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O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We love schism and bureaucracy, tolitarianism and despotism.
We love to prey upon the weak, the defenseless, innocent children,
We misuse and abuse the resources of the earth,
We shut out and shut down voices of protest and dissent,
We love hatred, bigotry, wickedness, mediocrity, and the status quo
more than we love patience, pursuing justice, loving mercy, and giving
voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless.

O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We lust for blood.
We love war and rumors of wars, conflicts, murders, and genocides
more than peacemaking, dialogue, coalition building,
finding common ground, and the peaceable Kingdom.

O Lord,
The whole house is sick.
We have fallen ill.
We do violence
against bodies,
black bodies,
brown bodies,
female bodies,
young bodies,
old bodies,
queer bodies,
disabled bodies,
poor bodies,
and immigrant bodies.
We love to break bodies
rather than mend them.
We are feverishly sick.

O Lord,
Heal this house you called “good.”
Heal this house not made by sinful hands.
Look on this house, this house
made by your word and the breath of your mouth,
and remake us in the image of the One
who told us,
“In my Father’s house, there are many rooms…”
Renew this house by the Spirit
Who raised his pierced, bruised, and crucified Body
from the dead
so that this house that you call Beloved,
this house called Creation,
might be saved, restored, and healed.
Thus, may you fulfill your promise
to make your dwelling among mortals forever.
Amen.

 

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.

 

One of the lingering questions that I daily ask myself is whether or not I should remain a committed Christian in this postmodern moment. One of the ways I measure commitment or faithfulness is through my attendance of church services.   I often find it hard to remain a faithful churchgoer.  Yes, I believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe in the triune God. I believe that as a Christian I must worship God in spirit and in truth. I also believe that I’m called to Christian ministry, especially as a minister-theologian. Yes, I understand that Christianity in all of its denominational manifestations is a fallible human institution in need of God’s grace. Yes, I believe in “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” I believe that the church is a worshiping community. In spite of my affirmations, I haven’t attended a Sunday worship service in a month.  I realize that I often get churched out.

Being “churched out” is certainly not proper theological jargon for a seminary-educated person to use, but it succinctly captures  a phenomenon which many North American Christians experience. For me, being “churched out” is being burned out. It’s the feeling that the intellectual reasons for attending services of worship dwarf in comparison to my overwhelming feelings of spiritual exhaustion of all things “church” in my daily lived experience. The zeal that I once had for Christian service tends to wane because of it.  I often find it necessary to take “breaks” from attending church because what I experience within its walls, or at least in the churches that I’ve attended lately, tend to weigh heavily upon me.

It’s a constant struggle to glean blessings from a bed of thorns every Sunday.  What I hear from pulpits or pews, whether I hear sermons or testimonies, can be paradoxically a time of great joy and of great distress.  Given the contextual nature of all theologies, many of us within black churches hold uncritical, non-Scriptural, and at times self and other-negating views of God’s ways with God’s creation which trouble me.  Of course, I don’t expect every Christian that I encounter to have a seminary degree or attend a Bible class, but not everything said and done within the walls of the churches are “holy things for a holy people.”  In many of the churches, pastors cultivate environments that ironically inhibit Christian discipleship by adopting an authoritarian dogmatism that inhibits followers from questioning what they teach and preach. Christians who venture to challenge what is taught and done within congregations and parishes are often shunned as rebellious [e.g. “Jezebel spirit”), defying the Word of God and the pastor’s authority. Fortunately, I come from a family of Baptists who love to debate and critique what is taught and done in churches, even if one of us are guilty of doing something that becomes the target of our critiques.  However, not many Christians are so fortunate.

As for my absence from church attendance, I believe that this anti-intellectualism plays a significant factor. I can also say that I haven’t attended church now because I feel a bit lost as far as where I’m going vocationally. It’s quite clear to me that I desire to become a professional theologian, even as I pursue training as a chef along the way towards this goal. I think my absence from church is because I’m exhausted from actually facing the prospect of leaving my own ecclesiastic background for more “inclusive,” liberal Protestant shores.  Real talk:  I hate living within an “open closet.” I believe in temperance, but I hate living in a constant state of self-policing as if my existence is a problem.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that my theology has fundamentally changed.  Viscerally, it hasn’t changed despite my pragmatic wishes.  Honestly, I’m finding that my theology becomes deeply dissatisfying as I get older, as I come into my own self, and my life is blessed as I engage with other LGBT Christians of all ecclesiastic persuasions and theological beliefs.  I desire to engage in thoughtful theological conversations; lamentably, I’m finding that more conservative black churches don’t provide this safe space for fostering thoughtful theological conservation.

