Focus on the (Chosen) Family

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This post is my contribution to’s Queer Synchroblog 2013. This year’s theme is “Queer Creation.” Links to all of the other excellent entries are at the bottom of this post. After reading mine, go forth and read more!

In order to get to what the theme “queer creation” evokes in my mind, I need to discuss a point of view about as far removed from my own as I can imagine: the views of extremely conservative and patriarchal evangelical Christianity.

My interest in those views came into clearer focus a few days ago, when I read Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. It is a compelling but sobering read. In it, Joyce sketches out a portrait of possibly the most theologically and socially conservative Christians in the United States. The organizing commitment that unites the various groups in this wing of American Christianity– homeschooling groups, neo-Reformed and independent fundamentalist Protestant churches, conservative Catholics, anti-choice activists, and others– is their explicit, unapologetic commitment to patriarchy and their relentless enforcement of “traditional” gender norms. The norms in question stem from Christian patriarchy’s adoption of a controversial and much-discussed “complementarian” view of gender.

What came into clearer focus for me in reading Joyce’s book than it had before was the extent to which a broad claim underwrites the theology and way of life of Christian patriarchy: a belief that the nuclear family and its gender roles– a married man and woman producing offspring– constitutes the basic unit of the human world. The family enjoys that basic status not by accident, but because God created it and endowed it with fundamental value, and created human beings as what they are in the context of it. For patriarchy, men and women are what they are in the first instance in virtue of the roles they play in their families: The husband the “lord” and “head,” the wife the submissive “helpmeet” and bearer of children. These roles are ordained outside of all history, outside of all time, by the creative will of God from the beginning. As such, Christian patriarchy’s attitude towards the family and towards its embedded gender roles is tied to a strongly metaphysical set of claims about creation. The nuclear family for these folks is not a contingent accident of evolution or simply a convenient way of organizing society in light of other institutions that happen to prevail at any given period in history. It is woven into the very fabric of the universe. Attempt to mess with that, and you threaten the ruination not only of society, but also possibly of creation itself, by inviting the judgment of the Creator in defense of what he has putatively created.

I feel like I have to intervene at this point to say that I can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to believe these things about God or the universe. I don’t mean for that to come off as flippant or smug, although it very well may be both. I know that the controlling, abusive, violent behavior these beliefs enable– the thoroughgoing effort to control the bodies and behavior of women, down to the finest detail, that they help rationalize– is very real, very painful, and, in many cases, deadly. Aside from that, I just can’t understand what it would be like to open my eyes in the morning and to see a world staring back at me in which the nuclear family with a God-like man as the unquestioned head forms the fundamental metaphysical building block. It ignores, willfully, the lessons of history and the social sciences that show the nuclear family to be a dynamic and ever-changing institution, one that always interacts with, and is shaped by, economics, politics, and culture.

More basically, though, I fear what it would be like to be forced to live in such an oppressive world. It is certainly not a place that has room for me, a queer man, much less for all of the strong, wise, outspoken women who have blessed my life so richly with their friendship, their stories, and their love. Nor does it seem to be the sort of world that would have much use for Jesus, or at least the Jesus I encounter in Scripture: the bachelor Jesus who dragged his disciples all over Palestine, far from their families; the one who said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26); the one who said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Perhaps Jesus, being God, gets an exemption from the requirement incumbent on everyone else to marry and put their family first. But then it becomes hard to understand just what taking up discipleship, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus, is supposed to look like for us if we say that what Jesus does has little role in showing us the way. It seems to ascribe to Jesus the same sort of “do as I say, not as I do” attitude that he clearly finds so objectionable in everyone else.

Queer folk long ago developed the idea of “chosen family”: the idea, that is, that the people who are your actual family are the ones who behave like it, supporting you, loving you, bearing you up, holding you accountable when you need it, whether or not those folks are your biological relations. We developed the notion because, for so many of us, our biological relations want nothing to do with us or are overtly hostile and abusive to us. I like to think that the way Jesus sought to show us, the way of love for our fellow humans, embodies the potential for unlocking this notion of chosen family– a queered notion of family, one in which tight bonds of community and care form across biological barriers, unlikely and unforeseen and ambiguous and fragile but also deep and abiding and nourishing. Of course, some or all of your chosen family may also consist of your biological relations. As family systems theory in family therapy shows us, though, even among a biologically-related family unit, people can pick up and get assigned all sorts of different roles and relationships, and those roles and relationships can change over time.

Chosen family, at its best, is a family in which we finally get to own our own loving. It is one in which love kept fenced in by just-so stories, one that claims the deliverances of metaphysical or grand historical narratives gives way to a love that embraces reality and feels its way forward through the shadows. It is one that has room for the full panoply of human relatedness: For lovers, for biological and adopted children, for friends and neighbors, for co-parents and step-parents. It is a family in which God’s creative love fuses passionately with the creativity and love we possess as being made in God’s image.

This is the world I strive to see when I open my eyes in the morning. I hope it is a world that we all of us can eventually help to bring about, with God’s help, together.

This Year’s Entries

Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Dwight Welch

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily Aviva Kapor

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

Queer Creation by Billy Flood

The Mystery of an Outlandishly Queer Creation by Susan Cottrell

We’ve Been Here All Along by Brian Gerald Murphy

God Hirself: A Theology by T. Thorn Coyle

The Objectification of God by Marg Herder

Coming Out As Embodiments of God Herself by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

An Interview by Katy

On Creation and Belonging by Andrew Watson

Creation by Liam Haakon Smith

Practically Creating Practical Queer Theology by Talia Johnson

Inspired Possibility: Opening the Gift of the Queer Soul by Keisha McKenzie

Oh What A Difference A Pope Makes! by Hilary Howes

I’m Really Angry by John Smid

The Goddex by Thorin Sorensen

6 thoughts on “Focus on the (Chosen) Family

  1. katyandtheword

    Reblogged this on katyandtheword and commented:
    Queer folk long ago developed the idea of “chosen family”: the idea, that is, that the people who are your actual family are the ones who behave like it, supporting you, loving you, bearing you up, holding you accountable when you need it, whether or not those folks are your biological relations.

  2. Pingback: Coming Out As She Was Created | Serendipitydodah

  3. Pingback: Queer Creation: A synchroblog!!! | katyandtheword

  4. Pingback: » Initiation

  5. Pingback: Oh what a difference a Pope makes… | TogetherStyle

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