The Problem with Queer Theology

The Problem with Queer Theology February 6, 2013

As I prepare to attend the Greer-Heard Forum at NOBTS on The Bible and Sex, I’ve been thinking a lot about Queer hermeneutics and Queer theology. I don’t agree, but I understand, how Queer theorists see “neither gay nor straight” as a logical consequent of Paul’s remarks in Gal 3:28. Daniel Kirk has come out and said that this is the best place to build a theology of gay inclusion in his book Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul? (Though Kirk also says a lot of other things about the Bible and homosexuality as well).

Oliver O’Donovan’s superb book, A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy, points out what the real problem is – not whether David and Jonathan were homoerotic, nor trajectories from Gal 3:28 – but a far more fundamental problem. O’Donovan provides a quote from the document Life Together written by the governing committee of the Church of Sweden which was put to its General Synod in favor of same-sex marriage: “Here the distinction between what belongs to creation and what belongs to salvation loses its significance.” In response, O’Donovan writes:

Innovative as the sacramental proposal was, it is the doctrinal proposal that is likely to shake the foundations. The creation of the world by God and its redemption in Jesus Christ are the poles in relation to which Christians have consistently narrated the moral history of the world. There are moments in the narration, of course, that do not lie at either pole but in between them – e.g., the sacraments themselves, which have no place in the Garden of Eden or in the New Jerusalem. But these still depend on the distinction of creation and redemption; they are sustained by the dynamic tensions between them. If the distinction between creation and redemption has no significance, then a sacrament has no significance either. The narrative of creation and redemption has accompanied the disciplined Christian attempts to think about the moral dilemmas thrown up by every age: slavery, war, technology, wealth and markets, etc., etc. In each dilemma, they have asked, what gifts of the Creator are to be rejoiced in here? What evils are to be repented of and lamented? What transformations are yet to be hoped for? As these strands in each dilemma have been separated and clarified, so resolution has seemed possible. But now, it is suggested, the same-sex question is better thought about without this narration. In contemplating same-sex union we need not ask whether we are rejoicing in the bounty of creation, lamenting the distortion of human affections, or looking forward to the lineaments of the new creation. What could such a proposal amount to – in relation to this or to any other question?

I think O’Donovan is correct. Queer theology dissolves the boundary separating creation and redemption. Salvation becomes not the eschatological transformation of the body, but the affirmation of the body in its current form.

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  • Chris

    The quotation seems to present the following reasoning: we should be able to see problems as corrupt and in need of salvation, but with regard to homosexuality, we’re supposed to accept it as it is.

    This is a textbook case of begging the question, and I believe I have characterized the issue fairly. The contention of others is that homosexuality is not a problem; the argument here is that it is a problem because we need to treat problems as such.

    Is marriage more generally something which we should see as in need of salvation? If no, then homosexual marriage doesn’t need it, either. If yes, then homosexual marriage needs salvation in the same manner. Logically speaking, (P –> R) & (~P –> Q); therefore, Q.

    Granted, there may be other issues with homosexual marriage, though I don’t believe there are. The argumentation here, though, doesn’t seem to work.

    • Kenton Slaughter

      Well, you’re starting with marriage as the topic of discussion, when you should be starting with desire (in this case sexual desire) and human relationships. Then it becomes clearer that all sexual desire is in need of redemption. And homosexual desire, though subject to all of the same corruptions as heterosexual desire, is itself one of the corruptions of sexual desire as a result of the Fall. To many that sounds harsh, but it is not unfounded. From this aspect the argument makes perfect sense.

  • Jacob

    Out of curiosity, have you read the Loughlin-edited Blackwell volume of Queer Theology (named exactly that)? There’s an abundance of orthodox, rigorous theological reflection in there, and in particular, Elizabeth Stuart and Mark Jordan’s essays might be the best reply to the notion that queer theology “dissolves the boundary separating creation and redemption.”

    • Jacob

      I should clarify: when I mean “orthodox” I mean the theology there arises from a deep engagement with Christian tradition, and traditional figures and doctrines (there’s a chapter on Gregory of Nyssa, and another entitled “Queer Trinity”) are referenced frequently. Of course, it may all be implicitly heretical, but I think interpretive charity demands one recognize (most of) the work as at least a sincere attempt at articulating a theology that is both deeply Christian and resolutely queer.

  • JeffreyRO55

    It’s hard to see that the Bible is opposed to legal same-sex marriage, since the Bible doesn’t seem to care what’s legal or not (“…render unto Caesar….”) and there isn’t any mention of same-sex marriage.I think to assume that the Bible opposes something that it doesn’t mention is a bit presumptuous.

    Oh, and we don’t make laws based on religious beliefs anyway.