What I long for is the freedom to be uninhibited, to walk in truth and integrity of being who I am.  I am simply tired of playing the negotiating game.  The more I live, the more that I realize that evangelical Afro-Protestantism, specifically black Baptist churches, simply is not ready for me. And I am exhausted by waiting on them to embrace the reality of openly LGBT people living among them, despite the incessant quoting of biblical passages, disregarding their contexts, denying the complexity of human experience, and the inherently partiality of theological knowledge.    I feel like that I need to move on and I cannot wait on them but I know that I must wait on God.   So, I’m both anxious and exhausted and therefore I need to rest, regroup, and recover from the church.

As I write this post I plan to return back to church this Sunday.   Obviously, I realize that I miss worshiping God with God’s people.  I love the church, specifically black evangelical Baptist churches.  They have been my home since birth.  However, I’m taking the liberty to occasionally chill out from churchgoing when I feel the burden gets too heavy to carry. Sometimes they say “take your burdens to the Lord [God at the altar], and leave them there.”   Interestingly, this burden never leaves me.  Perhaps it’s a necessary burden for me to carry in order to do the work that I must do.  I just don’t want to completely check out of the church trying to do what “thus saith the Lord” even before I even officially start tilling the ground.

Previously, I wrote about my experience of being a black gay man with evangelical Christian faith.   After writing the draft,  I found the writing process to be mixed with both catharsis and fear.  It was cathartic in the sense that I found a sense of release from sharing my experience. I was able to put my thoughts into my fingertips and type away with resolve.  Simultaneously, I also feared the reactions I might get from readers of the post.  I don’t know why I get afraid because I’ve been candid before on other occasions.  However, I’ve been avoiding writing about my most deepest, abiding fear, namely that I’ve internalized homophobia due to my adherence to a traditional Christian sexual ethic.  This constant worry or struggle makes me question my happiness, my self-worth, my professional and personal relationships, and my integrity as a minister of the gospel.

Despite my continual readings of LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and allies) literature, both religious and secular, my fairly liberal politics, my personal relationships and interactions with amazing openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual, and transgender people, and my personal experience of falling in love with another man, I still subscribe to a monogamous, heterosexual paradigm for marriage, religiously speaking.  While I endorse the right for same-sex couples to seek the right to marry, I don’t know if I would attend a religious-based same-sex wedding.  I rarely attend liberal or “open-and-affirming” churches for worship.  And I mean rarely.   While I studied in Atlanta, I visited a friend’s former congregation (belonging to a non-affirming African American denomination) whose pastor is very inclusive of “same-gender-loving” people and their families.  Overall, I had a wonderful time in worship.  Nevertheless, my personal inclination was to seek an evangelical church, which I did when I attended a church in Decatur.

I think a significant reason for my traditional sexual ethic lies in my understanding of Scripture, its authority, and interpretation.   While I do not subscribe to the doctrine of full biblical inerrancy (naively, I did years ago), I do maintain, however, a traditional Protestant (specifically Baptist) assumption of the Bible’s infallibility, or its trustworthiness.  Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to biblical exegesis.  I believe that I was trained by some of the top scholars within the field of biblical studies (i.e. Duke and Emory).  I employ historical-critical methods of biblical interpretation and I have employed other methods as well when its necessary to illumine a given text for preaching and teaching. However, I’m find that my chief method of biblical interpretation is primarily canonically and theologically driven.  I interpret the Scripture from a presupposition which I’m concerned with the revelation of the Divine will for all of creation i.e. soteriological.   Every time I open the blessed Book to study, I come to it with a hermeneutics of trust–I trust the presence of the Holy Spirit will illumine my understanding to receive and to proclaim the Word.

The irony with this confessional stance is that I share it with many white European/American heterosexual males who claim to subscribe to a traditional view of biblical authority and interpret the Bible in ways to legitimate chattel slavery, racial segregation, miscegenation, colonialism, militarism, hetero-patriarchy (church, home, society), and/or the demonization (and at times slaughter) of LGBTQ people, not to mention the abuse and/or neglect of the environment.   From the standpoint of the oppressed, I should approach the text and Christian tradition with primarily, if not exclusively, with a hermeneutics of suspicion.   I am mindful that a growing number of evangelical Christians who affirm biblical authority are drawing more “gay-affirming” conclusions after engaging the Scripture with different (some would suggest “fresh”) lenses.   Their different readings of the Bible show that no one group has a monopoly over the Bible and its interpretation. Objectivity is non-existent.  So where does this position me?

