Last Thursday, I spent a fascinating evening in London, for an One Body One Faith meeting with Rev Liz Edman, author of “Queer Virtue”. I came away with a copy of the book which I will review later. For now, I just want to share some thoughts on the evening’s discussion, and the very concept of “queer virtue”.
The timing of this talk was interesting for me personally. A major part of Rev Edman’s argument was that Christianity, like queerness, is inherently “scandalous”, and should not aim to be “respectable”. (See for example Rev Peter J Gomes book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”, in similar vein). Earlier yesterday, travelling up to London for the meeting, I had begun reading a special edition of the journal “Theology and Sexuality” which is devoted to the topic “Queering Theology’s Object”. Right up front, early in the introductory editorial, I had read a quotation from Lisa Isherwood and Marcella Althaus-Reid (in “Thinking Theology”) which left me well primed for the meeting:
Queer theology takes it place not at the centre of the theological discourses conversing with power, but at the margins. It is a theology from the margins that wants to remain at the margins. To recognize sexual discrimination in the church and in theological thinking… does not mean that a theology from the margins should strive for equality. Terrible is the fate of theologies from the margin when they want to be accepted by the centre.
That of course is referring to queer theology in particular, but Edman was proposing the principle as equally applicable to both Christianity in general, and to queerness. In support of her claim, she noted that the Gospel story begins with a pregnant unmarried mother-to-be, accompanied by a man who is not her husband, finding shelter in a stable. Throughout his ministry, Jesus consistently associated with and reached out to people on the margins, and in his death on the cross, he disrupted all conventional ideas of how power works.
Explaining the meaning and significance of the word “queer”, Edman noted that it can be both a noun and a verb. Drawing on secular queer theory, she defined it in terms of the verb: to “queer” is to rupture false gender/sexual binaries. Further, queer virtue she suggested, requires us to undergo a period of intense self-reflection to accept and own our identity, to proclaim it, and to reach out to others. Christians have the same responsibility.
Christ himself made no attempt at respectability and was constantly disrupting false binaries, for example between the divine and the human in his own nature, in his dealings with women and the ritually unclean, and in his ministry (for example, with the story of the Good Samaritan). For us as followers of Christ, we too are required to be constantly disrupting false binaries (For example, we have Paul, writing to the Galatians, that in Christ there is no longer male or female). The biggest binary in need of disruption, is that between the self, and others.
The lesson for us, therefore, is that theology that is good for the queers, will be likewise good for the church. To be truly authentic, Christianity must be “queer” (in the broadest sense of the word). Disruption of false binaries will be good for the queers, good for the church – and good for the world. Queerness becomes then a lens to interpret theology, and the world. Coming out can be powerful tool for Christian evangelism.