Queer Theology

I will understand if this gets bumped to Epiphanies, although I think it best discussed here, since it concerns a theological point of view which is a live issue within certain sections of the C of E but has received, to my knowledge, little to no public airing.

I admit to starting from a position of some prejudice against queer theology (QT), and not a lot of knowledge, although I have made some attempt to understand it and do want to understand it. My initial problems are:

What little I have read of it is not easy to understand. My (gay) curate admitted that Judith Butler would be hard (I know she’s not a Theologian and SFAIK not religious at all – but still influential). His favourite is Marcella Althaus-Reid, who is as influential as any in the QT movement, and I found her also too academic. Not a good communicator to laypeople, but I have no reason to think she was writing to the likes of me, rather than other academics. I do react against academic prose, as I’ve always seen it as a bit of intimidation – to make me feel inferior at not being able to follow the arguments of an writer who is fêted by the Academy. Think chip and shoulder.

Also, I am uneasy about it’s foundations. M A-R self identifies as Marxist and Materialist and I am neither of these, and don’t see how they fit into a Christian world view. Then there seems to be a lot of dependence on certain writers, particularly Michel Foucault, whose work I profoundly disagree with, at so many levels.

Where I can see the power of it is in its emphasis on the marginalised, which is a genuinely christian attitude. And also on the very rigid thinking of a lot of christians, which often does put prudence and moral decency according to established norms above a genuine interaction with the marginalised. It would require a heroic acceptance of cognitive dissonance to claim that the Church as a whole acts for the marginalised.

One major difference appears to be between reaching out to the marginalised in order to integrate them, and accepting the marginalised and there lifestyles and valid with no reason to change to accept existing norms. But I do realise I may be talking bollocks.

So two initial questions:
1. I would appreciate a recommendation for a book on QT which is accessible to the general reader. Or just explain it, if “it” is a single idea as opposed to a wide range of views.
2. I’m I right or wrong to think that QT spring out of Liberation Theology and is intrinsically Marxist. A bit like does accepting Christianity presuppose Judaism. Does Queer Theology presuppose Marxism (which I realise is itself a word covering a wide range of thought).
That would do for a start.


  • I am also interested. Can anyone recommend any articles too, as a way in?
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    Here are some links / pointers that may be useful:

    The Queer Theology (online) community, who have a lot of material on their website.

    An accessible book: Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith by Mihee Kim-Kort, which I recommend.

    An academic article that is open access, if that is what you are looking for @Simon Toad

  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    I've asked Admin to move this to Epiphanies.

    B62 Purg Host
  • Cheers Cameron. I'll give it a squizz.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Thanks for the recommendation. I will keep quiet until I have read the book. I couldn't access the article but for now I prefer less academic sources.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited March 2020
    My favourite author on the subject, and the one through whose work I learned to receive my own sexuality, is Michael Arditti. The two books that affected me most were The Celibate and Easter. Neither is stinting in its depiction of sex, but both put sexuality into a sacramental context. Jim Cotter formed my faith and my sexuality together. He died a few years ago now, and I'm sure his work is regarded as something of a late-20th century museum piece, but it is beautiful in its attention to the vulnerability inherent in sexuality, and the capacity of the body to reveal the presence of God in the world. His particular route into this is homosexuality and the existential crisis of AIDS, but there are lessons for us all, for all time.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Well that takes me back a bit, but fair enough. I have read Easter, and Jubilate, and I think he's a stunningly good writer. But there's an element of homosexual misogyny as well as extreme objectification of bodies running through his books, which give his portrayal of gay life a downbeat image (Jubilate is about straight sex).

    The best gay writer I have read is Adam Mars Jones with Monopolies of Loss. His later works, one just published, are too explicit for me. I don't take to erotica at the best of times, and gay erotica leaves me cold. Not all that surprising.
  • Yeah, I am looking for a more academic approach. I just assume that all parts of the Bible are heavily enculturated, and you need to "peel back" the cultural layers to identify the universal law of love. "Peeling back" is probably wrong. We have our own cultural filters, and we have different capacities to identify those.

