What is Queer Theology? – Part 5

what is queer theology

This is PART 5 of a 5 Part Series entitled, “What is Queer Theology?” These series of blog posts make up my final project for a class at the Graduate Theological Union entitled “Queering Ecclesiology and Rites,” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero, Visiting Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies & Director of Online Education at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. In this series I hope to explore the incredible scholarship and possibilities around queer theology in a non-academic format. These posts are intended for allies of LGBTQ+ who have a basic familiarity with Christianity, with the hope that this introductory dialogue will spark curiosity and further study amongst Christian communities.

Part 5: Queering Pentecostal Experience and Thought

I would like to take this final post as an opportunity to express my own research interests in queer theology. It has to do with my upbringing, being raised in an Assemblies of God church for all of my childhood and early adulthood. Anyone familiar with Pentecostalism understands both the emotional impact that the movement has on its followers as well as the profound sense of community that is built within the structures of church. In so many ways, Pentecostalism has such a rich history and heritage to offer those that are in it. Charismatic faith is indeed one of the most outwardly dynamic expressions of Christianity!

And yet, those who are familiar with Pentecostalism know all too well the often close-mindedness that infiltrates church leadership. The doctrines surrounding the Holy Spirit almost certainly rely on the “masculinity” of the Godhead, and the “femininity” of the believer. The idea of holiness is used as a precondition for charismatic experiences, and this holiness is almost always rooted in a laundry list of things that are not allowed for believers to do. Most recently, the politics of charismatic evangelicals have notoriously attacked the interests of people of color and immigrants, and have been largely responsible for putting leaders such as Donald Trump in power. Not to mention, the deep sense of community is countered by a horrible measure of loss when one is expelled from the church because of a doctrinal disagreement or “moral failure.”

And as such, people leave the church in droves, hurt, broken, confused, and lost. For some, this is because their sexualities are not accepted by the dogmas of Pentecostalism and those that adhere to it. For others, this is because of their solidarity for a diverse array of sexualities not being welcomed within a culture that prides itself on having found the narrow road to heaven. But for everyone who leaves the Pentecostal movement, there was a genuine moment in which the Holy Spirit did seem to descend upon the believer like a dove. For many, this is a genuine experience that was drowned out by the noise of heteronormativity.

It is my belief and hope that queer theology may have something to say about Pentecostalism, and that the experience and theological thought behind it can be challenged to the point of inclusion. Queering Pentecostal experience would look at the ways in which charismatic practices have been used to “other” those that do not participate in the practices. Queering Pentecostal thought would look at the ways in which a troubling adherence to the belief in a literal transliteration of the Bible as God’s Word harms those that cannot conform to a narrow view of righteousness. Queering Pentecostalism would challenge both the Bible and its interpreters on who gets to own the charismatic experience.

I offer this example so that allies reading this can think of the ways that they may begin to queer their theological groundings. The space of questioning Pentecostal assumptions is appropriate for me because of my background growing up in it, but for some, the appropriate space may be continuing the growing work of queering liturgical and ecclesiological rites within specific denominations of Christianity. For other allies, it may be how to queer the elevation of white male voices within dialogues of LGBTQ+ activists in the United States. For other allies, it may be prayerful support for those doing the research of queer theology across the globe. But for all, it is to stand together in the future hope that our praxis may bring others in closer relationship with themselves, their bodies, and the Divine.

Until we arrive at this, the word of the Lord:
Thanks be to God.

Advertisements

What is Queer Theology? – Part 4

what is queer theology

This is PART 4 of a 5 Part Series entitled, “What is Queer Theology?” These series of blog posts make up my final project for a class at the Graduate Theological Union entitled “Queering Ecclesiology and Rites,” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero, Visiting Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies & Director of Online Education at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. In this series I hope to explore the incredible scholarship and possibilities around queer theology in a non-academic format. These posts are intended for allies of LGBTQ+ who have a basic familiarity with Christianity, with the hope that this introductory dialogue will spark curiosity and further study amongst Christian communities.

Part 4: Queer Rites and Sacraments

Up to this point, we have examined in detail the history and development of queer theology, we have highlighted the importance of centering voices of color from around the globe, and we have looked at a couple of specific examples of churches engaging with queer theology within their church community in a global context.

For allies, the question remains how we might make a church of radical inclusion here in the United States. There may even be a question of if our liturgies, prayers, worship songs, etc. need to have a separate space for queer liturgy, whether the liturgy – even in the places where the language is patriarchal and heteronormative – should remain as is, or if there is another imaginative answer altogether.

