Latino American Homophobia

Latinos/as in America are the subjects of a new prejudice and that oppression has contributed harshly to those who identify against the normative for family identity. Latino/a culture is one that centers itself on religious ethos and domestic nearness. From prejudice and strong religious teachings advocating marriage and procreation, Latino/a people have developed a homophobia for those who do not isolate with socialized binaries. This essay seeks to identify why those hegemonic tyrannies exist and how this culture can move from repression to tolerance. America is a country of “huddled masses yearning to be free” and ending homophobia and racial oppression will help this country to become the true “land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Risk-taking always results in a consequence, whether positive or negative, but rewards with a lesson of truth. Crossing rivers, borders, having expired visas, and becoming resident aliens and illegal immigrants in a new country are risks taken for reasons. Latinos/as, in being a people of faith[i], have encountered America to be the biblical formation of Canaan. In living this prophecy, Latinos/as have created vitality for themselves by gentrifying dilapidated neighborhoods, establishing businesses, supporting immigrants, contributing to education reform, and maintain a faithful commitment to church and community development. Without neglecting their native culture, Mexicans in particular, maintain a social ethics implored from nativity, focusing on food, fellowship and shelter.

The American ethos of Latinas/os has further repressed the growth of social ethics. Many Americans are guilty of contending that Latinos/as are good for building houses, mowing lawns, plumbing, fixing cars, cleaning houses, babysitting children, and cooking food. This is due to the socialization of American nationalism, non-Latin Americans, as well as though who pass for white or black, seek to exert themselves above those who are not at their level of normativity. In addition, language barriers gravely influence cultural/racial division. Americans contend that Latinos/as, who speak Spanish only, wanting to live in this country, should learn how to speak English. Interestingly enough, this contention is a regression, on part of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of European immigrants to America. Once a subordinate culture gains status in a society, privilege is threaten by future minorities seeks to gain social status.

Latino/a American Christians have maintained a heteronormative position on family life due to having a culture reflective of religion. Procreation through marriage has been an ethos passed down from the Roman Catholic Church[ii]. Dogmatism on marriage and family, with the example of the church being the bride of Christ, not only became an ethos of the Latino/a people, but a way of life. In my observations of Latino/a Catholicism, this emphasis of heteronormativity is communicated at an early age. It first starts with baptism, having a close association with godparents (male and female), followed by coming of age masses/parties (quinceanera) that resemble a wedding ceremony, and lastly, a nuptial mass/celebration between a male and female. Then the cycle continues.

Homophobia in the Latino/a community is not necessarily hatred towards homosexuals, but an innate fear of those who choose to not follow the normative binary. In conversations with my Latina parishioners, I have learned that this fear is rooted in how the homosexual community is a threat to the common marriage and way of life. Latino/a family structure has been conditioned as binary and anything contrary to intercourse apart from procreation is not acceptable[iii]. However, although Americans contend that Latinos do not use contraception contending that they live in poverty[iv], Latino Americans tend to follow American normative of using contraception. Waldmald states: “[I]n the U.S., 72% of Hispanic Catholics think the Catholic Church should permit the use of contraceptives[v].”

Homophobia in Latino/a communities influences the spread of HIV/AIDS. In a report of the Impact of Homophobia, researchers contend: “[three] most common experiences of homophobia [among Latino men] during childhood were hearing that gays are not normal people (91%), hearing that gay people grow up to be alone (71%), and a deep feeling that the respondent’s homosexuality hurt and embarrassed his family (70%). The majority of men (64%) reported having to pretend to be straight at some point in their adult lives, 29% reported that they had to move away from family or friends to live their homosexual lives[vi]…” This report also contends that “social discrimination has a negative impact on levels of social support and self-esteem, and, not surprisingly, [psychological] symptoms of distress are more prevalent among those who both are socially isolated and have a low sense of self-worth[vii].” Unfortunately, when the paradox of social discrimination, socialized conformability, and mental anxiety are present, homosexual men tend to engage in secret risky behavior and increase the risks of spreading HIV/AIDS among men and women[viii].

Latino/a American Christians can move toward a theology of reconciliation and inclusion. Christian teachings on human sexuality have been crafted from white androcentric teachings of heteronormativity. The hermeneutics associated with these interpretations have influenced oppression cross-racially and culturally. In being that the Latino/a culture focuses on family, in addition to advancement of education among its youth, I contend that Latinos/as will move toward inclusion throughout the next ten years. As faithful witnesses of God and Christ, reconciliation is already happening in daily prayers and novenas. With the advent of marriage equality in the United States, I also contend that stigmatic repression will also cease.

Latina/o American Christians believe in a God of liberation. This God of liberation freed them from the bonds of Spanish rule, bounded Spanish religion with indigenous culture, and has given their people power to modify the marks of society. Pursuing innovation, Latinos/as have sought liberation in America for a better life and continuation of their culture. Because no single groups of people/cultures are homogenous, the diversity of America, her ethics and morals, will become exponents in the Latino/a culture. In being a people focused on justice and immigration reform, the voices of GLBTQ identifiers will speak volumes of sustenance in unification, contesting the state of homosexual fear among Latinas/os. Micah 6:8 is already in the making. True and justice have been matched together and homophobia will enter latency when righteousness and peace kiss[ix].

Endnotes:

[i] Liu, Joseph. “Chapter 7: Renewalism and Hispanic Christianity.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. May 07, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/chapter-7-renewalism-and-hispanic-christianity/. Most Latinos are Christians.

[ii] Pope Paul VI. Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968). Accessed May 3, 2016. http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html.

[iii] Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997. Part II, Section II, Chapter III, Article seven, gives a detailed account of how Christian marriage should be.

[iv] Shaffer, Helen B. “Birth Control in Latin America.” In Editorial Research Reports 1968, vol. II, 641-60. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1968. http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1968090400. Although written in the sixties, this report perhaps gave Americans the backbone of prejudice against Latinos.

[v] Wormald, Benjamin. “Religion in Latin America.” Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. November 13, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2016. http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/13/religion-in-latin-america/.

[vi] Díaz, Rafael, George Ayala, Edward Bein, Jeff Henne, and Barbara V. Marin. “The Impact of Homophobia, Poverty, and Racism on the Mental Health of Gay and Bisexual Latino Men: Findings from 3 US Cities.” Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health 91, no. 6 (2001): 927-32. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.6.927.

[vii] Ibid, 931.

[viii]Centers for Disease Control. Factsheet on Latinos and HIV/AIDS. Accessed 3 May 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-hiv-latinos-508.pdf.

[ix] Psalm 85:10.

