Sep 22, 2012

Where Are the Queer Spirits in Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God.

William Lindsey at his blog, Bilgrimage, has recently posted a series of powerful reflections on Elizabeth Johnson's theological work, Quest for the Living God, which recently brought down upon her a rebuke from the Vatican. The work is a quite breathtaking survey of the manifold theologies at work today which attempt to articulate/express the divine compassion present among the marginalized and oppressed, forms of Presence frequently overlooked in the past. However, William takes Johnson to task for not once mentioning the struggles of Gay people for equality and justice, particularly at the hands of the Roman Catholic institution which is presently waging a quite vicious attack upon the LGBT community. It is a curious oversight, which undermines the power of Johnson's theology and her own critique of traditional theology for overlooking the presence of God among so many marginalized groups. Strange to write a book of such a nature and overlook a very real and ongoing situation of injustice right on one's doorstep. Is the living God not present amidst the struggles of LGBT persons for justice and equality? Are we invisible to a theologian of the stature of Elizabeth Johnson, who seems so radical and 'cutting edge' in so many ways. The following below is a comment I posted at Bilgrimage:

 I was disappointed as well with Johnson's book because of the strange lacunae or 'oversight' in not once mentioning anything resembling "Queer Theology" or LGBT persons in general. She does reference it 'faintly' and briefly when mentioning lesbian women faced with discrimination from 'hetero-sexism' at the hands of the male patriarchy simply because these women are not attracted to men. In fact, when I came to that passage in her chapter on feminine images of God, I thought, "Well, OK, here we go. She's finally going to get into it for real." But no, that was it, no more. This oversight is so strange in an otherwise very inspiring book (more to me than just beautiful words, she succeeded in conjuring for me the living, dynamic sense of the Presence of the Divine working on the margins among the oppressed), that I wanted to send her a message/query. I even went to her personal page at Fordham University to see if there was an email address. That led me to a list of all the faculty and their particular areas of interest/research/expertise. None of them mention anything remotely connected to sexual ethics and gay persons, though there are several professors of Christian ethics - focusing on abortion mainly. I'm still determined to send a message to Ms. Johnson, perhaps to the publisher, pointing out this strange omission in a book that celebrates the diversity of God's many manifestations among the marginalized and oppressed, among non Christians, and even with and among 'secularists' with no particular religious affiliation at all, but who are deeply, spiritually connected to the earth and its preservation. She's covered them all, and done so in a truly inspiring fashion, in fact her vision is breathtaking in it's scope, all but one. Since the book contains an implicit criticism of official Church teaching for overlooking God's presence among so many marginalized, to write an entire book and omit mentioning a significant marginalized group is to commit the very failing the book itself is critiquing. This is what it means to celebrate that 'God is truly with us' on the life journey, all of us, of all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and genders. So it is very strange and leads me to wonder if it was intentional, and I would like an answer to that question. I don't think this should be left unchallenged and I'm determined to get a message through to her.

However, I did make an interesting find on Amazon, a gay Christian Episcopal theologian, both of whose books I've bought-Patrick Cheng of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.

His book, Radical Love, is a survey of Gay/Queer theology and one of the first of its kind. The bibliography alone is fourteen pages long, making this an invaluable resource. Needless to say, Professor Cheng is not a Roman Catholic theologian but an Episcopalian, teaching at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. However, he was a devout  Roman Catholic in his high school years, until that moment, when trying to make sense of his attraction to boys, he came across Church teaching that he was 'intrinsically disordered'. It took him fifteen years from that moment before he could become comfortable going into a church again, and it was not a Roman Catholic church. The damage caused by the RC church's twisted sexual ethics is inestimable, but Patrick Cheng's story is one moment of grace.

From his introduction:

Radical love, I contend, is a love so extreme that it dissolves our existing boundaries, whether they are boundaries that separate us from other people, that separate us from preconceived notions of sexuality, and gender identity, or that separate us from God. It is the thesis of this book that the connections between Christian theology and queer theory are actually much closer than one would think. That is, radical love lies at the heart of both Christian theology and queer theory.

His second book appears to be even more 'radical' and challenging:

From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.

Lastly, it is comforting to know that the second of the twin theological books by women recently censured by the Vatican, Margaret Farley's Just Love, contains an entire chapter devoted to the issue of same sex relationships and includes this potent quote:

(same-sex marriage) “can also be important in transforming the hatred, rejection, and stigmatization of gays and lesbians. .... same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities." Thank god for small favors.


William D. Lindsey said...

A wonderful statement, Jayden! I will link to it in a posting on which I've been working, which highlights your comments at Bilgrimage on which this posting builds.

Jayden Cameron said...

I see all the photos to this post have disappeared! No conspiracy there, it's simply because I fashioned this post on my iPad.