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Tears In God's Wineskin: A Theology of Hospitality

Part 1:  The Love That Dares Now speak its Name



The Origins of Queer Theology

Theology is a queer practise. It is a peculiar thing that runs against the grain of 21st Century materialism and globalisation, insisting that to know ourselves fully and be wholly content in the world relationship with God is a requirement. For Christian theology, relationship with the divine centres on Christ in whom and from whom, we claim, all things originate and have their being. Christian theology seeks the unknowable God who is all mystery and regarded as one yet three and follows the incarnate second person of this Trinity, who remarkably teaches people to love their enemies and that the last shall be first. We make the audacious claim that he was murdered and rose from the dead three days later, we remember him by eating his flesh and drinking his blood and we regard each other as brothers and sisters. When considered out of context, such themes that are central to Christian doctrine read as totally bizarre, so theology is indeed a very queer thing, for what is queer does not fit in with what is generally held to be normal and acceptable.

It is within the field of Queer Theology that this work is situated as a challenge to heteronormative attitudes and assumptions, a reminder that God’s working in the history of humanity is a divinely queer act of powerful love and grace, and as an encouragement to all non-heterosexuals and heterosexual friends to LGBT people that where God’s Spirit is at work in truly gracious and inclusive ways it is only the very brave and the very foolish who will deny it.

As a word, ‘queer’ has been understood as an insult aimed at those considered ‘different’, not fitting into the socially accepted patterns of interaction and behaviour. In this regard, describing theology as ‘queer’ is perhaps contradictory given that it serves the very places of gathering and worship out of which such put downs originate and where lovers of their own sex, for centuries suffered castration, banishment or being burned at the stake for their alleged crimes against God and nature. Queer people (that is, those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual) and those heterosexual and supportive have been and continue to be hounded by churches. Once punished or executed, non-heterosexuals are now considered in the Christianity of the Northern Hemisphere to be objectively disordered and in need of being re-ordered. However, ‘queer’ as a word has been transformed by non-heterosexuals to become a mark of pride rather than insult and central to cultural and social conditions where it tirelessly challenges a heteronormativity that identifies itself through rejecting what is not heterosexual.

Queer theology can be a legitimate practice and method of biblical exegesis that enables queer people to unshackle overtly heterosexually biased Christian theology. It is, and perhaps even needs to be, undisciplined, since it is a dialogue perceived as outside what is familiar and stands not entirely comfortably in its relationship with ecclesiastical and academic mainstreams, even where supported. Its strength, however, as Frederick Roden points out, “is in its use of metaphor to authorize and explain difference rather than to make accommodations between past and present” [1] It highlights the importance of location and context in formulating theology from a biblical perspective that is relevant, simultaneously questioning and implicating all Christians regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, it challenges those advantaged to receive what is generally denied to those whose gender identity or sexual orientation is deemed deviant or outside an assumed heteronormative model.

Queer theology is one of the most distinctive voices to have developed in Christian theology during recent decades, emerging from the important fields of liberation theology and Christian feminism. Liberation theology was formed initially out of compassion for the poor and disenfranchised in 1960s South America and their struggles for justice, which in turn influenced the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians and the work of scholars such as Cornel West and Dwight N. Hopkins. The term originated with the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez in 1971, who wrote one of the movement’s most well-known works, A Theology of Liberation. [2] Other notable exponents are Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, Jon Sobrino, Óscar Romero and Juan Luis Segundo. [3] While found in academic settings, liberation theology is nevertheless quintessentially rooted in community where theologians, as the Boffs point out, have “one foot in centers of study, but their other foot is in the community.” [4] It is primarily a theology of the people, undertaken by everyday people within their communities; a theology found amongst the people as it addresses the needs of the poorest in the church and occurs wherever the “people of God” gather. [5] It is rarely guided by academics or church authorities and while most theologies may have a solely theoretical facet, liberation theology is born out of practice, requiring an active participation through a cohesive living with the poor and enabling the possibility that a person may “acquire new theological sensitivity.” [6] Practitioners of liberation theology are encouraged to live in solidarity with the disenfranchised, where they can learn about the actual living conditions of the oppressed and what they endure. The Boffs go so far as to consider that no one can be a liberation theologian unless they first understand the oppression and needs of a community by living with them and sharing their commonality. In this sense, solidarity is a central facet of liberation theology, as is a biblical understanding of the origin of liberation and its components.

It is worth noting that liberation theology concentrated on issues of socio-economic liberation relating to poverty, government corruption and injustice and the consequent effects of these on the poor and disenfranchised. It showed no real interest in matters of sexual orientation, sexual identity or homosexual equality. However, with the principles of liberation theology as a foundation, the status of homosexuals legitimately represents the next step in a ‘moving forward for justice,’ for which liberation theology has consistently aimed. Previously, liberation theology has been used on behalf of African Americans, Latin Americans, and the poor in general, but its principles had rarely if ever been applied to homosexuality. However, historically homosexuals have been persecuted in many of the same ways as the other minority groups who have benefited from liberation theology in the past. The connection then, between liberation theology and queer theology, may not be an easy one but it is appropriate and wholly deserved.

