Two Books Reviews of Queer Theology

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Stuart’s Gay and Lesbian Theologies does a nice of job of mapping out the field of gay, lesbian, and queer theology. Using the schematization of Rieger she breaks up 20th century theology into four separate movements: liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, liberation theology, and postmodern theology. While the layout is somewhat helpful, I can’t help but thinking that grouping post-liberal theology, radical orthodoxy, and deconstructive theology (e.g. Mark C Taylor’s a/theology) all under the rubric of postmodern theology is a tad forced and clumsy. Those three separate theological movements hardly share anything in common. Stuart argues that gay and lesbian theologies have either relied on the methodology of liberal theology or liberation theology. She critiques certain gay theologians who have relied on liberal theology for failing to embrace the critiques of gender essentialism and identity by Foucault and Butler. Halfway through the book she declares that gay and lesbian theologies have failed because they did not have the adequate theological means to respond the question of theodicy, a question raised in those communities by the AIDS crisis. In turn, she offers reflections on recent works of queer theology including the indecent theology of Althaus-Reid along with the queer theology of Goss. Ultimately, I’d recommend Stuart’s work for clearly laying out the history of queer theology, although I didn’t find her proposals (e.g. emphasizing the importance of baptism for queer identity) to be all that compelling.

This leads me the offer some reflections on Goss’s seminal work Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto. First off, the book is written in a sprit of prophetic anger. Goss opens up his book using Foucault’s work in the History of Sexuality Vol I to discuss the emergency of the category of the ‘homosexual’ in public discourse along with the medicalization of homosexuality in psychiatry. Next he discusses the history of gay and lesbian rights along with the homophobia of American politics and churches. Goss focuses especially on the AIDS crisis and the willful neglect of the government to adequately address the pandemic. Religiously he takes aim at the Religious Right and the Catholic Church for the vitriol and lies they have propagated about homosexuals. In chapter 3 Goss explores the possibility of the queer Christ as liberator. He critiques typical Christology for de-politicizing Jesus’ ministry along with Christian theology for importing Hellenic metaphysics into Christian theology. The active God of justice and love in the Bible was soon distorted into the apathetic and unchanging God of Greek metaphysics according to Goss. Perhaps my favorite part of this book was his discussion of Jesus’ basileia practice. He does a superb job of situating Jesus’ ministry as one wholly focused on the liberation of the oppressed in accordance with God’s imminent reign. At the end of the chapter he re-thinks the possibility of seeing Christ as queer-bashed.

“The cross has terrorized gay men and lesbians. It has become a symbol of lethal sexual oppression, but Jesus’ death shapes the cross into a symbol of struggle for queer liberation” (Goss, Jesus Acted Up, 83).

“Jesus the Christ is “queer-based”…Jesus the queer Christ is crucified repeatedly by homophobic violence. The aim of God’s practice of solidarity and justice-doing and our own queer Christian practice is to bring and end to the crucifixions in this world” (85).

The next two chapters discuss hermeneutics and the queer base communities and its relation to ecclesiology. In the last major chapter on sexual justice Goss makes use of Jesus’ clearing of the Temple as a model for queer Christians to emulate in their political actions towards American churches. Here the reader experiences the urgency and sincerity of Goss’s call for a liberating queer political praxis. Goss calls for gays and lesbians to rid American churches of the homophobia that have poisoned and corrupted the gospel. One of the major strengths of this work is Goss’s critique of gay and lesbian communities. He criticizes the misogyny of many gay men and the separatism of lesbians. He also implores gays and lesbians to become more aware of the other struggles for racial equality, economic distribution, and ecological issues. While some critique liberation theologians for failing to acknowledge the sin of the oppressed, Goss takes dead aim at the problems inherent to the gay and lesbian community.

There are two major weaknesses of this work. First, I felt that his unilateral rejection of the tradition for being too enslaved to Greek philosophy is a bit simplistic. Certainly there are queer elements to be found there along with a reading of the atonement theory that might in fact be of political use to Goss’s queer theology. Secondly, his section on queer hermeneutics was weak. He challenges the supposed ‘texts of terror’ that supposedly condemn homosexuality. He bulldozes over these facile interpretations, but then he fails to search for homoerotic affirming material in the Bible.

Reflecting back on Goss’s Jesus Acted Up (which I’d strongly recommend), I began thinking about how it differed from Althaus-Reid’s indecent theology. Whereas Goss’s queer theology primarily criticizes the American church and homophobic theology at large, Althaus-Reid explicitly critiques the heterosexist theology of liberation theology. Goss remains confident that Jesus’ basileia practice is an inspiring political paradigm, but Althaus-Reid is more suspect. Goss was content to contexualize the queer Christ whereas Althaus-Reid wanted to genderfuck the Godhead.

Finally, after reading Goss’s book I can’t help but wondering how people sympathetic to liberation theology are often reticent to discuss the importance of incorporating gays and lesbians in the fight against oppression. They somehow find comfort talking about Jesus’ siding with the oppressed and prostitutes but God forbid that include gays or lesbians.

With regards to queer theology I wish there was more coming out (no pun intended) these days. Althaus-Reid’s untimely, premature death was certainly a tragedy for the field. I think there’s a lot of interesting work being done in queer Biblical studies. Next year I’m going to be doing some readings in Christology including one book by Bohache called Christology from the Margins, which is supposed to be a solid work on queer Christology. Anyway now I return to Barth’s Dogmatics which I’ve been neglecting for quite some time.

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One Response to “Two Books Reviews of Queer Theology”

  1. Tom Ryan Says:

    Just discovered your site and it seems really interesting. Looking forward to coming back for more. Thank you.

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