Transphobia

Transphobia

“Not in my backyard!” Or, perhaps more appropriately, “Not in my bathroom!” Such refrains have become alarmingly common in recent years. As the national debate about the queer community has progressed in the United States, more and more groups within that community have come into the spotlight. While at first the debate centered on the right of gay and lesbian persons to marry, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 has pushed the topic to the margins. Two new subgroups of the queer community, transgender persons and transsexual persons, have now become the topics of a great deal of discussion. This shift was perhaps also fueled by Caitlyn Jenner’s public admission that she is a transgender woman.  As is unfortunately so often the case, the new notoriety of this group has brought backlash from the conservative sectors of society that see transgender and transsexual persons as a threat.  The backlash takes shape in many ways, but whether we are talking about physical violence or discriminatory policies, they all fall under the umbrella of “transphobia.” Transphobia, “the fear or hatred of transsexual or transgender people,”[1] is often backed up with appeals to religious sensibilities or interpretations of Scripture. Such theological and hermeneutical moves are harmful, but a queer reading of the Bible provides a way forward for the acceptance of transgender and transsexual persons.

To be clear, when we discuss transphobia, we deal with prejudices against two distinct groups. Transgender persons feel as though their expression of gender does not match up with their physical sex, such as a biological male who actually identifies as female.  Such persons may express their gender in a number of ways that from simply using pronouns that correspond to their gender identity to dressing in clothes associated with persons of their non-biological sex.  In much the same way, transsexual persons also feel that their biological sex does not match with their gender identity. Here the similarity ends. Transsexual persons often explain that they feel they were born with the wrong sex and seek to bring their bodies into alignment with their true sex. This arduous process involves hormone therapy treatments and gender reassignment surgery.  Transphobic attitudes and behaviors are directed at transgender and transsexual persons even though transphobic people often conflate them into one monolithic group.

The transphobic tendencies almost certainly grow out of an extreme commitment to heteronormativity.  Heteronormativity is the belief that the only proper expression of gender identity and sexual desire is that which corresponds with heterosexual identity and practice.  Anything that seems to go away from this paradigm is deemed, to various degrees, dangerous or unacceptable.  In the case of transgender and transsexual persons, heteronormative thought understands these people to be straying from the norm by not living into the identity of their biological sex.  Thus, transgender and transsexual persons are seen as deviant.  With this mentality, transphobia may not actually be a phobia, per se. Transphobic people may not actually have an uncontrollable fear of the trans community.  Nevertheless, their discomfort or distaste with the trans community is still problematic, as it manifests itself in harmful ways.

Transphobia may be expressed in any number of ways, some of them more blatantly harmful than others.  At the more subtle end of the spectrum are behaviors that suggest distaste with members of the trans community. Toward the harmful end are rules and regulations that seek to marginalize the trans community, a current example are the laws popping up in various U.S. states in 2016 that force trans persons to use the bathrooms in correspondence to their biological sex.  At the most egregious end of the spectrum are violent attacks against members of the trans community. In 2015, 21 trans women were killed in the United States; most of them for no reason other than their gender expression.[2]  All these destructive behaviors are evidence of extreme biases against members of the trans community and fall under the heading of transphobia.

Other than misguided heteronormativity, where does transphobia come from? What arguments are used to support these outrageous behaviors? Sadly, many transphobic persons use the Bible to justify their discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.  They twist biblical passages to argue that God does not approve of transgender or transsexual persons or they even state that God does not love such people.  Exegetes in the transphobic camp tend to draw on passages that seem to speak of God’s intentional act of creation of each and every person.  They argue that a person’s sex and gender are a part of that creation. They argue that the first creation narrative, in which God creates humankind as male and female in the image of God, implies that God intends for people to stick with the sex they had at birth.[3]  Transphobic interpreters also turn to the Psalmist’s words to back up their arguments. The writer of Psalm 139 says of God: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”[4]  These interpreters believe that God is intimately involved in our prenatal development, and so human beings have no right to do anything that would alter their bodies so wonderfully made by the Almighty. In these readings, the Bible becomes a tool for transphobic beliefs.

Yet is there another way understand God’s attitude toward transgender and transsexual persons in the Bible? Are there other ways of interpreting Scripture that queer our understanding of this issue? I posit that while people whom we consider to be transgender and transsexual may not appear in the Bible, there are other ways in which a queer reading provides a sense of God’s love and care for trans people.  With regard to the two transphobic readings discussed above, no Scripture serves as a direct reproach.  Yet we can queer the meanings of these texts by pointing out faulty theology.  The deterministic view of human development evident in these interpretations requires that God is intimately involved in every aspect of every embryo’s development, not just their gender. The conviction that God determines our sex and mandates adherence to that assignment logically implies that God chooses which embryos develop normally and which will be made to bear neonatal deformities or diseases.  Such a God seems harsh and unloving, and it is no wonder the transphobic interpretations are not usually run to their extreme ends.

Broadening our views on Scripture, perhaps there is hope in the case of biblical eunuchs. While eunuchs are not transgender or transsexual in the way these terms are commonly used, they are indeed men who have ceased to be fully biologically male. Either through choice or force, they have been castrated.  At several points, the biblical witness affirms that these trans men are welcome in God’s covenant community. Trito-Isaiah, in speaking of God’s welcome of all faithful people, writes:

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, ‘YHWH will surely separate me from his people;’ and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says YHWH: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3-5; NRSV)

 

Not only are eunuchs welcome in God’s house; they are celebrated! Likewise, Philip welcomes the Ethiopian eunuch into the nascent Church. He goes on not only to live a Christian life but is responsible for the spreading of the gospel in his homeland![5] Trans people are thus not aberrations to God’s community but its vital members!

Thankfully, we can find a queer reading of Scripture showing that God welcomes and affirms members of the trans community. We must further give thanks that not all churches engage in transphobic behaviors.  In recent years, “Christian communities have begun to offer protective and blessing sanctuaries to transgender Christians.”[6]   These kinds of moves, such as welcoming trans persons into membership and providing safe places for them to seek shelter in times of need, are a public witness that often emboldens more trans people to enter the life of that faith community.[7]  Thankfully, there are witnesses in the Church who recognize that God’s grace extends to all people. Let us pray that their witness serves to help defeat the scourge of transphobia.

 

An anonymous student

[1] “transphobia, n.”. OED Online. March 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/382363?redirectedFrom=transphobia& (accessed May 01, 2016).

[2] Mitch Kellaway and Sunnivie Brydum, “The 21 Trans Women Killed in 2015,” Advocate, January 12, 2016, accessed May 1, 2016, http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2015/07/27/these-are-trans-women-killed-so-far-us-2015

[3] Cf. Genesis 1:27.

[4] Psalm 139:13, NRSV. N.B. This style of interpretation of this passage generally ignores the later statement that God forms human beings in the depths of the earth – clearly the writer of the Psalm does not have a scientific or consistent understanding of embryonic development and God’s place in it.