Christian feminism of the 1970’s and 80’s is an aspect of feminist theology that argues for how moral, social, spiritual and leadership contributions by women are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity and is proposed by the likes of Rosemary Radford Reuther, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Mary C. Grey, Lisa Isherwood and Kathleen McPhillips. [7] Christian feminism reinterprets male-dominated imagery and language about God and proposes that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically determined characteristics such as sex and race, a theme Kathleen McPhillips develops particularly well. [8] Christian feminism includes such major issues as the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, recognition of equal spiritual and moral abilities, reproductive rights, and the search for a feminine or gender-transcendent divine. [9]

From these two important theological fields queer theology has emerged, placing the experience of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people at the heart of positive theological development. It is from within this field, I offer for consideration a paradigm of hospitality directed towards LGBT people. From a Judeo-Christian perspective hospitality is entrenched in both Old and New Testaments, calling on those who have to receive those who have not into a place of safety and provision where they can physically and spiritually thrive. It is particularly emphasised in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the reception of the stranger and the eunuch, where a powerful argument for the acceptance of LGBT people (today’s eunuchs) as a biblical imperative is provided.

Paralleling a Christian reception of LGBT people from the perspective of hospitality is the historical and biblical journey of the eunuch, from being forbidden to enter God’s temple to being fully accepted into the church, where it was not until the 4th-7th centuries that the ‘natural eunuch’ was gradually replaced with ‘sodomite’ and the gay man became viewed as a criminal worthy of death rather than as an accepted member of church and society. These two interwoven themes, I believe, bring a fresh perspective to how the church might move forward the on-going debate surrounding reception of queer people into the church and the related issue of same-sex marriage.

I want to present an alternative reflection on these issues from biblical and social perspectives that allow for a comprehensive grasp of scripture and the development of its historical understanding, while providing a practical expression of what Christian hospitality might look like for queer people, and incorporating a language of sexuality that for too long Christianity has recoiled from speaking. Many conservative Christians hold specific biblical texts to be God’s direct pronouncement of condemnation of all homosexuals, or at least of genital acts between them, regardless of whether the text itself relates to homosexuality or not. A great deal of historical biblical criticism has been written on these texts over the past decades, but I hope to provide a fresh understanding in the appendix provided and address the question of why hospitality is so important for the church, particularly at a time when, following many years of arguing from biblical text, we have not progressed significantly in either understanding or reconciliation.    

As a further note, the journey of eunuchs through the Old and New Testament reveals a biblical practice of matter-of-fact acceptance that lasted well into the early church, but which was eventually stamped out by the established church and utterly denied. Nevertheless, from God’s ‘no’ (Deut.21), to his ‘yes’ (Isa.46), affirmed by Christ’s speaking of man-made eunuchs (castrated men) and natural eunuchs (gay men) as being a simple fact of life (Mt.18) and the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy through Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) we must allow for the very real possibility that where someone or something is perceived to have been banned by God, they or it may yet be accepted and embraced as a reflection of the work of the moving, potent Spirit of God.



[1] Frederick Roden, Jewish/Christian/Queer: Crossroads and Identities (Surrey, England and Burlington VT, USA: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2009), p.7.

[2] Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, (First Spanish edition published in Lima, Peru, 1971, first English edition published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1973).

[3] See: Leonard and Clodovis Boff, Salvation and Liberation: In Search of a balance Between Faith and Politics (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1984); Introducing Liberation Theology, Paul Burns [trans.] (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1987). Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991) and its sequel, Christ the Liberator (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001); No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic Utopian Essays (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008). Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985); The Violence of Love (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004); Juan Luis Segundo A Theology for Artisans of a New Humanity, in 5 vols., John Drury [trans] (Eugene, Or: WIFP and Stock Publishers, 1973–74); The Liberation of Dogma: Faith, Revelation and Dogmatic Teaching Authority (Eugene, Or: WIFP and Stock Publishers, 2004).

[4] Leonardo and Clovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, Paul Burns [trans.] (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1987), p.19.

[5] Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, p.20.

[6] Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, p.23.

[7] Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1993); Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005). Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Bread Not stone The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1986); Discipleship of Equals: A Critical Feminist Ekklesialogy of Liberation (New York: Crossroad, 1993); The Transforming Vision: Explorations in Feminist The*logy (Minneapolis, MA: Fortress Press, 2011). Mary C. Grey, Introducing Feminist Images of God (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001); Redeeming the Dream: Feminism, Redemption and Christian Tradition (London: SPCK Publishing, 1989). Lisa Isherwood, The Fat Jesus: Feminist Explorations in Boundaries and Transgressions (London: Dartman Longman and Todd Ltd, 2008); Introducing Feminist Christologies: Introductions in Feminist Theology (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2002). Kathleen McPhillips, Theme: Feminisms, Religions, Cultures, Identities, in Australian Feminist Studies (Vol.14, 30 Oct 1999); De-Colonizing the Sacred: Feminist Proposals for a Post-Christian, Post Patriarchal Sacred, in Post Christian Feminisms: A Critical Approach (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2008).

[8] Kathleen McPhillips, Theme: Feminisms, Religions, Cultures, Identities in Australian Feminist Studies (Vol.14, 30 Oct 1999) pp. 255–58.

[9] See particularly Jenny Daggers, Working for Change in the Position of Women in the Church: Christian Women’s Information and Resources (CWIRES) and the British Christian Women’s Movement, 1972-1990, in Feminist Theology (Vol.9 [26] January 2001), p.44–69; Dorothe McEwan, The Future of Christian Feminist Theologies As I Sense It: Musings on the Effects of Historiography and Space, in Feminist Theology Vol.8 [22], September 1999), p.79–92; Esther Mclntosh, The Possibility of a Gender-transcendent God: Taking MacMurray Forward, in Feminist Theology (Vol.15 [2] January 2007), pp.236–55; Wioleta Polinska, In Woman’s Image: An Iconography for God, in Feminist (Theology Vol.13 [1] September 2004), pp.40–61; Edward L. Kessel, A Proposed Biological Interpretation of the Virgin Birth, in Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation Vol.35, 1983), pp.129–36.