Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Group Interview with the Editors of Queering Christianity - Part II

Part II of yesterday's interview:

What do you want readers to learn from your book?

R. Shore-Goss (RS): As non-LGBTQI readers read the book, they will see how queer Christians share some of the similar experiences of Christianity with unique differences as well. There is a place for all of us at the table. The mission of the open and inclusive table, that repeats the historical Jesus, is a powerful symbol of God’s wild grace.

Cheng (PC): My hope is that the readers of our book will recognize the diversity of perspectives that exist within queer theology, and that the book can help others to find their own theological voices.

Bohache (TB): That God’s table has always been open. It is the gatekeepers who have restricted it.

Thomas (NT): I would like readers to hear both an alternative voice and the liberation that the book offers to our Sacred Text. Many will, I hope, give God a second, third or  . . . chance to discover a liberating, loving and inclusive God.

J. Shore-Goss (JSG): My chapters were about allowing space for deep listening, yet throughout the book there is the challenge to open up, allow light into the places that were once dark and know—truly know—that all are welcome to the table . . . that in the Creator's eyes we are all one, all worthy, and all loved.

More (MM): I hope they think, and question what they thought they knew, and become aware of a greater expanse of God’s grace in the world.

Saniuk (JS): To give themselves permission to see Jesus in the light of their own experiences, not just in what they have been taught to believe; to see him as a companion who encountered incredible brutality . . . and then rose again.

If your book inspired one change in the world, what would you want it to be?

RS: Greater inclusiveness of the Christian denominations of queer theologies and voices and more “green” churches.

PC: I would love to see religious discussions about LGBTQI issues move from polarized debates to polyvalent conversations in which multiple perspectives are held together in creative tension.

TB: More inclusivity and greater discussion of queer issues in the church and more interest in theology within the queer community(ies).

NT: The ultimate and radical full inclusion of God’s people regardless of gender, gender identity, race, color, faith experience, age, or other “ism” that excludes and separates people into an “in” or “out” group!

JSG: My wish would be that all churches and religions find a place for LGBTQI persons at their tables. Once our faith communities find a way of seeing all as equal, so will the rest of our societies.

MM: The one change I would pray for is that people come to openly accept transgenders as they wish to be—normalized in society without the stigma of hate and marginalization, and without being abused by fundamentalist misuse of the Bible as a weapon against them.

JS: For churches to stop demonizing LGBTQI people (among others) in the name of God.

Where might others focus their energies in following on your work in this area?

RS: The development of heterosexual queer theologies, more reflections on transgendered and intersexed theologies, a theology of sexuality (inclusive of married, single, and alternative configurations) that pushes the exploration of the interconnections of sexuality and spirituality.

PC: My hope is that more LGBTQI theologians will write about the intersections of race and sexuality and, in particular, about the significant contributions that LGBTQI people of color have made to queer theology.

TB: Sexual minorities within the LGBTQI community(ies)

NT: I hope that a Theology of Inclusion might one day be developed.

JSG: This is a Christianity-based book coming out of the Metropolitan Community Churches experience of the open table. I would love to see other people of faith start to explore and see what something similar may look like in their context, Christian and non-Christian alike.

JS: I would love to see even more “queered” worship forms! We have an incredible freedom in MCC to re-make our collective spiritual practice. The open Communion table is just the beginning.

What are you working on now?

RS: I have the copyright for Jesus ACTED UP: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto. It appeared in 1993 and was a classic in starting queer theology. I was just introduced as the “father of queer theology” at the UCC General Synod by a queer clergy. I intend to publish this classic in Kindle form: Jesus ACTED UP: Then and Now. I will re-publish the original book, and I have asked several scholars to talk about the then and the now (where are we going). I am also enmeshed in a Christian green theology and hope to have completed it in the fall of 2014.

PC: I am currently writing about what theologians need to know about queer theory for a forthcoming work on theology, sexuality, and gender.

TB: A book on “queering the Body of Christ” – expanding the disreputable ecclesiology touched on in my chapter “Unzipping Church” in Queering Christianity.

NT: Continue to work on marriage equality, immigration, the environment, equal access to health care, HIV/AIDS, poverty. Future book: "A Theology of Inclusion: The Emerging Church in the 21st Century."