[5] cf. Acts 8:26-40

[6] James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, “Transgender Lives: From Bewilderment to God’s Extravagance,” Pastoral Psychology 63, no. 2 (April 2014): 181.

[7] Ibid., 182.

Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity:

             “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” “Marriage has always been between one man and one woman!”  Such are the arguments that often spew from the mouths of those who oppose the validity of non-heterosexual lifestyles.  These statements, along with countless others, aim to show that heterosexuality is the only proper mode of human existence.  While these people have various sources to back up their claims, they often use sacred texts or anecdotal evidence about the perversion of other sexual modes. The arguments stem from something deeper than the text or story in question. At the heart of the matter lies the mentality that heterosexuality is the “right way” to pursue sexual desire; all other modes of living are perverse or in some way Other.  This view of human sexuality is known as heteronormativity, and it has effects in all aspects of life.  Heteronormativity has cast a long shadow of oppression for anyone who does not fit the heterosexual mold, such as gay men, lesbian women, bisexual persons, effeminate straight men, butch straight women, transgender persons, and countless others. While this mentality has been horrifyingly harmful to so many, a queer approach to human sexuality may offer up a hope for liberation.

As noted above, heteronormativity is the view that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of sexual expression; all other forms are to be seen as somehow anathema.  Heteronormativity is part of a cultural matrix that aims to govern sexual and gender norms. According to Judith Butler, this matrix holds that “certain kinds of ‘identities’ cannot ‘exist’ – that is, those in which gender does not follow from sex and those in which the practices of desire do not ‘follow’ from either sex or gender.”[1]  The heteronormative viewpoint insists that there is some sort of connection between a person’s physical sex and his or her sexual desires; in essence, a person should only have desire for people of the opposite sex.  Such a stream of thinking is often based on a structuralist conception of identity and law. The argument here is that “there is a universal structure of regulating exchange that characterizes all systems of kinship” and relations.[2]  With regard to sexual desire, physical sex governs sexual attraction, plain and simple.

Heteronormative thought thrives on the simplicity of binary approaches to sex, gender, and desire.  To think in binaries is to think only in terms of two possible categories: things are black or white, right or wrong, male or female. There are no grey areas, no moral or ethical uncertainties, and certainly no other kinds of gender expression.  Binary-based thought also affects views of human sexuality: A person is either heterosexual, or they are not.  With a strict adherence to this binary view of sexuality, it’s easy to see how heteronormativity can become oppressive.  If non-heterosexual people are Other in a deviant or unacceptable way, then it becomes a matter of principle to legislate against their rights and wellbeing.  Out of the sexual binary, anti-marriage laws, bathroom bills, and laws that cast non-heterosexual acts as capital offenses develop.  Even if a person with a heteronormative outlook is more “progressive” (e.g. they do not see non-heterosexual persons as deviant or damned), they may still think in binaries when it comes to sexual expression. Such persons may not want to harm or oppress non-heterosexual people, but they may still make assumptions showing their preference of heterosexuality.  Such biases can be expressed by simply talking about how a little baby boy is going to be very handsome and “get all the ladies” when he grows up.  This kind of language assumes the boy will be heterosexual.  If it turns out he is not, the language could become hurtful or problematic for him as he matures..  Heteronormative binary thought processes and their expression are thus harmful in any number of ways.

From where does this hurtful and ultimately oppressive mentality come? Surely, no one sets out with the intention to turn non-heterosexual persons into second-class citizens.  It is very likely that this is true.  Yet heteronormativity has deep roots.  Going beyond Structuralist thought and binary worldviews, one can see that heteronormative thought has a wide range of sources.  Most notable are biblical passages appearing to support the notion that sexual desire is meant to be oriented toward people of the opposite sex.[3]  There is a plethora of passages that can be used in this way. For now it suffices to focus on a few that are commonly used.  Many interpreters turn to the creation narratives of Genesis to argue that human sexual desire was intended to flow from man to woman, woman to man, from the very beginning.  For instance, Genesis 1:27 reads: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NRSV). Commenting on this passage, Claus Westermann notes: “Every theoretical and institutional separation of man and woman, every deliberate detachment of male and female, can endanger the very existence of humanity as determined by creation.”[4]  According to this interpretation, any expression of sexual desire that does not follow heterosexual guidelines is not only Other;  it is downright cataclysmic!  Such interpretational thoughts have been around a long time. Turning to Genesis 2:24 (wherein man and woman are said to become one flesh) and going back to the fourth century C.E., one can find Augustine averring: “That is what generally happens in the human race. There is no other way to view its plain, historical sense”[5]  These sorts of interpretations, trailing across the centuries, seem to make it clear that God’s will is a heteronormative one. What then are we to do?

Perhaps there is hope for deconstructing heteronormativity in a queer understanding of sexuality.  First, it is important to note that “heterosexual” as a category has only existed for a brief period of human history.  The word “heterosexuality” itself was only introduced to the English language at the very end of the nineteenth century C.E.[6] With this etymological history in mind, it is quite plain to see that heteronormativity cannot have been the standard “from the beginning.”  Further, one can call on queer readings of biblical texts to get a broader understanding of Scripture as it relates to the issue of sexuality. For example, with reference to Genesis 1 & 2, there are numerous interpreters who see the text not as a call for heteronormative sexual expression but rather as an acknowledgement that human beings are intrinsically social creatures, and that social and sexual desires are part of our God-given existence.  These kinds of interpretations break the heteronormative mold by allowing for other kinds of sexual expression to be equally as affirmed as heterosexuality.  When coupled with queer understandings of human sexuality that see all forms of sexual expression as part of a spectrum, rather than a binary, such interpretations fling the doors open for all consensual forms of love and desire to be affirmed. Further, an understanding of the constructed nature of sexuality can also help on this front.  If “the heterosexual original” is “utterly constructed,” then the binary itself is ultimately broken beyond repair.[7]  Sexual desire becomes a liberated part of human nature rather than being oppressed under the boots of heteronormativity.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 24.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] The use of “sex” is intentional here: Exegetes who turn to these passages for support of heteronormativity would likely never allow for gender and sex to be separate concepts.

[4] Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 160.

[5] Augustine, “Two Book on Genesis Against the Manichaeans 2.13.19,” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Genesis 1-11, ed. Andrew Louth (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 71.

[6] The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., s.v. “heterosexuality.”

[7] Butler, Gender Trouble, 43.

