What is “Queer Theology”?

If theology told the truth, it would speak of bodies, of flesh.

Linn Marie Tonstad, Queer Theology
Photo by Joshua Mcknight on Pexels.com

Theology that speaks of bodies and flesh is so radically different from the kind I grew up with. I learned theology through discussions with my father, a Presbyterian minister, around the dinner table from the time I was about five years old. We talked about what God’s love and grace meant in our lives. We pondered the different ways the head pastor and my father talked about Christ. For my family, theology is an intellectual practice — taking the words of Scripture and interpreting them to be relevant to our lives here today. But always thinking about our actions or our thoughts, never our bodies themselves.

Often, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about LGBTQ-related theology is apologetics. Apologetics asks: How do we wrestle with the apparent condemnation of same-sex behavior in the Bible? How do we theologically defend the existence and sacredness of LGBTQ folks? This also lives in this realm of thoughts and actions. I have been bored with LGBTQ apologetics since the moment I came out. In that decision, being honest with myself and the world, I honored the truth of my body and not any arguments of the mind. I came out because I had fallen head-over-heels in love with a woman, who is now my wife. I knew, deep in my soul and my flesh, that our relationship was right. I knew, deep in my soul and my flesh, that this tapped into a greater part of me than I ever had before. I knew, deep in my soul and my flesh, that I was God-breathed and God-loved. And so it followed that my queerness was also both God-breathed and God-loved. The theology of my body told the truth.

I have been wrestling a lot in my own life with the question “what makes something queer?” For one, I myself identify as queer primarily because I do not want to make gendered assumptions or associations about my partner. Queer is an identity I can claim for myself without any direct impact on the people I am (or could be) involved with, so in that sense it is very individual. And yet, I don’t believe that queerness can be individual. Queerness is all about disrupting norms, binaries, assumptions; that cannot be done in a vacuum. 

Queerness is all about disrupting norms, binaries, assumptions; that cannot be done in a vacuum. 

As another example, I refer often to my “queer community,” by which I mean my friends who also identify as LGBTQ. But is there anything inherent in our community which makes it queer? What are we doing as a community to disrupt norms and systems of oppression? If we are all white folks who live in single-family houses that we own, with white picket fences and an average of two-and-a-half cats, is that a queer community? On the flip side, a large portion of my work over the past year has included supporting staff members who are heavily impacted by capitalism, racism, heterosexism, and other systems of oppression. I find myself actively looking for ways to “queer” this work — to disrupt normative systems that are not serving us well. That process is not directly linked to sexuality in any way, other than the coincidental sexuality of the person (me) doing the work.

I find this same struggle inherent in the idea of queer theology. What makes a particular theology queer? Is LGBTQ-affirming theology automatically queer? Is Christianity itself, with its tearing of the binaristic curtain between God and humanity, queer? (And if so, how did it get to be so entrenched in systems of oppression; and how do we rescue it?) Can we simply “queer” existing theology, or does queer theology need its own paradigm altogether?

That last question is itself a binary.  Perhaps, then, queer theology does not have to be — cannot be — an either/or. Queer theology can — perhaps must — include many things. Apologetics that affirm the belovedness of LGBTQ lives. A perspective on existing theology that draws from our body knowledge as sexual outsiders. And a new paradigm, one that breaks boundaries, overturns oppression, and relishes the in-between spaces.

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