“This is a story about a God who shows up to stand with them, with us. This is a God who not only understands the depth of our joys and the immensity of our heartaches, but who also turns them into opportunities for us to touch one another, to be touched by God. This is a God who is very queer indeed.” – Elizabeth Edman, Queer Virtue
by Christephor Gilbert
Communications and Development Coordinator
Do you wonder why you are seeing the word “queer” more these days? Do you wonder why it matters that we have pastors and deacons who are LGBTQ+?
My own, embodied identity tells me that there are beautiful gifts that LGBTQ+ persons bring to the theological table, gifts that make them perfect to serve God and church because of their LGBTQ+ identity, not in spite of that identity. How do we talk about what we have to offer the church, those skills and ways of being that have been shaped in and through the reality of queer joy, pain, and transformation?
It was with this question in the front of my mind that I discovered Elizabeth M. Edman’s 2016 book Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity.
Queer ↔ Christian
Queer – 1. An umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community; 2. transgressive action through reclamation of a historically negative term for the LGBTQ+ community; 3. the process by which binary boundaries are erased, the work of the academic discipline known as queer theory.
—Rev. Patrick Cheng, PhD, Radical Love
Virtue – 1. Conformity to a standard of right: morality; 2. a particular moral excellence; 3. a commendable quality.
—The Miriam Webster Dictionary
Recounting her own queer narrative as a lesbian, Episcopal, priest, Edman weaves together personal reflection, ecclesial experience, and queer theological reflection to make two ethical moves. First, to “lift up the moral witness of queer life,” in order to show, once and for all, the queer people are justified in their place at the Christian table; and second, that progressive Christianity “will look to queerness as a lens for vivifying our expressions of faith, both personal and corporate, theological and liturgical” (p. 11).
There are real lessons queers learn, in coming out, building community, and living authentic lives, that are moral lessons for all of the Christian community.
Dividing her text into two parts, Edman begins by considering just what it is that makes queer folk made for this work of the church, giving an overview of many of the authors and ideas in the history of both queer theory and queer theology. The queer journey unfolds as a path on which we have some important stops to make: identity, risk, touch, scandal, and adoption.
We are built for this
Because we wrestle with our own identities, daring to be true to ourselves and move into that liminal space between human bodies in intimacy; because we face daily obstacles to our humanness that put us on the knife’s-edge between pride and shame; and because we ultimately live our lives in created communities that call us “not to respectability but to authenticity” (p. 100)—these are just some of the reasons why we are built for this work of God. These are the underpinnings of our lives as Christians as well!
In part two, Edman turns the model upside down and shows how those things that queer folk get really good at—pride, coming out, authenticity, hospitality—are ways of being through which all Christians can live earnestly a life where we can “demand integrity within ourselves, require justice in our dealings with one another, and look to the margins to address individual/communal/global degradation and suffering” (p. 165).
Ultimately, she does what she sets out to do with the work: point to a faith tradition that is “inherently liminal, inherently queer;” show the congruence and “tremendous resonance between the paths of Queer and Christian virtue;” and lift up why it is that that “queer people are deeply motivated to do this work” (p. 28).
Queer Virtue is an accessible, yet comprehensive, look at queer theology in ethical practice, the theoretical laid at the foot of life itself! There is a natural connection between queer experience and Christian living, a synergy of solidarity, transformation, and hope.
Go here for more information about Elizabeth Edman, the book, and to view five “micro sermons” on themes from the text.
Read these books for more information on queer theology.
Christephor Gilbert was made for this the moment he put on blue satin overalls! Currently, he is wondering if Moses’ face was shining or had horns when he came down from Mt. Sinai the second time, counting the days until the end of the fall semester at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he is an MDiv middler and a recently Endorsed candidate for Word and Sacrament Ministry in the ELCA.
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