Outing the Bible 

The new queer theologians don't need your approval.

Page 5 of 8

The class was populated by an assortment of ordained ministers, seminarians, and laypersons. And while all of them are deeply involved with matters of Christian faith, many of them are almost unrecognizable as Christians. This is Berkeley, after all. There was plenty of postmodern speechifying about subverting binary gender paradigms and the "heterotextuality" of Christ -- stuff to really make the blood race.

"I would like to consider myself sort of an atheist," one student said outside of class. "God's a social construct." Like many students in the class who are ordained but closeted ministers, this student, "David," would speak only under a pseudonym. Born and raised in the Philippines, David is a Methodist minister. His family doesn't know he is gay, and he is convinced he'd be defrocked if he came out.

"I even had a fuckbuddy in seminary," he said. "I knew that it was sinful. I was hoping that it would change if I got married."

David is a big man. His thick black hair is cut short, and his brow holds a permanent horizontal crease. He never did marry. But though he no longer believes his homosexuality is a sin, he has decided to remain in the Methodist Church; its message is too good to give up to the conservatives, he said. "We're caught in the middle of gay people who are suspicious because we're Christians and Christians who abhor you because you're gay," he said. "So one question is, why even stick with being Christian?

"The motto of the United Methodist Church is 'Open hearts, open minds, open doors,'" he continued. "But it's a big lie, because while you're saying all our doors are open, there's a small sign there, and it says 'Gays, get out of this place.' ... It's like the fine print in the contract."

Another student, "Mary," traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to take the class. Although she is a minister in the gay-friendly United Church of Christ, her congregation is extremely conservative, and she remains in the closet.

"They can't even touch this as a topic; when I talk about being inclusive, they still think I'm talking about racial inclusion," Mary said one day after class. "Most of the folks on a Sunday morning are there to have their own biblical understanding told back to them. ... 'Make it somehow speak to going to the grocery store on Thursday afternoon, and I will be very happy.' That's what 'connecting it to my life' means. ... They don't want to be transformed. They want a faith that tells them they are okay."

But even Mary is put off by the eroticism so central to many queer Christian thinkers. By concentrating so heavily on the erotic dimensions of faith, she argues, queer theologians make themselves an easy target for critics. Look, the argument goes: Not only do the sexual deviants want to screw each other, they want to add Christ to the mix too.

"If queer theology can't get past sexualizing all these issues, then I don't think it's reached relevancy beyond its constituency," she said. "Why link sexuality with spirituality? ... Has the entire heterosexual world for all this time been failing to commune with God?"

It's a good question, one that none of these theologians was really able to answer. Each insisted that queer theology offered much more than a vision of erotically charged faith. It's a theology of radical inclusion and liberation, they promised. But so far it remains preoccupied with sex. Still, it makes sense that a queer theology would be tied to sex. Not only are many queer Christians largely defined by the sexual aspects of their lives, but for many, coming out is in itself a religious experience. By their very presence in the church, queers force the issue of sexuality. Think about it: Homophobia is not rooted in the fear of two women lunching together after nine holes of golf, but in what those women do later in the bedroom. It's almost as though queers are unwitting agents of sexuality. Without trying, queers force their hetero counterparts to think about them -- and by extension themselves -- engaging in same-gender sex. As such, queer theologians are uniquely positioned, even compelled, to talk about the erotic.

"We are the identified sex people," is how Justin Tanis explained it. "We stand for the principle that you have the right to define your erotic life in ways that are pleasing and meaningful to you. There's a principle of sexual freedom there that's embodied by gay people. It's not limited to 'You should have the right to have same-sex sex,' but that you should have the right to craft your sex life in a way that's fulfilling to you."

Tanis is a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, a congregation created in 1968 by and for queers. Tanis truly practices what he preaches: Until 1997, he was a woman. Seven years later, he has almost fully transitioned to male.


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