Concilium 2019-5. Queer theologies: becoming the queer body of Christ
Stefanie Knauss, Carlos Mendoza Álvarez
Full translations of this edition are available in the following languages:
English: Queer theologies, International Journal of Theology – Concilium, 2019/5.
Español: Teologia queer, Revista internacional de teología – Concilium, 383, 2019-5.
Deutsch: Internationale Zeitschrift für Theologie – Concilium, Ausgabe 5/2019.
Italiano: Teologie queer, Rivista internazionale di teologia – Concilium, 2019-5.
Português: Revista internacional de teologia- Concilium, 2019-4.
Editorial: Queer theories and theologies: an introduction
Queer theology – what is that? What does it do? And how can we imagine the body of Christ as ‘queer’? These are some of the questions we pursue in this volume.
Queer theologies are inspired by the critical analysis of queer theory which has emerged in the late 20th century from the experiences of subjects and subjectivities who are marginalized because of their non-normative sexuality (gay, lesbian, bisexual) or gender identity (trans, intersexual, non-binary). As André Musskopf’s introductory article shows, queer theory began by questioning the assumption of identity categories such as gender or sexuality as natural and unchangeable. Drawing on Michel Foucault and deconstructionist theories, queer theorists argue that the processes of naturalization of socially constructed binary categories are not disinterested but serve to maintain political power relationships, capitalist structures, patriarchy and epistemological systems. Whereas the fantasy of natural, stable identities provides the foundation for the construction of hierarchies and systems of oppression and exploitation, shifting and unstable identities are perceived as a threat: they ‘trouble’ the status quo and those who benefit from it. As a bridge between the academic realm, social movements and concrete social and political issues, queer theory has always been a theoretical as well as political project in its concerns for marginalized bodies that suffer from physical, epistemological, political and psychological violence. This is also noticeable today, when queer theory’s critical ‘undoing’ of categories of difference, processes of othering and relationships of oppression expands from the focus on gender and sexuality in the west to the epistemic south to include ethnicity, race, class, disability and other categories used to classify and marginalize individuals in their intersectional interactions within the broader context of the decolonial project.
Queer theory has thus made important contributions to understanding the entanglement of identities, desires, ways of knowing, politics, economies, and not least, religions. And this is where queer theologies begin their critical and constructive work. Susannah Cornwall’s contribution provides an overview of the field, some of its results and the challenges it faces for its future work. For queer theologies, the experience of oppression of LGBTIQ+ persons in church and society is a performative influence, and thus we include in this issue the testimonials of three individuals, Murph Murphy, Fr. Paul Uchechukwu and Lukas Avendaño, who defy western normative categories of gender, sexuality and spirituality. Courageously, they speak of their struggles, the oppression they faced in their communities, and the spiritual depths they discovered in themselves. Departing from such experiences, queer theologies question the role of religion and theology in supporting structures of oppression based on binary categories, such as sex, gender or race.How have theologies, through their concepts and doctrines, supported or even enabled marginalization and oppression? How do ideas about God impact social structures? How does christology legitimize a culture of violence, racism and patriarchy? How do eschatological visions inhibit the good life of all now? How have liturgies cemented hierarchies and exclusion? In this volume, Gwynn Kessler, Sharon Bong, Ángel Méndez-Montoya and Marilú Rojas offer a queer critique of these and other issues and constructively develop creative visions of other possibilities.
Queer theologies critique the theoretical and methodological assumptions of the theological project, and encourage an attitude of humility in the awareness of the fluidity not just of identity categories, but of theology itself. While always searching for God’s truth, theologies will never quite achieve it, and thus in order to approach it as closely as possible, they will have to shift and change, and to be open to the ever-new reality of God Godself. Rather than focusing on meaning or being, on trying to grasp a truth and hold on to it, queer theologies think in terms of doing, becoming, desiring and living the sometimes confusing entanglements of bodies, concepts and actions. Methodologically speaking, this reflects in the emphasis on concrete, embodied experience as a source of theology, attention to the theological significance of creativity, narrative and practice, and to theologies that happen outside of the realm of academia, as we see in the contributions by Carmen Margarita Sanchez De León, Gerald West and Charlene van der Welt, Nontando Hadebe and others in this issue.
One of the various meanings of ‘to queer’ is ‘to transgress’, and queer theologies are transgressive in many ways: in their critique of traditions, norms and authorities, in their persistent yet ever fallible and insufficient pursuits of the divine, in their move beyond the academic ivory tower, in their political and social engagement, in their openness towards the wisdom of bodies and desires, and not least, in their transgression of boundaries between denominations and religions as they rediscover the living power of spiritualities. Kessler’s analysis of rabbinic parables as spaces of fluid imaginations of gender, and Shah’s postcolonial discussion of queer Muslim theologies as contestations of power and politics offer just two examples of the fruitful encounters among queer theologies in all religious and spiritual traditions.