Postcolonialism

“The sun never sets on the British Empire!”  This cheerful motto, happily thrown about by British citizens and colonial officers through a large portion of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, almost gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. I mean a literal warm feeling – the phrase conjures up images of sunny shores, imperial wealth, and maybe even happy natives.  It makes Empire seem like something desirable, something that enriches the world by bringing a sense of peace and happiness to the world.  And for a long time that’s how people, especially in the European and North American spheres, viewed Empire.  Empire was a sign of their people’s strength, and it brought great benefits to the world.  But times have changed.  Official empires no longer exist. Almost all of them have been entirely dismantled, and those that still cling to life have altered their structure. Imperial holdings are no longer “colonies,” but are now “Overseas Territories.”  With the dismantling of Empire came the realization that not everyone subscribed to the rosy view noted above. Colonial subjects saw imperial regimes as forces of oppression and destruction, not peace and happiness.  Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, these voices have grown, joining together across national lines to decry Empire in all its forms.  These voices together constitute the postcolonial theoretical world. Postcolonial theory is a branch of academic discourse that is aimed at deconstructing and resisting Empire, and its contributions to theology and biblical interpretation have been a great boon to these fields.

Postcolonialism got its start in the literary world of the mid-twentieth century as “a literary tool used to denote resistance to imperialist assumptions about knowledge and power in text.”[1] As such, it began as a subversive strain within the literary world that served as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with the colonial power structures of the day.  Since then, postcolonial theory has blossomed to incorporate a great number of other concerns through intersection with other deconstructive theoretical schools, such as feminism and queer theory.  At its heart, postcolonial theory seeks to name oppressive forms of power and calls for the return of power and dignity to the marginalized .

There are several key texts in the history of postcolonial theory.  Key among these is Frantz Fanon’s 1968 work, The Wretched of the Earth.[2]  In this work (and in his other writings), Fanon is concerned with “attempts made by colonized people to regain political and cultural emancipation from [their] colonizers.”[3]  While Fanon focuses primarily on the work of colonized intellectuals, his book casts a vision of freedom from colonial oppression that can be broadened to appeal to entire societies.  His work reads like a clarion call to the colonized people of the world, urging them to throw off the shackles of colonial domination and blaze their own trail. “Come then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.”[4]  Not only does Fanon call for the upheaval of direct forms of oppression, such as colonial governments, but also for the destruction of so-called cultural imperialism.  The colonized people of the world should not seek to emulate Europeans, who for so long oppressed them, but instead they should seek their own path and create their own sense of societal and cultural worth.  With texts such as Fanon’s, postcolonial theory set off on a campaign of deconstruction that continues to this day.

While formal examples of empire may no longer exist as they did in previous centuries, one does not have to look hard to see how the colonial mentality still pervades the world today.  This “neocolonialism” is not based on outright control of foreign people but it is subtler. Neocolonialism arises out of economic hegemony or through paternalistic relationships with other countries.  For example, the United States’ campaign in Iraq, ostensibly part of the War on Terror, has seen many twists and turns. Originally an offensive to remove a dictator from power, it has since become in essence a long-running occupation.  Yet, it is never described as such: The American troops are said to be in place to ensure stability and security in a war-torn country. While this may be true, the fact remains that the United States has an entrenched military presence in the country, and reaping economic benefits from it.  While it seems highly unlikely that any American government would seriously consider annexing Iraq or establishing an official colonial presence there,[5] America is exerting control over the state of affairs in Iraq, albeit in an indirect way.  For a less emotionally charged example, one could look at the case of Chinese contracts with sub-Saharan African nations, wherein China agrees to build much-needed infrastructure in return for access to these countries’ natural resources.  These situations and so many others like them, perpetrated by powerful countries against weaker ones, show that neocolonialism is rampant in the world today. As such, there is much fertile soil for the postcolonial project, as these structures of domination continue to perpetrate oppression around the globe.

But what of theology and biblical studies?  This is, after all, a blog focused on queer Bible hermeneutics. What does postcolonialism have to do with our project?  The answer to these questions lies in the use of biblical interpretation and theological discourse to justify or defend colonial structures, either explicitly or implicitly.  For example, take Christina Petterson’s  interpretation of the description of Solomon’s throne in 1 Kings 10.[6]  This text is not only intrinsically tied to the political and economic systems of its day, with the king of Israel shown as a great ruler taking tribute from weaker nations; it also served as a source of European material demands from colonial subjects in the Modern age.[7]  Pettersen’s work serves as just one example among countless interpretations of Scripture that colonizers and imperial oppressors have used to justify their domination over other peoples of the world.

In terms of deconstruction of power, many intersections exist between postcolonial theory and queer theory.  Both theories seek to eradicate forms of power that subjugate marginalized people. Both are inherently concerned with the wellbeing of the Other. Both draw on the history of liberation theology to ground their work.  By putting these two theories into conversation, we paint a vivid portrait of how power is portrayed in biblical texts. We see where God yearns for the liberation of the oppressed. These theories need not compete but both provide a wide array of biblical interpretations that deconstruct power and give hope to the hopeless.

 

An anonymous student

[1] Nicole Goulet, “Postcolonialism and the Study of Religion: Dissecting Orientalism, Nationalism, and Gender Using Postcolonial Theory,” in Religion Compass, 5.10 (October 2011), 631.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963).

[3] Ibid., 633

[4] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 252-253.

[5] Though the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination gives one pause on this point, but that’s a discussion for another time.

[6] Christina Petterson, “Nothing Like It Was Ever Made in Any Kingdom: The Hunt for Solomon’s Throne,” in Postcolonialism and the Hebrew Bible: The Next Step, ed. Roland Boer, (Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 2013), 93-108.

[7] Petterson, “Nothing Like It Was Ever Made in Any Kingdom,” 96.

White (American) Homophobia

The word homophobia tends to trouble the hearts and minds of those who hear it. There is an innate fear of the word due to social locations and cultural differences. The crucial issue is that this troublesome word has become imbedded into the ethos and philosophy of society in America. More overly, homophobia has further influenced the dichotomy of segregation within the Christian church. White (American) homophobia has created itself to be accepted and perpetrated in the general society, creating ghettos of oppression for those who are not white and who identify as queer or non-white.

The word homophobia is a compound of two Greek prefixes/suffixes. Homo translates as same and phobia as fear[i]. In essence, homophobia, in the American sense, has come to be understood as fear of those who identify as same gender loving, bisexual, lesbian, trans, or queer. The Christian church has contributed widely to the formation of this definition, being that it is and has been an organization of homogenic androcentrism. On top of it, the interpretation of Leviticus 18:22, or better the mis-interpretation or lack thereof, has had a significant bearing on defining homophobia.

Since the formation of time, humans have always feared circumstances, substances, and concepts that are foreign. A person identifying apart from the normative binaries, forecasts a dichotomy of fear. It then parallels oppression and degradation to coincide with the normative justification for segregation. Even the naked eye conceptualizes the effects that this insight has upon racism, especially in America, and in recent years, religious bigotry throughout the world.

