In contemporary theologies of liberation, a primary theme within Christological reflection is Jesus’ persistent solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Among liberationists, queer theologians present a “queer” Jesus. Queer is both an adjective and a verb in the sense that 1) queer theologians revise, subvert or “queer” the traditional “heterosexual,” celibate image of Jesus, and 2) the “queer Christ”—both (ontologically) as God incarnate in flesh and (ethically/existentially) as a man on the margins—stands for LGBTIQ people and against heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, erotophobia, and all other ideologies privileging heteronormative, nuclear family structures as sacred. To do so, queer theologians point out that Jesus took stances against the religious authorities of his day. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees and the scribes for their hypocritically selective and rigid interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures to condemn “sinners,” Gentiles, and social outcasts. However, these “devout” groups exonerated themselves from obeying the full letter of Torah by drawing on their complex oral traditions. Similarly, queer theologians criticize conservative Christians for interpretations which condemn LGBTIQ people. For queer theologians, Jesus not only came to liberate “sinners” and the outcasts from their oppression—both religious and political.
Moreover, Jesus Christ is also “queer” in the sense that his love-ethic, especially his public fellowship with women (some of questionable reputation), tax collectors, and Gentiles, transgresses the status quo that privileges one set of God’s children, namely heterosexual, patriarchal, cisgendered, and nuclear families, over all others. In fact, queer theologian Robert Shore-Goss claims that Jesus took an anti-family stance (read: anti-patriarchal family system) by assembling a group of disciples of predominantly know familial relation to him and from all walks of life. Moreover, literature in queer and liberal religious scholarship have contended that the seven so-called “clobber” passages (Gen. 19; Lev. 18:22; Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Jude 1:7) have a long history of misinterpretation from traditionalist Christians which frequently dismiss insights from history, culture, psychology, science on the reality of queer peoples’ own lived experiences.
Even more, queer theology moves beyond apologetics towards advocacy and resistance against institutional Christianity and the larger culture towards their radical transformation. For some queer theologians, the reading of Scripture and Christian tradition is irredeemably heterosexist (an ideological stance which privileges heterosexuals in church and society), patriarchal (which privileges a few men over all women, children, and other marginalized men), cisgenderist (which privileges non-transgender, non-intersexed, and gender conforming persons over all others). Privileging the male-female gender binary (i.e. Adam and Eve in Genesis) as prescriptive (and, for some, even paradigmatic) for all human sexuality is universalizing and oppressive. Therefore, the entire Christian tradition, principally starting with Christology, requires a massive overhaul in order for the religion to be a source of justice and human flourishing for all persons.
For many LGBTIQ people, not only are traditional condemnatory positions “abstract,” but are deeply harmful for their psycho-spiritual selves and such teachings legitimate the discriminatory challenges to same-sex marriage, joint same-sex adoption, transgender healthcare, employment, housing, and others. Moreover, traditional condemnations of same-sex practice and transgender identified persons as “disordered” often result, according to many studies, in LGBTIQ people being excommunicated from their communities of faith and ostracized from family members. For example, a recent study shows that 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTIQ. The leading cause of their homelessness is family rejection. In the marketplace of religious claims, queer theologians present Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ as “queer” since in his body consists all types of people of diverse genders, bodies, and sexual orientations. For many, to object to this radical claim of the queerness of Christ and the church is to remain complicit in the concrete, oppressive, and destructive factors which lead to the displacement of many LGBTIQ youth from their homes.
Furthermore, some scholars within queer theology argue for various constructive re-presentations of Christianity as an inherently “queer” religion, given the “queer” claim of God becoming flesh. A queer Christianity celebrates the goodness of human body, the diversity of sexualities, gender identities, relationships (monogamy, polyamory, “open,” promiscuous, etc.) and family configurations as the work of dynamic, creative, and beneficent God. Other queer theologians remain wary of systematizing their work, given that systematic theology tends to “universalize” God-talk which leads to shut out divergent voices on the margins. Nevertheless, queer theologians Elizabeth Stuart, Gerard Loughlin, Patrick Cheng, Ivy Helman, and others advocate for rethinking the traditional topics of traditional Christian theology in light of the lived experiences of queer Christians towards their full inclusion within Christianity and Christianity’s full reconciliation of sexuality with spirituality, body with soul.
Queer theology in the United States continues to develop both as an intellectual development in academic institutions and as a grassroots movement in the Christian churches. Even some members of traditional Christian denominations have at least listened to the voices of self-identified LGBTQ and have responded with compassion and subsequent apology. Still, others in these denominations continue to remain either silent or violently opposed to the voices of queer people publicly claiming Christ for themselves.
Queer theology does not reflect the theological convictions of all persons whose sexualities or gender identities do not conform to the heterosexual norm. There are, indeed, such persons who hold traditional understandings of sexual ethics, biblical authority, and/or theological anthropology, yet struggle to maintain a sense of dignity, sanity, and wholeness as they continue to remain in fellowship with their traditional churches. Fortunately, some folks from this group have started to publicly voice their convictions and their struggles. Despite its usage, the word queer may not fully capture the complexity of lived experiences of those deemed as such, especially among those who affirm traditional ethics and who are non-heterosexual and non-cisgendered. The conciliation of all Christians, both queer and otherwise, might is the theme shared between members of Christian churches across the theological spectrum, namely the aforementioned one—that Christ stands in solidarity with them. As this group, along with queer theologians, continues to grow and articulate their theological perspectives, perhaps Christianity becomes a more queer religion.
For further reading:
Cheng, Patrick S. Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology. New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2011.
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting. Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Horace L. Griffin, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2006; reprint: Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010.
Goss, Robert E. and Mona West, Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2000.
Martin, Dale B. Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.
Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. Omni-Gender: A Trans-religious Approach, revised and expanded. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2007.
Selmys, Melinda. Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Vistor, 2009.