Queering Theology: An Introduction

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We’re in the third month of summer – the dog days where everything slows down and people go on vacations and Congress takes five weeks off from doing nothing to go tell their constituents about how they do nothing. Here on the blog, though, we’re going to spend August delving into a subset of theology that not many people know a lot of about – queer theologies.

For recommended reading this month, you should pull out Patrick S. Cheng’s Radical Love. It’s a basic introduction to the ins and outs of queer theology.

What is the Goal of Queer Theology?

 Last night, I was sitting on the front stoop talking to my upstairs neighbor. We were discussing affirming churches, as I’m thinking about attending a new church here in town that’s UCC and affirming. Having grown up with a Catholic mother and a Muslim father, my neighbor doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with varying theologies, though he does have some interesting perspectives on religion itself. He commented that affirming churches seemed like a weird thing, considering it’s taking an anti-Biblical stance.

His comment didn’t come out of any malice, but it was interesting to me that someone who doesn’t identify as Christian, who doesn’t attend church, and who has no real interest in theology, would be comfortable commenting on the content of the Bible. Rest assured, I took the chance to assure him that he was mistaken about what the Bible actually says, and that there is a vibrant culture of queer Christians who are working to change the culture of Christianity, especially here in America.

Many cisgender, heterosexual people approach the Bible much the same way when it comes to issues surrounding sexual minorities. Not having any acquaintance with any other reading, it is often simply assumed that the literal, restrictive, conservative reading is the only one that exists. A lot of arguments against marriage equality and, most recently, against transgender inclusion in Christian environments, stem from a failure to challenge accepted belief about queer people and the church.

Queer theology, then, has two goals – first, it wishes to challenge the extant beliefs about queer people and their relationship to Christianity. Secondarily – and more important – queer theology seeks to carve out a safe space within Christianity wherein queer people can experience God as they are. Queer theology’s primary goal is to challenge and widening existing theologies by creating new readings and new theories about God and God’s love.

What is Reading Queerly?

My experience with queer theory and queer theologies started when I took a literary criticism course and was assigned, at random to cover queer literary theory for class. After reading Adrienne Rich and Judith Butler and other prominent queer theorists, I put together a conference paper on the performativity of gender in Disney’s Mulan. The project forced me to ask myself, “What is this story saying about bodies? About gender? About social constructions and perception?”

And I guess I never stopped asking those questions, of everything I read, watch, and consume. Reading something queerly means that we open up ourselves to questions about the performativity of gender, the impact of sexual minorities on the text, and the different ways in which queer people experience the world. This means that when we read Christ’s death as a part of a movement toward queer liberation, we are saying not only does his death free us from oppression but it frees us from the restrictions of gender roles (supported by queer readings of Paul’s comments about kenosis and equality).

So, we’re going to do some amateur queer readings over the month, with guest posts from friends of mine who are doing queer theology on a more regular basis than I am. We’ll also do some queer readings of purity culture and expand on the idea that sexuality is fluid. I’m looking forward to exploring these topics with you all!