    I've never had much doubt that absolutely everybody is loved and wanted by God, no matter what. That might well reflect my own security within my family from childhood, but who knows. My parents wore their faith lightly, so I don't have much baggage in terms of living and thinking "correctly".

    However I am always interested in stuff that might represent a new approach, or further development of an approach I'm familiar with.

    That article Cameron linked wasn't accessible to me, but looked good from the abstract. Is there another way in, or should I just cough up the dosh?

  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    edited March 2020
    Sorry @Simon Toad - that article showed up as open access because I was logged on to a uni system. I certainly wouldn’t pay for it! Give me a day or two and I’ll see if that or a similar resource is available via an open repository.
  • You could try searching CORE on the relevant keywords.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited March 2020
    Anteater wrote: »
    Well that takes me back a bit, but fair enough. I have read Easter, and Jubilate, and I think he's a stunningly good writer. But there's an element of homosexual misogyny as well as extreme objectification of bodies running through his books, which give his portrayal of gay life a downbeat image (Jubilate is about straight sex).

    Indeed. To a fair extent, my position is a creature of its time, which in terms of its creation was the mid-1990s. Perhaps I need to open up to some more recent thinking, but I am not intending to abandon the insights I already have.

    I'm not quite sure what you mean about misogyny, but then perhaps I'm exposing my own unconscious bias, or the fact that it's been a while since I read either.

    I suspect there are two reasons for letting sleeping dogs lie in this respect. First, my faith has long been my main counterbalance to a pronounced tendency to overthink everything. [edited by admin]
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    I'm not sure exactly what "queer theology" is.

    The best theologian I know who is gay, and indeed one of the most readable theologians I've ever come across in my limited theological reading, is James Alison.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    You could try searching CORE on the relevant keywords.

    What a brilliantly useful resource, @Doublethink - thank you!

    @Simon Toad this Editorial introduction to a journal special issue on QT includes (from page 4 onwards) ‘a selective history of queer theology, which may be the kind of thing you are looking for.

  • I think it may well. Thanks very much for your help on this Cameron, I really appreciate it.
  • I can't discuss theology and God without explicit reference to my own experience. Seeking to understand God in a systematic way strikes me as seeking to understand God out of God's context. Because for us, God's context can only be within or with or in relationship with us and the totality of creation. I also react against the implicit idea that God can be explained or contained in the name systematic theology. I can only use my experience because that is all I have.

    I was struck by this paragraph at the start of the article "The Continuing Relevance of Queer Theology" in Cameron's link above:
    From our perspective, a queer theology—whatever shape it is to take going forward—should be particularly attentive to the ways in which we determine Christian or religious identity in relation to structures of oppression, especially those within churches and mainstream theology. To do so, we must honestly ask ourselves who it is today that has unique insight into the conditions of living on the margins. Who is it among us that is truly attuned to an existence of ‘non-normative’ status, in which their very bodies bear the condition of marginality, especially as such an existence demands discarding long-established preconceived notions about social and bodily relations. We assert that queer theology has a responsibility to such forms of existence. This responsibility demands that we offer insights which contain the potential to actually assist Christians in embracing the ‘narrow path’ that leads to their own salvation—whatever such a path may or may not be.

    The special status that is claimed for insights from the margins resonates with me, and this chimes with Anteater's OP too. I was very much not of the margins as a young man, or so I thought. It wasn't until I experienced the full blast of psychosis and came to be with others who had also experienced it, that I began to even see the margins. I had all the required liberal values, but they were empty in the face of suffering. In this way my psychosis, my mental illness was a gift, but only because I survived. And it was very much my privilege that allowed me to survive. The privilege I have is the love, help and resources of my family and friends and most of all my wife. In 2020, my mental illness is largely integrated with my ordinary life, but because I was eventually drawn to work with people with disabilities, I am still looking at the margins.