Before we move too far into this space, here are some reminders to keep in mind:

  1. We are primarily allies, not leaders, in this quest for liberation and solidarity. Our influence and leadership comes from admitting our privilege, owning our shortcomings, and acknowledging where we don’t have the answers.
  2. Queer and transgender people, those of color in particular, owe us nothing. Being inclusive is not a strategy for church growth, it is an essential expression of Christianity.
  3. If I have not been redundant enough on this point already, CENTER VOICES OF COLOR. CENTER QUEER AND TRANSGENDER VOICES OF COLOR. CENTER QUEER AND TRANSGENDER VOICES OF COLOR FROM AROUND THE GLOBE. There is a difference between making space for these voices and tokenizing these voices. Tokenizing means that we are advertising that we are inclusive for the sake of church growth, or parading that we have a “queer friend.” Genuinely making space might look like giving up the pulpit for an entire series to listen to other’s voices. It may mean intentionally hiring non-white and non-straight leadership for ministerial positions. It might mean hosting panels and teach-ins. Making space could look like a lot of things, but it always allows queer and transgender voices to articulate what liberation and justice looks like for them on their terms, not ours.
  4. Once we have surrendered the right to OWN space, we understand that the liturgy, which is literally “the work that the people do,” is not ours either – but is the people’s worship.

Some Ideas

In class, the Rev. Dr. Joseph N. Goh gave us an example of what a queer liturgy may look like. In it, both the body, our lived experiences, and our cultural connections (in this case, the food of the eucharist) were all lifted up in ways perhaps unexpected for a Christian church. Some churches have wrestled with gender-inclusive pronouns describing God and the Trinity. I have even heard parishioners refer to the Holy Spirit as “She” during prayers.

The essential struggle for allies to understand is that, like everything else we have explored within queer theology, the answer here might depend on who is coming to your table or parish. For some ministries, expanding the marriage rites for inclusive language is enough. For some churchgoers, the need to de-gender God is absolutely essential in order to worship Them. For some, the beautiful mystery of worship within the liturgy itself is “queer” enough, to where some of the archaic gendered language is tolerable.

It is the work of queer theology to question the presumptions that go into liturgy, and toward the end of the semester we learned that this field of study is slowly being expanded. For us as allies, it is our work to listen and accommodate where we can.

What is Queer Theology? – Part 3

what is queer theology

This is PART 3 of a 5 Part Series entitled, “What is Queer Theology?” These series of blog posts make up my final project for a class at the Graduate Theological Union entitled “Queering Ecclesiology and Rites,” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero, Visiting Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies & Director of Online Education at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. In this series I hope to explore the incredible scholarship and possibilities around queer theology in a non-academic format. These posts are intended for allies of LGBTQ+ who have a basic familiarity with Christianity, with the hope that this introductory dialogue will spark curiosity and further study amongst Christian communities.

Part 3: Examples of Queer Church Movements

I want to pay particular attention in this blog post to some of the specific examples our class was provided about churches in the region known as Asia. These churches paid particular focus on creating space for LGBTQ+ parishioners, and were led by LGBTQ+ ministers. I have tried to find local information about the particular church itself, so as to give an idea of how churches are practicing their own radical welcome in global contexts.

An Introductory Thought

For allies in the United States, it is important to lay out some preliminary context for the struggles that LGBTQ+ comrades across the world face. There is no doubt that historical European colonialism, justified and perpetuated by espoused Christian morality that envisioned Christians as civilized and everyone else as barbaric, had a profoundly negative impact on the cultures and regions it encountered. Because of this, some cultures, which before their encounter with Christianity had been organized in a matriarchal society or had rich traditions of honoring third genders, developed an overbearing and oppressive patriarchal worldview that divided the world between good and evil, man and woman, heterosexual and homosexual. Colonizing governments would employ legal ramifications to control the sexualities of the colonized, and these legal frameworks would last even beyond the era of colonialism.

Fast forward to what is known as “post-colonialism,” the time after World War II in which countries across the world began to move toward independence from colonizing governments, and many of these oppressive ways of thinking had become so engrained that the laws targeting same-sex, queer, and transgender people remained in tact with vicious brutality.

In an twisted act of sanitized colonialism, human rights groups from Europe and the United States would go on criticizing these governments and cultures in Asia and South America, inadvertently continuing the colonial discourse of civilized versus barbaric lands.

