Why I’m queer, too

Because I am in a male-female relationship, you’re probably wondering what’s going on with the title of this post. Possibly even Shannon, my friend who called me to this synchroblog on queer theology, might being wondering where I’m going with this. I’ll get there: just hang around, k?

Back to Shannon, aka the Anarchist Reverend. In response to the frustration he’s been feeling about having the same tired conversations on queerness with Christians,

I am calling for a synchroblog on Wednesday August 10, 2011. On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identity has brought you deeper into relationship with God. If you’re straight and interested in solidarity I want you to share how being in relationship with queer people has deepened your faith and spiritual practice. [Emphasis mine.]

In my typical “better late than never” fashion, I’m hopping on the bandwagon just slightly late, writing this post ON rather than BEFORE August 10, but hopefully within enough time to still be on time. So with no further delay, I give you my thoughts on queer theology, on being bodily and gendered people, and maybe even throwing God into that whole mess.

In seminary, I related more to queer theology than any other. Growing up in a Lutheran church that ignored sexuality more than anything else, and then attending an evangelical high school which treated sexuality as best only when it was heteronormative and non-existant pre-marriage, by the time I arrived in college I was thoroughly confused. Hook, line, and sinker, I believed I would go to hell if I had sex before I was married. Forget caring for the least of these, following Jesus was about purity, and purity was about (the lack of) sex.

In college I had the sense to realize that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I didn’t have access to many (really, any) resources that helped me to reconstruct what a faithful sexuality might look like. Enter Seminary. And into my life traipsed all kinds of amazing, amazingly queer theologians who didn’t apologize for being gay; who exegeted the Bible in interesting, innovative, and honest ways; who helped me to understand that my sexuality as a source of strength, beauty, and love.

It may sound strange to some, but I was able to accept myself as a sexual (and therefore whole) person only because I found solidarity in the struggle represented in the writings of queer theologians.

God is not only gender-neutral; God is amply and ambiguously gendered. It is still in vogue for liberal congregations to remove any gendered reference to God in their liturgies and litanies. This is all well and good, and it is true that God is neither male nor female. What is MORE interesting to me, MORE liberating, are all the multiplicities of ways that God is portrayed in the bible as being masculine, feminine, or quixotically neutered.

In seminary my concentration was in the exegesis (interpretation) of biblical texts, and so I want to share with you the many-gendered ways in which theologians uncovered God behaving in the bible.

God is portrayed in that protective, fatherly, strong-shouldered fortress mentality in which his masculinity seems inevitable. God is a bulwark. We all need a little more bulwark in our lives, and we will all at one point or another be called to be a bulwark to a neighbor in need. God is also a wise woman in proverbs, portrayed as instrumental in creating the world at the beginning of time, and nurturing her children into health and well-being. God is our mother as well as our father.

And God is also neuter. One of my favorite stories in the bible is the Annunciation story. You know the text–in the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her how the Holy Spirit will overshadow and impregnate her. You can’t tell in English, but interestingly enough, the pronoun for Holy Spirit in Koine (biblical) Greek is neuter. Meaning, not only is God impregnating Mary with Jesus, but God does it completely devoid of God’s masculine identity. That Jesus is the result of a queer pairing certainly opened me up to the opportunities and joys we might all experience if only we embraced whatever queer plans God has for us and for the world.

My queer friends taught me how to be an ally by not being one. I’m going to go ahead and wait while you click through that link and listen to Shannon explain why the term “ally” is simply not that helpful. (While you’re at it, check out his list of resources for allies, too.)

The number one thing I have learned from queer theologians and from my queer friends is that while we’re not all the same, we’re not all that different, either. My experience of sex, sexuality, privilege, etc., is of course different from Shannon’s, Kim’s, Lissa’s, Erik’s, Justin’s, Abby’s, Jane’s, Maggie’s, or any host of “straight” people’s experiences. But my sense of the erotic, as defined by Audre Lorde, is wildly, radically similar to theirs: in the awe-some discomfort of entwining one’s soul with another’s; in the banality of long-term relationships; in the power of love to pull each of us outside of our selves and to work for justice.

We are all quite different from one another, and that is how we are the same. No one’s sexuality is the same as anyone else’s. We’re all queer. And because of our shared queerness (one might say “our shared humanity”), we will work for justice together.

I know that this is not necessarily a statement that will be all-around well-received, and I’m okay with that. Labels and names are good and useful, and I understand their function and even their necessity. I will listen and understand your reasons for using them (or not), and then I will employ them happily and with gusto. But when it comes down to it, I will work for justice because you and I? We’re different, and thus we are the same.


What’s church for, anyway?

I’ve been following along with a really interesting conversation on a couple different blogs lately that feeds into some stuff that’s been floating around in my head lately. Namely:

  • What’s church for?
  • Why do people go to church?
  • What role should churches and religious institutions and communities play in the world?
  • Do people of faith live out their spiritual or religious ideas/beliefs/inclinations in the world? Should they? How? Why? Why not?

