Queer Christianity

Liz Edsall says Christianity must be queer: it must learn from LGBT folk to be truly Christian. In Queer theory, queer is a verb, meaning to rupture. Queer breaks down false binaries between male and female, to make space for queer people. Christianity too, when working properly, ruptures false binaries, between human and divine, sacred and profane. The Revd. Liz, an Episcopal priest from New York, ignores the clobber passages. Why should we engage with Leviticus 20, which calls for our death by stoning? Who would cite such a passage imagining it had anything to do with life now, or was other than repulsive? Instead, she starts with the story of the Good Samaritan, the Outsider who did the humane, loving thing, the despised foreigner who saved a life when Jews would not. Christianity ruptures the boundary between self and other, as there must be no outsiders, no bad people, no Them.

Even St Paul wrote, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. I loved that verse, and yet there is Presbyterian and Episcopalian, even ECUSA and ACNA.

Queers find the identity which defines us, and tell the truth about it. We build community with others with the same identity. We live this path over and over, and get better at it. Liz Edsall learned the Christian path from following the Queer path, what she calls “Queer virtue”. The importance and effectiveness of both paths is rooted in their relation to Scandal. Both are powerless because they are scandalous, and that is the basis of their power. Christianity was never expected to be respectable. Mark calls Jesus “Mary’s son”, that is, the illegitimate child. It was a scandal for Jesus to touch the Unclean, defend adulterers or value people on the margins of society, such as the women who followed him. The cross was designed as a public shaming, destruction of the personality, and breaking of the body. The Resurrection overcomes death and the violent destruction of dignity. Jesus shook up convention and disrupted the understanding of power.

This disruption is good for the whole world. When she protests racism she does not just quote the Bible but gives it a meaning for us, now. The Christian Left needs a theological framework to make sense of the tradition and the world. Queer is a lens to give clarity to our vision of Christianity. Queer shows us how to be Christian: come out, find healthy pride. Christianity is actual Good News, allowing everyone to be their authentic selves, as opposed to conservative Christianity which would crush everyone into the same straitjacket.

People on the margins will not be nice but will gain their God-given dignity by opposing violence to their souls.

An audience member asked, how to queer liberal Christianity. When they oppose equal marriage, the conservatives portray themselves as counter-cultural and the liberals as infected by secularism. To revitalise our faith, Queer it; be honest about the dynamics in play in relationships, pay attention to the life and health of everyone, and make community.

Liberal Christians want nuance, and others want false simplicity. Everyone is entitled to respect.

The woman next to me, who recognised me from my talk last year, photographed my notes.

8 thoughts on “Queer Christianity

  1. Many of those conservative Christians are cross dressing in that straightjacket. Yes, that’s a pun, but my point is that they are not presenting themselves as they truly are. It’s difficult to throw that first stone while in a straightjacket, so why are there so many of them flying?

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    • Conservative Christianity offers a set of rules. Behave in this way, and you will be accounted with the righteous. Some of the rules- Don’t be Gay!!!- are absolute, and enforced immediately; some of the rules, such as those against sexual abuse by pastors, are more flexible, and God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness is in evidence. But if you can more or less fit the rules, it can be a close community, held together by hatred and fear of Outsiders.

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  2. For Paul, being Christian implies submitting one’s whole self, including sexuality, to the service of God, i.e. the virtue of chastity. “Your bodies do not belong to you but the service of the Lord” and Paul is explicit about what that implies.
    It involves quite a bit of self denial, and being willing to be seen in the eyes of many as something unusual: a celibate, an overly-fertile married couple, a frigid girl, a beta male; Christian chastity is always, to some degree or another, counter-cultural, in contradiction of a society’s default gender norms. A “Christian society” which condemns sexual behavior they don’t find tempting (say, sodomy between males) and condones ones they do (say, divorce and remarriage, which Jesus explicitly equates with adultery) is of course hypocritical and it is good to point that out.
    But the underlying idea behind the sexual revolution and its contemporary manifestations is that sex is all about self expression (i.e. you own your body and can do with it as you please), and not expressing it makes one unfulfilled and unhealthy. This is is pretty much the opposite of what Paul was saying.
    So you don’t have to queer Christianity, authentic Christianity is always in tension with with default norms. But trying to hitch Christianity with ideas fundamentally opposed to it will not work either, as the history of liberal Christianity tends to show. The real question is how does a queer person place his sexuality at the service of Christ.

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    • I would love to see the letters Paul was replying to. He seems contingent, dealing with particular cases. It is better to marry than burn. It is best to be celibate- a ruling which has cursed churches from time to time, recently the Shakers, arguably the Catholic priesthood. His thought moves.

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  3. Leviticus 20 is in no way a “clobber passage”. Paul tells us “…ye are not under the law, but under grace”.

    Old Testament arguments against the queer community don’t work with me. Conservative Christians should make their arguments from the New Testament; which they can’t. This is why they so quickly fall back on the OT and, when it is convenient for them, forget that the law is dead.

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  4. We’ve come so far from the simple gospel, from simply desiring purity with God above all else. If we are so wrapped up in trying to find excuses for the way we were, or excuses to disassociate and judge people, is it not clear who we are in love with, but ourselves? Thanks for writing this, I’ll be sure to follow this blog to see future posts, and I would adore to have someone like you read anything I wrote! God bless!

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    • Welcome, Noah, and thank you for commenting.

      Is the “simple gospel” possible? Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Our lives have always been complex. Human beings are complex, with divided goals and loyalties, not seeing the path ahead only the next step. And we are not all in love with ourselves. Many people beat themselves up all the time.

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