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Tears In God's Wineskin: A Theology of Hospitality

Part 1:  The Love that Dares Now Speak it's Name


A Minority Variant

 The official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church says that homosexual orientation is not bad in itself, but that homosexual genital acts are intrinsically evil and therefore anyone who identifies as homosexual has an objectively disordered condition. This to me sounds much the same as telling a woman that she is fine to be pregnant but she must not give birth. Catholic priests are instructed to love gay people while insisting that gay people are not allowed to act upon their natural feelings, which is a stance similar to the evangelical position of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ and presents a logical fallacy. In order to maintain that a homosexual act is intrinsically evil, the condition itself must be categorized as intrinsically disordered. However, if the so called ‘condition’ is acceptable, then all and any acts resulting from the condition should also be regarded as acceptable. The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are caught in a ridiculous paradox without any recognition of the need to redress their unreasonable position.  

Over the last 50 or 60 years, science and psychology have uncovered growing evidence that being gay is merely a 'non-pathological, regularly occurring minority variant' in the human condition, a term recently coined by James Alison.   In other words, science is telling us that rather than being a disorder, homosexual orientation is part of the normal spectrum of variation within human diversity. Alison argues that such scientific revelations are part of the unfolding natural law that challenges negative attitudes and beliefs and the basis for official Church teaching, that being gay is 'an objective disorder'. Increasing evidence suggests that growing numbers of Roman Catholic priests realize that being gay is a non-pathological minority variant of the human condition but cannot say so, because they are also of the opinion that the scripture is clear that the act is evil.

It is Elizabeth Stuart who brilliantly, albeit with irony, uses the allegory of a football match to summarize perfectly the current battle faced by the LGBT community when theology has for so long been predominantly written and discussed by white, middle aged, male heterosexual theologians:

“Those of us who are lesbian, gay or bisexual have sat on the sidelines watching scholars tackling each other for the ball of our lives. When the fundamentalist gets hold of it he kicks it into the goal marked, ‘perversion deliberately chosen, explicitly condemned by God’s word, get cured or get out of the church.’ When the conservative gets hold of it he kicks it into the goal marked ‘not deliberately chosen, probably born that way, but activity still condemned by God’s word – it is OK to be it, not OK to engage in genital acts.’ The angst-ridden liberal kicks the ball back and forwards, up and down the pitch; finally he stands in the middle and declares that, whereas scripture and tradition undoubtedly condemn homosexual acts, they did not know as much about homosexuality as we do today; so although the Church has a duty to uphold the idea of heterosexual marriage, because that is what scripture and tradition do, homosexual relationships might be looked upon as falling short of this ideal but not sinful as such because they can’t help it. He then scuttles off the pitch before the crowd and the players can get him. The radical bounces the ball up and down on his head, doing amazing tricks whilst he explains: ‘Yes, marriage is the ideal, but lesbian and gay people are perfectly capable of marriage.’ . . . He awaits the adoration of the crowd but the only sounds are of splatters of rage coming out of the fundamentalist and the conservative, and the anxious perspiring of the liberal in the changing room. He turns to the crowd: ‘What do you want, then?’ he shouts in exasperation. And with one voice the answer booms: ‘Can we have our ball back please?’” [1]

Stuart points out simply that LGBT people are “tired of Christian people kicking around the ball of our lives” and not surprisingly are now claiming the right to do theology for themselves about who and what they are.

Queer Christians need to be allowed to reclaim a participation in Christianity and be enabled to detail their experiences as gay and lesbian Christians while the queer community needs liberation from a heterosexism that is ingrained in Christian theology. Traditionally, Christianity has always been a patriarchal and heterosexual institution, but in refusing to accept the unwritten rule that one must follow the ideals of men and all people must be heterosexual, queer people are challenging the patriarchal and heterosexist culture of Christianity. They are reclaiming Christian theology for themselves using liberation theology and Christian feminism as models for creating a queer theology and just as liberation and feminist theologies propose the release of exploited people from their oppressors, arguing biblical principles of liberation from misrepresentation, economic and social oppression, so queer theology presents a case for the release of oppressed minorities from heterosexist oppression and misrepresentation.