JSG: I am currently studying and researching for my Ph.D. through the Graduate Theological Foundation. I am looking at the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as an international queer pluralistic spiritual community for the 21st century.

JS: There is really interesting work on shame in congregations that is just coming out. I also am looking more deeply into the particularities of the “T” side of LGBTQI, and intersections with race and gender that I haven’t yet been able to explore.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Group Interview with the Editors of Queering Christianity - Part I

Why is the publication of Queering Christianity important at this moment in history—that is, how does it relate to today's news headlines or connect to contemporary questions or issues?

Robert Shore-Goss (RS): As the ghettoized church is drawing to an end, except for some geographic areas, it brings LGBTQI experience into dialogue with mainstream Christian denominations. At the recent UCC General Synod, the head of the Open and Affirming Churches (some 1,200 churches) indicated plans to recommend the book. There is a strong parallel between marriage equality and churches opening up to include LGBTQI people into their churches, ordaining them and marrying them. This has led an upsurge of gay/lesbian students in the seminaries.

Patrick Cheng (PC): LGBTQI issues have been in the headlines recently with the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California Proposition 8. Religious debates over LGBTQI issues remain hotly contested, however, and I believe that books such as Queering Christianity are important contributions to the broader conversations about LGBTQI issues.

Thomas Bohache (TB): In the public/civil/secular sphere we see more and more progress in rights for LGBTQI people. However, we do not see the same sort of progress in the religious sphere. This book I believe will open non-queer people to some points of view foreign to them; for queer people, the book will make them realize that they do indeed have a place at the table, even if they have not yet found it.

Neil Thomas (NT): In the changing religious and political scene, with the growing acceptance of LGBTQI peoples in mainline religious organizations, this book is both vital and timely in the ongoing understanding and evolution of God’s revealed Word.

Joseph Shore-Goss (JSG): As the marriage equality movement moves forward in the United States and in other countries there are still places where the LGBTQI community are still persecuted and even killed for being who they are…created and loved in God’s image. This book helps move that conversation forward…but more importantly, move it forward in a Christian context.

Megan More (MM): With the increased focus on the LGBTQI community regarding marriage equality and job protections, removing the stigma and dispelling the ignorance is more important than ever, especially when it comes to religion and dogma.

Joan Saniuk (JS): We are in the midst of an incredible sea change in the culture. The overturning of DOMA is a legal acknowledgment that LGBTQI people, and the families we form (or not), are for real. Queering Christianity gives voice to the experience, and wisdom, that this community has learned in the past half-century. It’s a perfect time to bring that wisdom out into the open.

What drew you to the topic of Queering Christianity? How does the topic relate to you personally?

PC: As an openly gay seminary professor and a queer theologian, I have written extensively about the intersections of theology, pastoral care, and the spiritual lives of LGBTQI people.

TB: Inclusivity is extremely important to me for it is the central message of Jesus. We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ if we do not embrace and encourage inclusivity across all boundaries. I am a gay man who was ejected from the table and told not to make a reservation again, so this topic is very dear to my heart. After 25 years of ministry to the LGBTQI community(ies), I see that it is still just as important as it was in my youth.

NT: As a pastor in Metropolitan Community Churches for the past 24 years, this is both my journey and my story to understand that God’s Word is queer, subversive, and includes me.

JSG: I have to admit my husband is an editor so I am close to the context to begin with. I had just finished my M.A. thesis on pastoral care and counseling with transgendered youth and that is what actually led to the invite to write for the book. I have been openly gay and active in the LGBTQI community since I was 22. I have always been involved deeply in my community, and this book allowed me to engage some topics in a deep spiritual context where my passion for my faith and my community can come together.

MM: As a transwoman and ordained minister, I feel that a legitimate "trans" voice must be heard.

JS: I joined MCC in the 1990s –a time of horrific stress in the queer and HIV-affected communities. It was both baffling, and alarming, to see many organizations disintegrate, whether through exhaustion or with bizarre infighting, as Eric Rofes and Urvashi Vaid among others have chronicled. I needed to understand how I—how we as MCC—could maintain a ministry of hope amid all that chaos.

What did you learn in the course of your research; what discovery surprised you the most?

