Queer Theology: Outside the Box
This post is my response to that call. In some ways, I feel like I’ve been answering that call for the past 11 years. From 2000 to 2006 I was a regular contributor to (and I’m still a supporter of) Whosoever, the online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians. I’ve told a lot of my story in articles on that site, beginning with this one: Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance. I’ve also told my story in articles, essays, and poetry for White Crane Journal, Visionary (Gay Spirit Visions), RFD (Radical Faerie Digest), and the Gay and Lesbian Review.
But in thinking about the Anarchist Reverend’s call, I wondered what, to me, the greatest gift of queer theology might be. I think it’s this: our ability to do theology and embrace spirituality “outside the box.” For many of us, this has been a necessity, not a voluntary option, when we’ve been forced outside the boxes of our own faith tradition. Many of us have been forced out by being wounded or rejected by religion, while some of us have simply recognized that our experiences – our reality – doesn’t square with the theology we’ve been taught by our tradition. As I wrote in my article Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance: “I began to wonder if a theology that didn’t square with reality was a theology worth having at all.”
Some of us have responded to being forced “outside the box” by leaving organized religion altogether, and I certainly can’t fault or judge my queer brothers and sisters who have chosen to do that. Some of us have found ways to reclaim our religious traditions. Others of us have found ways to reclaim what was good about our religious tradition, while incorporating elements and practices from other traditions into our personal spirituality. After all, if we’ve already been forced “outside the box,” why limit ourselves to just one particular theological box? In struggling to free ourselves from a toxic “either/or” religion, many of us have moved on to a “both/and” spirituality. I've had friends over the years who have described themselves as Christian Buddhist, or Jewfi (Jewish Sufi), or Budeo-Pagan, or “ambispiritual,” or “panspiritual.” One of my best friends describes himself as an animistic Radical Faerie Sufi Pagan Christian.
As an Emergent Episcopalian who is also a student of Sufism as a devotional path, I can relate. I think it’s healthy to explore prayers, practices, and perspectives beyond one’s own tradition. I am not Pagan or Wiccan, but many of my friends and loved ones are, and my own spirituality has been deeply enriched by my connections with them and by my occasional participation in their rituals. I am not Buddhist, but I have learned much from attending Buddhist meditation classes and services. And the writings of the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn have had a profound impact on me – especially his wonderful and profound book, Living Buddha, Living Christ.
I have read articles criticizing this “cafeteria approach” to spirituality. Those who use the cafeteria metaphor are usually purists (or fundamentalists) who look down their noses at those of us whose experiences don’t easily fit into just one religion. The reality is that many of us who are queer have woven together our own individualized spiritualities from bits and pieces of different traditions – whatever works for us and connects us to the Divine.
As Karen Armstrong said in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (Summer 2003), “The new pluralism is already a fact of life. It is not that we are going to create a giant ‘World Religion,’ but rather that people turn quite naturally for nourishment to more than one tradition. More Christians than Jews read Martin Buber, for example, and Jews read Paul Tillich and Harvey Cox. People call themselves Christian or Jewish Buddhists. And this cross-fertilization could revitalize sagging traditions and infuse them with new life.”
That ability to cross-fertilize, to weave together a vibrant spirituality that revitalizes us personally and maybe even revitalizes the traditions themselves – that, I think, is one of the greatest theological gifts of those of us who are queer, or of anyone else who has been forced “outside the box” of any religious tradition.