I teach a Postgraduate course entitled “Religion, Conflict and Security”. One aspect that links religion with societal conflict is that of sexuality. Each year, religion is blamed for intolerance and exclusion for amongst others, attitudes to LBGT+ individuals and communities. These views are expressed (and sometimes mobilised) by all sides of the debate from students to scholars, from staunch atheist to pious believers. However, I want to pitch the idea that the relationship between religion and sexuality is far more complex than is often presented.
On the one hand, the media portray highly public and visible preachers and believing individuals from the so-called “New Christian Right” in the USA condemning homosexuality in its entirety as a “sin” and a danger to the moral fabric of society. On the other hand, less visibly, hundreds of openly Gay individuals serve in Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. Hundreds and thousands of LBGT+ individuals find comfort, solace and meaning in their congregations and beliefs. Pope Francis declared in 2013, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”.
I am not going to tell anyone the correct interpretation of their faith. I make no claim to be a theologian, I have no privileged access to ontological truths or a direct access to God (unlike the Pope who claims just that, see quote above). What I can and will say is that interpretations of faith that condemn, judge, and exclude are an interpretation of faith, not the interpretation. Since the birth of Liberation Theology in the 1960s, a range of LBGT+ and Queer Theologies have emerged. Whether you follow the faiths of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or other, there are Queer, LBGT+, and inclusive Theologies available. You are free to choose which interpretation of faith you wish, but make no mistake, it is a choice and it is yours.
God need not be understood as “Father” or “Lord” which re-creates human societal organisational patterns of patriarchy and dominion. God may also be understood as simply “Love”. God as “Love” offers possibilities for an entirely inclusive interpretation of theology. Alice Walker, who spurned the emergence of Womanist Theology wrote the following poem. Each time you read the word “love”, replace in your head with “God”.
Love is Not Concerned
Love is not concerned
with whom you pray
or where you slept
the night you ran away
love is concerned
that the beating of your heart
should kill no one.
We are all free to choose how we interpret our faiths and what God, the gods or the transcendent and spiritual mean for us. But for what it is worth (which I realise is very little), my own interpretation of God is probably best summed up in a line from the novel Holly by Albert French which simply states; “God don’t git mad at ya cause ya love somebody and they love ya too” (1995: 362).
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For anyone interested in Queer and LBGT+ Theology here are some resources.
- Robert Shore-Goss 1993 Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto, (San Francisco; Harper Collins).
- Ken Stone (ed). 2011 Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible, (Pilgrim Print).
- Macella Althaus-Reid 2000 Indecent Theology, (New York; Routledge)
- Marcella Althaus-Reid 2003 The Queer God, (New York; Routledge)
- Laurel C Schneider and Carolyn Roncolato 2012 ‘Queer Theologies’, Religious Compass, 6 (1): 1-13.
- Judith Rosen-Berry 2008 ‘Revealing Hidden Aspects of Divinity in the ‘Queer’ Face: Towards a Jewish ‘Queer’ Theology’, European Judaism, 41 (2): 138-154.
- Joy Michaelson. 2012. ‘Kabbalah and Queer Theology: Resources and Reservations’, Theology and Sexuality, 18 (1): 42-59.
- Kelly Brown Douglas 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, (USA; Orbis Books).
- Asifa Siraf. 2017 ‘Alternative Realities: Queer Muslims and the Qur’an’, Theology and Sexuality, 22 (1-2) 89-101.
- Nina Hoel and Robyn Henderson-Espinoza 2017 ‘Approaching Islam Queerly’, Theology and Sexuality, 22 (1-2): 1-8.
- Dervla Sara Shannohon 2010. ‘Some Queer Questions from a Muslim Faith Perspective’, Sexualities, 13 (6): 671-684.
- Patrick S Cheng 2011 Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, (New York: Seabury Books)