TB: That the diverse types of discrimination are all located in the concept of power—who has it, who wants it, and what people do to keep it.
Thomas: I discovered much more about God’s radical inclusion and the misinterpretation of God’s Word as revealed through evangelical Christianity, which has dominated the religious discourse in this past century. This dominant culture is shifting and changing, and a more progressive voice is emerging.

JSG: What truly astounded me in my research was that no one--I mean no one--had addressed pastoral care for transgendered youth. This is one of the most underserved populations within the queer community and a group at the highest risk as often they are kicked out of homes, living on the streets, susceptible to drug abuse, prostitution, and/or rape.

MM: Little surprised me in relation to my own writing, since these are issues that have been dear to my heart for some time. Realizing how this has affected other theologians and authors was my own pleasant surprise.

JS: I discovered Leanne McCall Tigert’s work on trauma theory at the same time that I was studying congregations where there had been abuse. Suddenly, all the drama I’d observed began to fit into a larger pattern.

What challenges did you face in your research or writing?

JSG: The most difficult thing was taking old concepts or hetero-normative language and seeking out the expression of thought that I believed would be more accessible to the LGBTQI community.

MM: My only real challenges is the lack of writing on this issue overall. Transgenders in religion is not a very expansive subject, yet.

JS: I really struggled with how to apply the information from trauma theory, to talk about some very real psychological challenges without pathologizing. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Dead Tree Version of the Internet: Using Books in the Digital Age High School

By: Nick Burns, Student, Marketing Intern, ABC-CLIO

To the publishers of the world be contented to know that you are, in fact, still needed. For high school research papers, at least. Of course, the volume of information available on the Internet has grown, is growing, and always will grow—that is the fundamental trait of the Internet—but this information remains (and likely will remain) for the most part scattered, undeveloped, and insufficiently specific for even high school research purposes. That is, if the high school student in question wants to write a halfway-decent paper.

I did want to write a halfway-decent paper earlier this year for my AP US History class, on the writings of Henry David Thoreau and how they shaped the later American conservation movement that starred personalities like the bravado-inebriated Teddy Roosevelt, the eccentric Gifford Pinchot, and the solitary saint of Yosemite, John Muir. The Internet was the place to start. Online resources, since they cater to reduced attention spans and to the most general of audiences, and thanks to the interconnectedness of the Internet, are usually the most useful to start with. The ABC-CLIO page on the American conservation movement, in the American History database, serves as an excellent example of this. I came across names I'd heard of (Thoreau, Emerson, Muir) but also important ones I hadn't (George Marsh was the most important of these). The broad network that is the Internet let me get the minimum level of knowledge to be able to navigate more complicated analyses of the time period.

However, an understanding of history, like an understanding of most things, is not complete without an array of biased and unbiased sources that must be synthesized into a complete picture. Coming to that understanding requires in these perspectives a fair amount of specificity, and perhaps even more importantly the right amount of bias—not bias, maybe, but inflection: not a sterile encyclopedia article, yet not a zealot ranting on a comments page—something that can only be found in books. What's more, a well-researched, well-written nonfiction book is a specific, personal investigation into an issue. That's what differentiates books from crowd-sourced Internet articles.

The databases were useful for gaining the level of knowledge necessary to be able to parse more sophisticated reference materials. To gain further detail and insight necessary to build a well-researched and well-thought-out enough argument it took me a backpack full of biographies, books on conservation history, books by Thoreau, Emerson, and Muir themselves, as well as essays by Wallace Stegner, and lastly the magnificently useful, diversely fascinating, and ridiculously heavy American Earth, Bill McKibben's compilation of the most important primary documents in American conservation history.

History papers can be—and, unfortunately, for the most part are—written using only Wikipedia articles, but these papers usually don't possess any valuable insights, unless those insights come solely from the (hormone-addled, nascent and na├»ve) mind of the kid writing it. In other words, the Internet—in the sense of trying to form conclusions about history—is a tool, and an endlessly useful one, but one that can only take you so far. A book—in the same sense—is a tool, but it can also be something greater: a journey, because it requires commitment on the part of both author and reader. This commitment makes insight possible in a way that no other medium can, and this is why books will always have a place in the in the world of high school research papers, and in the world at large.