I don’t know.  There is no neutral space from which I may speak.  I ask myself, “How can I, a preacher no less, proclaim liberty to captives, feel captive? How can I tell a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender that God loves them, suggest to them to attend a ‘Bible-believing’ church that will most likely not acknowledge their presence, or do so in a damning way?” “How can I continue to affirm a ‘traditional’ view that is heterosexist?  Don’t I want to be happy, whole and healthy? Don’t I want to experience life with another human being in a covenant relationship?” “Is the cost worth it all?”   Constant, lingering, pressing, exhausting questions flood my soul. I pray for peace yet I don’t have it.  Am I being faithful or am I a phobe–a tragic case of a self-hating black gay man?  I don’t know.  I probably will struggle with these questions until Jesus comes or at least I leave this earth to see Him in peace.  I wonder why I’m not a wreck.  And yet despite my struggles, I somehow manage to preach the good news. Imagine that.

 

Theology is discourse which seeks to give understanding of God and God’s relation to all of God’s creation. The task of Christian theology, specifically, seeks to render an intelligible account of the triune God’s acts in human history, specifically in the history of Israel and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Christian theologians engage in critical reflection upon the doctrines, texts, and practices of Christian traditions.  While Christian theology is essential to Christian faith and witness, modern Christian theologians are painfully aware of  many lay Christians’ suspicion of theology. Many Christians find theology to be highly speculative and obscures the task of Christian mission. Moreover, many Christians find that academic theologians are far removed from the lived experiences of those to whom the Churches are called to proclaim good news i.e. the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Regardless of the fact that all Christians engage in theological discourse, lay Christians and many church leaders find that theology is the privilege of a few intellectual elites within the academy.

Theological reflection in all of its diversity (practical, speculative, biblical, moral, historical, dogmatic, and so forth) is a matter of interpretation. We (specifically persons of Christian faith) all come to the task of interpreting our faith with biases–personal experiences, various levels of education and different forms of knowledge. We have various points of reference and hold fast to principles of interpreting Scripture and other texts in our traditions which are influenced by our social locations and our various identities. Sometimes our minds change, for better and/or worse, on matters that affect all of us–war, sexual ethics and sexuality, violence, economics, environment, liturgical practices, and so forth. We inevitably disagree on these matters. Sometimes respectfully. Many times violently. We call for debates, yet some, especially those in power and with privilege, dominate these discussions while others are silenced. We passionately claim that lives of all of God’s children are at stake in “weightier matters.” Our beliefs, and the subsequent actions which reinforce our beliefs, impacts the lives of many people.

To bring it home, Christians around the world are waging socio-political theological wars surrounding issues related to gender and sexuality.  As the United States (seemingly) shifts more left towards full acceptance of LGBTIQ and their families, Christians who are traditional on matters on sexual ethics and marriage are confronted by a generation who finds such positions as veiled bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and fear of the “Other.”   Evangelical Christian colleges do not know how to handle the truth that many of their students are coming out of the closet as LGBTIQ despite their heteronormative culture.   Self-identified gay evangelical Christians are challenging the biblical interpretations that condemn homosexuality as “sinful.”  One can sincerely read these challenges from LGBTIQ persons of faith as the final manifestation of the “spirit of the age.” However, historically, it shows that Christians have never completely agreed on any so-called “weighty” matters, even sexuality.  I would dare venture to suggest that the rise of LGBTIQ and other marginalized Christian challenges the socio-economic and political privilege of white, European-American, heterosexual males’ political and ecclesiastical power to mediate the divine.   The voices of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTIQ within Christian theology reminds us of that theology is an ongoing conversation and engagement with our respective traditions, not a mindless regurgitation or repetition.  These “marginal” theological voices also remind us that God cares for the oppressed of the earth and privileges those own the margins of the society.  Theology must include all voices. Theological discernment is a communal practice.  Yet, as teachers of the faith, theologians are given the task, I believe, to help guide the churches into understanding what we believe and to critically examine if our practices and our beliefs are faithful to the gospel.

