Queer Christianities

Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms

Kathleen T. Talvacchia
Michael F. Pettinger
Mark Larrimore
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Queer Christianities
    Book Description:

    Queerness and Christianity, often depicted as mutually exclusive, both challenge received notions of the good and the natural. Nowhere is this challenge more visible than in the identities, faiths, and communities that queer Christians have long been creating. As Christians they have staked a claim for a Christianity that is true to their self-understandings. How do queer-identified persons understand their religious lives? And in what ways do the lived experiences of queer Christians respond to traditions and reshape them in contemporary practice?

    Queer Christianitiesintegrates the perspectives of queer theory, religious studies, and Christian theology into a lively conversation-both transgressive and traditional-about the fundamental questions surrounding the lives of queer Christians. The volume contributes to the emerging scholarly discussion on queer religious experiences as lived both within communities of Christian confession, as well as outside of these established communities.

    Organized around traditional Christian states of life-celibacy, matrimony, and what is here provocatively conceptualized as promiscuity-this work reflects the ways in which queer Christians continually reconstruct and multiply the forms these states of life take.

    Queer Christianitieschallenges received ideas about sexuality and religion, yet remains true to Christian self-understandings that are open to further enquiry and to further queerness.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1912-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book explores the living worlds of queer Christianities.

    The title may disconcert. Like other traditions, Christianity has often oppressed sexually nonconforming people. The harm it has done is vast and ongoing, and yet queer people have also thrived in Christian contexts. They have made and continue to make homes for themselves within Christian traditions. But more disconcerting still, for many who believe that the terms are mutually exclusive, is the growing number of theologians and practitioners who find Christianity itself to be at heart queer. Queer folk have found Christian traditions not only hospitable to queer lives but in...

    • [PART I: Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      Celibacy was long the most prized among Christian “states of life”—indeed, the paradigmatic state of Christian life, distinguished from pagan and Jewish practices. It may seem today no more than an anachronism, a pathology haunting the Christian traditions, but as the chapters in this part suggest, such a judgment would be premature.

      Like “Matrimonies” and “Promiscuities,” the title of this part invokes a traditional term ripe for queering. “Celibacy” abuts other terms and forms of living, including chastity, abstinence, asceticism, and asexuality, and raises questions of nonsexual eros and mystical sex. It is the only form of sexual life...

    • 1 Celibacy Was Queer: Rethinking Early Christianity
      (pp. 13-24)

      Sometime early in the fifth century in the Egyptian desert near Scetis (modern Wadi El Natrun), a prominent spiritual teacher known as Amma Sara was approached by two desert monks. In an effort to test the old woman, they warned her not to become conceited because male ascetics came to her for spiritual advice and counseling. Amma Sara remained undaunted. “According to nature I am a woman,” she replied, “but not according to my thoughts.” On another occasion Amma Sara spoke to her male disciples even more pointedly about her female spiritual authority: “I am the man; you are the...

    • 2 “Queerish” Celibacy: Reorienting Marriage in the Ex-Gay Movement
      (pp. 25-36)

      Homosexually oriented Christians in the ex-gay movement commit themselves to a certain celibacy.¹ Convinced that homosexual sex is a sin and committed to sinlessness (insofar as they are able), they choose to not express homosexual desire in erotic, genital acts. But this restraint is not necessarily accompanied by restraint from all sexual expression. Ex-gays are free to marry in heterosexual unions and once they do so are permitted, in fact expected, to engage in heterosexual erotic, genital acts. Their celibacy is thus a queerish one, requiring abstention from sex strongly desired and permitting sex tepidly desired. Within the movement, what...

    • 3 Celibate Politics: Queering the Limits
      (pp. 37-47)

      “Why aren’t you telling them, bluntly, stop!” chided Emma, a medical doctor during the first years of the AIDS crisis, who thought community leaders were not doing enough to tell gay men to stop having sex. “Every day you don’t tell them, more people infect each other.” These lines come from Larry Kramer’s playThe Normal Heart(1985), an autobiographical depiction of his early work with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the first organizations founded to combat AIDS.The Normal Heartcaptured the panic and fear that many gay men in New York faced in the early years...