As such, when we discuss the struggles of our comrades across the globe, whether they be within church communities that do not accept them, social settings that actively outcast them, or legal frameworks that oppress and persecute them, it is extremely important not to adapt a mindset that believes that we in the West are somehow “better off” because we’ve managed to avoid some atrocity we are reading about in the Global South. As allies, we are to constantly disrupt this discourse, even if that means at times we stand opposed to so-called “human rights” organizations, in order to remind others of the ways in which queer and transgender people of color in the United States are attacked and ostracized: in religious circles, society, and the law.

Examples

True Light Gospel Church, Taipei, Taiwan

Led by Rev. Mao-Chen Joseph Chang, True Light Gospel Church is an affirming church that draws on contemporary evangelical, Pentecostal, and liturgical traditions. The worship is intentionally high-energy as to retain familiarity for those who have left evangelical traditions that were not welcoming of their sexualities. The church also maintains a missional focus through the use of small groups and discipling programs.

Free Community Church, Singapore

With a team of pastors and leaders, including a guest lecturer for our class, Rev. Miak Siew, this liturgical church adds contemporary music styles and various multi-media to connect with a broad audience. It is leading the church on maintaining inclusion, and has an entire section on their website devoted to a Q&A on LGBTQ+ faith, queer theology, and most relevant – queer praxis.

What is Queer Theology? – Part 2

what is queer theology

This is PART 2 of a 5 Part Series entitled, “What is Queer Theology?” These series of blog posts make up my final project for a class at the Graduate Theological Union entitled “Queering Ecclesiology and Rites,” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero, Visiting Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies & Director of Online Education at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. In this series I hope to explore the incredible scholarship and possibilities around queer theology in a non-academic format. These posts are intended for allies of LGBTQ+ who have a basic familiarity with Christianity, with the hope that this introductory dialogue will spark curiosity and further study amongst Christian communities.

Part 2: Making Space for Non-U.S. Voices (Decentering the West)

A legitimate criticism toward the current state of queer theory and theology is that it is often dominated by folks in the Western/U.S. core. In order to make queer theology a genuinely transnational movement, space must be made for voices outside of the West.

This is an important concept for allies to understand, and I take up intentional time here to discuss this topic. As a heterosexual male living within the United States, I have to decide to commit to what solidarity and being an ally to queer and transgender people from all over the world must look like. Here are some principles I would like to offer to other allies that are contemplating how they can move from “affirming” to “joining in struggle.”

Solidarity requires that self-determination be at the top of our priorities. That means that liberation is arrived at on the terms of those struggling for it. As allies, we give up our “right” to be objective or to interject an opinion, and work instead for the idealized liberation that our comrades require.

It may be asked, “What does liberation look like for communities outside of the United States?” The answer may shift depending on the geographical or social location being discussed. For some, it can mean better access to marriage rites within church communities. For others, justice looks like an affirmation of their bodies as well as political liberation against oppressive powers. As allies, we agree that there is no “essential” answer to justice, no singular or universal hope – this is both the beauty as well as the mystery of what queer theology has to offer.

This means seeking out the voices of those who are developing queer theologies outside of the context of the United States. Once sought, it requires listening intently without needing to interview or objectify. Finally, it requires action on our part to continue the conversation within our own contexts, challenging and undermining the presumptions that are woven within our own culture.

So where do we start?

I’ve gathered a list of ten different blogs or accounts that offer non-Western queer voices. I encourage allies to check these out and further study.

  1. Emerging Queer API Religion Scholars (EQARS)
  2. QueerTheology.com
  3. The Works of Dr. Joseph N. Goh
  4. The Works of Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero
  5. The Works of Dr. Lai-Shan Yip
  6. Free Community Church (Singapore)
  7. “Families with Intersex” YouTube project
  8. “Muro Pequeno” YouTube Channel (featuring queer theologian and activist Murilo Araujo)
  9. Metropolitan Community Churches
  10. The Washington Blade (note: it is centered in America, but offers global perspectives on this link)

Enjoy learning! We’ll see you back for Part 3.

What is Queer Theology? – Part 1

what is queer theology

This is PART 1 of a 5 Part Series entitled, “What is Queer Theology?” These series of blog posts make up my final project for a class at the Graduate Theological Union entitled “Queering Ecclesiology and Rites,” taught by Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero, Visiting Associate Professor of Critical Theories and Queer Theologies & Director of Online Education at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. In this series I hope to explore the incredible scholarship and possibilities around queer theology in a non-academic format. These posts are intended for allies of LGBTQ+ who have a basic familiarity with Christianity, with the hope that this introductory dialogue will spark curiosity and further study amongst Christian communities.