Today, queer theologies are challenged by the recognition of the intersectionality of various factors of discrimination such as race, class or ability, and the opening up towards a global horizon in the decolonial project. The articles gathered here make important contributions to both these issues as they engage in a dialogue with queer, postcolonial and decolonial theories in the attempt to not only understand better the realities of oppression from which they emerge, but also contribute to the transformation of the world so that all may live and flourish.
As the articles collected here show, becoming the queer body of Christ is an eschatological path that queer theologies have been exploring in the midst of systemic violence. To lovingly re-member the bodies and territories dis-membered by global violence is an expression of the messianic times. The bodies that really matter, the exploited and invisible bodies of LGBTIQ+ persons, migrants, disappeared people, persons with different abilities, are today the living members of the queer body of Christ. Their multiple resistances, struggles for dignity, life and hope represent a precious dimension of the eschatological process of redemption.
Finally, the two contributions to the Theological Forum, by Reynaldo Raluto and Conrado Zepeda Miramontes, do not employ queer theory or methodology, but they are also motivated by the concern with social justice that characterizes queer theologies and respond to the challenge of those suffering bodies that matter to God, and that are also calling to all of us. Zepeda offers a brief discussion of the phenomenon of migration, especially in the Latin American context, and the idea of political compassion, whereas Raluto thinks about deforestation as ecological sin and the ways in which some Asian communities draw on the sacrament of reconciliation to encourage ecological reparations.
 Some formative authors in the field have been Teresa de Lauretis, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler.
 For a discussion of decolonial queer theory and additional bibliography, see Pedro Paulo Gomes Pereira, ‘Reflecting on Decolonial Queer’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 25.3 (2019), 403–429.
 In addition to the rich bibliography in Cornwall’s contribution, see for a recent, accessible introduction Linn Marie Tonstad, Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics, Eugene: Cascade, 2018.
 For a focus on gay and lesbian sexualities, see the Concilium issue on Homosexualities (1/2008).
Table of contents
Editorial: Queer theories and theologies: an Introduction
André S. Musskopf – « As queer as it gets ». Queer theory or queer studies emerged in the 1990s in a particular context but with implications in different fields of knowledge and with new ways of articulating issues of sex, gender and sexuality. This article reconstructs the historical emergence and developments of such studies, their relation to political activism and to new ways of looking at issues of identity. It discusses the use of the term/concept ‘queer’ and related terms/concepts used in other contexts and the implications of the theoretical and methodological proposals connected to it. It is intended to be a brief introduction to the presentation and discussions in the field of theology, and its appropriation and use in the so-called ‘queer theologies.
Susannah Cornwall – « Constructive theological perspectives: What is queer theology? ». Queer is sometimes used as a synonym for LGBT identities, and sometimes as a signal of rejection of identity of all kinds. Queer theologies fall into two main streams, liberationist and subversive, and often involve a thoroughgoing disruption of norms of all kinds, asking questions about power, language, and the limits of identity. Queer theologians and interpreters re-read and re-frame aspects of biblical, historical, moral, pastoral, doctrinal, systematic and constructive Christian theology in light of queer people’s lives, concerns and politics. This includes intersectional reflection on ethnicity, disability, class and socio-economic location.
Murph Murphy – « Queer is God ». This text explores the experience of Murph, a non-binary queer identified white person, raised in a conservative Catholic community in the United States of America. They came to embrace their queerness through community, movement, and dancing. Murph explains the way they feel and act queer as a divine form of resistance, creation, and expression of life.
Paul Uchechukwu – «The will of God ». A life story about negotiating religious and sexual identity in an African Context. This also includes some of the challenges faced as well as inspirations and hopes that have helped along the journey towards integration.
Lukas Avendaño – « Carta de un indio remiso ». Aquí se cuenta la historia en primera persona de la condición muxe, algo más que un tercer género, en la tradición cultural zapoteca del sureste mexicano. Es la narrativa de un proceso decolonial de afirmación de subjetividades diversas, donde se cruzan el género, la etnicidad y la política de la emancipación de cuerpos diaspóricos. En el seno de este testimonio reflexivo fluye una espiritualidad de la liberación, con palabras y metáforas potentes de ser para y con las demás subjetividades en resistencia, rebeldía y esperanza.
