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Queer theology is a theological method that has developed out of the philosophical approach of queer theory, built upon scholars such as Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Judith Butler. Queer theology begins with an assumption that gender non-conformity and gay and lesbian desire have always been present in human history, including the Bible. It was at one time separated into two separate theologies; gay theology and lesbian theology. Later the two would merge to become the more inclusive term of queer theology.
The term queer can be understood within queer theory as encompassing one of three meanings: as an umbrella term, as transgressive action, and as erasing boundaries. Building upon these three meanings of queer, queer theology can be understood as:
- Theology done by and for LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) individuals focusing on their specific needs.
- Theology that purposefully opposes social and cultural norms regarding gender and sexuality. It seeks to unearth hidden voices or hidden perspectives that allows theology to be seen in a new light.
- Theology that challenges and deconstructs boundaries, particularly with respect to sexual and gender identity.
Queer theology is inclusive to individuals' sexual and gender identity and allows the LGBTQ community to reclaim their space in Christianity. Furthermore, according to Jennifer Purvis, "queer" signifies not only a range of variant genders and non-heterosexual sexualities, but a posture of resistance, questioning attitude, and a set of techniques and approaches. For that reason, queer theology calls on us to think beyond what may be known, disciplined and controlled and asks us to re-embrace our queer cognizance.
Hugh William Montefiore's views on Jesus' early life
In a paper read at the Conference of Modern Churchmen in 1967 titled "Jesus, the Revelation of God", Hugh William Montefiore offers a controversial interpretation of the early life of Jesus. Jesus was not aware of his vocation as Messiah until approximately age thirty, Montefiore argues, and this vocation can therefore not explain the celibacy of Jesus. Apart from the Essenes, celibacy was not a common practice in Jewish life. Montefiore suggests we might need to look for a non-religious reason to explain the celibacy of Jesus:
Men usually remain unmarried for three reasons: either because they cannot afford to marry or there are no girls to marry (neither of these factors need have deterred Jesus); or because it is inexpedient for them to marry in the light of their vocation (we have already ruled this out during the "hidden years" of Jesus' life); or because they are homosexual in nature, in as much as women hold no special attraction for them. The homosexual explanation is one which we must not ignore.
Montefiore finds the explanation that Jesus was homosexual consistent with his identification with the poor and oppressed:
All the synoptic gospels show Jesus in close relationship with the ‘outsiders’ and the unloved. Publicans and sinners, prostitutes and criminals are among his acquaintances and companions. If Jesus were homosexual in nature (and this is the true explanation of his celibate state) then this would be further evidence of God’s self-identification with those who are unacceptable to the upholders of ‘The Establishment’ and social conventions.
One proponent of queer theology was Marcella Althaus-Reid, who drew on Latin American liberation theology and interpreted the Bible in a way in which she saw as positive towards women, queer people and sex. She proposed a theology that centered marginalized people, including people in poverty and queer people. For Althaus-Reid, theology ought to be connected to the body and lived experience. She put it this way:
Indecent Sexual Theologies [...] may be effective as long as they represent the resurrection of the excessive in our contexts, and a passion for organizing the lusty transgressions of theological and political thought. The excessiveness of our hungry lives: our hunger for food, hunger for the touch of other bodies, for love and for God. [...] [O]nly in the longing for a world of economic and sexual justice together, and not subordinated to one another, can the encounter with the divine take place. But this is an encounter to be found at the crossroads of desire, when one dares to leave the ideological order of the heterosexual pervasive normative. This is an encounter with indecency and with the indecency of God and Christianity.
One theme in the theology of her The Queer God (Routledge, 2003) is the holiness of the gay club, as she explores the intersection and essential non-contradiction of a strong, vibrant faith life and sexual desire. An example of finding otherness and desire in Biblical texts is her reading of Jeremiah 2:23–25 from the Hebrew:
[...] a young camel deviating from her path: a wild she-ass accustomed to the wilderness, sniffing the wind in her lust. Who can repel her desire? And you said, No! I love strangers, the different, the unknown, the Other, and will follow them.