Academic scholars have written many articles on Black Homophobia, but very few have written on the white position. It is possible to assume that white homophobia is not focused on in academia due to heteronormativity. In essence, being homophobic in the White American Anglo-Saxon Protestant world is normative. Only a nuclear family can be accepted in society and anything contrary represents non-conformability. This homophobia, again in my opinion, exists due to fear of losing privilege and power.

The ethos of America has always been to have privilege and power. This dynamic is represented in the United States history of wars, slavery, sexism, heteronormativity, racism, segregation, and now nationalism. In my study of religious movements, I conceptualize bias in this way: American nationalism is a religious movement toward purer “Whiteness,” operating and moving (perhaps the lack thereof) in the name of Jesus. It is a movement that separates those who disagree and do not “fit the part.” Furthermore, because of the actions from persons who advance extreme patriotism and elect lawmakers who implore “faith values” and resist immigration reform, American nationalism continues to grow. The fear(s) of this country’s citizens also contribute to religious fundamentalist indoctrination of younger generations with dogma crafted and proclaimed inerrant.

Some scholars support such analysis. One of them is Howard Rice who states: “[A]s is true of other expressions of sin, homophobia is neither easily identified nor easily removed. One might quarrel with the report on the grounds that we cannot, on our own, reject our homophobia. Such rejection requires God’s grace, for homophobia is too deeply rooted in our being and in our culture for us to be able to remove it ourselves[ii].” He continues: “[H]omophobia is rooted in fear and cannot be acknowledged without painful soul searching. The truth is that we generally act upon our fears by denying that we have them, by projecting unacceptable attitudes upon others, or by defensive measures which protect us from having to acknowledge our fear[iii].” Rice explains a theory that I have associated with homophobia. Homophobia is rooted in extreme fear and lack of concern to face fear.

Supported by Rice, I maintain that white male homophobia happens because of a fear to acknowledge love through pain. We can only work towards acceptance by moving through pain. The evidence of this does not have to be proved by scholars, articles, or by parents. Life teaches acceptance by pain through daily living. Acceptance and love happen situational in learning, communication, and human cognition. Life’s ethics and morals, on part by social location, teach learned fears and prejudices. The evidence of truth is exhibited in same-gender-loving/LGBTQ circles.

Labels, such as top, bottom, versatile, stud, fem, masculine-top, fem-bottom, and other colloquialisms, have been established based upon normative positions. Sometimes, in my opinion, those who identify with these labels might add that they are also only interested in certain races. In addition, an extreme dichotomy of homophobia exists on part of White males in the gay community who prefer other white males who represent a particular image. I defend this position with Simon Copeland who states, “[I]n challenging homophobia, we have become our own oppressors. We’ve adopted homophobic stereotypes and used them against ourselves[iv].” He continues: “[T]his results in gay men facing massive anxiety over body image, leading to depression, eating disorders and even the abuse of drugs and alcohol. It stops gay men from being able to be themselves, instead forcing us back into boxes and facing rejection from our own.”

Segregated ghettos of oppression exist because of normative positions of patriarchy. Although most will not admit it, the unfortunate reality is that patriarchy is dominated by Christian hierarchies. Rice states: “[T]he church attracts people who want clear and simple answers to questions which are troubling. The church is a safe place to avoid meeting openly homosexual people since most homosexual people have either been driven away from the church or have been forced to hide their sexual orientation[v].” He continues: “[F]inally, the leadership of the church is still dominantly composed of middle-aged males who are nervous and uncomfortable about sex role changes[vi].” He also explains states, “[O]ur homophobia gets in the way of our faithfulness and must be addressed whatever our particular interpretation of scripture[vii].”

Rice makes a valid point that I feel necessary to use as a conclusion: “[however] we understand scripture, it is clear that the witness of the Bible is always on the side of the oppressed. God is revealed to be a God who cares especially for the widow, the orphan, stranger, outsider or sufferer. In Christ, the character of God is clarified even more dramatically[viii].” The words attributed to John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can[ix]…” speak volumes to the hermeneutics implied in Micah 6:8. Our world is hurting and homophobia has not helped it. Doing justice means imploring the power of God to work within us to do better. Ending homophobia means being the embodiment of the Gospel, reaching, teaching, studying, and inspiring not only those that are struggle, but also ourselves who desire a profounder holiness amid the divine.[x]

 

 

Endnotes:

[i] homo and φοβία, as spelled in Greek, have been transliterated into English and only used in American English since the 1960s, according to Merrian-Webster.

[ii] Rice, Howard. Homophobia: The Overlooked Sin. Church & Society, 73 no 2 Nov – Dec 1982. (6)

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Copland, Simon. “In Challenging Homophobia, Gay Men Have Become Our Own Oppressors.” The Guardian. 2016. Accessed May 02, 2016.

[v] Rice, 6-7.

[vi] Ibid, 7.

[vii] Ibid, 11.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] This saying has always been attributed to John Wesley, although no evidence or citation has been found to prove validity.

[x] Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 5:8, 22:37 and Hebrews 12:10, 14 all mention following this way of life.

Valorized Masochism

Everyone gave me high fives as I swaggered down our elementary school hall.  It was all a gargantuan act.  My arm throbbed with every heartbeat and I wanted to sprint to the nurse and get some ice.  I got myself into a contest at recess with the brilliant goal of taking the most punches before crying, “Uncle!”  Apparently, I was the winner and everyone sang my praises for being tough.  A couple of girls even smiled my way at the water fountains.  I played the role, but the production seemed absolutely absurd.  The next morning my entire shoulder was black and blue and I experienced intense pain with every move of my arm.  Sure, I wanted to be cool and accepted, but now I was terrified to my core of what kind of mess that desire would get me into.  The sources of approval change as we get older, but the general concept is still the same in our careers and social structures.  Why do we play such ludicrous games?  Valorized masochism is a strong concept within many interpretations of Christianity that “tells us that we (human beings) are not worthy of the things we are given; it tells us that suffering is not only ‘normal’ but is to be desired; it espouses humility; it beatifies submission; it glorifies pain”.[1]

Christianity plays a prominent role in the widespread epidemic of valorized masochism.  Teresa Hornsby argues, “Christianity consistently takes a leading role in constructing subservient bodies, normative desires born of masochism; indeed, a masochistic impulse lies at the heart of Pauline Christianity; idealized suffering, willful self- sacrifice, glorified humiliation, and romanticized slavery”.[2]  The creation of subservient bodies plays into imperialist forces of domination and aids in the accumulation of capital.  Hornsby explains that in today’s capitalism there is less need for bodies due to technological advances but there is a greater need for “those bodies” to “serve selflessly”.[3]  Consequently, imperialist forces promote the masochistic idea that suffering and self-sacrifice are preferred.  Hornsby maintains that the masochistic idea has become so ingrained in us that we gain “a sense of joy out of self-deprivation”.[4]  Neo-imperialistic forces promote scriptural interpretations that exude masochistic ideals, as in verses such as Phil 2:7-8:  “but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross” (NRSV).  Interpretations emphasize that the “crucifixion must be more than a single event of torture; it is a call to mimic the ideal, to suffer as Christ suffered, to participate in the pain”.[5]