Gwynn Kessler – « Queering Jewish theology in parables ». This essay applies queer theories of gender fluidity and gender performativity to readings of rabbinic parables. Although parables in rabbinic literature have been explored for their theological insights, they have not been placed in conversation with understandings of gender that emerge from queer theory. This essay suggests that queer readings of parables offer a compelling counter-narrative to an always and singularly rigid, binary construction of gender in rabbinic sources. Rabbinic parables, which highlight gender fluidity, multiplicity, and instability, illuminate a queer theology at the heart of rabbinic understandings of gender, God, and Israel.
Carmenmargarita Sánchez de Léon – « Los múltiples cuerpos de Jesús ». ¿Es el cuerpo de Jesús neutral, asexuado? ¿Cómo podemos entender a un Jesús completamente masculino? ¿Qué impacto tiene un Jesús de masculinidad cerrada en la vida de las personas creyentes, en la vida de la Iglesia, en el pensar teológico? ¿Es cuerpo o cuerpas? Si Jesús fue totalmente humano, quizás hay mucho lugar para pensar que su encarnación es un devenir, nunca un proceso concluido. En ese devenir, Jesús, nos sorprende, nos tuerce y escandaliza.
Sharon A. Bong – « Ecclesiology: Becoming the queer, postcolonial, (eco-)feminist body of Christ in Asia ». This paper offers an ecclesiological dimension to two forms of embodying a feminist-queer Christ in Asia: the Ecclesia of Women in Asia and the Free Community Church in Singapore that are intricately woven into the tapestry of postcolonial, queer and (eco-)feminist theorizing and theologizing. The paper argues that to queer or make unfamiliar (theology, anthropology, Christology, ecclesiology, which are intertwined), necessarily restores and reconstitutes what had been lost, arguably perverted, but is now made tangible – an opening up and proliferation of possibilities of realizing a body of Christ who is redeemed by and for all in the here-and-now.
Nontando Hadebe – « ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth? Come and see!’ An invitation to dialogue between queer theories and African theologies ». Emerging queer theologies in Africa have to contend with the question of how various identities (African, Christian, queer etc.) can be brought together. Hence this article draws on the conversation between Philip and Nathanial (Jn 1.45–46) where prejudice (‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’) is met with an invitation (‘Come and see’), culminating in a transformative encounter with Jesus. This invitation will be proposed as a framework for a dialogue between queer theories and African theologies.
Ángel F. Méndez-Montoya – « El amor en los últimos tiempos: La inscripción escatológica en cuerpos afines a un deseo infinitamente cuir ».Las complejidades del sentido de lo cuir como un cuerpo incluyente, dinámico y escatológico (en constante devenir), provoca algunas reflexiones teológicas a las que aquí se hace alusión de manera breve y un tanto fragmentada.
Marilú Rojas Salazar – « Liturgia queer ». La performatividad es uno de los elementos claves en lo que hoy llamamos Liturgias queer como actos de subversión incluyente en los espacios sagrados donde se han excluido a las personas por su orientación sexual, color de piel, y condición económica. Es pertinente colocar el re-sentimiento como una actitud contra ideológica anti-sistémica, anti racista, anti sexista y anti elitista. Resulta necesario la incorporación político-religiosa de la erótica en la liturgia para liberarle, pues este espacio ha sido coptado por el discurso hegemónico dominante de poder o de terror a la diversidad de razas, sexualidades, cuerpos, culturas y epistemologías ‘extrañas’ para el mundo que habita una matriz de corte heteronormativo en el ámbito de la teología cristiana.
Gerald O. West / Charlene Van der Welt – « A queer (beginning to the) Bible ». Genesis is the starting point for an African queer biblical trajectory in this article. Locating queer African bodies as subjects of interpretation of the Bible, this article demonstrates how the book of Genesis has been used within actual African contexts to recognize a queer trajectory in scripture. The Bible, we argue, is a site of struggle, with contending trajectories/voices, some of which are queer, particularly when read from LGBTIQA+ African social locations.
Shanon Shah – « Queer Muslim theologies ». This contribution uses a postcolonial perspective to outline the range of contemporary queer Muslim theologies. It highlights the multiple challenges that occur when gender and sexuality become fault-lines in ideological debates that presuppose a ‘clash of civilisations’ between Islam and the West. I focus on the consequences of this ‘clash’ paradigm on the emergence of queer Muslim theologies in different contexts, comparing and contrasting their main assumptions and approaches. Queer Muslim theologies thus provide a crucial lens to analyze the diverse contestations of power and politics within the contemporary landscape of Islam