Part 1: What is Queer Theology?

A growing number of evangelical and liturgical churches, in an effort to step into what is known amongst church leaders as radical welcome, are expanding their reach and are publicly affirming marriage equality in the United States. This affirmation of the rights of same-sex couples to take part in the legal and religious marriage rites of their communities is a step toward breaking down barriers and creating dialogue between historically juxtaposed communities.

And yet, we have to wonder if this is enough? Are same-sex believers simply being “tolerated,” or are they genuinely being given space to develop their spirituality and potential leadership skillset? And what of queer and transgender believers and skeptics? What can we make of the various intersections of identity, including race; in other words, do queer and transgender people of color experience different levels of discrimination and outcasting than homosexual white males – both in the community at large and within the church?

Another question to consider: if we agree that queer and transgender identities are often marginalized even within the framework of same-sex affirming groups, is the affirmation of those same-sex relationships simply a reinforcement of what “we” [read this as the heterosexual core leadership of churches and religious movements] consider normal? Is the issue at heart really an expansion of marriage rites, or is it the damage that having a “normal” standard by which we judge others does to those we consider “others.”

And thus, queer theology comes into relevance to truly question the motives and presumptions built within our beliefs and dogmas. What follows are some key points for allies to consider and learn about queer theology, but this only scratches the surface. I rely heavily on the chapter that Dr. Córdova Quero wrote, “Queer Liberative Theologies,” in the book Introducing Liberative Theologies, edited by Miguel A. De La Torre.

Queer Theology is directly connected with Queer Theory

Academics within the field of queer theory have questioned the ways in which society enforces binaries of sexuality, gender, politics, etc. Queer theory draws from the term “queer,” which before the 1990s was often used as a derogatory term, but was reclaimed as an affirming title of resistance. Queer theory concerns itself with breaking the binary of “either heterosexual or homosexual.” And thus, queer theology takes the logic and arguments that have been built within queer theory and apply it to Scripture and practice. It seeks to look for the ways with Christianity in which sexuality, gender, politics, etc. are assumed to have “this or that” values, and then undermine those assumptions.

Because many of the presumptions are built on what is known as a Western outlook (that means that it the concepts of gender and sexuality were formulated with then male mindsets of European Anglo-Saxons), queer theology seeks to “decenter” or go beyond the perspectives of men within Europe or the United States. By doing this, or “centering” the voices of queer and transgender people of color around the world, queer theology acknowledges the ways in which ones relationship to their social and geographical location impact their experience and understanding of sexuality and faith.

Queer Theology has a trajectory or history

Dr. Robert Goss-Shore and Dr. André Sidnei Musskopf have provided three phases within the development of queer theology. The first stage, during the 1950s, is what is categorized as “homosexual theologies.” During this time, the theologies focused on trying to justify or acknowledge the fact that homosexual individuals existed within the church. The second stage, during the 1960s, can be categorized as the “gay theologies” in which the theology moved beyond a defense of homosexuals and actively sought space for gay individuals to express their voice and understanding of theology.

Finally, the third stage could be described as “queer theologies,” in which the work move beyond making equal space for gay voices to add to heterosexual ones, but to challenge the very foundation of the heterosexual/homosexual binary in the first place! In other words, whereas as “homosexual theologies” sought to defend homosexuality using the Bible, and “gay theologies” sought to introduce gay interpretations of the Bible, “queer theologies” questioned the very foundation of the Bible in the first place to speak authoritatively on sexuality and gender!

Dr. Córdova Quero suggest that an upcoming fourth stage, one in which the voices of transnational and non-Western perspectives are lifted up, should be recognized as developing. This might be called “ethnic queer theologies.” (Pages 212-14 are referenced in this section).

Queer Theology means liberation for all

It is easy to see how queer theology can be a disruptive, transgressive tool in handling theology and praxis. For that reason, it makes some people uncomfortable. And yet, queer theology should be embraced by all believers who hope for a justice-centered and liberating expression of their faith. Once we embrace the questions that are posed by queer theologians, we see that the frameworks that uphold patriarchy and heteronormativity (the idea that heterosexual perspectives and behaviors are objectively true or natural), are not of the Divine at all! Queer Theology is about sexuality, and it is also about bodies. And as it is about bodies, it is about our lives. And as such, it is about our livelihood and justice.