The promotion of valorized masochism through the means of Christianity is inherently clear in the film The Passion of the Christ. Hornsby calls it “Mel Gibson’s ode to Christian masochism”.[6]  Hornsby explains her “first suspicion about the film was that it was perhaps one in a long line of war-propaganda films espousing the value and necessity of self-sacrifice”.[7]  This quote importantly highlights the maintaining of imperialist governments through the use of valorized masochism to build military might.  Overall, the “film and its receptors seem to say that to be a good Christian, to be worthy of forgiveness and of salvation, one must desire and willingly submit to the most brutal tortures”.[8]  The concept of valorized masochism is severely problematic within our world because it feeds the voracious appetite of the beast of hegemony instead of aiding to bring an end to oppression.

Many scholars in theological and religious study regard Christian masochism as problematic.  For example, womanist theologian, Delores Williams, focuses on valorized masochism and its relation to oppression.  She argues that notions of the redemptive nature of the crucifixion reinforce an idea that Jesus, in a form of surrogacy, suffers for our sins.[9]  Salvation, thus understood, is an oppressive concept.  Williams then connects her critique to surrogacy because it was an immense source of suffering and pain for African American women.  She explains: “God did not intend the defilement of their bodies as white men put them in the place of white women to provide sexual pleasure for white men during the slavocracy.  This was rape.”[10]  She asserts that Jesus was “mocked and defiled” in the same way when his nakedness and private parts” were exposed and “the integrity of his divine mission” was mocked.[11]   Thus, to Williams, the cross is “an image of defilement, a gross manifestation of collective human sin”.[12]  The cross then cannot be redemptive; it instead furthers oppression.[13]  To Williams, the focus should be on Jesus’ ministerial life as being redemptive.  Jesus came to “show humans a perfect vision of ministerial relation that humans had very little knowledge of”.[14]

Another example for Christianity as furthering the problem of valorized masochism relates to LGBTQ people; it pertains to the idea of celibacy for them.  Conservative Christians advocate celibacy to LGBTQ people by acknowledging it as a source of suffering while they affirm it as a grace-filled approach.  Matthew Vines debunks the commonly held belief among conservative Christians that requiring celibacy for LGBTQ people holds biblical credibility.  Vines critiques how conservative Christians point to the celibacy of Paul and Jesus and apply it to LGBTQ Christians today.  Conservative Christians often highlight that suffering and sacrifice were part of Jesus and Paul’s ministries.[15] Vines argues indeed that there is a problem with this kind of argument because “Christians throughout history have affirmed that lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and calling, not a path that should be forced upon someone.”[16]  Vines asserts that some heterosexual Christians may be involuntarily celibate, but they are not asked to relinquish any future hope of marriage.[17]  He articulates the fundamental difference in the following way: “For straight Christians, abstinence outside marriage affirms the goodness both of marriage and of sex within marriage.  But for gay Christians, mandatory celibacy affirms something different: the sinfulness of every possible expression of their sexuality.”[18]  Vines further explains: “Such an absolute rejection of one’s sexuality might make sense if one’s sexual desires were oriented exclusively toward abusive or lustful practices.  It makes considerably less sense when at least some of one’s desires are oriented toward a covenantal relationship of mutual love, care, and self-sacrifice.”[19]

It is important to note that, according to Vines, required celibacy and its ensuing theology often “fuels despair to the point of suicide.”[20]  Vines defends his posits with Genesis 2:18.  He underscores that God said that it is not good for “man” to be alone.[21]  Requiring celibacy, in turn, requires suffering.  This masochistic idea is a gross abuse of theology and power.  I adamantly emphasize that the level of absurdity one must achieve to require the agony of another in order to include them in your conception of a grace filled life should utterly appall us; likewise, the arrogance one must possess to declare suffering as the will of God should quake us to the foundation of our being.  Valorized masochism lacks valor!                                                                        

Anonymous Student

[1]Teresa J. Hornsby, “Capitalism, Masochism, and Biblical Interpretation,” in Bible Trouble, eds. Teresa J. Hornsby, Ken Stone (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 139.

[2]Ibid., 142.

[3]Ibid., 140.

[4]Ibid., 142.

[5]Ibid., 146.

[6]Ibid., 143.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid.

[9] Delores S. Williams. Sisters in the Wilderness (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1993), 166.

[10]Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Ibid., 167.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 16.

[16]Ibid.,  44.

[17]Ibid., 17.

[18]Ibid.

[19]Ibid., 18.

[20]Ibid., 19.

[21]Ibid., 45.

Bibliography

 Hornsby, Teresa J. “Capitalism, Masochism, and Biblical Interpretation.” In BibleTrouble, eds. Teresa J. Hornsby, and Ken Stone, 1-7. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian, New York: Convergent Books, 2014.

Williams, Delores S.. Sisters in the Wilderness, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1993.

Patriarchy

Patriarchy is a widespread system of male domination that has caused great oppression in our world and in the Christian church for the ages.  Mary Daly brilliantly states in her monumentally significant work Beyond God the Father: “If God is male then male is God”.[1]  This statement, for Daly, is about the dominant position of the system of patriarchy.  This system was created by men to serve men.[2]  Men have been in positions of domination and have created the social roles and social order that have left women as victims.[3] Patriarchy is supported by a plethora of theologies and philosophies that benefit men and oppress women.[4]   Social roles are so heavily internalized that women often unconsciously submit to these oppressive forces.[5]  Patriarchy is a horrendous, widespread epidemic that has a vast network of sexist social agreements.  Daly asserts that patriarchal structures have “gang raped” women’s minds and bodies.[6] She proposes a revolution of the whole system because she believes that patriarchy can be changed.[7]

Our societal structures are infected with the puss of patriarchy.  For Daly, the structures in society reside in language and the power to name.[8]  Men have overwhelmingly named women in inadequate ways throughout history.[9]  Naming all humanity as “man” implies that full humanity is ascribed to males only.[10]  In order to liberate language, women must support each other and toil for change.[11]  Daly calls for the castration of language to rid language from all vestiges of a sexist world.[12]   She further desires “radical change in the fabric of human consciousness” to fight the structures of patriarchy.[13]  The caricature of the male in our world is dominating and hyper-rational, while women are passive and hyperemotional.[14]   Clearly, we have to move beyond these caricatures and move toward androgyny. [15]  Only then will we will rid ourselves of oppressively patriarchal gender roles and gender stereotypes that affect all of humanity, especially women and LGBTQ people.

