This blog entry is part of a Queer Theology synchroblog. To get more information on what a syncrhoblog is; or, specifically, on this synchroblog, see this post. Below is my response to the theme of “The Queer God”: “What does that phrase mean to you? How is your God queer? How does the queerness of God inspire, impact, etc.? If you want to you could also write about the queer Christ.” Other participants in the synchroblog are in comments below.
I should probably start this post with a confession. Several years ago, when I first became acquainted with Marcella Althau-Reid’s seminal text The Queer God, I stepped away frustrated. At one point I can remember asking myself: “Why does God have to be queer? How is this not taking one particular group and elevating them above other marginalized groups? I don’t need God to be queer for me to recognize that I am one of God’s beloved children.” Honestly, the notion of understanding God as queer was a shock to me, and to my understanding of God’s movement in the world.
Another confession: in large part, this shock stemmed from a deep-seated anxiety about my own identity – it was a fear rooted in my homophobia. Though I had already come out of the closet, there still lingered beneath my conscious thoughts the notion that God’s love was something that was not available to me. My frustration with the idea of the queer God was rooted in the fact that I did not think of myself as lovable enough to be mirrored on the face of the divine. I knew somewhat that God loved me, and that Jesus (in some form) stood in solidarity with me; but, I kind of figured that I was on a sort of lower-tier of the kingdom of God.
I’d be lying if I said my journey to believing that I am a beloved child of God was an easy one. In many ways, it’s been a knock-down-drag out match – kind of like Jacob wrestling with God, refusing to let go until God granted Jacob a blessing; only, instead it was God refusing to let me go, wrestling with me until I recognized and received the blessing that I am beloved.
In her book Gathering Those Driven Away, Wendy Farley states that “Christ wanders in solidarity with our bondage…Hungry, tired, dragging a mournful chain, he wanders among us, making visible the chains that bind us. It is like a dream image. It does not matter what the chains represent: guilt, suffering, grief, oppression, or any of the indignities with which life afflicts us. This weary man drags his chain with us – but his face is graceful, hauntingly beautiful…Christ is present in outrage, the union of divine and human in moments that have become hopeless.”(p 139)
The queer God is present in solidarity with us as we feel the weight of the world and our own sense of fear and self-doubt. The queer God allows us to recognize that we (no matter who we are) are loved and cherished by God, even when our own self-loathing threatens to keep us from doing so. For me, understanding the queerness of God allowed me to see ways in which God was moving and acting in my life, through my own understanding of self, even over and against what I’d previously understood to be true. It empowered me to see the manifold gifts people bring to the table, to see the Spirit moving all around me.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not talk about the ways in which the queer God also serves as a reminder of how far we have to go.
Theologian Mark D. Jordan states that conversations about the Body of Christ get kind of uncomfortable when talking about parts of the Body that don’t quite fit with our understandings of what the Body should look like. “The big business of theology has been to construct alternate bodies for Jesus the Christ–tidier bodies, bodies better conformed to institutional needs. I think of these artificial bodies as Jesus’ corpses, and I consider large parts of official Christology their mortuary” (Mark D. Jordan, “God’s Body,” in Queer Theology, Re-Thinking the Western Body, ed Gerard Loughlin, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p 283).
Historically, religion, theology in particular, has tended to envision Christ in terms of the main cultural assumption of what is deemed “beautiful,” and those whose appearances don’t fit with that picture: racial minorities, women, people with physical or mental disabilities, LGBTQ people, and many others have all fallen to the wayside as the church has worked to define its existence in relation to God. Because we see Christ as “holy” or “pure,” we tend to envision him along the lines of what we see as “pure” in society – a sort of a “boy-next-door” Jesus. When we envision God in this way, we constrict our understandings of God’s movement in the world – we define where and how (and through whom) God is manifest. We sell God short. We sell ourselves short.
Fourteen years ago this week, Matthew Shepard was taken from a bar, beaten within an inch of his life, and left hanging on a barbed-wire fence. He died several days later, on October 12. His crime? Being himself, refusing to hide behind expectations of how he should dress or act, who he should love. His death was a wake-up call to the realities that out queer people faced, and it has prompted hate crime legislation for crimes committed against against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation was a big step; but, it was just a step.
Last October, 19-year-old transgender woman Michele/Shelley Hilliard was murdered in Detroit. It took a few days for her body to be identified because she was badly burned, and because her torso was all that remained after the killing. I’ll say that again – her torso was all that remained after the killing. I think about her mother, having to go in and identify her child’s mutilated, burned body, and the horror that she went through in that moment when she was shown the body. This attack was brutal, and haunting . . . and it didn’t make it to the front page.
When we allow ourselves to align God only with the powerful in society, or with those who are deemed the most desirable, we write ourselves right out of the history of God’s work of redemption in the world. We hold up an idea of what we want to be, based on a faulty set of standards, at the sacrifice of who we are called to be as children of God.
The queer God calls us to see God on the face of Matthew Shepard as he waited for death, to see God on the face of Shelley Hilliard as her body was being torn apart. The queer God is unapologetic and unrestrained in holding as beloved every single living being. The queer God shocks us and amazes us because the queer God refuses to be bound by what we deem to be holy, or beautiful, or lovable. We must root ourselves in love, and in the conviction that the love that is extended to us is the love that splits the heavens open.
Easy? Not at all.
Essential? Undoubtedly, yes.
the Anarchist Reverend shares his thoughts on the Queer Christ over on the Camp Osiris blog.
Peterson Toscano shares “The Lost Gospel of Thaddeus.”
Shirley-Anne McMillan writes about Mother Christ.
Adam Rao shares why he is not participating in today’s synchroblog.
Kaya Oakes writes about God, the Father/Mother.
Brian Gerald Murphy talks about A God Bigger Than Boxes.
Clattering Bones writes about The Queer God.
Daniel Storrs-Kostakis writes writes about An Icon of God.
Jack Springald writes about Avalokitesvara and queering gender.