    But my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvelous for me (Ps. 131). Before I went mad, I was focused on great achievements. I wanted to progress the grand and liberal story of the law in my field. But what I actually did wasn't really about that. I was out of place. Now, I am tempted to look at the bigger picture, but I turn away from it. Now my task is to do nothing more than to love those in front of me. Being with five marginalized people, attending to their physical needs and being present for them in equal friendship if I can is all that I want. If equal friendship is not possible, and with some I can't find the way, then at least I can offer comfort, routine and safety.

    I love Paul's metaphor of the body of Christ. I'm perhaps a fingernail, and happier for it. Let others be in their part, including those systematic theologians whose work I probably misunderstand.

    The article is a scene setter, an introduction to a book. In time, I'd like to read more.

    One personal reaction I found interesting in this was a note of anxiety around my sexual response to the subject matter, even though it was exceedingly dry and academic. I think it is a fear of developing further my bisexuality (if that's what it is). It reminds me of the fear mixed with a sexual response when I meet someone I am attracted to. I think it is a fear of acting on that attraction, and the betrayal of my wife as well as the hurt I would inflict on her. That is what I fear. I fear it intensely because I know that if I become manic and don't realise it, I act on my desires. Thank God that has not happened in 20 years.

  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    @Simon Toad

    IANAD - neither am I a therapist - but I have some personal experience of mental health issues, and I am sorry for your pain and confusion.

    But I also have to say, just on the basis of my personal experience, it is probably not helpful to study something that is fuelling anxiety. It reminds me of some bad times I had, when my anxiety would find some issue to latch on to and then not let it go, however irrelevant it may have been to my ‘real’ situation. It was a misleading focus and not the causal issue at all.

    You have no reason to continue with this study if it is distressing you, especially when it seems you have some alternate and really helpful foci in your life. Sometimes the answer to unexpected feelings we have (which do not have to mean anything essential) is just to acknowledge them and let them go. I am sorry if the article has instead increased your anxiety - I did not understand the significance of your interest.

    Your thoughts and experience of marginality are really interesting, so I am really sorry if this comes over as patronising and/or just way off the mark.

  • @Cameron

    not at all. The anxiety was mild. I'm focusing on my bodily responses as a discipline to try and understand myself more and help to control my anxiety in other contexts. I was more curious about my response and exploring what it meant than distressed.

    I think the sentence in my post should read "I feel it more intensely...". I think without the 'more' I'm overstating things.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited March 2020
    I am really sorry I put that last paragraph in. I am such an over-sharer. To be clear, I'm sorry because it was unnecessary.
  • Hey, don't forget no-one knows who you are :smile: I blew up, but not as dramatically as you - I wanted to progress and be recognised in my field, and all that. And I also get a lot out of the volunteering I do with a fairly 'marginalised' group (how much shit would they give me if they knew of that description!); more than I put in, though it took some years for me to realise it, and not in any airy-fairy spiritual way but just as in basic friendship, and a laugh.

    I have no chance with academic theology of any description, queer or otherwise. I'm not clever anymore. I wonder if 'queer theology' is something like the 'Christian Motorcyclists Association' or maybe of as little vanity as the 'women's craft circle' or the 'men's bible group'. Well, the good thing is, that no-one needs to worry about my opinion, because it doesn't matter! :smiley:
  • amen to the first para Mark. And amen to the second too. I reckon we all have our callings, and yours and mine is praxis praxis praxis.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    Praxis makes perfect? :wink:
  • lol
  • @Simon Toad wrote: It reminds me of the fear mixed with a sexual response when I meet someone I am attracted to. I think it is a fear of acting on that attraction, and the betrayal of my wife as well as the hurt I would inflict on her.

    This names something for me that I've never spoken of. It terrifies me when I meet someone I find attractive (for the reasons you said), and too often my response is to avoid them! The exception for me might be work, where I have been mostly successful in putting on my 'work head'.

  • venbedevenbede Shipmate
    I came accross Elizabeth Stuart's Gay and Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions with Critical Difference at the London bookshop Gay's the Word when it first came out in 2002 and was taken with it. She uses the term Queer Theology and I found the bits I could understand inspiring. I'm sure a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but I've just being getting on living my life.

    Bits of James Alison are very good, but I found The Joy of Being Wrong unreadable.
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