The system of patriarchy runs rampant in Christianity.  Daly emphasizes that the commonly held view that God is male causes us to identify male domination and female subordination with the will of God.[16]  We must transcend this idea about God to bring about change.  Patriarchal societies have greatly influenced Christianity’s ideas of women’s roles in the church.  Christianity started as an egalitarian movement that resisted the domination of Rome with its patriarchal norms.  Mary Magdalene is the witness to the empty tomb, the resurrection, or both in all four gospels.  Mary Magdalene is later associated with the sexual sinner in John 8 and the tradition becomes that Magdalene must be a prostitute, a claim for which there is no evidence.  Patriarchal powers perpetuated this error to discredit women.  These powers have worked to oppress women in these and other ways throughout the history of the church.

Through an examination of the works of Paul we can see that women were foundational and respected leaders in the early Christian church, but the power of patriarchy devalued and discredited this fact.  Paul uses the term fellow workers (synergós) to describe “special collaborators of the apostle” in carrying out the sacred task of preaching the good news of the kingdom and were highly placed church officials of the day.[17]  Paul recognizes four people as his fellow workers in Romans 16.3-16 (Prisca, Aquila, Urbanus, Timothy) and the one mentioned first among them is a woman.  Women such as Prisca were also leaders of house churches and could be called “pastors” of these churches to use present day terminology.[18]  Paul also gives titles of leadership and importance to women in the early church, but patriarchal powers have strived to discredit this fact.  Paul uses the specific title of deacon when referring to a woman named Phoebe in Romans 16.1-2.  Patriarchal powers consistently argue that this term actually meant deaconess and refers to a position only related to the service of other women, but the office referred to does not come about until the fourth century.[19]  Also, In Romans 16.7, Paul greets Andronicus and Junia and describes them as being prominent among the apostles.  Junia, a woman, is given this prestigious title by Paul.  In the case of Junia, we see the male-dominated world try to eradicate from history the obvious central role that women played in the early church.  While the early church fathers took Junia to be feminine, from the Reformation period onward there was a decision that Junia was actually a man based on the sole motivation that a woman could not be granted the title “apostle”.[20]  The name was changed to Junias to try and make it masculine, but there is no evidence of males with this name in the proper historical period while there is plenty of evidence to support the feminine Junia.[21]  As you can see, women had prominent positions of power in the early church but patriarchy worked hard to strip them of their God-ordained right.  Scriptural texts such as the Household Codes in Ephesians and Colossians (Ephesians 5:22-6:9/ Colossians 3:18-4:1) have been abundantly abused to spread this oppression in the church.  These texts are also widely used to oppress women in their daily lives and women are often forced into subservient roles in their marriages and careers.

Patriarchy has deeply affected the LGBTQ community, including in the interpretation of the Bible.  Matthew Vines states, “There are no Christians today that hold truly traditional views on homosexuality.”[22]  He further writes, “For the overwhelming majority of human history, homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation that distinguished a minority of people from the heterosexual majority.”[23]  He emphasizes that instead same-sex sexual acts were considered to be a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess.[24]  This research leads Vines to conclude that in the ancient world men were expected to be attracted to both sexes.  Vines compares sexuality in the ancient world to how we view food preferences today.  We know the basic appetites of hunger and thirst but our food preferences vary widely and we do not see people as having a fixed “food orientation.”[25]  Instead people’s sexual preferences could differ as widely as their palates.[26]  What instead held grave importance was patriarchal gender roles.  The gender role that one assumed in sex was of utmost concern.  Vines explains: “In Rome, an adult male citizen could have sex with slaves, prostitutes, or concubines regardless of gender, but it was acceptable only if he took an active role in the encounter.”[27]  Accordingly, a Roman man was only allowed to have sex with male slaves, prostitutes, and concubines because they did not have the full status of man.  If a man took a passive role in these sexual encounters, he could be killed for that act.[28]  This differentiation resulted directly from patriarchy.  Due to patriarchy, women were associated with “all that was weak, cowardly, irrational, and self-indulgent.”[29]  Vines emphasizes that since women were seen to be inferior, it was highly degrading for a man to be seen as womanly.  Same-sex behavior was only approved when a man “dominated someone of a lower status.”[30] Many theologians apply this knowledge to biblical interpretation, showing that the biblical passages commonly used to argue against LGBTQ behavior are actually statements about patriarchal gender roles.

Anonymous Student

[1]Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985), 19.

[2]Ibid., 4.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid., 7.

[5]Ibid., 2.

[6]Ibid., 9.

[7]Ibid., 13.

[8]Ibid., 8.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid., 9.

[11]Ibid., 8.

[12]Ibid., 9.

[13]Ibid., 15.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid., 19.

[17]Adolphus Amadi-Azuogu. Gender and Ministry in Early Christianity  (Lanham: University Press of America, 2007), 2.

[18]Ibid., 4.

[19]Mary Rose D’Angelo. Women and Christian Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 208.

[20]Ibid., 209.

[21]Susanne Heine. Women and Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987), 42.

[22]Matthew Vines. God and the Gay Christian (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 31.

[23]Ibid.

[24]Ibid.

[25]Ibid., 33.

[26]Ibid., 34.

[27]Ibid., 36.

[28]Ibid., 37.

[29]Ibid.

[30]Ibid.

Bibliography

Amadi-Azuogu, Adolphus. Gender and Ministry in Early Christianity. Lanham: University Press of America, 2007.

Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.

D’ Angelo, Mary Rose. Women and Christian Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Heine, Susanne. Women and Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987.

Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian, New York: Convergent Books, 2014.

Justice

Can Justice Be Served Practicing a Queer Hermeneutics of the Bible?

Bigotry and violence aimed at “queer” people can be traced to fear and hatred felt by many who consider heterosexuality the only normative behavior. For the purposes of this essay “queer” is anyone who lives outside of a heteronormative construct and includes the LGBTIQ community. The heteronormative construct is a framework whereby everyone is measured against the plumb line of heterosexuality as the “normal” existence. Thankfully, a multitude of voices have risen against racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and many other “isms” and against the heteronormative construct. In the hearts of many of these protestors is the desire to do the right thing for all of humanity. Those living at the edges of society and their courageous defenders seek justice for all and recognition that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth.”[i] Ironically, the statement “all persons are individuals of sacred worth” is made by the United Methodist Church, an organization that specifically excludes gay people from ordination and strictly forbids its ministers from performing same-sex marriages.