United Theological Seminary, New Brighton, MN

These questions HAVE been on my mind lately, but they acquire a completely different feel when voiced in the context of the conversation happening on the blogs I mentioned above. Specifically, the conversation is around whether Solomon’s Porch, an emerging Christian church in Minneapolis, which is also queer-friendly (which, I think it should be said, I only know through following this conversation online), should produce and make public some kind of statement about being something like “open and affirming” (to use my UCC lingo) to queer folks.

The conversation is a lot more complicated than that, but since it’s already there for your reading pleasure, I’m not going to go to any greater lengths to describe it. I will, however, quote part of the comment I posted:

Solomon’s Porch does not exist in a vacuum, and all kinds of -isms are rampant in our world, heterosexism obviously being one of them. My question is this: does Solomon’s Porch exist only to be the church for its insular community, or does it also wish to be a Church for the larger world? Does it want to have a public face, or are its positions only available to the people who attend church there? And perhaps more broadly: is the Church/are Christians called to change the world? And more importantly, how?

Recently I re-read the gospel of Luke, and I was *shocked* to re-remember just how RADICAL Jesus is. He is constantly going against the grain of (Roman, pharisaic) society–standing for the oppressed, etc–and he is PUBLIC about it. Explicitly so. I guess he never issued a hard-copy, political statement, but his followers sure did: that’s how we have the Gospels. So what does that mean for contemporary followers of Jesus? Is it enough to support only the queer people who come through the doors of our congregations? But what about those who never find the Porch?

And does the Porch have a responsibility to be a leader in the progressive evangelical world in not only welcoming queer people into the pews, but actually *saying* something about it too? How else are the rest of us, outside your community, supposed to know what “welcoming everyone” means? Doesn’t almost every Christian church use those same words?

If we lived in a perfect world we wouldn’t need flags or rainbows or parades. Perhaps the community in the Porch doesn’t need to have a “Statement on LGBTQ Issues” — but I would argue that it desperately needs to be Public and Explicit about its position on queer folks. There is power in your church, and staying publicly silent IS making a statement. The Porch community may not need it, but queer people who live outside your community do.

A couple of weeks ago I got into a discussion with a friend about the degree to which people are political actors: does the way we dress, the way we look, the way we act, send out political messages to others, REGARDLESS of our intent? My answer to that is yes. We can’t control the way we are perceived, but we can understand and be conscious that all of us enter into the world each day as political actors, whether we like it or not. People WILL read us a certain way, even if they themselves also have a responsibility to look past the surface. The question at hand is: is that important to you? And if so, what are you going to do about it?

I think the question is the same for religious institutions, religious churches, and spiritual communities alike, and I think it’s where the Emerging Church movement kind of has things backward. I get that it’s about transcending modernist labels and identity politics, but I would argue that an Emerging Church is no less of a political actor than other churches,whether they like it or not.. Transcendence of identities might happen within a community of one or two hundred people, but to anyone else OUTSIDE the emerging movement, the community looks no different than any other. So what should they do about it? Well I would argue, of course, that for this reason, emerging churches, too, need to be intentional and publicly clear about how and where they place themselves in the world.

So, to return to the original set of questions that I asked:

  • What’s church for?
  • Why do people go to church?
  • What role should churches and religious institutions and communities play in the world?
  • Do people of faith live out their spiritual or religious ideas/beliefs/inclinations in the world? Should they? How? Why? Why not?

The way we answer these questions informs how we try to solve the above conversation. My vision of church begins as a place of radical inclusion, so much so that I do not just welcome the Other, but that I am the Other, and where the Other is Me. We do not need to reach out our hands to help our neighbors, because we ARE our neighbors, connected through a common humanity. In this kind of construct, we don’t have the privilege to “struggle” with an “issue”. I am compelled to name the injustice the Other suffers because for that person to suffer means I suffer too.

In my vision of church, participants not only “walk the walk” in their personal lives, but also bind themselves together to create a collective power in order to combat systemic injustice. Jesus didn’t live in a vacuum: the parables he taught, the people he embraced, and the illnesses he healed made social commentaries upon the world around him. He upset people in power, and was killed because of it. If we really live in the model that Jesus set, then we are also called to fight the abuses of power in our world. But first we actually need to NAME what is wrong with the way things are, and envision what a better world might look like, especially if we expect things to change.

This video is an example of a place that I think does a good job at least trying to be a place of radical inclusion, even if not always perfectly: Union Theological Seminary. The video is long, but even watching a few minutes will give you a sense of what I’m thinking about.

I know I’m throwing out some Big Talk, and I can’t profess that either my congregation or my life lives up to my radical vision of what I’d wish for the church to be in this world. But one has to start somewhere. This is the first time I’ve tried to put together something constructive (as opposed to deconstructive) about what I think the church should be, and it does reflect what might be emerging as my personal theology. So please: give me your feedback, your pushback , your questions, your thoughts. But know that I’m not offering these statements in a spirit of ultimate truth. I’m just trying some of this stuff on, and am going to continue to hone and build upon these ideas. Help me figure out if it fits, yah?