Heterosexism is an ideological system that disparages, denies and stigmatizes non-heterosexual behaviours, identity, relationships and community and as a term it more truthfully expresses societal reasons behind the prejudice LGBT people encounter individually, and as a community, than ‘homophobia.’ Certainly homophobia has less to do with fear than with hatred and condemnation based upon ignorance, as a poster I recently saw on the Internet crudely but aptly reminded its readers, quoting the actor Morgan Freeman: “I hate the word ‘homophobia.’ It’s not a phobia, you are not scared, you are an asshole.” The point being that, were it not for heteronormativity being ingrained as the only acceptable and ‘natural’ form of societal living, there would be no homophobia, nor fear of any same-sex attraction. Queer theology challenges the existing boundaries of sexuality and gender identity, questioning traditionally held views that such things are fixed concepts or are by nature essentialist. Instead, they are considered to be social constructions that are culturally established as the norm and thus not immune to being challenged.

Central to queer theology is radical love, as Patrick Cheng asserts, [2] where belief is held in a God who dissolves the boundaries between death and life, time and eternity, human and divine. Love is regarded as patient and kind, premised upon safe, stable and consensual behaviour while non-consensual behaviour, exploitation and abuse are considered outside love and requiring exclusion. Within a framework of love, modern contextual Christology could profit from a communicated Christology that is located socially in the realm of sexual orientation. Queer people familiar with a Judeo-Christian tradition frequently express revulsion towards Christians, the church and Jesus Christ, effectually developing a ‘christophobia,’ a term coined by Thomas Bohache, which is in response to generations of heterosexist religion, oppression and relentless homophobic religious gay-bashing rooted in centuries of hetero-patriarchal biblical translation and a pronounced heterosexism. Many queer people simply cannot envisage the possibility of seeking knowledge of or relationship with Jesus Christ and view him merely as a figurehead for what is a hateful, prejudiced, intolerant people.

Bohache suggests that where christophobia can be recognized and understood for what it is, queer people can begin to allow themselves access to that part of their own self from which they have been separated by heterosexism. [3] He calls this separated part of the self ‘divine anointedness’ and considers it to be the very presence of Christ. In re-examining the spiritual landscape from a position of rediscovering this divine anointedness the Queer Christ, who empowers queer consciousness, can be found. Beginning with Mary of Nazareth, who bore Christ, Bohache examines the accounts of the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity in order to demonstrate how modern-day queer Christians might conceive and birth Christ in their own bodies, even their sexualities, as did Mary herself. Once this Christ presence is acknowledged and claimed by queer people, it effectively ‘queers’ whatever it touches, altering hetero-patriarchal traditions and changing hetero-normative assumptions that have stood for so long unchallenged. Ultimately, this Christ presence enables queer Christians to reclaim their position in church and society as truly queer anointed.

In a similar vein, Tina Beattie explores the particular heterosexualisation and domestication of Mary within Christian history and suggests how a critical rereading of the text concerning Mary as both mother and (as the New Eve) the Bride of Christ, reveals the queerness of an immortality that is not defined through offspring but through eternity in Christ. Jesus is simultaneously son, brother, bridegroom and Lord to Mary and, according to Beattie, such paradoxes enable the believer to transcend rational dialogue and enter into the “poetics of devotion and prayer, through the expression of forbidden desire.” [4]

Such thinking follows in the wake of Luce Irigaray’s work, who has proposed an alternative understanding of the incarnation, one that is viewed as diverse rather than unique; one that recognises Christ’s divinity in his specificity of embodiment within the Jewish race and as a man but also concedes he did not encompass all embodiments, races or sexualities. Therefore, since Jesus, as embodiment of the divine, was one single man and not the whole of humanity, there is room for other embodiments, other incarnations and other sexualities. Irigaray stresses that, “God forces us to do nothing except become. The only task, the only obligation laid upon us is: to become divine men and women, to become perfectly, to refuse to allow parts of ourselves to shrivel and die that have the potential for growth and fulfilment.” [5]

Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher in the Aristotelian tradition, comments on the impossibility of giving a general account of moral action that can be encapsulated in a set of laws simply because rules cannot be sufficiently detailed to accommodate all situations. [6] She states, “Rules are authoritative only insofar as they are correct; but they are correct only insofar as they do not err with regard to the particulars. And it is not possible for a simple universal formulation intended to cover many different particulars to achieve a high degree of correctness.” [7] In short, rules do not precede practical experience and understanding, but rather are subject to them, since rules are basically only prima facie obligations. [8] However, Nussbaum commends the (literal) rule used by the builders at ancient Lesbos as summarising her vision of rules in ethics. The Lesbian Rule “does not assume that the form of the rule governs the appearances; it allows the appearances to govern themselves and to be normative for correctness of rule.” [9] The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Lesbian rule as, ‘a mason’s rule made of lead, which could be bent to fit the curves of a moulding’, and so, figuratively, ‘a principle of judgement that is pliant and accommodating.’ Aristotle refers to a flexible lead ruler used in the measuring and fitting of irregular or curved stone where a straight ruler would be useless in such an aspect of building and regards it as a simile for careful ethical reflection. [10]

The theme of the lesbian rule is picked up by Grace Jantzen in her paper, Contours of a Queer Theology, [11] where she points out that much of our theology is like stone blocks that have been meticulously quarried, with all the “odd angles and protrusions carefully chipped away so that the doctrines can be piled up, one fitting neatly on another, with square corners and straight sides, into a building of Christendom within which the divine can be contained.” [12] She suggests that we might instead consider releasing ourselves from our “straight prisons” and use “a measurement of beauty in our theological construction.” [13]

In theology, for centuries an understanding of God as Father and the law of the Father has underwritten orthodoxy, serving as the straight rule by which deviance is measured and defined as anathema and therefore unacceptable. Jantzen proposes “to open some possibilities for discussion for a theology that starts from the lesbian rule, rejecting the straight and narrow edifice of Christendom as it has confined us, without reverting to reductionist secularism.” [14] She confirms that the appeal of the lesbian rule is, “though flexible, it is still a device for measurement. Not just anything goes. A pile of any old stones, curved or straight, is not a column nor a thing of beauty,” but we need to be careful when measuring the contours of queer theology and considering the criteria needed, since, “Talk of criteria can all too easily be a way of taking up the rigid measurements after all, and before we know it we are back inside the confinements of straight and narrow Christendom, business as usual.”

Some of the early queer theorists are steadily moving away from queer terminology because it has become too closely associated with normative and identity-based strategies. Gerard Loughlin observes, however, that theology moves rather more slowly and so is effectively creating its own possibilities. He sees a parallel between a queer ‘identity without an essence’ and what some theologians, as far back as Thomas Aquinas, would refer to as ‘the name of God,’ and reflecting on this he asserts that, “the term [queer] – and its deployment – is less well known in theology, and so it is still possible that this positionality, this distancing or divergence from what is held as normative, will serve to destabilize and undo that normativity: the surety of heteropatriarchal Christianity.” [15] Theological ideas and concepts today do, of course, form and develop slowly and while this may be frustrating for queer theologians it does enable substantial ideas, however controversial they may be, to be carefully considered rather than dismissed without a hearing.




[1] Elizabeth Stuart, Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (London: Mowbray, 1995) pp.1-2.

[2] Patrick Cheng, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (New York: Seabury Books, 2011), Introduction.


[3] Thomas Bohache, Embodiment as Incarnation: An Incipient Queer Christology, in Theology and Sexuality (Sep 2003, Vol.10 Issue 1), p.9-29.

[4] Tina Beattie, Queen of Heaven, in Loughlin [ed.], Queer Theology, pp.293-304.

[5] Luce Irigaray, Divine Women, in Sexes and Genealogies, G.C. Gill [trans.], (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p.68.

[6] Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.302-4.

[7] Nussbaum, Fragility, p.301: cf. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p.69, where ‘principles’ replace ‘rules’ in the same quotation.

[8] Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge, p.156.

[9] Nussbaum, Fragility, p.301.

[10] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics (Vol.5: 10), W.D. Ross [trans.], Available online at: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.5.v.html

[11] Grace Jantzen Contours of a Queer Theology, in Literature and Theology (Vol.15:3, 2001), p.276-85.

[12] Jantzen Contours of a Queer Theology, p.277.

[13] Jantzen Contours of a Queer Theology, p.278.

[14] Jantzen Contours of a Queer Theology, p.280.

[15] Gerard Loughlin, Introduction, in Gerard Loughlin [ed.], Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), pp.9-10.