our community regarding the origins of GLBT religious consciousness. Because so many of our adversaries try to merge politics and religion, I thought I would devote the next two columns to sharing information about (1) the beginnings of a specifically gay/lesbian theology (below) and (2) the progression to a "queer" theology (next issue).
Lesbian feminists have been articulating their theology since the advent of feminist theology during the Women's Movement of the 1970s and 1980s; the work of most lesbian theologians during this time was devoted to gender equality, however, rather than issues of sexual orientation. A "Lesbian-Feminist Issues in Religion" section was created in the American Academy of Religion in the early 1980s, followed by a "Gay Men's Issues in Religion" section in the late 1980s. Until the late 1980s, however, gay and lesbian religious discourse consisted, for the most part, of apologetics to the biblical injunctions against homosexuality, discussions of natural law, and whether "gay is good" in the sight of God. A genuine gay/lesbian "theology" did not really appear until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The earliest attempt to construct a gay liberation theology was J. Michael Clark's A Place to Start: Toward an Unapologetic Gay Liberation Theology (Monument Press, 1989). Because his doctorate was in literature and theology, Clark therefore approached theology through the lens of literary and cultural criticism and the budding gay studies movement of the 1980s, utilizing feminist methodology and a critique of patriarchy as the source of the homophobia that was manifesting itself during his research and writing as AIDS-phobia. His theology is experience-based and seeks to ground a gay/lesbian spiritual identity in a new view of God as one who empowers all beings toward wholeness. Clark is very concerned in this earliest work with staking out a place for gays and lesbians in the realm of spirituality (not necessarily religion or church); he views "coming out" as a gay or lesbian person as a process of spiritual transformation that can bring us closer to God. Because the gay and lesbian community was undergoing fragmentation in the first decade of the AIDS crisis, Clark suggested a theology of community, whereby gays and lesbians could access God's power and wholeness through strengthening the gay and lesbian community; because of his social location as a gay man in Atlanta at the commencement of the AIDS pandemic and his subsequent HIV-positive status, Clark's later work has concentrated almost completely upon theodicy (divine justice) and ecologyhow we are to make sense of this world and how we are to leave it for those who survive us: "No gay theology will hold our attention, much less our respect, unless it confronts both homophobic violence and AIDS. In fact, we may actually discover in our very experiences of godforsakennesswhether in incidences of human injustice or in the absence of divine rescue from AIDSa strange empowerment and therein God's compassionate companionship on behalf of the victims of oppression and tragedy." (Constructing Gay Theology, Monument Press, 1991)
The next major contribution to gay theology was Gary David Comstock's Gay Theology Without Apology (Pilgrim Press, 1993), which concentrated upon the Jewish Exodus experience as a paradigm for the spiritual journey of gay people, likening it to gay/lesbian "coming out." Comstock's immediate context for doing theology was his involvement as a social worker with the Gay Men's Health Crisis during his doctoral studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. His "unapologetic" stance comes from his intention not to fit gays and lesbians into organized religion but rather to examine theological concepts with a view toward "fitting them into and changing them according to the particular experiences of lesbian/bisexual/gay people."
Subsequent to the "gay" theology of Clark and Comstock but prior to the articulation of a "queer" theology, feminist theologian Carter Heyward suggested a sexual theology that cannot be called specifically "gay" or "lesbian," but is geared instead toward the human becoming of all persons as they embrace the God-given gift of sexuality. Heyward's lens for doing theology is "mutuality," for her view of God is "our power in mutual relation." God becomes "immersed" in human flesh, blessing us so that we may bless others; it is precisely the erotically-motivated nature of gay and lesbian flesh that empowers those of non-normative sexual orientations to do the work of healing and liberation: "We fear this life force, our erotic power, because, if celebrated rather than denied, our YES would force us to evaluate all aspects of our existence honestly... Our lives would be transformed. Nothing would remain the same.... As we come to experience the erotic as sacred, we begin to know ourselves as holy and to imagine ourselves sharing in the creation of one another and of our common well-being.... We begin to realize that God moves among us, transcending our particularities. She is born and embodied in our midst....[T]he erotic crosses over among us, moving us to change the ways we are living in relation. Touched by this sacred power, we are never the same again. (Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God, Harper & Row, 1989)
Through these three pioneers (as well as many other seekers whose imaginings remain unpublished) gay and lesbian spirituality emerged from a reactive stance to a more proactive posture which has continued to engage the heteronormative world. In this writer's opinion, today's political conversations about equal rights and same-sex marriage would not have been possible if GLBT spiritual discussions had remained apologetic and closeted, for traditional society's homophobia is rooted in (mis)readings of Judeo-Christian sacred texts.
The Rev. Tom Bohache, Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth, is a speaker, teacher, and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 9 July 15, 2005