|by Tom Bohache|
|What Is Queer Theology?
Last issue, in an effort to provide some background on GLBTQ religious consciousness, I described the beginnings of a specifically gay and lesbian theology. I believe it is important to do so because, inasmuch as so many of our adversaries try to merge politics and religion, it is not enough for us to be politically conscious; we must also be aware of the unique spirituality within our community.
Beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing into the new millennium, a group of activist theologians began to articulate what they describe as "queer" theology. Where the earlier gay/lesbian theology was apologetic in nature, seeking inclusion of gay and lesbian people within conventional society, queer theology advocates queer existence on its own terms rather than inclusion in anyone else's church, theological paradigm, or society. Those who identify as "queer" do so intentionally in order to reclaim a word that still has terrifying connotations in a homophobic world; they use the word in a dual senseas an adjective to mean "unusual," "extraordinary," or "non-normative," and as a verb meaning to "stir up" or "spoil." Queer theology is thus a non-normative stance toward God, religion, and society that seeks to stir up the status quo and spoil a system that has spoiled others through misinformation, biblical terrorism, sexism, homophobia, and overall erotophobia. There is a stridency heretofore lacking and an emphasis upon direct action and transgressive politics to change religious structures and systems through imagination, outrageousness, questioning, playfulness, and the intersection of religious consciousness and the personal experience of homophobia and queer-bashing.
The leading architect of the new queer theology is Robert Goss, a former Roman Catholic priest, who became an activist-theologian involved in direct action political groups such as ACTUP and QueerNation, and brought this type of confrontational, "in your face" direct action to the task of theology, urging transgressive praxis on the part of the queer community because Jesus himself had "acted up." Goss writes that "churches are immersed in a cultural discourse of hatred and the institutional practices of oppressing those who are sexually different....I write this book as one who has struggled with this conflict for nearly two decades. I struggled with homophobic and misogynistic forms of Christianity as a gay male and AIDS activist, as a feminist-dialogue partner..., and as a theologian and historian of religion. I am an apologist neither for Christianity nor for the gay and lesbian community....I write to encourage the continued struggle for justice and the hope for liberation from oppressive exclusion and violence." (Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto, HarperCollins 1993) Recognizing that the oppressed often cannot find a way out of their pain, he calls for an exodus by GLBTQ people from denial, "oppression sickness," and "horizontal hostility." Where the incipient gay theology described last issue was more "touchy-feely" and "feel good" in assuring gays and lesbians that they too were God's children, Goss' later queer methodology attempts to heal the community by naming unpleasant aspects of its existence and encouraging us to "get over our cheap selves" and move toward action for liberation and justice for everyone, not just ourselves.
British theologian Elizabeth Stuart advances a queer sensibility in her articulation of a theology of friendship as the best way for lesbians and gays to embody the love of God: "We can all have friends, and all friendships are embodied and expressions of our passion." (Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships, Mowbray 1995) With Lisa Isherwood, Stuart has described a "body theology," in which women and men of all sexual orientations can reclaim their bodies as the social location of their connection with the Divine: "It is...inevitable in a society which devalues the body that the body should become a site of resistance and in a society which seeks to impose a system of compulsory heterosexuality that there should be reaction against it and resistance to it." (Introducing Body Theology, Pilgrim Press 1998) They suggest that bodily passion and the need for transgression is what erupted at the Stonewall Riot that gave birth to the gay and lesbian liberation movement. I concur and suspect that it is an underlying estrangement from our bodies resulting from shaming by heteronormative religious bodies that often makes GLBTQ people unable to accept spiritual embodiment and instead embrace atheism or agnosticism.
One also sees this new queer consciousness revealed in the proliferation of queer scriptural interpretation during the past several years. Formerly, gays and lesbians were concerned with explaining away the injunctions against homosexuality found in the scriptures of the world religions, or else they simply discarded these sacred texts entirely. Self-described "intersexual" theologian Virginia Mollenkott suggests a particularly queer reading strategy: "I had to learn to read the scriptures from low and outside because I had been trained to identify with the white heterosexual male point of view...It seems to me vital that queer people learn to empower ourselves by reading [scripture] from low and outside instead of identifying our agenda as we read with that of the heterosexual normative group." ("Reading the Bible from Low and Outside: Lesbitransgay People as God's Tricksters," in Take Back the Word, edited by Goss and West; Pilgrim Press 2001)
Whether one relates to the earliest articulations of a gay/lesbian spirituality or prefers the more argumentative tone of queer theology, clearly it is important for each of us to grapple with where we stand with regard to issues of religion and sexuality as our world grows closer and closer to a dramatic confrontation between those who see spirituality in holistic, relational terms and those who would have only one way of faith thrust upon everyone. What's YOUR preference?
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. 10 July 29, 2005