It’s easy for traditional Christians to dismiss challenging, uncomfortable views of others as not “biblical” and heterodox.  One can appeal to certain passages in Scripture as proof-texts to protect oneself against the onslaught of “false doctrines.”   However, a truly courageous faith will risk the privilege of being right by engaging with God’s beloved creatures and enter into their space to listen to their voices and hear the cries of hurting people.  Faithfulness to God’s Word embodied in Jesus means following Jesus into the depths of people’s pain and listen, discern, and trust that God’s Spirit will guide us into all truth.  For whatever reason, we may not come to an agreement with our theological conversation partners on everything that can be imagined.  However, we must divest ourselves with the idolatrous quest to “stand upon the Word.”  Instead, we need to realize that we all stand under the Word. The Word confronts us of all and exposes our biases, our interests, our blind spots.  We need to fully surrender to the authority of the Word and Spirit and humble ourselves. We may not be right about our interpretations of texts and definitely are not ethically just in our dealings with people with whom we disagree.   This is good news.  The Word judges us and gives us grace.   Theology as “faith seeking understanding” seeks to faithfully convey this message. I guess, what I’m trying to say is this: if love is not at the core and the driving force to engaging in theology with others, than theology is idolatrous and demonic. If we seek to silence those who are different than us and who understand themselves in a way that’s different that we do, then theology does not serve the living and true God, but our sinful interests.

 

I sometimes wonder how long I will consider myself an evangelical Christian.  I was raised within an African-American Baptist family who did not use this nomenclature at all.  As Baptists, we generally believed what any evangelical would believe regarding the centrality of Christ and the cross, biblical authority, the born again experience, and spreading the “good news.”  I did not hear of the term evangelical until I encountered white evangelical Christians in college.  We shared some of the similar beliefs concerning God, Jesus Christ, and the Christian Scriptures.  So I happily embraced the term “evangelical,” especially after my participation in both InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and my alma mater’s large college evangelical ministry.  However, I was challenged by the Eurocentric and conservative political imperialism of the group.  I felt like I had to give up my sense of blackness in order to be a true “Bible-believing” Christian.  Fortunately, I came across an essay which was written by my current pastor and Duke University theologian William C. Turner, Jr. that freed me to embrace evangelical faith as an African-American without imbibing the political and social imagination of my conservative white counterparts.  Although I could easily reconcile my racial identity with my faith commitments, my sexuality continued to present an existential dilemma.

During college, I hid my sexual attractions from everyone. Everyone! I sat in conferences with evangelical lecturers denouncing homosexuality and defending the institution of heterosexual marriage.  I heard fiery black preachers dismiss gay men as “sissies” and “faggots” who are “running rampant in the church.”  I watched countless religious media that featured preachers charging the faithful stand up for “moral clarity” on behalf of a “Christian” nation that was embarking on the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage.  Despite my rigorous consumption of “ex-gay” literature, my research on the debates on homosexuality and Christianity, my constant silent prayers to God to “remove” that which I did not name, and my struggle to abstain from pornography, I remained what I feared.

After college, I attended two prominent seminaries. My first year in seminary compelled me to come out of the closet the following year.  I interacted with students from all walks of life—Christian, Jew, Protestant, Catholic, black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, bisexual—all who came to seminary seeking to understand various aspects of the Christian traditions.  I was confronted with the “issues” of homosexuality and the Black Church on several occasions, some of which I brought up because I feared that no one was listening or talking at all.  I’ve taken various classes on theology, ethics, and biblical studies. I’ve discussed and debated with folks.  I moved to Atlanta and confronted myself through my interaction and budding friendship with openly black gay and lesbian people.  I freed myself to question everything that I believed about homosexuality theologically, and I, by God’s grace, learned to embrace existence without shame. However, intellectually, I still have issues accepting if the Scriptures and the Churches are “wrong” on same-sex sex or relationships.

Can I be “gay” and “evangelical”? To many ears, that would be a paradox or a blunt contradiction.  I’ve heard and read many protestations from conservative Christians, but it’s from the other side where I receive the most challenge as I hold on to evangelical faith.  My social media newsfeeds feature posts from black queer scholar-activists who actively critique the Black Church–engaging its theologies–and calling for radical institutional and theological changes on behalf African-American LGBTIQ people, some of which are professing Christians who remain within mainline African-American Christian denominations.   Scholars like Darnell L. Moore, a self-identified queer scholar, lecturer, and activist, constantly challenge black queer Christians, if they are to remain within the Black Church, to not only to adopt a critical hermeneutic of suspicion against the Church’s “traditional” theologies (read: heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic, body-denying, dualistic, etc.) but also to do theology “from below”—drawing from their concrete lived experiences in engagement with “life-affirming” scriptural texts and church (and non-Christian) traditions.