One cannot comprehensively discuss the treatment of marginalized members of society without entertaining a conversation regarding justice. Justice means more than “all things must equal for all people.” Equality, simply stated, means that everyone gets the same right, access or status regardless of their circumstances. Justice is ensuring that everyone receives or is able to obtain what they need according to their needs.  Equality is a distribution of resources in an equal amount, whereas justice is a distribution of resources to level the playing field. The question this discussion will attempt to answer is: “Can justice be served practicing a queer hermeneutics of the Bible?”

A thorough answer to the previous question requires a brief examination of what the Bible says about justice. The word justice occurs 125 times in the scripture. God outlines the plan for Abraham as “doing righteousness and justice” in Genesis 18:19. Public officials charged with leading the Israelites are instructed: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20). Jesus admonishes the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 for neglecting “the law, justice, mercy, and faith.” The theme of justice is scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible.   A formal definition of justice is “rendering to everyone that which is her/his due.” One specific verse, Micah 6:8 states, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The Hebrew word for “justice” within this text is mishpat or “a verdict pronounced judicially; especially a sentence or formal decree…including a participant’s right or privilege.”[ii] Matthew Henry comments on this passage, that God “has shown us our end, which we should aim at, in showing us what is good, wherein our true happiness does consist.” Henry indicates that our happiness can be found in doing justice. [iii]  Likewise, the New Testament goes into great detail describing the price necessary to avoid the consequences of death upon sinful humanity.  God tells the children of Israel that blood is required to cover their iniquities and Christ calls believers to remember the sacrifice of his “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”[iv] For followers of Christ, justice is the blood shed on the cross by Jesus as payment for their sin.

The question, “Can justice be served practicing a queer hermeneutics of the Bible” can be answered depending upon one’s interpretive style or hermeneutics. The framework within which texts of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are frequently grounded is the androcentric-heteronormative framework. The relevance of this restrictive lens of interpretation explains why texts have been used against anyone who lives outside of the androcentric-heteronormative paradigm.  Scripture translations perpetuate injustices, perhaps unintentionally, but they always oppress, control and discriminate. For instance, the United Methodist Church’s statement on human sexuality, does not “condone the practice of homosexuality,” considering it to be “incompatible with Christian teachings”. [v] These are very strong words for an organization which goes on to say, “We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law”.[vi] In other words, the protection of the rights of same-sex couples is the best legal recourse to take (simple justice), but it does not mirror the direction the UMC takes spiritually, emotionally, theologically, or socially. The UMC reads justice from a hermeneutics of jurisprudence ignoring the prism of social location.

It is obvious that biblical interpretations, conducted through an androcentric-heteronormative hermeneutic sustain injustice and oppression. An adjustment from a heteronormative to a queer hermeneutics would help to resist the oppressive nature of the androcentric-heteronormative hegemony.  Instead, a reading of the sacred texts from the social location of the oppressed, the marginalized, “Other,” would create new understanding about how best to serve justice. Perhaps a new theory of justice needs to be articulated to answer this question: “Can justice be served practicing a queer hermeneutics of the Bible”?

Theologians and ethicists have dealt with this question. For example, Karen Lebacqz’ Theory of Justice defines justice as “not so much a state of being as a struggle and a constant process. It is the process of correcting what is unjust. It is the process of providing new beginnings, not an ideal state of distribution.”[vii] Lebacqz examines injustice and places it in an alternative framework of not giving “everyone what is due” but effecting justice by correcting injustices.  She outlines a rudimentary five step process whereby this restorative justice can be utilized to correct injustice. Lebacqz explains:

  1. Justice will be conceived very broadly. It will participate in the richness of the biblical concept of justice in which justice is nothing less than “right relationship” or sedaqah
  2. Justice will reside in responsibilities and duties, not in rights. The covenant of mutual responsibility…implies care of one for another, the welfare of each depends on the other.
  3. The primary injustice is therefore exploitation. Domination and oppression are injustices because they are violations of a covenant of mutual responsibility. They violate the relationship and they violate the personhood of both parties.
  4. Since injustice is rooted in exploitation and oppression, justice as the process of correction of injustice takes shape primarily in rescue/resistance and in rebuke/reparations. God’s justice for the oppressed consists in liberation from oppression. The struggle for justice by the oppressed therefore consists in resistance to forms of oppression and in actions consonant with liberation as the goal. Those responsible for injustice have the duty of redress…ending exploitation or oppression and making reparations for the harms caused by past injustices.
  5. Any such justice will be understood to be incomplete and partial. Self-analysis and self-correction will therefore be a crucial part of a theory of justice.[viii]

The strengths and weaknesses of Lebacqz’ process must be considered before using her theory to answer the question: “Can justice be served practicing a queer hermeneutics of the Bible?” The strengths of restorative justice are its breadth, commitment to sedaqah (grounded in charity), righteousness, the idea of a covenant of mutual responsibility, and its exhortation to resist oppression. A queer biblical hermeneutics supports such an approach to justice. It not only hears the voice of the oppressed but also reveals the identity of the oppressor. It also deconstructs the androcentric-heteronormative construct through which scripture is regularly interpreted.  Conversely, the weaknesses of the process can be found primarily as they apply to getting the oppressor to admit culpability, stop exploitative practices, and make reparation. Recompense for injustice may ease a portion of the suffering of the oppressed; but, hurtful words and violent actions once spoken and carried out cannot be unsaid or undone. We cannot un-murder Matthew Shepard[ix] and we cannot un-speak the hateful names used against queers for generations.

Understanding justice, from a queer hermeneutical perspective, highlights the tremendous amount of work that remains to be done in ensuring justice for queer communities. Everything begins with a conversation between parties willing to practice “self-analysis and self-correction.” Sacred texts such as the Bible contain many instructions for practicing justice. Interpretations of these Bible verses via an androcentric-heteronormative hermeneutic serves to oppress those living outside of the androcentric-heteronormative paradigm. Interpretations via a queer hermeneutical practice will serve justice by providing a more inclusive interpretation of scripture. We must be committed to correcting injustice so that we can begin practicing justice.

Endnotes:

[i] United Methodist Church. Umg.org: What We Believe. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/human-sexuality-backgrounder.

[ii] Blue Letter Bible. Accessed April 23, 2016. https://www.blueletterbible.org//search

[iii] Ibid

[iv]  The New Interpretors Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Walter J Harrelson, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 2003.

[v] United Methodist Church. Umg.org: What We Believe. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/human-sexuality-backgrounder.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Karen Legacqz. “Implications for a Social Justice Theory.” In From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics, edited by Wayne G. Boulton, Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey , (Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 254-260.

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Julie Blindel, “The Truth Behind America’s Most Famous Gay-Hate Murder,” The Guardian, October 24, 2014, accessed May 6, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/26/the-truth-behind-americas-most-famous-gay-hate-murder-matthewshepard