John J. McNeill
John J. McNeill was an openly gay Jesuit priest and a vocal proponent of queer theology. His work focuses on the pushing of a new and evolving Christian structure that is truly inclusive of gay and lesbian Christians. He highlights the importance of acknowledging how far Christian mentality has come in its view of homosexuality but believes there is a long way to go. McNeill argues that it is not enough to demand acceptance but to strive for a Church that provides a community that allows for the spiritual and moral enrichment of gay and lesbian Christians. This inclusion can be achieved by engaging with and allowing gay and lesbian Christians to not only participate in such a community but be leaders in the ministry.
Homosexuals within the Church have an obligation to organize and attempt to enter into dialogue with Church authorities. Church authorities in turn should show an example in terms of just behavior toward the homosexual minority by displaying an active willingness to hear, to enter dialogue, and to seek ways to resolve whatever injustice becomes clear as a result of dialogue. It is only by means of such a dialogue that the process can begin of separating the true implications of Christian faith and morality for the homosexual from the misunderstandings and prejudices of the past.
McNeill's book The Church and the Homosexual (Beacon Press, 1976) addresses queer theology in three sections: a history of the relationship between homosexuality and the Catholic tradition, finding where homosexuality belongs in a restructured traditional moral theology, and the shifts necessary in the modern Christian ministry that will allow gay and lesbian Christians to thrive in their faith.
- Cheng, Patrick (2013). Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit. New York: Seabury Books. p. 4. ISBN 9781596272415.
- Cheng, Patrick (2011). An Introduction to Queer Theology: Radical Love. Church Publishing. pp. 9–20. ISBN 9781596271364.
- Cornwall, Susannah (2011). Controversies in Queer Theology. SCM Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0334043553.
- Orr, Catherine M.; Braithwaite, Ann; Lichtenstein, Diane, eds. (2012). Rethinking Women's and Gender Studies. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781136482564.
- Purvis, Jennifer (2012). "Queer". In Orr, Catherine M.; Braithwaite, Ann; Lichtenstein, Diane (eds.). Rethinking Women's and Gender Studies. New York: Routledge. pp. 189–206. ISBN 9781136482564.
- Clark, J. Michael (1991). Theologizing Gay: Fragments of Liberation Activity. Oak Cliff, TX: Minuteman Press. ISBN 0926899031.
- Clark, J. Michael; McNeir, Bob (1992). Masculine Socialization and Gay Liberation: A Conversation on the Work of James Nelson and Other Wise Friends. Arlington, TX: Liberal Press. ISBN 0934659125.
- Goss, Robert (1994). Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 9780060633196.
- H. W. Montefiore, “Jesus, the Revelation of God,” in Christ for Us Today: Papers read at the Conference of Modern Churchmen, Somerville College, Oxford, July 1967, edited by Norman Pittenger (SCM Press, London: 1968), p. 109.
- ibid, p. 110.
- "Dr. Marcella Althaus-Reid", Religious Archives Network (on line).
- Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology, (Routledge, 2002) p. 200. ISBN 0203468953.
- Marcella Althaus-Reid, The Queer God (Routledge: 2003). ISBN 041532324X.
- Jay Emerson Johnson. A "Queer God"? Really? Remembering Marcella Althaus-Reid". Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, Pacific School of Religion (March 5, 2009) -- on line. Archived January 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- Marcella Althaus-Reid. Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender and Politics (Routledge Chapman & Hall: 2000). ISBN 0415236045.
- Younge, Richard G. (1980). "Review: The Church and the Homosexual by John J. McNeill". Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. 49: 97. JSTOR 42973755.
- Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2000). Indecent Theology: Theological perversions in sex, gender and politics. ISBN 0415236045.
- Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2003). The Queer God. ISBN 041532324X.
- Clark, John Michael (1997). Defying the Darkness: Gay Theology in the Shadows. Pilgrim Press. ISBN 9780829811636.
- Cornwall, Susannah (2011). Controversies in Queer Theology. Controversies in contextual theology series. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. ISBN 9780334043553.
- Hedges, Paul (2011). "Guanyin, Queer Theology, and Subversive Religiosity: an experiment in interreligious theology". In David Cheetham (ed.). Interreligious Hermeneutics in Pluralistic Europe: Between Texts and People. Rodopi. pp. 203–230.
- Loughlin, Gerard, ed. (2009). Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470766262.
- Johnson, Jay Emerson (2014). Peculiar Faith: Queer Theology for Christian Witness. Church Publishing, Inc. ISBN 9781596272514.
- Quotations related to Queer theology at Wikiquote