Moreover, Moore also proposes that queer Christians adopt a posture of “righteous rage” against “oppressive structures that seek to kill our senses of being-in-the-world.”[i] Like many contemporary theologians, Moore understands the nature of theology as inherently contextual. Moore protests the “universalizing theology” of institutional churches that often “takes the form of imperialized God-talk” which legitimates the status quo of both church and society that subsequently mutes the voices of those marginalized from the theological discussion.[ii] Thus, universalizing theology is “violent theology” in that it denies the existence of queer people and other folks whose narratives do not align with the majority narrative; violent theology produces an “Other” which majority Christians perpetuate; for the sake of the full actualized inclusion of LGBTIQ people in the life of the churches, Moore galvanizes queer Christians to loudly engage in theologizing toward radical change.

Moore and others present a real challenge that forces me out of any sense of “neutrality.” After reading work like his, I constantly ask myself, “Who am I for?” “How can I remain within this institution and believe what my oppressors believe?” “How can I sit back and watch black LGBTIQ people despair and die (literally!) while many silently dismiss or loudly damn our existence?” These questions daily haunt me. I question whether I have deeply imbibed the self-hatred I think I’ve left behind in Atlanta. I don’t know.  At times, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to challenge my evangelical conscience, testing the limits I will go to change my mind.   Yet I keep buoying back to my central core beliefs. Admittedly, some of the way I once believed about sexuality has changed from the dualistic anthropology that I’ve imbibed in my childhood to a more monistic, integrated understanding of human nature drawing from Scripture, tradition, contemporary disciplines of psychology and philosophy. I respect the right of everyone to live according to their own self-understanding.  As far as how Christian Churches can sustain difference within not only theology but actual lives that do not fit the traditional visions of Christian sexual embodiment is the fundamental theological question of the day. African-American churches still have yet to take on this rigorous, crucial task. Many lives are counting on it.

As someone who studies Christian systematic and constructive theologies, I gained a more critical appreciation of the so-called “classics” of Christian tradition.  I’m a confessional Trinitarian who subscribes to the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  I’m a Baptist who appreciates formal printed liturgies of Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed congregations. I use the Book of Common Prayer and other prayer books in spiritual practices.   I’m a lover of Christian dogmatic theology.  Although I’m also influenced by Pentecostalism, I wholeheartedly embrace the dialogue between Pentecostal and Eastern Orthodox theologians on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Although I’m a Baptist who affirms the authority of the Scriptures, I respect and enter into dialogue with the interpretive traditions of the Churches.  Despite all of my personal appreciation of the Christian theological heritage, I am not at all oblivious to the reality of my lived experience as a member of two marginalized groups—I am both black and gay.

I think that Moore is not concerned with whether or not black LGBTIQ Christians choose to identify as “evangelical” but whether or not the “gospel” which we continue to hold dear is in fact “good news” for both the bodies and souls of black LGBTIQ folk and “all the folk.”  It’s a damn good question that I continue to struggle with as I carry on with the hustles and bustles of everyday living.  Despite my education, I don’t believe that I’m fully equipped or qualified to engage in serious critical dialogue with black queer leaders like Moore. I deeply commend Moore’s work with black LGBTIQ youth and trust that he works towards the advancement of the beloved community.  As of now, I’m not sure whether or not my theology continues the oppression that Moore seeks to obliterate. “How can two walk together unless they agree?” Hopefully, I can contribute to some sense of healing within the body of Christ.  As a minister-theologian, I attempt to read the texts of Christian Scripture theologically in order to discern the Word of God for the people of God.  I have yet to fully understand and articulate what the Word is for me—for black queer folks like me. Soon, I will—God willing.

Only time will tell.


[i] Darnell L. Moore, “A Letter to Queer Christians.” LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. [http://lgbtfaithleadersofafricandescent.com/guest-columns/guest-colmnist-donell-l-moore/a-letter-to-queer-christians/]. Retrieved Online: March 19, 2014.

[ii] Ibid.

Redeeming Sin-Talk

“Sin.” This concept is perhaps one of the most ubiquitously stated yet much debated throughout the history of Christian theology.  The Christian tradition has always proclaimed Christ Jesus as the victor over the mysterious power that binds human beings and presupposes us towards offending God and each other.  However, sin-talk has fallen on hard times these days. It’s not that contemporary North American Christians don’t have a hard time accepting the notion of sin (they do!) but not for the reasons t that some conservative Christians might think.  Christian sin-talk has influence beyond the four walls of the churches.  In fact, one would be living under a rock if they wouldn’t hear a non-religious person use the word “sin.” Lamentably, however, much Christian sin-talk has had an adverse history of effects within Western civilization. Before I get to that, let’s understand what Christians mean by “sin.”    According to The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms,

Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated ‘sin’ with many shades of meaning. Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes.  It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do what God wills, or rebellion. It needs forgiveness by God.

