Today, we continue with the study of an Inclusion Theology. This will look at how Tradition impacts theology and how that tradition can be applied and/or rewritten for the Queer individual.
Also, as a note as I write out “LGBT” I realize that this term has become a bit exclusive in itself. Recent discussions and research in human sexuality show that there are a large number of sexual and gender orientations beyond those four. Wesleyan University in Connecticut began using the acronym “LBTTQQFAGPBDSM” early in 2015 with the letters meaning “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexual, asexual, genderfu-k, polyamourous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.” Even using fourteen letters to describe the community, there are still orientations left out, pansexual and intersex come to mind, so in this context, rather than continuing down the rabbit hole of letters to which there seems to be no end, I am simply choosing to stop the acronym at “LGBT” with the hope that anyone who reads this would see that as a way of saying “all are included.”
The first source that will be evaluated here is Tradition. Patrick Cheng writes “Queer theology draws upon tradition—that is, church history as well as the teachings of the church over the last two millennia—in creative ways. As is the case of scripture, Christian tradition usually has been seen as being uniformly anti-queer.”1 Indeed, if an LGBT person wishes to draw theology from the traditions of the church, it most certainly be done in creative and different ways. As Cheng notes, the traditional view of the church has been anti-LGBT, especially prior to the 1960’s. The traditional church view of binary gender relationships and male-female compatibility can be seen in the writings of Karl Barth. Barth writes:
“He cannot wish to liberate himself from the differentiation and exist beyond his sexual determination as mere men; for in everything that is commonly human he will always be in fact either the human male or the human female. Nor can he wish to liberate himself from the relationship and be man without woman or woman apart from man; for in all that characterises him as man he will be thrown back upon woman, or as woman upon man, both man and woman being referred to this encounter and co-existence.”2
Based on this, it is clear that Barth supports the standard view of gender relations and sexuality within the context of the Christian Church. Given this as the “gold standard” for church tradition, the issue of how LGBT persons and theologians can use tradition in forming theology is significant.
Cheng notes that many Queer Theologians are writing about church tradition not from a point of view that changes existing tradition but that restores tradition to what is was in the ancient church. Cheng notes extensive work by LGBT historian John Boswell. He writes “Boswell argued that Christianity was not uniformly homophobic throughout its early history and that it only became significantly homophobic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries….Prior to his death in 1994, Boswell published Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which argued that same-sex blessing rites existed in the Christian church for centuries.”3 Based on this, the queer theologians are not trying to create a completely new church tradition or cast aside the present one in favor of some hedonic form of Christianity, rather they are attempting to recapture Ancient Christianity and bring it to life today in the LGBT community. Cheng writes “By reclaiming the Christian tradition, these queer scholars have located the LGBT experience squarely within the history and teachings of the church. As such, we are able to draw upon this work as a source for constructing our own theologies.”4 With all this being noted, however, I consider tradition to be the least important of the four sources in crafting a Queer Theology.
For me, Tradition as a source is an absolute necessity for the high level theological thinker. James Cone, certainly someone critical of the church tradition, especially that tradition in America, wrote “It is impossible for any student of Christianity to ignore tradition; the New Testament itself is a result of it.”5 However, for the average member of a congregation, I do not see tradition as being tremendously important. My reasoning is that so much of what the normal church member sees as “tradition” is the modern manifestation of the church rather than the ancient traditions. So, while the ancient tradition might be the same for most all traditions, it is the modern tradition that concerns individuals. If there is something about this modern tradition that a person finds objectionable, then it is not unreasonable for them to change church congregations or denominations to find a modern tradition that is suited to their particular theological view. Certainly a case could be made as to whether or not that is a good thing, but that is not the purpose here. Given this, it is my view that Tradition is an interchangeable piece for a great many individuals, even pastors (Patrick Cheng himself was ordained in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches before becoming a priest in The Episcopal Church after a change in church doctrine towards LGBT invididuals), and is not a huge factor in crafting Queer Theology.
**Footnotes available upon request**