    • 4 How Queer Is Celibacy? A Queer Nun’s Story
      (pp. 48-52)

      So far in this part, historians and theorists have raised serious questions about the queerness of Christian celibacy. The choice of many early Christians to embrace a life of celibacy challenged and subverted the sexual norms of Jewish and Greco-Roman society. But celibacy as a form of Christian life was generally rejected by Protestant reformers, starting with Luther, who saw vows of celibacy as an obstacle to God’s first commandment to humans: go forth and multiply. Modern secular society inherited this Reformation skepticism of celibacy, though it is more likely to express it in terms of personal expression than as...

    • CHURCH INTERLUDE I: A Congregation Embodies Queer Theology
      (pp. 53-64)

      What does it look like when a congregation does queer theology? There is a tendency to think about queer Christianity in terms of individuals and intimate relationships on the one hand, or in terms of theory, dogma, and preaching on the other. But Christianity is also church, the meetings on Sundays and during the week, the life cycle events, and shared experiences of a community working together to live out the Christian message. At the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, the congregation I have pastored for over a dozen years, we have come to live out...

    • [PART II: Introduction]
      (pp. 65-66)

      Marriage is thought by many to be the unchanging norm of Christian sexuality. It is the other traditional “state of life.” Even before recent efforts to extend marriage to same-sex unions, however, it has been anything but fixed. Elaborated in uneasy relationships with changing civil understandings of marriage and family, Christian matrimony was sacramentalized on analogy with celibates’ unions with Christ. Its goods—“unitive” and “procreative”—were contested and varying in meaning long before the modern ideal of complementary heterosexual partnership and understandings of eros in biological terms. Decoupling “matrimonies” from these late and limiting developments raises fascinating queer questions...

    • 5 Two Medieval Brides of Christ: Complicating Monogamous Marriage
      (pp. 67-78)

      Women could marry Jesus in western medieval Europe. They could do this in a way men could not because gender altered a person’s marital possibilities in the Middle Ages as it no longer does. For certain women, as Sarah McNamer explains, “if the standard rituals were enacted, chastity observed, and, crucially, the fitting feelings repeatedly performed, female religious could become literally, by which I mean legally, married to Christ—not only in this life but for all eternity.”¹ Men, especially monks, were certainly not barred from marrying Jesus symbolically. But men did not have available to them the embodied social...

    • 6 Gay Rites and Religious Rights: New York’s First Same-Sex Marriage Controversy
      (pp. 79-90)

      In April 1971, a bride and groom, both African Americans, stood before the altar of a New York City Episcopal church to exchange vows that consecrated their relationship before God. Barbara Trecker, a journalist with theNew York Post, was on hand to report this notable event, and her article began with the most important detail: the weather was perfect. The bride looked stunning in a floor-length yellow gown and handmade veil, as did the attending bridesmaid attired in green satin. The groom wore a classic black tuxedo with a carnation in the lapel, and the happy couple was surrounded...

    • 7 Beyond Procreativity: Heterosexuals Queering Marriage
      (pp. 91-102)

      On December 31, 2013, just hours before ushering in the new year at New York’s Times Square, Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, blocking it from enforcing “the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the … Affordable Care Act.”¹ This action was in response to a court action filed on behalf of the Denver chapter of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic religious order, which was concerned about its perceived requirement to facilitate contraceptive coverage for its employees. It is anticipated that other...

    • 8 Disrupting the Normal: Queer Family Life as Sacred Work
      (pp. 103-114)

      “Family” is one of the most powerful cultural sites at which heteronormativity and normative gender expression are reproduced and enforced. The power of the discourse surrounding it is one reason tension exists within queer communities over the issue of marriage equality and the visibility of queer families with children that has attended that equality struggle. Long and legitimate debates have raged within LGBT communities as to whether political battles to broaden the legally recognized definition of family are a compelling issue of rights or an assimilationist lure.

      It is within this larger context that this chapter reflects on one family’s...

    • CHURCH INTERLUDE II: Healing Oppression Sickness
      (pp. 115-124)

      A few years ago my spouse was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Her mother and sister had died from breast cancer, and it seemed that the strain of cancer that plagued her family was particularly virulent. While she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, my own mother was diagnosed with noncurative lung cancer and given a grim prognosis. My dog became ill during this same time period, and we discovered that she had a cancerous tumor in her leg that would require an immediate amputation, and it was very doubtful that the removal of her leg would eradicate the...