The dictionary defines various theological variations on the subject of sin. Individual sin is the “sin of a particular person in contrast to the corporate sin of a group of persons.”  Social sin is “the recognition that the power and effects of sin extend throughout the social fabric of a culture and have far-reaching consequences.” Structural sin is the “recognition that power of human sin affects institutions and structures of a society in pervasive ways so that the processes and actions of these entities will be influenced.”

Throughout Western Christian history, theologians and preachers have over-emphasized the reality of individual sins and the need for personal forgiveness to the near exclusion or complete denial of the reality of structural sin.    For centuries, Western Protestant theologians followed Augustine, Luther, and Calvin to expound the doctrine of original sin and how the sinful condition personally affects us. However, in the United States, rarely, if at all, did Protestant theologians speak of the structural sins of racism and sexism.  In fact, some even endorsed these as a part of God’s created order, and thus, the American social order.  Today, in many conservative churches, especially (white) evangelical and African-American churches, preachers emphasized individual sins over against social and structural sins.  Arguably, black churches will talk far more about the structural sin of racism than their white counterparts. Both groups, however, will fail to discuss other structural sins including sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, systemic poverty, militarism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and many others. Some might glorify them all based on their theological predispositions.

Because of this ongoing adverse history of effects, many people within and outside of the Churches find sin-talk (even the concept of sin) completely defile. For many victims of social oppression, Christian theologies of sin historically function to circumscribe the movement of their bodies within the social order.  Moreover, Christian sin-talk functions to legitimate the violence done to many people. Consider the highly contentious subject of homosexuality within the Churches.  Instead of listening to the stories of sexual and gender variant minority Christians, both black and white evangelical churches continue to articulate theologies that place these human bodies within psychosexual and spiritual dilemmas.  From the full demonization of LGBTIQ folk (e.g. “homosexual spirits) to the softer, yet subtly damaging “Love sin, but hate the sinner” messages from pulpits, young and old LGTIQ people struggle to the point of despair to reconcile their sexuality (a fundamental aspect of humanity) with their faith (i.e. “Why would God make me “queer” if God hates homosexuality (and so forth?).”  Not only do these discourse personally harm, but fuel social policy. Hence, the current civil rights war between some conservative religious groups and LGBTIQA people over the issue of discrimination in businesses where proprietors refuse to serve LGBTIQ people because of their religious beliefs.

In Do No Harm: Social Sin and Christian Responsibility (WJK, 2003), theologian Stephen Ray warns us of the damaging ways that Christian sin-talk perpetuates sin.   Ignoring the structural realities under which people live, Christians engage in sin-talk (while unmindful of our own sinfulness!) to not only the exclusion of “sinners”  from Christian fellowship but their very lives are called into question.  Human beings are “essentialized” as irredeemable, unlovable, and beyond the mercy of a loving God.  Therefore, Ray contends that Christian theologians, pastors, and teachers, must adopt a consequentialist approach to doing sin-talk: does our sin-talk promote life or does it cause and/or perpetuate harm?

Heeding Ray’s warnings of the dangers of sin-talk, and remembering the sobering reflections on sin and sexuality debates in the Church from Duke University feminist theologian Mary McClintock Fulkerson, I believe that Christians must refocus or “redeem” sin-talk from its sordid history and reorient the discussion to a more theological understanding rather than a moralist one.  I understand this as a movement towards reflection upon what sin is in relation to who God is rather than who we are morally.  Many evangelical approaches to evangelism start with a  so-called “four spiritual laws” model which starts from the premise of human being sinners. However, what is sin if we do not know who God is? Doesn’t the revelation of God in Christ presupposes all knowledge of our human condition?  Ironically, these approaches are more anthropocentric than they intend to be.

I’m not for removing the language of sin from the Christian theological tradition or its abandonment.  Yet for the sake of the world for whom the Lord died, I would press the Church towards advancing a more theological discourse of sin, anchoring it in the grace, majesty, and mercy of the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Also, I would also press the Church to consider its own sinful collusion in perpetuating structural sin as we discuss and preach on personal sins of folks we continue to fail to understand.  If we start from confession, repentance, and grace-filled proclamation and witness, maybe sin-talk can be a joyful discourse rather than a dreadful and often deadly one.

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