This post is my contribution to the Anarchist Reverend’s Queer Synchroblog 2012. For more information and others’ contributions, follow this link. Of course I alone am responsible for the content of this post.
“The problem is that it is easier to live without God than without the heterosexual concept of man. They need to be undressed simultaneously.” –Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology
This is, by all indications, a pretty good time for queer folk in North American Christianity, especially by historical standards. There is a tremendously long way for us to go towards widespread recognition, acceptance, and embrace in the church. Yet there are several quarters, including my own local congregation and the mainline Protestant denomination of which it is a part, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which are making great strides as we speak in the USA. Beyond the walls of institutional Christianity, LGBTQ equality, recognition, and acceptance continue to make great strides in American life.
Yet, as impolitic as it may be to say so, there are a lot of reasons we queer folk should be careful about this success. The diversity and fluidity—not to mention ambiguity—of sexualities, gender identities, and gender expressions exceeds any neat scheme of labels or norms. The rainbow flag doesn’t have room for enough stripes on it, and in any event the stripes tend to bleed into one another upon close examination. This isn’t to say that no language can give tentative expression to the complex mix that is desire, embodiment, action and expression as they condition one another in the context of concrete lives and bodies. It is just that when that language answers to demands that are essentially juridical—that arise from an interest in classifying and ordering our bodies, sexualities, and genders with a view to how these map onto the controlling expert discourses of law, science, politics and religion—that we are put at risk of losing ourselves in them. These discourses unbraid the braided cord of queer lives and knot it back together in ways that do violence to them in the name of normative purity, no matter how that purity is constructed (and by whom).
Attempts at LGBTQ-affirming discourses, especially those that attempt to reconfigure historically heteronormative ones, are of course welcome developments. It is utopian, after all, to expect that we might do away with controlling discourses altogether. They become a problem, though, when they become yet another means of production, manufacturing our lives and sexualities and inserting them into a reconfigured economy of symbolic and material exchange. Nothing exemplifies this tendency to me more than the struggle over same-gender marriage and marriage equality. For the record, I am not against marriage or against marriage equality—not in the least—although I do have critical reservations about marriage generally (I discuss those reservations here). I only mean to call attention to the fact that, absent a radical reworking, from its material basis up, of marriage, the movement for marriage equality, to the extent that it takes over as the central preoccupation of advocacy and activism, threatens to reinscribe queer life back within the same sexual economy that already produces heterosexual sexualities. A latter-day Marxist critique of late capitalism, if we pay attention to it, would caution us on just how resourceful and durable existing modes of production and exchange have been in reabsorbing resistance, modifying it and manufacturing it for profit. The “new normal” that emerges digested through the gut of late capitalism ends up looking pretty much like the old normal, with the same wedding gifts and picket fences and tax credits, only with two tuxedos or two wedding dresses.
Where, in all of this, is God? Does God, can God, be located in it? Or is the very notion of trying to localize and normalize God part of the problem?
The interesting thing is just how much we seem to be able to live without God. This is the “problem” of which Althaus-Reid speaks in the quote that introduces this post. We do a fantastic job of configuring, regulating, and normalizing human life without any palpable trace of God having anything to do with it. Of course, a lot of this normalizing is done in the name of God—or at least in the name of a patriarchal, regulating, normalizing God. But doing it in God’s name doesn’t mean that God has anything in particular to do with it, even if it happens to be wildly successful. Of course that is up to God, not me.
But this is not the God I encounter in prayer and Scripture and tradition, or at least not the only one. There is the queer God, the God who is bigger than all boundaries. The queer God—not really a different God than the “straight” God, but instead God “queered,” God seen through the lens of queer experience and queer bodies—is a reminder that God refuses to be localized and subsumed under our controlling narratives. The queer God is the God whose love cannot be domesticated, whose love cannot be reabsorbed into an economic system. God may allow God’s name to be minted on the currency of normative sexual exchange in the form of marriage and sexual purity narratives, but the coinage is not God. The only gift that God has to give us that isn’t already given to us, by God or by ourselves, before we are in a position to acknowledge it as such, is that of the love itself, given naked and without any other exchange value beyond the love we return. The encounter with Jesus, stripped of theories of atonement and their preoccupation with historical economies, gives us the wine-swilling vagrant, the guy who should have settled down ages ago but instead roams around Palestine with a bunch of men and women of questionable character tweaking the noses of the authorities and mobilizing the poor and the sick and doing God knows what else. Some people say he is married, but he steadfastly denies it.
The queer God’s love is love without a safety net, love without insurance policies of vows or joint bank accounts, love that survives solely on our ability to trust it without any ability for us to hold it accountable if it should fail us. The queer God is the lover we can never marry, the one who can’t acknowledge us in public, the one with no money, the one who loves us fiercely but who has no desire whatsoever to settle down with just us and no intention of doing so. The queer God is the one who can’t go to church with us but whose text messages we read and cherish in the pew. The queer God is the one who makes us feel like the one and only, yet we know that God has lovers all over the place with bodies of every description. The queer God is the one who lies sick and dying with no lover by their side; and yet the queer God escapes even death and separation itself, since their love was never bound to just here and now and you in the first place, and it is always with you no matter what happens.
I will leave it up to keener minds than my own to figure out what this love might yet do in the world, how it might yet end up respectable, how it might in fact coax us in the direction of a world that turns on something more important than respectability. That is up to God, though, not me. The best I can do is to say that I follow it the best I can, knowing it can hurt and wound, knowing that it might just be the death of me. But if it is, I shall die with joy in my heart; and it is a joy that all, queer or otherwise, can share.
Won’t you join me?
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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.
Amaryah Shaye Armstrong writes about Inclusion and the Rhetoric of Seduction.
Jamie-Sue Ferrell shares Love, Us.
Unchained Faith writes about The Breastfeeding Father.
Harriet Long writes Re-membering My Body – The Queer God, The Queer Christ & Me.
Grace writes about What the Queer God Means to Me.