    • [PART III: Introduction]
      (pp. 125-126)

      Traditional Christian morality has relegated all sexual expression outside celibacies and matrimonies to the residual category of sexual sin. Thought to be at once insatiable, formless, and sterile, it has seemed an existential threat not only to the states of life of celibacies and matrimonies but to the veryideaof states of life. The chapters in this part push back at these judgments.

      This was the hardest part to name, perhaps because it recognizes loves that historically could not speak their names. “Promiscuities” won the day, but only after having been dismissed and retrieved and dismissed again. This very...

    • 9 Double Love: Rediscovering the Queerness of Sin and Grace
      (pp. 127-136)

      Queerness teaches us that norms exist to be broken, boundaries are fields of play, lives are performances, and identities are fluid. This is metaphoric language, of course, meant to describe a queerness that will not be pinned down by words. Metaphors serve to help you recognize queerness when you experience it, but without experience, talk of boundaries, performances, and fluidity turns as hard and inert as the norms queerness is supposed to resist. At least this was the case with me. But in the middle of a queer life that had grown hard and inert, I found love. And love...

    • 10 Love Your Friends: Learning from the Ethics of Relationships
      (pp. 137-147)
      MARY E. HUNT

      My lawyer reports that people under age thirty-five plan to get married regardless of the gender constellation of their mates. Her older clients, like me, are ambivalent at best about marriage to anyone. We prefer to live out our affective relationships without benefit of clergy and outside the law, at least until it becomes too costly to do so. The Internal Revenue Service’s decision to open joint tax filings to all married people, the potential to receive a partner’s Social Security benefits if she or he predeceases one, and the ease of transferring major assets without tax consequences make it...

    • 11 Calvary and the Dungeon: Theologizing BDSM
      (pp. 148-159)

      At any one of the many BDSM¹ conventions or dungeons that one might find in any major American city, the paraphernalia of bondage, domination, submission, and sadomasochism intermingles with the paraphernalia of lived Christianity, past and present. A naked, blinded, long-haired man with his arms bound to two columns, tormented by the memory of a stereotypical Delilah, might be a biblical scene; it might also be a BDSM scene in a local hotel convention center. A priest in the confessional might be practicing certain unsavory methods of reconciliation with his penitent, but the setting of the confessional might be more...

    • 12 Who Do You Say That I Am? Transforming Promiscuity and Privilege
      (pp. 160-170)

      About six months after beginning my gender transition, I went for routine blood work at a lab in Greenwich Village, New York City. By this time, I was consistently being read as male. The facility was in a cramped basement room with low ceilings. It was late morning on a hot summer day. I signed in and took a seat in the small, crowded reception area.

      A short while later, I heard my name, “Elijah,” called.

      As I went to the front, the receptionist began to review my computer file. A puzzled look came over her face.

      “You’re Elijah?” she...

    • 13 Three Versions of Human Sexuality
      (pp. 172-183)

      Sex is a fact of our organic biological being. It is not a human imperative but a human condition; it is something like a profile of being human. It is in this sense, then, that sex might be said to be a human good that is premoral. However, when the good of human sex is theorized within a philosophy of the natural law, sex ceases to be simply a matter of biology and bodily sensations and becomes the subject of laws of nature. Thus, it was an easy step to move from regulating sex and sexuality by natural law, to...

    • 14 Disrupting the Theory-Practice Binary
      (pp. 184-194)

      While I was in graduate school, I was asked to participate in a worship service at Union Theological Seminary in New York sponsored by the seminary’s LGBTIQ caucus on the theme of coming out. We were asked to bring to the service a symbol related to our personal experience of coming out and to speak for a few minutes on the symbol and its connection to our personal history. The chapel’s main altar was full of various artifacts that the organizers had collected from all of us. When it was my time to speak, I walked to the altar and...

    • 15 Everything Queer?
      (pp. 195-204)

      After reading about early Christian celibates, medieval spiritual marriages, and contemporary theologies of sadomasochism, it seems obvious that the history and present of Christianity are filled with queer possibilities. These possibilities seem so abundant that a strange new question arises. Is anything Christiannotqueer?

      We cannot answer this inquiry without marveling first at how far we have come. In 1997, promotional language for the edited collectionQue(e)rying Religiondramatized the newness of this conjunction, asking, “Is it possible to be religious and to be gay, lesbian, or queer? Until recently, many persons—gay or straight—would have said no.”¹...

    (pp. 205-216)
    (pp. 217-220)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 221-223)